Written by Aditi Patwari & Sara Nishika Doyle
Sara is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Gender Studies from The School of Human Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi.
Feminism is a call for equal rights and opportunities for all individuals. The movement is commonly misconceived as a man-hating movement, while it is merely asking for gender equality and basic human rights. The feminist movement initially desired equal opportunities for women in a world that has been designed for, and controlled by men. The known roots of the movement began in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the Western world, a period known as first-wave feminism, with a primary focus on women’s right to vote and liberating women from oppression and male supremacy.
Often, feminism has been conflated with the women’s liberation movement, which was part of the second wave of feminism in the 1960's and 1970's. This period sought to create an equal-level playing field in all aspects of women’s experiences, whether it was work, sexuality or the family. Since then, other movements have allowed the definition of feminism to change over time.
While these movements have been uplifting, they have often been questioned for prioritizing the gendered locations of women who are middle-class, white, and living in the Western hemisphere, whilst neglecting the experiences of women who occupy other social locations, for example, their class, their race, their ethnicity, their disability or ability, and their geographical context. The spirit of feminism has therefore expanded to explore individual “experience”, and furthermore to acknowledge that there are multiple gendered identities that define one's experience, that restrict, limit or provide an individual’s access to opportunities.
Power plays a key role here, as it is arranged unequally, and thus, feminism seeks to dismantle these unequal power relations by destabilizing patriarchal concepts and institutions such as marriage and the patriarchal family, which go hand in hand with capitalist structures which exploit and oppress individuals.
To understand feminism, it is important to unearth the inequalities that exist based upon one's socio-economic location. For example, the experience of a woman born and brought up in a first world country in the west differs greatly from the experience of a woman born and brought up in the global south. Where women in first world countries have benefited from global capitalist structures as a result of colonialism, their fight for equality is vastly different, as they navigate through issues of systemic racism, the gender wage gap, and pro choice movements, to name a few. On the other hand, the women’s fight for equality in countries like India not only revolves around the gender wage gap, but issues of oppression are determined by positions of caste and class. Arranged marriages are integral to carrying on the legacy of ones caste, for instance, thus perpetuating patriarchal notions of lineage and the family.
Therefore, to say that there is a singular definition or brand of feminism and a rubric of who qualifies as a feminist is counterproductive to the movement itself. The definition of feminism itself has expanded over time to include multiple feminisms which rely upon the variety and multiplicity of gendered locations and specific context of individuals based on their experiences. For a movement to be qualified as “feminist”, there has to be an acknowledgement that power plays a pivotal role in society, which is arranged in an egalitarian manner and works along gendered lines.
Medium: Mixed Media Embroidery
(Image Courtesy - Victoria Villasana)
Victoria Villasana is a Mexican-born textile artist, interested in cultures & human spirit, looking at how cultures connect to each other in a fragmented, post-digital world. She began making embroidery patterns on top of images as a hobby in 2014. The dynamism in her work derives from the way the yarn is left uncut, far below the frame like yet untold stories, giving a surreal aesthetic reflecting in the acceptance of transience and imperfection. She is well known for her rebellious femininity and acute cross-cultural imagery.
Celebrating strong female voices from the past and the present, Victoria’s idea of feminism is:
“To follow whatever we think is authentic for ourselves, to not let values or ideas imposed by others dictate our life.Thinking for yourself but also being receptive. Respecting and embracing our feminine and masculine energy.”
Medium: Digital Illustration
Feminist Fathers Series for Father's Day 2020
(Image Courtesy - Hanifa A. Hameed)
Hanifa A. Hameed is a UI UX designer at IBM, and now a part time illustrator. The US based artist loves to use color to guide the story of her visuals. Her work is inspired by her love for culture and strong women. Hanifa‘s latest illustrations for Fathers Day showcase the importance of men becoming part of the movement for equal rights.
"In celebration of Father’s Day, here is a series of artwork dedicated to the fathers that have challenged the status quo, fought against patriarchal pressures and proudly call themselves feminists. Here’s to them constantly dismantling gender roles, fighting against discrimination, striving for equality at home and at work, and empowering their children to be leaders in doing the same." - Hanifa A. Hameed
Medium: Mixed Media Textiles
Hashtag Me Too series
(Image courtesy - Michele Landel)
Michele Landel creates intensely textured and airy collages using burned, quilted, and embroidered photographs and paper to explore the themes of exposure, absence, and memory. The American artist based in France manually manipulates digital photographs to highlight the way images hide and filter the truth. She then sews layers of paper together to create bandages and veils and to transform images into fragile maps.
The artworks shared above are part of Michele’s Hashtag Me Too series, where the title of each piece is a quote by a woman who has bravely and publicly spoken about her sexual abuse.
“The Hashtag Me Too series is inspired by the movement with the same name and examines the question “can you separate art from the artist?” Mimicking the Last Supper and referencing Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” women have been cut out of classical and modern paintings and seated together around modern dining room tables. No longer exposed, twisted, simplified, and dehumanized for the male gaze, the women have been given voices and are engaged in passionate conversations with each other. The images are repeated to represent the reverberation and rebirth that is happening through these conversations. The paper is torn, burned, and sewn together to show both the fragility and strength of the women through the paper itself.“
(Image courtesy - Michele Landel)
Who’s Afraid? captures the tension between men’s anxiety of being unreasonably accused of inappropriate behavior and women’s fear of sexual harassment and assault.
Michele explains, “[This artwork] addresses men’s current fear of women. To capture this, I started with the gaze. Specifically the ‘male gaze’ as defined by the feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey. I began with a photograph of an anonymous woman from a clothing catalogue. The photograph fits interestingly within Mulvey’s three phases of the ‘male gaze’: How men look at women, how women look at themselves, and how women look at other women. I enlarged the photograph, divided it into small rectangles, and then printed the image on antique linen bed sheets. I pieced the photograph back together and painted, using machine embroidery, the woman onto a second bed sheet – covering her skin, hair and clothes with thread. I cut out the woman’s eyes to make the viewer uncomfortable and scared. I am evoking ghost costumes made by cutting out eyeholes from old bed sheets and playing with the idea of spectator and specter both of which have the Latin root word ‘spect’ meaning to ‘see.’ From a distance the embroidered figure on the sheet appears three-dimensional. She appears to ‘see’ the viewer when in fact her gaze is empty. She is an embroidered bed sheet and yet her vacant gaze causes anxiety and feels powerful. ”
The reality is that there is a lot of work that needs to be done before we see a truly equal world where everyone can be who they are.
Change is uncomfortable, yet it is necessary to move the world forward. There are beautiful and creative ways artists are sharing their support in the fight for equality. Let us amplify their voices. This week we focused on the important work by artists supporting the Feminist movement, and we will continue sharing other movements around the world.
We are open to your suggestions for other creatives using their voices for good.
Email your recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org
Resources to keep learning and supporting the movement: