Why (in)equality?

I’m starting to think about a talk I’ll be doing for the East London Fawcett Group in September. The ELF, a branch of the Fawcett Society, which goes back to 1866 and the suffragette Millicent Fawcett, have started a campaign to raise awareness about gender inequality in the arts. Part of this campaign is The Great East London Art Audit, which aims to back up talk about gender inequality with facts and figures gathered through visits to galleries and museums an by asking collections to make their statistics public.In order to figure out what my own views on this issue, I’ve had to unpick some assumptions, question others, and start with the basics:

There are fewer women artists exhibited in galleries than there are men.

This obviously constitutes an inequality, which on first reflection seems wrong. But condemning the inequality without meticulously examining it won’t change anything. Nor will bluntly demanding equality, unless we know why and how we want it.

We also need to ask why this inequality exists before we jump to any conclusions; to examine preconceptions and assumptions about what is right and wrong before we can move towards some kind of action. I’ve surprised myself with guilty feelings of conservatism, which some of the following questions have provoked. Almost as if the very fact of posing them might provoke the wrong and dreaded answer, or as if what we all really want as women ought to be so obvious that even asking is a betrayal. But I need to ask them anyway.

· Who wants women artists to show in galleries in equal numbers to men artist?

· Do women artists want to show in galleries in equal numbers to men artists?

· Are there fewer women artists who want to show?

· Who chooses artists to show in galleries?

· Do they prefer to show work by men artists to showing work by women artists?

· Why would they want to show men’s work rather than women’s?

· Are women artists equally visible to those who choose?

· If not, then where does this invisibility originate?

· Is it related to art education?

· Is it related to upbringing?

· Is it related to child-rearing?

· Is it related to naturalised ideas which society holds about the art world being male-dominated?

· Where do these naturalised beliefs come from: evidence gathered by visiting galleries, media coverage of artists, education?

· And why do all these questions matter?

· Arguably the most famous artists in this country are: Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. Does this have anything to do with gender (in)equality?

This is a long list of questions, but until artists, curators, gallerists and critics honestly ask them and honestly answer them, we cannot make a plan for redressing gender inequality in the arts.

In the collection I work for, the Zabludowicz Collection, of around 1000 artists represented in the collection, the percentage of men to women is 67% to 32% (with 1% of mixed gender duos, collectives, or groups). This can be considered a good ratio of male artists to female artists. It’s good, but it’s a long way from 50:50.

Joan Linder, Resume, Mary Kelly (2008) Zabludowicz Collection

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