For a while, some (myself included) worried that this feverish attention to women’s practices was a sign of a fad, a mere flash in the pan that would lose steam, failing to bring with it meaningful structural changes. One thinks of the academic
’s persistent reminder—through the work she does to archive women’s history in the New York art world—that our society is engaged in a kind of cultural amnesia when it comes to women’s achievements. Men’s achievements, meanwhile, are more sticky
, to use the parlance of digital media. Their work has no trouble becoming quickly inscribed into the historical canon.
I wondered, too, as women and artists of color have done for decades—and as Holland Cotter questioned in his piece
for the New York Times
, “Are All-Women Shows Good or Bad for Art?”—whether shows segregated along gender or racial lines are really the way forward.
famously refused to participate in all-female shows; while the African-American artists
and Hale Woodruff voted to discontinue an exhibition of black artists in 1947 on the basis that it hindered the acceptance of their work on a purely artistic level. The writer Sarah Boxer wrote in the Atlantic
recently that a year of women arrives about once every decade. This would suggest that these periods of art world egalitarianism fail to grow roots. They come and they go, and we forget, once more, to give women equal airtime. Then, years later, the triumphant celebration of women and the all-female group show (a format that has been around for several decades at this point) return with a renewed sense of novelty.
But then Trump happened, and the world looked quite different. With the election results—and the threat of an administration hostile to women’s and minority rights—came a sense that dedicating spaces exclusively to the cultural achievements of women and minorities was not only necessary, but vital. “In the past, a valid question I’ve often raised is how long does the Sackler Center for Feminist Art need to exist?” Morris mused when we met. “How long do we need these spaces that are dedicated to particular political purposes? After this election, I feel like that’s not a question that’s even on the table. A sense of urgency is what enters the conversation, and thinking expansively of feminism as a human right.”
Feminism has been hotly contested this year, too. When Gloria Steinem, one of America’s most famous feminists, scolded young women who don’t support Hillary Clinton, for example, her admonishments not only fell on deaf ears, but also caused many female Bernie Sanders supporters to dig in their heels more vigorously. Younger generations, it turned out, weren’t existentially moved to action by the prospect of a female presidential candidate. They valued issues of wealth distribution, corporate accountability, and access to education more than, or on an equal footing to, women’s issues. Or, perhaps, millennial women took their rights and freedoms for granted, unattuned as they were to the hard-won fight that preceded their arrival in the world.
And then, of course, there was the fact that white women voted for Trump in greater number than for Clinton, suggesting either that more women than we realized have internalized the values of the patriarchy—preferring to have a man in charge—or that more women than we realized value their racial identity over their gender identity. They identify as white first, and female second. This particular exit poll helped to fuel charged discourse around the swiftly organized Women’s March on Washington, scheduled for the day following President-elect Trump’s inauguration.
The march has drawn widespread support, but also criticism over the perceived exclusivity of the event’s messaging. Are women of color sufficiently represented? And what about the queer and trans communities? Some have cast doubt as to whether the march represents a truly diverse range of experiences and priorities, from top to bottom, and criticized the organizers for their appropriation of the name of an earlier Civil Rights march. (Three women of color, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, and Tamika Mallory, have since emerged as leaders of the march, and it’s poised to draw tens of thousands of protesters from across the country.) Simultaneously, articles such as this one
denouncing white feminism and summarizing key black feminist concepts have circulated around social media, giving much-needed insight into the experience that women of color face—of being twice-oppressed.
In short, older, white forms of feminism won’t do in today’s world.