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Are Art Museums Sexist? Yes …And Maybe No

Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into U.S. Art Museums?

The image for this post comes from the Guerrilla Girls, which prompts several questions about sexism in U.S. art museums.

The issue of less than three percent of artists being female is clearly a symptom of a sexist society. But when it comes to the percentage of female nudes vs. male nudes, I, a feminist, am far less certain…

Is it sexism if the female body is, as many scholars have noted, simply more beautiful than the male? If the popularity of female nudes is due to aesthetics, is that sexist?

Is it sexism if the disproportionate statistics reflect the greater comfort level of society with the more “hidden” quality of female genitalia? Is the female body just more “discrete” or acceptable? (Does that affect the issue raised in the first question?)

Is it sexism if the male of the species is more visually oriented and, artist or no, seeks to see the female form more often than landscapes, bowls of fruit, etc. etc. etc. ? Is it just a matter of biology? Is the number of artworks featuring the female form simply a symptom of the biologically driven (if not restricted) male artists’ vision? (At least for the heterosexual male artist population. And let’s not forget the power heterosexual male art patrons wield.) Another way to look at this is the world of music which contains more “love songs” than any other subject; a reflection of our societal obsession with love, lust, longing, loss etc. So is art, especially classic works which tend to be more literal, simply a similar reflection of the male drive and/or our cultural romantic obsession? If any of this is so, does that make the greater number of nude females in art and/or art museums sexist?

OK, that’s as simple as I could break down some of the major issues. Now discuss.

Oh, and while you’re thinking of all this, consider this question: Just how many nudes are actually on display in museums these days, anyways? It’s not just this country’s continued hard swing to the right, which deems even classical nudes a blight, thus removing them from public display; but in this economy, museums are even more fearful of “save the children!” cries which could ruin public as well as private donations. (See also my previous post, Collections: Public Or Private?)

Posted in Art, Artists, Essays, Notes, Sexism.

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