Welcome to our blog! This is a platform where the rich diversity of women's voices can be heard and where we can come together to turn attention on the myriad of issues that affect a variety of women. We celebrate where things are good, and focus a spotlight on areas where they aren't. If you want to write something for this space please just get in touch!
Before sending us your blog, please note: We publish articles that are written by women, pro all women & not for profit in their intention. We welcome lighter pieces as well as articles on more serious issues. There is no specific word count, but most pieces are around the 700 word mark.
Our latest post is by Karla McLaren, Campaign Manager: Women’s Rights in Afghanistan for Amnesty International UK who are campaigning for women in Afghanistan.
Why hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen went viral in 24h
All feminists are equal (but some feminists are more equal than others)
One of the most fascinating things about Twitter is its power to open the floodgates to long held-back frustrations in just a couple of clicks. Since Monday, the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen is causing a frenzy all over the social network, sometimes at a rate of 50 tweets per second.
Now it looks like thousands of netizens were waiting for this moment to shout their exasperation against a colour blind brand of feminism.
Their point isn’t about denouncing discrimination against women of colour in the workplace, media, shops, culture, schools or universities – that has already been done. The hashtag stroked the nerve of Twitter users who were for a long time putting up with some white feminists’ hypocrisy when dealing with gender issues.
It doesn’t take long to find everyday examples. How many Western feminists are proud of defending women’s interest, yet they don’t bat an eye when buying clothes made by disadvantaged women in Asian sweatshops? Or hiring (and underpaying) a woman of colour to take care of their children so they can return to work? How often do the media ignore reporting criminal cases when the victim is “only” a woman of colour?
Since the 1970’s, many black feminists have argued that women of colour experience a more intense kind of discrimination, combining sexism, racism, and class oppression. According to the Twitter posts, little has changed. Mainstream feminism seems to be stuck in a time warp of class and racial abuse.
Yet it’s striking how many women and men found this thread offensive, racist or simply depressing. Many said they felt uncomfortable discovering their ‘white privilege’. For others, the self-glorifying idea of being a hero in the war against gender oppression was shattered when confronted with the racial discrimination that millions of women of colour experience every day.
But probably the most important thing about #solidarityisforwhitewomen is that it finally says clearly that women are not one homogeneous group, as they are often referred to by feminists, economists, and politicians. It is the birth of a forum where all feminists have the opportunity to discuss, listen and learn from each other. It enforces the idea that discourse about gender equality needs to move beyond the patronizing approach that some white Western feminists are promoting worldwide, ignoring their own racial and class bias.
Whilst it started off as one single tweet, #solidarityisforwhitewomen is becoming a wave that remarkably shook the world of feminism – and it was about time.
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From Sexist Exclusion to Feminist Inclusion: the Art of Pauline Boty
- by Caroline Coon
‘Amazingly’ said the invitation*, this is ‘the first exhibition in a public art gallery' of Pauline Boty's work. ‘Amazingly’ is academic-nice for an incredible story that I’m about to tell you in more gritty language. Let me set the scene: I can tell you some of this because I was there. I first saw Pauline Boty’s paintings, with her present, at her and her husband Clive Goodwin’s home in Notting Hill Gate in 1965. After Boty died of cancer aged 28, I spent many hours in the presence of these paintings in the large apartment where Goodwin lived in South Kensington.
Boty’s paintings were on all the walls – in Goodwin’s office, the corridor and the kitchen. The large sitting room - with ‘It’s A Man’s World 1’ and ‘It’s A Man’s World 11’ and ‘Jean-Paul Belmondo’ looking on - was one of the most lovely rooms in London. It had huge French windows and a canopied garden swing seat covered in orange canvas beside a huge bowl filled with plastic yellow daffodils. In to this vibrant scene would come most of the cultural movers and shakers of the day to create, plot and plan - Nell Dunn, Tariq Ali, Dennis Potter, Kenneth Tynan, Christopher Logue, Derek Boshier…
Before and immediately after her death Pauline Boty was IN this cultural life, THERE, co-creating, co-present. Her art practice is an exact reflection and incorporation of the concerns and aesthetics of the progressive culture that they were made in and part of.
As I got on with my life I assumed that these crucial paintings were safe, available and/or cared for in art dealer’s storage.
In 1991 I went to the Pop Art show at the Royal Academy of Art. I was longing to see Pauline Boty’s paintings again. As I walked around the show I realised that something was very wrong. Except for one painting by Niki de Saint Phalle, the show was all male. Marco Livingstone had curated an exhibition that was an apartheid, Men Only space. All the women artists who are integral to the wide field that is called Pop Art were disappeared, excluded and gone.
I was outraged. The exhibition was, frankly, a lie. After two decades of feminist scholarship and Guerrilla Girls protest, white male curators were still wilfully ignoring reality, busily falsifying art history and not only erasing women from the cannon but also denying women their place in the public art space.
If you remember back then… in dominant theory WOMAN was a disdained stereotype. For instance, the much-lauded surrealist expert, George Melly, trashed Dorothea Tanning as ‘nursery’. Here is Griselda Pollock noting what happened to Georgia O’Keeffe at the Hayward Gallery in 1993: ‘her work was greeted by a barrage of violent criticism in which a male-art-critical establishment crawled over the surfaces of her paintings to reassure themselves that she wasn’t any good at it so they would not have to confront the complex articulation of  women’s perspective and sensibility on life, beauty, nature, belonging, displacement and desire.’
It was at about this time that two people who helped to overturn this apartheid politics of art selection came to visit me: Professor David Mellor and Dr Sue Tate.
Professor Mellor was curating his ‘The Sixties Art Scene in London’ for the 1993 Barbican exhibition. And Dr Tate was beginning her research.
David Mellor found Pauline Boty’s paintings rotting and dust covered in her brother’s garage. He was moved to tears when he first saw them. He had them restored. And he included Boty’s work with EIGHT more women artists in his Barbican exhibition. By including more women beside their male art colleagues than had ever before been included in a public art gallery exhibition, Mellor made his show history changing. The white male art establishment went berserk. They went to war. Dr Mellor was verbally attacked and physically assaulted by … well, Dr Mellor has been too discrete to say who it was but I’ve always imagined it to be some bully like Bryan Robertson.
Mellor was told that male artists X, Y and Z would withdraw their work if the Boty paintings were not removed from the exhibition. Mellor stood his ground and his inclusive curatorial intelligence gave the show the humanity and truth of real life.
But, the history-falsifying Men Only exclusionists were not finished.
I was invited to talk about the Barbican exhibition on BBC 2. In reply to a question about Pauline Boty’s painting, put to him by Richard Cook, Waldemar Januszczak sneered ‘Oh, Pauline Boty, she’s a bad painter. She’s just a dolly bird’.
Managing to contradict Januszezak, I said: ‘You are absolutely wrong. Pauline Boty is a superb painter. And, she was just as glamorous as the glamorous men around her like David Hockney with his dyed blond hair and his gold lamé jacket.’
I wish I’d been more prepared to contest what Kate Millett called misogyny’s ‘brutal contempt’ with some quip like: You are not an art critic Waldemar; you are just a meathead!
What permanently altered art history, and sealed the position of Pauline Boty in her rightful place as a vanguard innovator in the Pop Art movement, were the two co-operating shows at Whitford Fine Art and The Mayor Gallery in 1998.
James Mayor was the ideal person to aid this Women Included revolution. Ever since I was an art student I have gone to the Mayor Gallery sure of seeing art by women artists from Leonor Fini to Hannah Höch and recently Dadamaino. (Incidentally, James Mayor’s next show, maybe his last on Cork Street, is a group of five women artists including Agnes Martin and Aurelie Nemours.)
From 1998 onwards - the year that ‘The Only Blond In the World’ book to accompanied the Mayor/Whitford exhibitions was published with foundation essays by Mellor and Tate - I don’t think you’ll find any book on Pop Art that fails to include Pauline Boty.
Pauline Boty’s paintings are here in Wolverhampton Art Gallery today by chance and luck, yes, but mostly through the perspicacity of a few people who understood not only that they are superb works of art in themselves but that they need to be seen as evidence of the extent to which art history was falsified by the exclusion of so much art by women.
What I’ve outlined here is a story of reconnection, a sometimes-violent struggle to place women artists and their works back into the communities and contexts they lived and worked in.
When Boty lived, marriage gave husbands the right to rape their wives, women could not sign a contract or obtain a bank loan without her husband or father as guarantor, there was no law against sexual harassment at work, no equal pay act… women were not yet familiar with the feminist language that was being coined as the tool of liberation and human rights.
Women artists were as equally human as their male colleagues but they had to live beside history. They had to negotiate a history of patriarchy that, as Lichtenberg-Ettinger said, puts women down or ‘perpetually puts her in her place.’
Which is why politically engaged artists like Boty chose to incorporate politics in their art.
Pauline Boty was not ‘before her time’. Like many women avant-garde artists before her, Boty was IN and Of her time. She was on the front line, with an agenda as iconoclastic about women and sex as her newly empowered male artist friends were iconoclast about imperialism and class. As a woman artist – like many Pop Art women artists – Boty was bravely ‘out’, breaking free of patriarchal assumptions about women in the same way that an artist like David Hockney was ‘out’ braking free of patriarchal assumptions about what it is to be male.
This is why we must not be afraid of, nor need we hide, Boty’s sexuality or the beauty of her self-presentation as seen in photographs. Boty’s sexual persona in her art and in her life was ground-braking and consciously considered, giving form, as Dr Sue Tate says ‘to the pleasures of autonomous female sexuality that she considered inseparable from women’s social and political liberation.’
Pop artist women like Pauline Boty positioned their sexuality as a conscious alternative to the cold-cool de-sexing of art that flaws Modernism.
Combining her body – her sexuality, her female virility and libido – with her mind in her art was Boty’s reparative intervention, the cure to that fatal disconnect from life that so disheartens masculinity and is characterised by the ‘little death’ or the ‘petit mort’ in male narratives of orgasm.
In Boty’s art we see orgasm – her pleasure and desire – not as a little death but a burst of ecstatic energy that is the very beginning of life.
Which is why we must not let the trajedy of her early death obscure the purposeful life force and optimism in her work. Boty poured her love of life into her painting. She could paint loss and despair – ‘Colour Her gone’ or ‘ My Colouring Book’ - because she lived for joy.
Look at these paintings individually but remember they are only glimpses of what she was capable of! Look at her paintings – and all the other examples of her art practice – and remember that she actively and consciously wanted to change the future.
In this exhibition we see Pauline Boty feeling and finding her way. She is speaking without finishing… Had she lived she might have found a way of connecting with the many other vanguard women artists of her time and, today, I’m sure she would have loved political engagement with Riot Grrrls, and Girl Power and Slut Walkers and Pussy Riot…
Perhaps, as the exhibition tours, young women and men who support for example, The Woman’s Room, Hollaback! and The Everyday Sexism Project will see these paintings and be inspired and have their spirits raised as my spirits were raised when I first saw them as a student so many years ago.
After all, art does have the power to change human identity and the nature of society. The evidence is here in the exhibition of Pauline Boty’s telling, beautiful, valuable, tough and precious works of art!
*‘Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman’, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Friday 31 May 2013 to 16 November 2013.
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Leaning in to Public Speaking?
I wanted to write a post on public speaking for some time, and Sheryl Sandberg’s recent advice that women lean in to their careers and abolish all thoughts of so-called Imposter Syndrome has finally spurred me into action.
My relationship with public speaking forms a long and contradictory road. Like many people I love to be at the centre of things, planning, doing and generally attempting to contribute in some small way to my professional and personal surroundings. I suppose you would also call me an extrovert, loud at times, enthusiastic, gregarious. Which is why it seems to jar that I have always had such a problem with public speaking. It’s the usual stuff - the sweating, the rushing of words so you end up eating them, the random and entirely unstoppable facial flush. Weirdly, and to trot out an old cliché, I do end up enjoying myself once I’m up there. But by that time I’ve worked myself up to such an extent that it is almost an hour after my presentation that I begin to feel the impact of this.
Part of the reason for such irrational behaviour is no doubt innate and personality-based, but I strongly believe that another part of it is that public speaking is bloody nerve-wracking, especially if you only do it sporadically. I read an article recently which stated that in a broad survey of the nation’s most angst-inducing moments public speaking came out on top. This doesn’t surprise me; nor should we underestimate that, like other niche pastimes, it is as much a skill as anything - one to constantly nurture, practise and improve. But the truth is that in general we don’t get nearly enough opportunity to flex this muscle and until we do a lot of us (myself included) will continue our vicious cycle of fret and embarrassment until the next time we need to open the Pandora’s Box of paranoia.
To load the dice further, as women move through education and into a professional environment most attainable speaking slots are increasingly filled by men. Not much of a coincidence given that men are by and large more vocal in group situations than women - at school, in social groups and at work. The stats show that they are generally more open to offering their opinion and sharing their ideas because they have more conviction in what they are saying and thinking, regardless of whether it’s right or not. In addition - and this is an oft-repeated argument for another day - men can afford to be, and therefore are, more forceful and assertive in a group environment on both a professional and social level. In contrast women who demonstrate the equivalent behaviour are often construed as aggressive or overbearing, or a recent personal favorite, forceful. It can be pretty demoralising trying to strike the right balance between not becoming a doormat and not ‘being’ a banshee.
So what can we do about this? A couple of months ago I went to a great 300 seconds Digital Teacamp event during which someone mooted the excellent idea of a type of ‘Shadowing Scheme’ for younger and/or junior women to accompany more seasoned women in a public speaking environment such as a conference or seminar. There was talk of setting up a central hub for this as well as the potential inclusion of a forum which will allow mentors to tout their public speaking mentor roles and enable participants to access knowledge around pitch presentation, content and performance. Should the process be successful, it would be great if this hub could be ultimately used as a means of channelling speaking opportunities from more experienced women on the circuit to those women who desperately need and want the experience.
I write to ask and implore whether there is anyone reading this who would be interested in setting up such a forum - at minimal time and effort. As the definitive forum for female expertise The Women’s Room seemed the best place to kick-start the idea. Over time our aim would be to create a groundswell of female 'experts' in this field and significantly increase the talent pool for those women available for the conference 'circuit'. It would also provide a bit of leeway for the go-to group of women who are usually called upon for these events. Those women providing the 'shadowing' could be incentivised by possible assistance on research for example, which would benefit both parties.
I want to leave you with a discovery that was made in an academic study commissioned by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology earlier this year. An image of Hilary Clinton was hung at the back of a virtual auditorium and a number of men and women were tasked with giving a persuasive political speech against a theoretical rise in tuition fees. The speeches were then repeated when the image was taken away. Both the women themselves and external judges rated the speeches - in their content, mannerisms - much higher when Hilary’s photo was present. The presence of such a powerful female role model inspired the women and ultimately enabled them to perform better in the situation. The report authors conclusion was stark: "We believe these findings are important because although a wealth of research has studied the effects of role models on academic and math performance, there is no research that investigates the effect of female political role models on successful leadership behaviour. Yet, exactly such behaviour is crucial because not only is an increase in female politicians the goal of equality, it can also be (as our results show) the engine that drives it.”
So what are we waiting for? Let’s go!
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