It’s an absolute shame—and I mean that term in its most real sense, I mean it to encompass fully the terms guilt and embarrassment—that Feminism (yes, capital “F”) is considered a dirty word by some, one which often incites a cringe in both men and women. It’s a shame that the word denotes anything short of the most important political and social movement of the past 150 years. Stripping it of its stigmas it means nothing less than recognizing women’s equal worth. And that is nothing to cringe or scoff at.
Lynn Hershman Leeson’s new documentary !Women Art Revolution, which screened yesterday, offers the history of the Feminist art movement by way of thoughtful and often animated interviews with some of the most innovative and abrasive female artists of the early-’60s up to the present. As the description claims it shows how Feminist art “fused free speech and politics into art that radically transformed the art and culture of our times.”
Included in the film are Judy Chicago, Judith Baca, the Guerilla Girls, Lynn Hershman, young novelist and filmmaker Miranda July, Yvonne Rainer and others. The film spans five decades of Feminist political and social activism and is a wonderful survey of what is arguably the most important art movement of the last century.
What’s interesting about discussing Feminism is how casually people dismiss it. But the beginning of the film offers a very brief and telling example of why it is much more than a dismissible term in scare quotes. Museum-goers are asked, out front of the Whitney in New York, to name three female artists. Three. These are people who care enough about art to go to museums, which I would argue makes them better educated when it comes to art than a good majority of the general populace. Not one of them can. Try it. Name three female artists. If you can’t think of them, don’t excuse yourself by claiming that there just aren’t any. Go see the film.