Indeed, looking back, Semmel’s oeuvre has progressed seamlessly, with subtle leaps between related ideas and subject matter. If she’s never made significant departures from the initial feminist vision she established for herself in 1970, it’s not for a lack of things to say. Instead, her strong viewpoint considers the embodied female experience from many angles, and addresses the evolution of feminist concerns (from sexual liberation to the ethics of pornography to society’s rejection of aging bodies).
That said, artists such as Semmel have, at times, faced criticism for perpetuating too narrow a definition of feminism—one limited to white, heterosexual women. “I do not pretend to address the problems of all women in the world,” Semmel offers. “My work is personal and I speak for myself. Women artists have to speak for themselves and then unite to fight the political fight.” She notes that it’s easy to blame feminists for systemic inequities, and that she and her circles always remained open to anyone who wanted to join their fight (and gay women, as well as women of color, did). She sees progress, in addition to new, more active efforts for inclusivity.
Semmel isn’t particularly interested in linking her artwork to any particular movement, either. She believes that classifications are often artificial and “created by writers.” She notes, however, that the Pictures Generation developed at a time when the art world dismissed feminism. According to her, it’s only really become okay to identify as a feminist in recent years.