So be honest — you’ve caught yourself (more than once) thinking What’s the big deal about “promoting women in the arts” ?!
I know I have …
I mean, there are masses of women actors, right? In movies, on TV, on stage. (Notice I didn’t say “actresses” — I’m totally on board with this whole gender-neutral thing.)
Female visual artists are a completely normal thing … and I know a lot of women dancers. (Notice I didn’t say “danceresses” — oh wait, no-one says “danceresses.”)
And women are all over the music industry like a rash — look at Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Adele …
Women artists are doing fine! They’re literally everywhere — they don’t need any promoting.
Well sure, Gaga is kicking it off the planet right now, and Adele is clearly some kind of god …
And of course women definitely have a vibrant and vital presence in all kinds of artistic playgrounds, worldwide.
But did you know that the huge majority of women working in arts industries are in the least influential roles, with low pay and poor representation?
Take a look-see at these stunning stat-facts:*
- Only 25–35% of artists exhibited in US and UK galleries are women
- Just 5% of artworks in major US museums are by women (and no major international exhibition of contemporary art has ever achieved gender parity)
- Only 30% of major American museums (with budgets $15M+) have women directors right now, while the British Museum, the Louvre and the Metropolitan have never had a female director
- Just 33% of theatre directors and 30% of produced playwrights in New York City theatres 2000–2015 were women
- Women account for fewer than 5% of music producers and engineers…
Yup, overwhelmingly, leadership positions like Stage Directors, Museum Chiefs, Movie Directors, Cinematographers, Choreographers, Music Producers … are firmly in the grasp of men.
Which means women’s artistic expression and influence is being systematically muffled.
That’s half the ideas and inspirations of the human collective shut down before they can even make a peep.
And when ideas are blocked, we get stagnant. Society rots, disintegrates.
Bad for women. And super-bad for men too. Because funnily enough we’re all in this whole society thing together 🙂
Why aren’t women getting the top arts jobs?
Clearly, there’s no shortage of female talent out there. But it’s not making the impact it should — for a few reasons.
First up, historical inertia.
For centuries, patriarchal systems across the world have kept women from developing — and being recognised for — their artistic expression.
(Couple of fun facts on olde-world misogynistic mindsets:
- From the 16th to 19th centuries, western women were banned from drawing nudes! Which effectively meant they were forbidden to study art. Bad luck girls.
- In 1723, a painting by Dutch artist Margareta Haverman was judged too good to have been done by a woman, and she was cast out from the Académie Royale for fraud.)
Second — as we’ve already effectively established I think — there’s a pervasive perception that there are loads of women in all areas of the arts. Houston, we do NOT have a problem.
Third, people tend to think of the arts as … well … non-essential.
A soft, fluffy industry — the frosting on the cake of society. The arts are what we do in our spare time, after the serious, grinding work of life.
Not like science and politics and medicine … those are proper, solid industries. They’re the eggs and flour of society’s gluten-rich baked goods. Maybe even the tray … or the oven?! (I may be going too far with this …)
These disciplines form humanity’s secure foundations, so THAT’S where we need to push women’s status to make a REAL difference to society, right? Not in the airy foam of the arts world.
So, remind me, why is this a Bad Thing …?
Why is it bad that women’s voices, influences and ideas are being repressed?
Well, let’s see.
- Systematic limiting of expression is generally accepted to be hugely unhealthy. (Social Psychology 101.)
- Women make up half of every human community on earth. It’s a senselesswaste of creative potential not to let their mojo flow!
- Without exposure to ideas from all perspectives (female, male, trans …) it’s easy to become blinkered, even entrenched in a prevailing cultural bog.
- Ideas from others help us develop our own — to question ourselves, explore our prejudices and privileges, and grow. They teach us humility.
- We can’t know our neighbors — near or far — if we can’t hear their stories, understand their loves, fears and joys. From this disconnection, it’s a short slippery slope to alienation — and we all know the sorts of trouble THAT can cause …
The long-and-short is this.
Women’s artistic voices must be powerfully expressed alongside men’s — because the richer the weave of ideas around us, the stronger the fabric of our communities.
Which means a more connected, less polarized, safer and happier world for us all.
Ok, how can we empower women to embrace their place in the arts?
Why, give them platforms for unbridled creativity and expression, of course!
True, many women artists are already pretty unbridled (!) … but not enough.
And, crucially, not enough people are listening, encouraging, and helping them develop the skills and confidence to take the next steps towards those top jobs.
That’s why an organization like Athena Project is so phenomenal.
Athena Project is a Colorado nonprofit that gets women artists out there, for the world to know.
Its annual Arts Festival in Denver gives women the stage, hands them the mic, and lets them riff like rebels.
- Musicians pair with a playwright, a poet, a dancer and a visual artist over just 24 hours, to collaborate on creations so mind-tinglingly fresh they don’t even have a name … (Sound puddles? Sonnet wobbles? Word confetti …?)
- A kaleidoscope of performers together explore the excitement and grace of movement in an Evening of World Dance …
- Songwriters and musicians jam brand new tunes, and shine bright slants on classics, over a three-day mini-festival …
And, seriously, that’s not even half of it!
In short, women come together and bring in the world.
They exchange ideas, encourage and teach one another — which utterly skyrockets their confidence and capacity to lead.
THIS is the first step.
Next, women must reach and rise up, to take their place. Alongside men — who have no wish to exclude anyone. Men who wholeheartedly welcome women.
Men who desperately need women — just as women need men — to make this world a more fun, more inclusive, safer and happier place to be human.
*Sources (in order of stat-facts):
Gallery Tally Project
Jerry Saltz in New York Magazine, ARTnews
Association of American Art Museum Directors, National Museum of Women in the Arts
League of Professional Theatre Women
Whitney Chadwick in Women, Art, and Society
NATHAN SHIPPS (Unsplash), PROACGUY1 (Wikimedia Commons), timberwolfphotolounge2, Athena Project Arts