Paper Draft

Hessah Alsanie

Italian Composition

Clara K. Magliola

April 29, 2014

What Happened to All of the Great Female Artists?

It has become quite widely accepted that there have not been many, if any, great female artists. This ideology has typically festered among us as a result of our assumptions of what can be defined as good art. What classifies as “good art” and how have societal factors influenced our interpretations of art? As will be described more thoroughly throughout this essay, art exists beyond the patriarchal confines we are so accustomed to. So, as a result of this, we can assess that we lack great female artists because not only have we left them unrecognized either having their work claimed by their male family member or never seeing the light of day, but we have also discouraged women from pursuing passions that extend beyond gender roles.

Art has a very fluid definition, and even the broadest definition may tend to leave out some things that people may value as art. In essence, we can define it as some form of expression displaying creativity. To begin to understand how we have not been graced with many great female artists, we must ask why there appears to be an absence of females in history in general. Women’s contributions tend to be relatively non-existent from our basic education of history, so the questions to ask are: “Did women really do nothing? Or, was it a result of institutionalization and the emergence of a patriarchal structure that barred women from entry into the history books?” We must look at the underlying causes of this occurrence in order to understand what it means for female artists worldwide.




On Goddesses and Os

As we grow, we develop the ability to assume. In this way, we began to associate certain characteristics displayed by human beings with their biological factors. This method is flawed, but has stuck with us in almost all aspects of our lives. In this case, it has stuck with us in terms of religion. The 3 “main” religions (Christianity, Judaism & Islam) are all governed by the idea of one, absolute, genderless God. This is stated, and we all agree that God is as written. However, when we speak of God, we assign gender pronouns because we are incapable of thinking outside of the gender binary, and due to God’s abilities we assume that God is more aligned with the male gender. This ideology rejects all the initial beliefs of humankind, as it was initially believed that the creator of our earth was female. Because creation is a term that was initially associated with women, as they are able to give birth, it only makes sense to assume that God is female.

god-giving-birth-monica-sjoo-1965Why is this an important thing to ponder? When Monica Sjoo created her piece “God Giving Birth”, there was outrage from many onlookers. The God in the image was a female; a female of color. This left people confused and angered, as it seemed to be “mocking” their belief of what God represented. The image simply put into vision that which was a foundational belief for centuries before modern day religions even emerged. It instigated many reactions, as good art should. It was meant to show us how quick we are to assume God is male and how a God that is a woman of color is somehow insulting due to our innate racism.

It was taken down, a response to art that suffocates our freedom as creative individuals. Sjoo simply provided us with an alternative to the patriarchal religious system, and in essence this act would not have been tolerated had it been an image of a white bearded man reaching out from the sky. Removing this image was an act of oppression, used to silence those who have beliefs differing from that of institutionalized patriarchs.  Art is truly a revolutionary act, because it allows for the instigation of change. These images present humanity with an alternative when they feel dissatisfied with what they have been forced to believe. Her art created a platform for women and people of all genders to reclaim the idea of what God symbolizes.

The myth of the vaginal orgasm is exactly what it says. It is the myth that orgasms originate from the vagina, which in truth they do not. The pleasure receptors in the clitoris make it the only spot on the female body whose sole purpose is to provide pleasure. Because the male penis is able to achieve an orgasm through friction within the vagina, we assume that women must receive it through the same act. This is not valid however, as in reality orgasms for women can only originate from the clitoris. We are led to believe that the vagina holds the power to give women orgasms, and the reason for this is that it makes sex easier for men. If men are not required to put effort into pleasing a women during orgasm through techniques not necessarily pleasing them simultaneously, it becomes tedious and undesirable. For this reason, we are often convinced that a males orgasm is a females. The truth is, women are more likely to achieve orgasms with other women rather than men as women are more aware of what creates pleasure in the female body.



Rape Culture

lama My first example is that of Lama, the 5 year old daughter of a Saudi preacher who was raped, beaten and tortured to death. The preacher agreed to pay the blood money and was let go. This is the type of thing that goes on much to often in Saudi and many countries all over the world. This young girl has received little to no justice for this, and although this is an extreme example of rape culture, it is just that: rape culture. Rape culture in Saudi is U.S. rape culture on steroids, and the result of this system is a lack of interest in women’s issues. Women are taught to keep silent and people are taught to be complacent with this type of violence and domination of women. It creates a hostile environment for women all over the middle east, and it almost sanctions violence and the terrorizing of women. My second example for which I couldn’t find the actual image regards a rape perpetuated by a pizza delivery man. A woman arrived home with groceries and left the door unlocked as she set the kitchen up. A delivery man either noticed the door open a crack or saw her go in without locking it, entered and proceeded to rape her. The comments on the article online and in the news were all centered around how she should’ve locked her doors. That type of response justifies the act and blames the victim. It tells us that we must take all necessary precautions to avoid rape, something that cannot be definitely avoided. The woman continued to receive negative backlash for her “irresponsibility,” and it results in women fearing reporting similar attacks. Untitled1 Images such as these are my 3rd example of rape culture. In the original image, the woman is writing about her rapist and rape encounter. The photoshopped version reads “I was dressed like a whore and got really drunk at a party etc.” This is one of the most detrimental forms of rape culture because it uses the strawman argument to pick at her story and portray the situation as her bringing it upon herself. We often hear people or read articles picking apart a rape story and blaming the victim for regretting the sex and trying to call it rape. The reality is that a majority of rape victims never come forward, and there are more false B&E reports than false rape ones.   Saudi Arabia violence against woman I am unsure whether this image can be classified as protest art in the US, but in Saudi Arabia this is definitely a form of protest art. This image is one that depicts a topic often swept under the rug: domestic violence against women. It is a powerful image because it has so many layers to it that we can analyze from an artists perspective. First, the veil is significant in that it covers her identity but represents Saudi women. It is only revealing her eyes, with which she saw her attacker. The bruised eye is all we see, but that is not all she has on her body. It is more than likely that her abuse spans throughout her body, and thus we can assume that this image is giving us a glimpse of this situation. It is scary to see these things, and many Saudi’s are angered by these types of images for tarnishing Saudis as well as Islams reputation. imageElina Chauvets is an artist in Juarez, Mexico who put red shoes all over the city in response to missing women. She found a connection between shoes and these missing women and went to the streets in order to silently protest these missing women. The fact that she incorporates red into the art allows us to assume violence and sympathize.


This is one of my favorite forms of protest art because it is a great way to reach out to people that use social media (which is how I stumbled onto it). This type of image  is one that invokes a personal reaction because it appeals to a variety of individuals of different races and ethnic backgrounds. It touches on religion as we as gender, but the racial messages are quite clear in that they attack stereotyping. I liked that this image used a matter-of-fact approach to make it simple to understand that racism still exists and we need to acknowledge that in order to begin to remedy this.


The activity on Kara Walkers work was one that made me extremely uncomfortable at first. The reason I felt uncomfortable was because I looked at it from an uninformed perspective just as any average person would. It touches on racism in ways that seem timeless, as it appears to be in a much earlier time but brings up current issues. Walkers work invokes an extreme reaction from viewers. My initial feeling was one of insult, as though it somehow affected me.

Thoughts on Pop Culture and the Beauty Myth


This advertisement was taken from a Victoria’s Secret magazine (this is a digital version), and it screams infantilization to me. The outfit is provocative but this dress is often called a “baby doll” dress, so in that sense, it is already an indication of the look they are attempting to achieve. She is softly caressing her cheeks and standing in an unnatural stance. She is wearing a little tiara like a 10 year old would at her birthday party, and it just seems all too implying. The soft pink and the tan skin, the ultra thin waist and the long golden locks of hair, it all is meant to make women feel insecure and dissatisfied with their bodies and appearance. The dress itself is too short to actually be useful for wearing outside, and the sexual glare makes it difficult to have “clean” thoughts about this model. There is nothing wrong with thinking about things sexually, but I believe these types of images promote negative sexual behavior that may very well be acted out onto young women and children. This model is also clearly a double 0 and has a bust size that is not naturally achieved. She is one solid tan color, and most people are naturally patchy. This is not an attainable body type and her waist clearly appears digitally altered.



This is a Jeans advertisement I saw while shopping online one time, and it completely unnerved me. The position that she is put in is seemingly sexual in nature and she is in an even more unnatural position than the model in the previous image. She is softly caressing herself with the light touch of her fingertips and she is flawless by media standards. The image itself makes it hard to look at anything other than her behind, and its almost as if she is floating because lord knows I can’t possibly hold myself up in that type of position. The image places words near her behind in order to draw our eyes to that focal point. The entire image is light and her jeans stand out making it impossible to look elsewhere. I just dislike that the image is meant to induce some type of aggressive sexual comment of harassment by young onlookers.



I actually found this ad in one of my older magazines, and it always makes me laugh because NOBODY LOOKS LIKE THAT AFTER EATING A BURGER. And I. Mean. Nobody. If you haven’t seen the commercial of her washing a car, getting sudsy, then taking a bite out of that burger, then you are just not on this planet. The harmful thing about this image is that it says “She’ll tell you size doesn’t matter. She’s lying.” First off, I didn’t know burgers had to be sexual. Secondly, she is in a seemingly vulnerable state in which she is only thinking about “size” and the whole image just makes me uneasy. She has a hand on her hip, just barely grazed by her fingertips, and a delicate handle of the burger. She is looking away, unprepared for anything that might be coming. It is bothersome to be because it portrays all women as weak and malleable. Her one-piece is leaving little to the imagination, and it draws our eyes to her body parts that are comprehended subliminally as dissected parts.


The purpose of pop culture is to be a form of entertainment. It is something that Zeisles states is meant to not be taken as seriously, making it harder to pinpoint flaws and indicate how certain aspects of it are harmful to our society. My worst memory of women in pop culture is when lady gaga said “I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men, I celebrate American male culture – beer, bars, and muscle cars.” This made me cringe and it was probably something I took too much of an offense with. She is supposedly an advocate of equality, LGBTQI rights, but she is so against something she clearly doesn’t understand. I haven’t been able to see the recording of her saying this, and I was reluctant to use it because many things I read online are untrue. However, I have read this from many valid sources, and thus felt I must include it. Even if she didn’t say this, she should at least say that she is a feminist and resents that assumption. It was upsetting because anyone who is a social activist should not pick and choose; we all need our rights and if you want me to fight for yours then you’d better do the same for us.



My happiest moment in pop culture was when Amy Poehler and Tina Fey took the stage at the golden globes and restored faith in female comics. Seth MacFarlane was quick to pick on women and assume they weren’t funny enough, but Tina and Amy received much more publicity and good reviews than he did during his pity hosting of the globes. These women are monumental because they are able to make anything and everything humorous and people don’t seem to hold them up to the same standards as other women. They are paving the way for female actresses, celebrities, and citizens all over. People are calling Tina and Amy the best hosts of all time; best being a title that people are often reluctant to award women.



To understand the beauty myth, we must first acknowledge that universal beauty doesn’t exist. Wolf discusses this in the text, and puts emphasis on the fact that it is socially constructed. The talks about how different cultures admire different things as beauty symbols, such as droopy breasts or a fat vulva. There has always been some sort of beauty myth, but our current beauty myth is a modern invention. The idea that the symbol of beauty is a western platonic women is unrealistic. Western women can be best weakened psychologically, and the result of establishing a narrow beauty standard results in many negative things. We invest way too much into the diet industry, plastic surgery industry, and cosmetics industry. By creating walking talking replicas of the ideal woman, we have materialized these female aspects and thus make it even more psychologically damaging. We are meant to adopt these physical attributes in order to be deemed beautiful. I completely agree with her argument because we all undergo this issue. Even men are being targeted by this, and they have only recently begun to understand the negative impacts of this.

Feminist Art and Womanhouse

1. Judy Chicago defines the central core imagery of female art as depictions of the vagina and she likes to recreate the dissolving sensation of an orgasm in her own work. She states that O’Keeffe’s floral art pieces were part of the first works displaying this central core imagery. Nochlin goes on to say that O’Keeffe’s artwork show ‘strong schematic metaphors for female sexuality’. Although Georgia O’Keeffe rejects these theories and instead insists that the emphasis is on the color scheme and art techniques, the idea is that female artists share a common sense of central core imagery and the importance of it to feminist artists. Chicago makes it clear that having a vagina makes her who she is, and she intends to thoroughly celebrate that. The vagina is a central theme, and it is the essence of female art according to many female artists. This essentialist debate is often used to explain why female art can often be interpreted in this way.

2. The main critique of essentialism that is presented in the text is that it is impossible to discern a universal feminine central system of expression. This problem of essentialism, according to critics, is that it normalizes and generalizes the feminine art experience. Many people believe it is limiting to female artists to categorize them in one box, assuming they all exhibit a similar characteristic that unifies them.

Central core imagery should be used as a lens to assess art rather than a category to place art under. Norma is basically stating that the biggest issue with using one term for essentialism is that people do not get the variety. Biological essentialism is that which we are born with. The true biological nature of our physical forms. Her issue with this is that it assumes that females, due to the same genitalia, are bound to produce the same type of art by default. Women are as bound to produce the same art by their vaginas as men are bound to have the same hand writing because of their penises. It is a slippery slope argument often associated with the biological critique of essentialism. Cultural essentialism finds its roots in the socioeconomic structures of society. In the article they mention that feminist art is deliberately pitched to a public and social context and that is because it clearly is. This is the result of a complex cultural structure that women are meant to endure regardless of their personal beliefs. Finally political essentialism comes into play. From what we read from the text, it almost seems like the techniques and strategies feminist artists use to get their messages across are acts that can give us a sense of what political essentialism is. There are many reasons we must differentiate between these different essentialisms, and it seems that the authors believe the critiques of essentialism to be the most harmful. First it assumes that all forms of essentialism are simply categorizing art a certain way, dooming all female artists to the same output. Second, it pushes artists into a category just as defining one as masculine or feminine would. It gives the art characteristics instead of allowing each piece to have fluid interpretations.

7000 year old woman

A good performance art piece to use in this case is Betsey Damon’s 7000 year old woman. Symbolism in this image is obvious, but when we use a more 3 dimensional assessment we can understand its many layers. Her fertility and motherhood is what we can view with the biological essentialist lens. She seems primitive yet it feels so human. What I mean by that is, looking at her we do not see the traditional depiction of females in art. She is represented as is. Culturally we can see her form of dress and the markings on the ground seem to indicate her cultural background. She stands out from her “normal” surroundings and is representative of a more primitive state. Finally, the political essentialism is clear because this piece in and of itself is a statement contradictory to that of the average female. She is not conforming to any standard of femininity and instead combats that image by being represented in this manner.

3. Womanhouse was a form of interactive art that female artists used as a means of communicating societal frustrations through. It was presented at the California Institute of the Arts by the Feminist Art Program, lead by Judy Chicago and Miriam Scharipo. They renovated a house which was later destroyed, but the images and videos captured of the art inside are still widely available. Rooms were indicative of women’s struggles, be it biological, political, societal, or cultural. Women see their life through a new lens that publicizes menstruation and satirizes the kitchen requirements. The rooms come off as displaying the problems we face, but in some manners I felt it was empowering to see that they were problems that women had to hide but were now on display.

In Judy Chicago’s piece Menstruation Bathroom, its taking the taboo and putting it on display. By seeing tampons all over the bathroom as if painting the town red, it is finally something you SEE. I myself am afraid to see my own blood, but finally seeing it out in the open is just a smack to the head. It is beautifully refreshing, and it is so politically essentialist that it screams strategy for change. It is strong imagery and it evokes a reaction from the audience that results in shock, awe, disturbance, and yet somehow we are all relieved. It is as though we forget that other humans undergo this process. It is removing the informal authority that restricts us from acknowledging that we are human.


Linen Closet by Sandy Orgel is a strong piece because it dissects the entire foundation of gender roles and what women are doomed to for their lives. Women are compartmentalized on various shelves holding linens and other things deemed tasks reserved for women. She is a mannequin and it is quite scary because the lifelessness is indicative of the monotonous of such a lifestyle. It is difficult to envision our lives ending up this way because we are women’s studies students, but so many women are trapped in that lifestyle despite their desires to escape. She captures entire lives in a linen shelf, and it is scary to think that many women endure this type of lifestyle.


Leah’s Room was probably my overall favorite because I can completely relate. She is basically putting on layers of makeup, taking them off, and then repeating the process. She is engaging in the vanity that is expected of us as females. My own mother expects me to constantly be made up, plucked and perfect at all times. She expects this of me because she doesn’t want me to get hurt for not conforming to societal norms. This room speaks to more than just the faces we are forced to paint on daily. Instead, it presents us with the patriarchal devices used to enslave females and force them into an image that is unnatural.

Powerful Images

Allan G. Johnson does an excellent job of defining patriarchy in Patriarchy the System. The subtitle itself states it as “An it, not a He, a Them, or an Us.” The reason this is crucial to understand is because most people associate patriarchy with those who blatantly perpetuate it. We may imagine it to be the man cat calling a woman on a sidewalk or the boss who only strings her along because he sees more value in her rack than in her ability to push numbers faster than any man in the office. This, Allan states, is merely a glimpse at some of the players in the game. Defining a group of individuals as patriarchy is like calling a group of Canadians Canada according to Johnson, and instead of looking at the people we must examine the system as a whole.  We all participate in patriarchy, whether our role is profound or not. The system runs us all. “Patriarchy is a kind of society organized around certain kinds of social relationships and ideas (pg 100).” In order for patriarchy to function, women as well as men must contribute to the system. We are all actors with specific roles to play. Even if we hate it, we are still involved in it. We cannot all avoid getting jobs where we get paid 73 cents to the dollar, nor can we avoid buying shampoos that hyper sexualize women.  Although our role is present, we don’t have to make it easy to function. In order to take down patriarchy however, we must understand that patriarchy is an it.

In the article Yes You Are, the author does what I do every single day, which is tell people that they are feminists even if they don’t know it. We contstantly hear people attatching negative connotations to the term feminist when in fact its dictionary meaning is quite simple and to the point. If you believe in equality of the sexes, you are a feminist. It goes in depth to address all of the false notions about who can be a feminist and who cannot. I truly admired the simplicity of the article. The author does remind us that although it is a little bit more complicated than that, it is also that simple.

In PFA, we get a sense of the importance of the Feminist Art Movement and what it meant for the art world. It opened up the world of art and expanded the definition of modernism and opened up new methods of expression to both male and female artists. Female artists could emerge from their cultural isolation after the 1970s movement. Female artists did not feel like part of larger group but instead were very individualized. In the 30’s for a female artist to be seen as good, her art would need to be seen as something a woman did not do. In the 50’s and 60’s women weren’t only disjointed from one another, but they were excluded from history of art.

In the article on Art and Feminism, the author explains the importance of the link between feminism and art. She explains that feminist movements led by feminist artists in the early 1970s did not lead to a comminality of art expression, nor did it eflect the diversity of artistic responses at different times. Some prominent women artists such as Louise Bourgeoise and Chantal Akerman have denied being feminist, but she goes on to say that this does not mean their work isn’t feminist art. The art world only sometimes has women of color displaying their art, and sometimes it is only for funders purposes or to seem diverse.

Woman makes me think of so many different things. Subconciously I think of mother, covering up, modesty, compassion, and kindness. I have learned that this is what every woman is supposed to be, so I will always subconsciously read these words off in my head and the sound of that word. When I close my eyes, I see a woman of each religion and each color; a woman in hijab and another in a tee and jeans. I see women in sub-Saharan Africa bearing their chests and wrapping up their hair in braids. I see women across the spectrum that represent a variety of cultures and ideals.

 hijab-cover.jpg (225×325)

The images reveal such varying ideas of cultural systems. In the African village of Himba for example, women bear their chests freely. They are not required to care about Western ideals of beauty, but that does not completely free them from the confines of their own concepts of female beauty. They must do their hair a certain way and they must have to carry out many different physical tasks as women. The woman in hijab is someone I once related to very much. I begin to think of her claiming her body and representing the hijab in the way she likes. However, I cannot ignore the fact that hijab to me feels like a patriarchal device to prevent the wandering eyes of men. It seems like women taking on the solution to a men’s problem.

The main theme in this image is one of “honor.” This picture is of a woman being put in a hole to be stoned to death for some type of crime whether it was infidelity sexually or religiously. This image is everything I DESPISE about Islamic misconceptions. In reality I find absolutely no tie to Islam or any other religion for that matter, and it is mostly due to the fact that women always get the short end of the stick. For a woman to be stoned, their need to be less witnesses than if it was a man. Woman are required to expel themselves from human nature and become something unattainable. Of course men are happy to live in this world, they do not have to fear rape or death by stoning as we do. This image represents everything I hate about religion, and although I do not like to use the word hate, religion fosters it the most.

This image is one of gay shamings/beatings in Russia. The main theme to me seems to be humiliation. These men are tormented, beaten, shaved, and are left scarred. In Russia, gay individuals are being attacked on a daily basis solely based on their sexual orientation. The LGBT community is suffering from this violence, and it doesn’t look like there is anyone trying to help them in terms of Russian elite & officials. People lack compassion, and when one is homophobic there tends to be violence enacted due to their inability to fathom such a complex relationship. These boys suffer traumatically as a result of these attacks, and it is hard for anyone to live comfortably knowing their lives are constantly being threatened by these monsters.