Women in the Arts: Where Do We Stand Today?

Guerrilla Girls poster from 1988. Copyright Guerrilla Girls Inc.
How much has changed for women in the art world since the women's movement shined light on its inequalities in the 1970s and the Guerrilla Girls entered our collective consciousness in the 1980s? What is it like to be a woman artist working in the 21st Century? What difficulties do we face? Have things gotten better? I decided to ask women artists working today how they felt. (And by the way, check out a video excerpt of a recent talk the Guerrilla Girls gave at the Museum of Modern Art for some updated information on the status of women in the arts today.)

“I'd say women in the arts today struggle with being categorized as 'women in the arts' instead of just 'more amazing artists.' I feel the same about 'Black Artists.' Whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or not, there is a difference--society makes sure of that. Whether we're talking about the 1970s...or 2011, the change isn't as significant-in my opinion-as one might think.” - Artist Mallory Dover
Guerrilla Girls poster from 1985. Copyright Guerrilla Girls Inc.

“Women and women's art are still segregated. It’s a women's art show rather then an art show, or labeled feminist regardless of the content of the art. Although I suppose being a woman you just are a feminist. And 'women of color' is almost always meant to represent [an] entire race, which can be good or bad or simply not meant for that. It’s one person’s expression…” -Photographer Sara Hart

"I have to place being a woman as a secondary thing as an artist. It's actually how I like to work, so that when the piece is viewed, one is truly honoring the integrity of the work sans the gender. It's allowed my work to be seen with a strength usually reserved for male artists....I can be strong...and can be raw...and not apologize for it." -Painter Kimberly M. Becoat

"'Keeping it truckin’ on the high road is always a challenge. They don’t tell you, but the high road is full of sinkholes and the tolls are crazy expensive. Low road? Free ride and smoother than a billiard ball, baby. My struggle as a writer, particularly writing for and about women of color, is that I know that I can knock out a magazine article on ‘Back-stabbing Girlfriends’ or ‘Down-low Brothers’ and get ten, maybe even fifty times the readers as I do with a “positive” piece. That’s nothing new, bad news always attracts more eyeballs, but it’s particularly sticky when dealing with issues of race--because I know the history and I want no part of something that is going to cause us harm. So, that means being creative, and constantly trying to find new ways of sexy-ing up the real, of repackaging the good medicine in the latest IT bag." -Writer Black Lily

"Surprisingly, I feel like since I switched from 2D mixed media over to performance art, gender has stopped being a major point of discrimination. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that my work is often about black women and they are also often my primary target audience. Doing public performance means I am often responsible for creating the avenues through which people initially view my work. I also tend to apply to places or events where there are lots of black women, so these places are often excited about me being black and female as opposed to put off by it. So far, the people who run these spaces or events that I have shown my work at have been predominantly women. Perhaps this is rise in female curators and arts professionals is what is making the difference." -Performance artist Aisha Cousins

While these artists all had varying perspectives on what it means to be a woman in the arts today, it's clear that whatever barriers there may be, it's not stopping them from creating or having successful careers. There are still obstacles to be overcome, but there have also been changes for the better. As Aisha noted, there are more female arts professionals in the field today. There are more alternative spaces artists can show their work in, and the introduction of the internet has helped level the playing field in that artists can promote their own work and reach a wider audience quickly, for little or no money. This means that the major museums and galleries--long the primary taste makers, and venues that excluded women and artists of color--are not the only way for an artist to make a name for herself.