It’s bad news because it’s an issue that women are still facing, and it can construe these artists as “ahead of their time”—a qualifier that ultimately, in this case, is diminishing. “I try to reject that language because it tries to put a positive spin on this fact: Her time couldn’t see her,” Cronin explains. “What decisions, life decisions, would these artists have made if they were supported at the height of their time? It’s great that women in their seventies and eighties are getting recognized, but don’t you want to enjoy your life now, when you’re at your peak?”
Minter believes the prevalence for slut-shaming young women, coupled with the rise of social media, continues to stop young women from engaging in sexual subject matter. “Culture is so vicious on the internet,” she says, “there’s this kind of trolling. It’s a way of policing bodies, and I think women owning the agency of sexuality makes people crazy. Other women too, but definitely men.”
Today, it still takes courage for younger generations of artists who don’t identify as heteronormative males to represent sexuality through art. “I felt very strongly that sexuality and all the things connected to it determine so much of what comes afterward in one’s life,” Semmel muses. “If you start out in a way that is oppressive, you’re going to end up with that kind of oppression in other parts of life. Harassment has always been there, but nobody ever talked about it.” She gives the example of Anita Hill. Her comments also bring to mind Columbia undergrad Emma Sulkowicz and her senior thesis performance Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) (2014–15), through which she drew attention to her own rape, and the massive issue of campus harassment across the U.S.