The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Posts Tagged ‘art’

Committing cultural femicide

Posted by Nic Heath on May 6, 2010

In The Guardian recently, writer and broadcaster Bidisha expressed her frustration at the continuing gender skew in the arts. Triggered by men outnumbering women in a recent edition of the London Review of Books by 12 to four, Bidisha wrote,

‘We no longer live in an age where female thinkers, writers, philosophers, academics, artists, theorists, activists or politicians are rare. The discrimination is obvious. All you have to do is count.’

Bidisha dubbed this ‘erasure of women from public life’ as ‘cultural femicide’.

If we do as Bidisha says and count, it becomes clear that women are underrepresented in Australian cultural circles as well. The Miles Franklin Award, established in 1954 with a bequest by Miles Franklin, ‘celebrates Australian character and creativity and nurtures the continuing life of literature about Australia’. This year the books of two women, Sonya Hartnett and Deborah Forster, have made the shortlist, with four male writers rounding out the shortlist of six. Since 2000, three of the eleven winners (two books won in 2000) of the Miles Franklin Award have been women.

Last year three women writers were longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, along with seven men. None of the books written by women were selected in the shortlist, leading Crikey blogger Angela Meyer to dub the all-male shortlist a ‘sausage fest’. Literary critic and blogger Kerryn Goldsworthy highlighted the depth of female talent left out of the longlist, including novels as well-crafted and undoubtedly Australian in character as Helen Garner’s The Spare Room and The Lieutenant by Kate Granville.  

Another sausage fest was Triple J’s Hottest 100 of all time, broadcast in 2009, which I’ve written about before. The only female musicans to feature in the list were Kim Deal of the Pixies, Meg White of the White Stripes, D’Arcy Wretzky of the Smashing Pumpkins’ and Zia McCabe from The Dandy Warhols, while two Massive Attack tracks, Tear Drop and Unfinished Symphony featured female vocals.

While the results of a poll of popular music may seem frivolous, as Mel Campbell wrote for The Enthusiast, this result ‘legitimises radio industry strategies that ignore women.’

Consider the film industry. This year Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director, and only the fourth to be nominated in 82 years. Females are outnumbered on screen as well – an organisation founded by Geena Davis found that in the 100 top-grossing G-rated films from 1990 to 2005 the ratio of male to female characters was three to one, while 87  per cent of narrators were male. 

Another study reported in The Brisbane Times found that female characters are still tied to stereotype in mainstream film: 

‘A review of more than 100 of the most popular, highest-grossing action films featuring heroines in the US between 1991 and 2005 found that almost two-thirds of them still conformed to submissive gender roles.’

Despite this endemic cultural gender skew, I don’t suggest that we succumb to ‘cultural femicide’, or that it can not be overcome. There are positives at every turn worth considering in this discussion. The Orange Prize, awarded to ‘a female author of any nationality for the best original full-length novel written in English’, is an international focal point of female success in the literary world. This year Hilary Mantel, winner of the 2009 Man Booker, has been shortlisted for the award along with six other female writers.

Last week First Love, a film about three teenagers and pro-circuit hopefuls preparing for a surfing competition in Hawaii alongside some of the world’s best young women surfers, screened at ACMI in Melbourne. First Love was made by three women, Fran Derham, Claire Gorman and Clare Plueckhahn, and according to Denham, “It’s not sexualised at all … there’s no sex, no drugs, there’s no rock and roll. It’s just all about girls pursuing their dreams.”


Estelle Tang, writing about the gender skew frequently found in literary magazines for the Kill Your Darlings blog, suggests that women are unlikely to be published more often until those responsible for selection, who have historically favoured male writing, are prepared to interrogate ‘the standards by which the individual pieces are valued’.

Bidisha proposes shunning a path of compromise,

‘It does not matter what sexist men or apolitical women think about this. The solution to discrimination is female solidarity and the deliberate concentration of women’s power.’

I’ll throw it to you – what are your thoughts on how we can increase the number of women getting published, or exhibited, or in film? And importantly, what are your positive stories about women succeeding in their artistic practice?


Posted in art, Film & Television, music | Tagged: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Australian Art World, Meet the CoUNTesses

Posted by Mel Campbell on November 25, 2008

Who here knows about the Guerrilla Girls? These New York art activists have campaigned for over 20 years for a more equitable representation of women artists and artists of colour in galleries and museums.

Now Australia has its own band of anonymous, angry art ladies. They call themselves the CoUNTesses, and on their blog, CoUNTess, they point out all kinds of gender inequality in the Australian art scene. This is the sort of research that often goes on in university or government environments, and I for one find it exciting to see it out in the open.

One of the valuable things they do is number-crunching the gender representation in art world magazines: what proportion of male and female writers and editors work for them, and what proportion of male and female artists get cover stories, features and even just mentions. Dishearteningly, while male and female editorships are equal, and women art writers actually outnumber men, the contents are still distinctly skewed towards male artists.

They also talk about the startling discrepancy between the number of female art students and the number of women being collected in major art museums or holding major solo shows. Where are all the women going?

It’s great to have some hard statistics to begin talking about a kind of ingrained, systemic sexism that can be hard to tackle. Already the commentary at CoUNTess is focusing on whether women art critics need to focus on women artists, and whether mid-sized galleries need to follow the Australia Council’s example and provide precisely equal exhibition opportunities for men and women.

Ultimately this raises the contentious spectre of affirmative action. I’ve always found affirmative action difficult to defend in practice, because it favours one aspect of a person – in this case, their gender – over other considerations like economic and cultural capital, geographic location (perhaps 24HrArt gallery in Darwin exhibits more female artists because it’s seen as peripheral in the art world), and of course, the ‘quality’ of their ideas and of their finished work. And some people who might benefit from affirmative action find it patronising, and ultimately unhelpful because it leaves them open to criticism later in their careers (“you only got this far because we helped you, not because you’re any good”).

For now, I’d like the see the CoUNTesses get the resources to do the kind of in-depth content analysis of media, and qualitative social research in the art scene, that are necessary to show that gender inequality in art is a real problem and not just the whining of unsuccessful chick artists.

Posted in Blog Watch, Media Watch | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

I’m A DIY Cupcake Feminist

Posted by Cate on August 26, 2008

I quite enjoyed this article in The Guardian recently by Viv Groskop. It’s about the apparent ‘resurgence’ of feminine pastimes such as baking, knitting and sewing. The article details the ‘rise’ in retro and ’50s kitsch and pastimes traditionally enjoyed by stay at home mums such as tea parties, baking cakes and having a liking for tablecloths and aprons and debates whether this is a throw back to pinny imprisoned women of years past or an example of women spending time together engaging in ‘feminine’ crafts because they want to. I have divided opinions on this.

I should state my personal bias up front. I have always been crap at sports and elected to participate in all things crafty from an early age as a sanctuary from physical exertion. I run my own craft business and I run workshops on crafting. I’m in the middle of organizing a sewing bee making pads for women in Africa. But onto the article…

Firstly, the article offers numerous examples of ‘subversive’ crafting such as a cupcake drop, burlesque and naked afternoon teas and the like. Is there anything that can’t be made sexy? Sexing craft up doesn’t necessarily make it any more subversive an activity if the focus is still on the fetishised, sexualised women. But is it any better if the crafty burlesque is for a female audience? Is the wearer of those DIY nipple tassles a crafty crusader or does her presence serve to offer women yet another opportunity to compare their body to other women’s and find their sadly inadequate? But fear not readers, there’s a whole spectrum of subversive and radical crafts out there that you could do knitted or otherwise really (here’s a pattern for a knitted vagina if you feel the urge and you might enjoy this site whilst waiting for the GST on tampons to lift.

Secondly, there the issue of context as the author offers the typical contrast between second and third wave feminists. Is baking such great fun if you have to do all the cooking?.

According to a 2008 study by the [UK]Institute for Social and Economic Research, for instance, men do four to five hours of housework a week, compared with 12 hours for married women and live-in partners (single women do seven hours a week). And when it comes to cooking and washing-up, 2005 figures from the Office of National Statistics show that women spend double the amount of time in the kitchen that men do.

I can’t say this is my experience. My feminine crafting hardly extends to an immaculate house of my own efforts. Actually, my partner kindly vacuums up my dropped threads from the carpet and makes me cups of tea whilst I’m crafting. But I do agree that some crafts such as knitting and cross stitch can take a long time. I think that in some respects traditional female crafts are the luxury of middle class women who are meaningfully employed. With time to go and trawl the charity shops for their ‘reusable’ materials of course. Any woman who’s checked out the prices of Japanese or retro fabrics knows that it isn’t a cheap hobbby.

I would have liked the article to go a bit further into the ethical considerations of crafting. Is DIY baking and crafting still a valiant attempt to have a social conscience? Is it better to buy handmade if it is made from fabric woven in sweat shop factories? Are my labours as a crafter any more valued since I don’t have to sew to survive? (Perhaps not, judging by the masses of painstakingly cross stitched dollies residing in charity shops all over Australia).

I agree with Jazz D Holly statement that craft is about

”a chance to carve out their own space away from men, a place where they can gather to celebrate and enjoy traditionally female crafts”.

It can also be a good time to talk about your vaginas and plans for anti-beauty burlesque.

Posted in Blog Watch, Fashion, Media Watch | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Celebrate Vida Goldstein!

Posted by Cate on August 8, 2008

August 15th sees an opportunity to view The Art of Suff-Rage traveling art installation for a one off special event in celebration of Vida Goldstein. Vida was one of Victoria’s most colorful and courageous suffragists whom passed away forty nine years ago on the 15th August 1949.

Artists Fern Smith and Ursula Dutkiewicz will be on the steps of the St Kilda Town Hall with their installation and special guest speakers between 11AM and 1PM on that date.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

“So These Two Naked Women Walk Into A Gallery Window, Right…”

Posted by Clem Bastow on August 1, 2008

A Brisbane art gallery’s promotional exercise – naked women taking baths in the front window of the gallery – has been given the Australian Family Association treatment today by the News stable:

In the stunt, two apparently naked women take a bath together and separately from 5pm to 7pm in the gallery’s window, in candle-lit scenes reminiscent of those made famous by Mena Suvari in the movie American Beauty.

No complaints have been received by police or Brisbane City Council, but the stunt has been criticised by the Queensland branch of the Australian Family Association.

President Mark Holzworth described it as “childish, immature, teenage schoolboy voyeur stuff” that added no credibility to the gallery or the artists featured.

“This will not attract art-lovers, it will attract voyeurs which is not good for Brisbane or women in general,” Mr Holzworth said.

“I thought we had grown up as a society. Not even brothels would be this brazen to promote their services.”

I thought Hell would freeze over before the day I agreed with the AFA, but I’m inclined to think Holzworth is right (on one point, at least – and certainly not his linking of the women in the gallery stunt to prostitutes for hire/delectation in the Amsterdam shop windows!): this is not about art, it’s about the publicity that comes along with being able to gawp at women in various states of undress while they are trapped behind a shop-window and, thus, completely objectified. It’s just another way of turning women’s bodies into a product for public consumption, trussed up with the old “Shush, it’s art” lie as the cherry on top.

The exhibition may well feature female nudes, which is fine – and drawing attention to this story is by no means done to in some way suggest that women should never be depicted naked ever again – but this tenuous tie-in doesn’t make the promotion any less whiffy. As fellow feminist blogger Audrey said when she tipped us off to the link, why is it only ever women’s bodies that are considered beautiful (and, thus, arty) in instances like this?

Posted in Media Watch | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sunday Reed: Just Some Kooky Slut Who Inspired Nicole Kidman’s Baby Name, According To

Posted by Clem Bastow on July 9, 2008

So it turns out Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban’s daughter’s name, Sunday Rose, was inspired by Heide doyenne and one of Australian art’s most fervent supporters, the late Sunday Reed; apparently Nicole’s father Dr Antony Kidman had suggested it as a possible name for their baby after reading about Reed and the Heide school, and Nicole and Keith took a shine to it.

Nothing to complain about there – I’ve always liked the Kidmans (as much as you can “like” a family you only read about in the papers and mags) and it’s a much more thoughtful way of naming a child than the “that’s where she was conceived” trend apparently sweeping the celebrity world.

The problem is not the Kidman Urban clan, no – it’s (somewhat predictably) the Daily Telegraph and’s treatment of Reed’s story with this gobsmacking piece of captioning and photo editing – art-loving feminists better shield their eyes:

If you can’t read the caption, it says:

Nicole Kidman’s father has solved the mystery behind her baby daughter’s unusual name – it’s inspired by Aussie artist Sidney Nolan’s bohemian muse whose love life was twisted and saucy.

Yes, “twisted and saucy”. Because apparently a married couple who were trusting of each other and conducted polyamorous affairs with each other’s knowledge is “twisted and saucy”. But wait, there’s more! Another “article” provides the “background” on Reed:

Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban will probably hope they have bestowed only Sunday Reed’s name on the child and not her sordid and tumultuous life story.


Sunday Reed was not averse to extending her patronage beyond the studio and into the bedroom. She enjoyed a menage a trois in which Sidney Nolan and her husband John were the other partners, and her particular affair with Nolan lasted nine years.

“Tumultuous” is probably a fair, if slightly hyperbolic, assessment, but “sordid”?

Do I really need to point out all the ways in which these pieces a) suggest that Nicole needed daddy to pick out her baby’s name, b) imply that Nic and Keith have done their baby wrong by giving her the same name as a “twisted and saucy” art patron, and c) paint Sunday Reed as little more than a shagger with a penchant for artists?

Posted in Celebrity, Media Watch, Relationships, Sex And Love | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

I’m Anxiously Crafty…

Posted by Cate on July 3, 2008

Hi folks, I’m organising an 8-week series of ‘craftea chats’ for women who have experienced mental illness and are based in Melbourne.

We’ll have different materials and teachers each week and you can bring along your current project or learn a new skill such as knitting, sewing or cross stitch. All materials are provided and each session is free. Depression, anxiety and the like can be lonely and isolating and the workshops are a great chance to meet other women and engage in some crafty fun while enjoying tea and bickies.

Weekly from August 6th
Ross House, 247 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

The workshops are funded through a grant by The City of Melbourne and auspicing of the Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council

Interested? Check out the details below and email to book your place ( spaces are limited).

Posted in Announcements | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Make Dolls Not Barbies

Posted by Cate on June 30, 2008

This is an invitation to be a part of Totem, the latest exhibition presented by Omnific Assembly.

Totem is a group exhibition exploring self identity through the resurging craft movement. Artists are invited to create a self portrait doll, not of how they look on the outside, but showing how they feel about themselves or how they secretly see themselves on the inside. These dolls will then be hung in the Fracture Galleries at Federation Square in Melbourne from 22nd of September to the 13th November as part of the Melbourne International Fringe Festival.

These dolls can be created from scratch (sewn, knitted, crocheted, carved, glued etc), conversions from pre-existing dolls, sculptural assemblages from any materials, found objects or anything else you can imagine. They can be a human, an animal, a mythical creature or anything else. They can be as fantastical or ordinary as each artist feels themselves to be. Artists can submit as many dolls as they wish. The venue can cater for dolls from 30cm to several metres.

The Totem exhibition recognises we live in a growing culture of alienation which results in an increasing suspicion of strangers and shame of the self. The central premise of Totem is that no matter how different from each other we might seem on the outside, we all feel the same on the inside and it expresses this through individually created dolls which expose each artists deepest sense of identity, demonstrating that the realm of human experience is the same no matter who we are.

To find out more, please visit

To be a part of this exhibition please contact curator Sayraphim Lothian on

Posted in Announcements | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »