As it Pertains to
The Visual Arts
By: Nina Bellanti-Johnson
What is Feminism?
Feminism is both an intellectual commitment and a political movement that seeks justice for women and the end of sexism in all forms. Broadly defined, feminist criticism examines the ways in which (literature and other productions-art) reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women. However, there are many different kinds of feminism. Feminists disagree about what sexism consists in, and what exactly ought to be done about it; they disagree about what it means to be a woman or a man and what social and political implications gender has or should have. Nonetheless, motivated by the quest for social justice, feminist inquiry provides a wide range of perspectives on social, cultural, and political phenomena. Important topics for feminist theory and politics include: the body, class and work, disability, the family, globalization, human rights, popular culture, race and racism, reproduction, science, the self, sex work, and sexuality. The ultimate goal of feminist criticism is to increase our understanding of the woman’s experience, both in the past and the present, and promote our appreciation of women’s value in the world. The feminist art movement refers to the efforts and accomplishments of feminists internationally to make art that reflects women's lives and experiences, as well as to change the foundation for the production and reception of contemporary art. It also sought to bring more visibility to women within art history and art practice.
Summary of Feminist Premises
All feminists Share Several Important Assumptions
Women are oppressed by patriarchy economically, politically, socially, and psychologically.
In every domain that patriarchy reign, woman is the other.
All western(Anglo-European) civilization is deeply rooted in patriarchal ideology.
While biology determines are sex(male or female), our culture determines our gender(masculine or feminine)
All feminist activity has as its ultimate goal to change the world by promoting woman’s equality. Thus all feminist activity can be seen as a form of activity.
Gender issues play a part in every aspect of human production.
Topics in Feminism
The Body Popular Culture Class and Work Disability The Family Globalization Sex Work Human Rights Sexuality
Science Reproduction The Self Race and Racism
Causes for the Oppression
The Male Point of View
Many feminists believe that the use of the pronoun he to refer to both sexes reflects and perpetuates a “ habit of seeing”, a way of looking at life, that uses the male experience as the standard by which the experience of both sexes is evaluated. It is a deeply rooted cultural attitude that ignores women’s experience and blinds us to a woman's point of view.
Tradition Gender Roles
Cast men as rational, strong , protective and decisive; they cast women as emotional(irrational), weak, nurturing and submissive.
Patriarchy- any culture that privileges men by promoting traditional gender roles and the male point of view. It is by definition sexist, which means to promote the belief that women are inferior to men. Their objective is to treat women as objects instead of individuals.
Patriarchal Woman- a woman who has internalized the norms and values of patriarchy.
Biological essentialism, or biological determinism is the belief that we are "how we are" because of our genetic makeup, including race and sex. The next step is the assumption that behaviors and preferences are biologically
pre-determined, rather than choices we make, or as a result of the environments we are exposed to.
It considers how social phenomena develop in social contexts. Within constructionist thought, a concept or practice is the creation of a particular group: because they believe something socially therefore it becomes truth.
Movements and Ideologies
combines anarchism with feminism. It generally views patriarchy as a manifestation of involuntary hierarchy. Anarcha-feminists believe that the struggle against patriarchy is an essential part of class struggle, and the anarchist struggle against the State. In essence, the philosophy sees anarchist struggle as a necessary component of feminist struggle and vice-versa. As Susan Brown puts it, "as anarchism is a political philosophy that opposes all relationships of power, it is inherently feminist".
Socialist and Marxist Feminism-
Socialist feminism connects the oppression of women to Marxist ideas about exploitation, oppression and labor. Socialist feminists think unequal standing in both the workplace and the domestic sphere holds women down. Socialist feminists see prostitution, domestic work, childcare and marriage as ways in which women are exploited by a patriarchal system that devalues women and the substantial work they do. Socialist feminists focus their energies on broad change that affects society as a whole, rather than on an individual basis. They see the need to work alongside not just men, but all other groups, as they see the oppression of women as a part of a larger pattern that affects everyone involved in the capitalist system.
Marx felt when class oppression was overcome, gender oppression would vanish as well. According to some socialist feminists, this view of gender oppression as a sub-class of class oppression is naive and much of the work of socialist feminists has gone towards separating gender phenomena from class phenomena. Some contributors to socialist feminism have criticized these traditional Marxist ideas for being largely silent on gender oppression except to subsume it underneath broader class oppression Other socialist feminists, many of whom belong to Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party, two long-lived American organizations, point to the classic Marxist writings of Frederick Engels and August Bebel as a powerful explanation of the link between gender oppression and class exploitation.
considers the male controlled capitalist hierarchy, which it describes as sexist, as the defining feature of women’s oppression. Radical feminists believe that women can free themselves only when they have done away with what they consider an inherently oppressive and dominating patriarchal system. Radical feminists feel that there is a male-based authority and power structure and that it is responsible for oppression and inequality, and that as long as the system and its values are in place, society will not be able to be reformed in any significant way. Some radical feminists see no alternatives other than the total uprooting and reconstruction of society in order to achieve their goals.
asserts the equality of men and women through political and legal reform. It is an individualistic form of feminism, which focuses on women’s ability to show and maintain their equality through their own actions and choices. Liberal feminism uses the personal interactions between men and women as the place from which to transform society. According to liberal feminists, all women are capable of asserting their ability to achieve equality, therefore it is possible for change to happen without altering the structure of society. Issues important to liberal feminists include reproductive and abortion rights, sexual harassment, voting, education, "equal pay for equal work", affordable childcare, affordable health care, and bringing to light the frequency of sexual and domestic violence against women
Black Feminism and Womanism
Black feminism argues that sexism, class oppression, and racism are inextricably bound together. Forms of feminism that strive to overcome sexism and class oppression but ignore race can discriminate against many people, including women, through racial bias. One of the theories that evolved out of this movement was Alice Walker's Womanism. It emerged after the early feminist movements that were led specifically by white women who advocated social changes such as woman’s suffrage. These movements were largely white middle-class movements and had generally ignored oppression based on racism and classism. Alice Walker and other Womanists pointed out that black women experienced a different and more intense kind of oppression from that of white women.
uses the insights of various epistemological movements, including psychoanalysis, linguistics, political theory (Marxist and post-Marxist theory), race theory, literary theory, and other intellectual currents for feminist concerns. Many post-structural feminists maintain that difference is one of the most powerful tools that females possess in their struggle with patriarchal domination, and that to equate the feminist movement only with equality is to deny women a plethora of options because equality is still defined from the masculine or patriarchal perspective. The largest departure from other branches of feminism is the argument that gender is constructed through language.[
Eco-feminism links ecology with feminism. Eco-feminists see the domination of women as stemming from the same ideologies that bring about the domination of the environment. Patriarchal systems, where men own and control the land, are seen as responsible for the oppression of women and destruction of the natural environment.
Feminist theology is a movement found in several religions to reconsider the traditions, practices, scriptures, and theologies of those religions from a feminist perspective. Some of the goals of feminist theology include increasing the role of women among the clergy and religious authorities, reinterpreting male-dominated imagery and language about God, determining women's place in relation to career and motherhood, and studying images of women in the religion's sacred texts.
First Wave Feminism
The key concerns of First Wave Feminists were education, employment, the marriage laws, and the plight of intelligent middle-class single women. They were not primarily concerned with the problems of working-class women, nor did they necessarily see themselves as feminists in the modern sense (the term was not coined until 1895). First Wave Feminists largely responded to specific injustices they had themselves experienced.
Their major achievements were the opening of higher education for women; reform of the girls' secondary-school system, including participation in formal national examinations: the widening of access to the professions, especially medicine; married women's property rights, recognized in the Married Women's Property Act of 1870; and some improvement in divorced and separated women's child custody rights. Active until the First World War, First Wave Feminists failed, however, to secure the women's vote.
Influential Women of the Feminism
Mary Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of Rights of Woman(1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason. Wollstonecraft is regarded as the grandmother of British feminism and her ideas shaped the thinking of the suffragettes, who campaigned for the women's vote. After generations of work, this was eventually granted − to some women in 1918, and equally with men in 1928.
Virginia Wolfe was a British author who is considered to be one of the foremost figures of both Modernism and feminism in the twentieth century. She wrote A Room of One’s Own (1929), a text that best articulates the materialist-based analysis of female oppression that prove d to be one of the most significant influences on feminist methodology. A Room of One’s Own is Woolf’s comprehensive answer to the ‘woman problem’: the accusation of female inferiority in the arts and elsewhere.
Kate Chopin is considered by some to have been a forerunner of feminist authors of the 20th century. The Awakening first published in 1899 , is one of the earliest American novels that focuses on women's issues without condescension. It is also one of the most important novels written by an American woman in the nineteenth century When published it was assailed for its frank depictions of female sexuality but has since been cited by critics and scholars as one of the most influential American novels ever written. It is also widely seen as a landmark work of early feminism. The Awakening was particularly controversial upon publication in 1899. Chopin's novel was considered immoral not only for its comparatively frank depictions of female sexual desire but for its depiction of a protagonist who chafed against social norms and established gender roles.
Susan Brownell Anthony was a prominent American civil rights leader who played a pivotal role in the 19th century woman’s rights movement to introduce woman’s suffrage
Sojourner Truth was a U.S. evangelist and reformer. She was born into slavery in Ulster Co., N.Y.. After being freed, she worked as a domestic in New York City (1829-43) and began preaching on street corners with the evangelical missionary Elijah Pierson. Adopting the name Sojourner Truth, she left New York to obey a "call" to travel and preach. Adding abolitionism and women's rights to her religious messages, she traveled in the Midwest, where her magnetism drew