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2010 Feminist Films + The Bechdel Test Women in Movies

A lot of feminist films came out in Fall 2010. Below is a synopsis of each to whet your interest in watching them.

Secretariat - The life story of Penny Chenery, owner of the racehorse Secretariat, who won the Triple Crown in 1973.

Conviction - A working mother puts herself through law school in an effort to represent her brother, who has been wrongfully convicted of murder and has exhausted his chances to appeal his conviction through public defenders.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest - Lisbeth is recovering in a hospital and awaiting trial for three murders when she is released. Mikael must prove her innocence. Meanwhile, Lisbeth is plotting her own revenge against the people who put her in this situation.

Fair Game - Plame’s status as a CIA agent was revealed by White House officials allegedly out to discredit her husband after he wrote a 2003 New York Times op-ed piece saying that the Bush administration had manipulated intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq.

For Colored Girls - Each of the women portray one of the characters represented in the collection of twenty poems, revealing different issues that impact women in general and women of color in particular.

Tiny Furniture - About a recent college grad who returns home while she tries to figure out what to do with her life. written, directed and starring Lena Dunham.

Made in Dagenham - A dramatization of the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham car plant, where female workers walked out in protest against sexual discrimination.

Miral - A drama centered on an orphaned Palestinian girl growing up in the wake of the first Arab-Israeli war who finds herself drawn into the conflict.

The Tempest - In Julie Taymor’s version of ‘The Tempest,’ the gender of Prospero has been switched to Prospera. Going back to the 16th or 17th century, women practicing the magical arts of alchemy were often convicted of witchcraft. In Taymor’s version, Prospera is usurped by her brother and sent off with her four-year daughter on a ship. She ends up on an island; it’s a tabula rasa: no society, so the mother figure becomes a father figure to Miranda. This leads to the power struggle and balance between Caliban and Prospera; a struggle not about brawn, but about intellect. Directed by Julie Taymor.

You Won’t Miss Me - A kaleidoscopic film portrait of Shelly Brown, a twenty-three year-old alienated urban misfit recently released from a psychiatric hospital. Co-written and directed by Ry-Russo Young.

The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies

The Bechdel Test is a simple way to gauge the active presence of female characters in Hollywood films and just how well rounded and complete those roles are. The test was created in 1985 by Allison Bechdel in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For.

It is astonishing the number of popular movies that can’t pass this simple test. It demonstrates how women’s complex and interesting lives are underrepresented or non-existent in the film industry. Women have jobs, creative projects, friendships and struggles among many other things that are actually interesting in our lives… and yet Hollywood simply skips over those topics in favour of stories about male characters who are made more interesting.

This topic is also covered on numerous other websites, including:

The Bechdel Test Movie List: A very long list of movies and where they rate on the Bechdel Test.

Why Film Schools Teach Screenwriters Not to Pass the Bechdel Test, an essay by Jennifer Kesler.

The Dinner Party finds a home

FEMINIST ART - It took decades for the iconic "The Dinner Party" installation to find a home in an art gallery or museum. Truth is, nobody was willing to take it. It was shunned.

No longer.

The Dinner Party, an important icon of 1970s feminist art and a milestone in twentieth-century art, is presented as the centerpiece around which the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art is organized.

The Dinner Party is comprised of a massive ceremonial banquet, arranged on a triangular table with a total of thirty-nine place settings, each commemorating an important woman from history. The settings consist of embroidered runners, gold chalices and utensils, and china-painted porcelain plates with raised central motifs that are based on vulvar and butterfly forms and rendered in styles appropriate to the individual women being honored.

The names of another 999 women are inscribed in gold on the white tile floor below the triangular table. This permanent installation is enhanced by rotating Herstory Gallery exhibitions relating to the 1,038 women honored at the table.

However a lot of bitterness remains about the monumental piece. Judy Chicago, the woman who organized it all, didn't pay the artists who contributed their time and skill to the project. And if you watch documentaries of the process used to make it you realize she wasn't a very nice person to all the workers/artists who helped with the project. She took all the glory for herself, hence the bitterness. (Sure it was "for a good cause", but Judy Chicago could be making more of an effort to share the credit.)

And on top of that, does The Dinner Party really deserve all the attention? Certainly it is one of biggest, most well-known feminist art installations of the 1970s, but there are other artists who probably deserve more attention.

To make matters worse Judy Chicago has been an 'one hit wonder'. She has been coasting on her laurels ever since. It is perhaps no surprise that it took so long for The Dinner Party to finally find a home.

Rozsika Parker, feminist art historian

ART HISTORY - Check out this blog post about Rozsika Parker, a feminist art historian.

And while you're at it check out this post about the cartoon Cathy. Ack!

And also Black Womanhood in Art.

And finally What Women have done to Art.


In other news we are looking for feminist art about Christmas and/or other holidays. Send your JPGs to suzannemacnevin(atsymbol)

Feminist Art by Men

FEMINIST ART - Sometimes men make feminist art.

Its a little unexpected when it happens, but some of it is surprisingly good. Many of the paintings by political artist Charles Moffat for example.

Another example is the untitled piece by Cuban artist José Gómez Fresquet (Frémez) below, done circa 1970.

Fresquet made the poster (silkscreen on paper 18 3/8 x 24 1/8 inches) around 1970 as an antiwar statement in solidarity with Vietnamese women. The poster’s minimalist approach (a la Che Guevara posters) makes the connection between the objectification of women and violence against women, while also bringing up race and class issues.

The poster later was popularized and reprinted in the United States by the Chicago Women’s Graphic Collective.

So its an important piece about a feminist issue. It doesn't matter if its done by a man. All that proves is that at least some men are on the right track. Its progress.

Cult Sisters 5

FEMINIST ART - The Cult Sisters 5 may not be the Group of Seven, if anything they're the furthest from the long dead Canadian group of artists. The five artists are:

J.M. Culver
Kara Hendershot
Louisa Greenstock
Gina Louise
Erin Sayer

What binds them together is they're all female and proud of it... and they've opened their own gallery, the Cult Status Gallery in Minneapolis. In 2009 Sayer met Hendershot as she was painting “this awesome portrait of Conan O’Brien on the wall.” The rest of the group met through Facebook.

“We are five emerging female artists, and our work makes a strong statement,” says Culver. “I think that’s what connects us all together.”

“We’ve done like everything through Facebook,” admits Sayers.

“You wouldn’t necessarily look at our work and say, 'Oh, a woman did that,'” explains Culver about their conflicting artistic styles. Culver dredges up childhood memories using charcoal/acrylics, Louise uses mixed media and poetry, Sayer and Greenstock's works drip with rock star sexuality... some of its rather unlady-like.

“Maybe it’s because we don’t draw vaginas and flowers,” laughs Sayer. “The society is still a little patriarchal,” she says. “I think people for some reason still trust men more.”

Their new gallery will be focused on young artists, but there will be healthy dose of art by both genders.

Kate-Christine Miller

FEMINIST ART - Feminist art is making a comeback, so says Kate-Christine Miller.

The 25-year-old multi-media artist and University of Guelph student is one of the organizers of Ladyfest Toronto, an annual feminist festival.

According to Kate-Christine Miller there’s long been a stigma around feminist art (both in universities and in art world in general), despite the success of high-profile feminist artists like Allyson Mitchell and Shary Boyle. Miller discovered her professors weren't that interested in feminist art. (She should have tried York University in Toronto instead, where there is an abundance of professors who enjoy the topic and a whole 6-credit class on feminist art.)

“You could tell that the professors had seen the same 20-year-old girls making the same thing over and over again, but that’s because we hadn’t learned about it,” explains Miller. “It was really hard to reflect on this giant body of feminist work and contribute something new because we thought we were the first person ever to think of it.”

According to Miller however feminism is a growing phenomenon in Canada's art galleries. There are more feminist artists at The Power Plant (a contemporary gallery in Toronto), and a recent issue of the Toronto-based arts quarterly, C Magazine, was devoted entirely to feminist art.

As an artist herself Miller explores the history of feminist art, but doesn't restrict herself even if 'its been done before'. She grew up in St. Catharines, Ontario, and her parents shared the duties of parenting and domestic life. “The idea of gender equality was very much a part of my life,” she says.

She also contributed to the book "Saturday Night: Untold Stories of Sexual Assault", an anthology of anonymous stories of women. Recently Miller started a new job as the administrator for the Association for Women’s Rights in Development in Toronto.

Miller says she is worried “about the hysteria over young girls everywhere in the world.”

“It’s just ultimately setting them up for failure to teach people not to stand up for themselves, and that they are just victims of some sort of hyper-sexual machine,” she says. “I don’t think that freaking out about young girls is helping them.”

Girls today need to be reassured their own decisions are the right ones and only they can determine what is best for themselves, believes Miller.

(We were unable to display Miller's art on here, which is mostly in video and textile.)

Feminist Art Vs. Peter Nygard

Peter Nygard is a Canadian fashion guru who makes women's clothing. In one of his factories in Jordan 1,200 women from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India are being held captive, forced to make women's pants until they pay off their "debt".

Its not just a sweatshop. Its slavery.

The women aren't allowed to leave. They are locked in bed bug infested dormitories, given very little food and water and if they make mistakes they are beaten and/or raped by their Jordanian masters.

Meanwhile in the Bahamas Peter Nygard has his huge island estate with hundreds of servants and a net worth of $800 million USD. Even there he treats his workers like slaves. They're not allowed to leave and he frequently deducts from their wages.

There is even a CBC documentary about Peter Nygard, exposing how he treats the workers on his estate. The documentary was made before the U.S.-based National Labor Committee (NLC) released a report revealing that Peter Nygard was also involved in human trafficking and slavery in Jordan.

Peter Nygard and his lawyers of course deny any knowledge of human trafficking and slavery at his overseas factories... but then again his former employees in North America having been suing him for years now over labour violations, sexual abuse and there's even a rumoured rape/murder of a 16-year-old girl from the Dominican Republic.

So here's the deal... we're going to have a Feminist Art Contest. The theme is Peter Nygard / His Enslavement of Women.

The prize? There is no prize. Why should anyone get a prize? We're talking about a man who enslaves women in foreign countries just so he can sell clothing to rich yuppies and in turn make himself richer.

Submit your art via JPEG (it could also be a YouTube video) to the Facebook group mentioned below. There's no deadline either. Any and all submissions will be reposted on this blog. Its a purely honourific contest, the goal isn't money or fame, its sending a message that people like Peter Nygard are filth.

Consider it a chance to make a difference in the world and make your voice heard. In the meantime please join the Facebook Group: Boycotting Peter Nygard and let the world know that a man who treats women like slaves doesn't deserve to make money selling women's clothing.

UPDATE! THE OLD BOYCOTT PAGE WAS DELETED NO THANKS TO NYGARD'S LAWYERS: Please join the new group at Boycott Nygard's Brands

A Plethora of Feminist Art

The following is a plethora of different feminist art by various artists.

Jess Larson - Defensive (from the Look and Learn, Little Girl series) - circa 2009

Larson has an upcoming show at the Humanities Fine Arts Gallery at the University of Minnesota. The reception is Thursday January 21st, 2010 at 7 PM. The show runs until Friday March 12th, 2010.

Viktor Freso - Martina - 2007

Viktor Freso is male, but he's known for tackling interesting subjects. I especially like his "Onion is Healthy" time-based art piece from 2006 when he placed hundreds of onions outside a public building along with a sign saying "Onion is Healthy" and watched as hundreds of people stole the onions. Male feminist artists are not unheard of, check out the following interview with Charles Moffat.

Viktor's works will be in Chicago at the Open Concept Gallery until Feb. 25th, 2010.

Elke Krystufek - Proper Use - 2005

Elke Krystufek's series "Less Male Art" will be showing at the Kestner Gallery (kestnergesellschaft) until July 2nd 2010 in Hanover Germany.

Kirsten Justesen

FEMINIST ART - Kirsten Justesen was born in 1943. She currently lives and works in Copenhagen and New York. She studied at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen 1975.

Her activities comprise a wide range of genres, from body art and performance art, to sculptures and installation. Justesen was part of the avant-garde scene of the 1960s, where she became a pioneering figure within the three-dimensional modes of art that incorporate the artist's own body as artistic material. These experiments led her in the direction of the so-called feminist art which challenged traditional value systems during the 1970s. Her later works constitute broader investigations of relationships between body, space, and language.

Justesen has created a series of exhibitions, events, museum installations, performances, and mural work in Denmark and the rest of world since the mid-60s. And received number of awards including a life-long grant from The Danish Arts Foundation. Justesen has been a visiting professor and lecturer at art academies in Scandinavia, the U.S., and the Middle East.

The 1970s were especially dedicated to an investigation into the feminine gaze at a time where Justesen’s studio was located between the kitchen and the nursery. Justesen is continuously fighting for women artists’ rights and influence in the art world at many levels--from her work on various boards and positions in foundations, to co-organizing seminars concerning women artists’ positions in society.

Justesen has designed sets for a number of theatres since 1967. The co-operations in the 1990s were mainly with ballet companies. This included libretto and production design with the Randi Patterson Company as well as the building up education for set designers at The Danish National School of Theatre from 1985-90.

Justesen's artwork is represented in private and public collections, worldwide, including Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. Kors Drag was published 1999; it comprises a collection of 200 images and 100 lines of words, rewritten by international female artists. Meltingtime # 11 is a retrospective catalogue published in 2003, documenting the melting times presented since 1980. Meltingtime # 16 will take place in Venice in October 2007.

Feminist Artist Statement

"….. Duchamp couldn’t think of anything new.
But for us women artists there was a lot to discover!

To a woman artist wanting everything, society seemed pretty narrow in the 1960s. A battle started in order to conquer breathing space, action space and language space in the world--which, from my point of view, includes having children, a career, and access to means of production in that postwar, welfare and increasingly global environment.

From this simple wish sprang various strategies towards society, strategies which I considered art work--and thank you Mr. Duchamp for deleting the border lines. The revolution was that women artists did this together and insisted on surviving all kinds of bloodshed.

This was done to perceive visual images from a female point of view. Unfold the invisible. Not that easy when you have been educated in a classical sculpture department. What does it look like? My studio was for a long time an inspiring threshold between the nursery and the kitchen.

The images which I have chosen for this feminist art base are part of that struggle. Sculpture # 2, 1968 is a more formal sculptural investigation, as is the last one shown from 1980, Ice Bride # 3 (conquering an iceberg-- melting time!). It refers to three-dimensional investigations that still challenge me.

I have used my own body in most of my work, in order not to get lost.

I take part in this feminist art base as evidence of an ongoing female strategy."

Art, Education, Censorship & Copyright Laws

ART HISTORY - I have an ongoing feud with this crazy woman over the difference between educational usage and the breaking of copyright laws.

Her argument is she wrote it, therefore its hers to distribute.

I however believe that anyone should be able to distribute educational material, in this case pertaining to art history. My argument is that as long as its for educational purposes it falls into the realm of Fair Use, and indeed if I ignored the chance to spread such educational material it would essentially be censorship.

"Fair use is a doctrine in United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders, such as for commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching or scholarship. It provides for the legal, non-licensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work under a four-factor balancing test. The term "fair use" originated in the United States, but a similar principle, fair dealing, exists in some other common law jurisdictions. Civil law jurisdictions have other limitations and exceptions to copyright."

So in essence I am correct as far as the law goes, but she refuses to understand the principle of it. Some jurisdictions use the Fair Dealing law which is more strict about usage, but when it comes to things posted on the internet pretty everything is fair game because it falls under international laws.

Here's what happened. Years ago we came across a website that was poorly designed and hadn't been updated in a long time. Our immediate assumption was that this website was defunct... but a lot of the articles we thought were valuable for art history education purposes, so we copied the articles and placed them on several active/popular websites so more people could read them, appreciate them and learn from them.

It should be noted at this point we did try contacting the owner of the defunct website, asking for their permission to reproduce (it is only polite after all). They never responded, confirming our conclusion that their website was defunct and no longer in use.

Several YEARS passed and this crazy woman emailed us asking the articles to be removed. According to her the original website is still active (despite looking otherwise). Yada yada yada, we eventually did, but it was a big long argument and we really only did it because she was super annoying and not because of any legal reasons.

What we did was place all the articles on a blog... which qualifies as a news zone. So not only is it educational, buts its also considered a news item. Whenever there is more news on that particular topic we can post more articles... and because it qualifies as both an educational and news website it is CLEARLY exempt from copyright laws.

And frankly what artist doesn't want free promotion and their paintings listed on lots of art history websites? Doesn't every artist want their painting to be as popular as the Mona Lisa some day?

These days we have her blocked, but occasionally she manages to send us a message somehow and we have to find a new way to block her. Whenever she does that however it INSPIRES us to write another article about the importance of education over censorship/copyright. Like today.

Hey crazy lady, stick that up your arse and rotate.

With respect to art (and anything on the internet) the topic of Fair Use comes up frequently. Many artists, notably Andy Warhol, have become known for their usage of other people's works in an effort to create something.

Thus artists, writers, bloggers, educators, feminists, activists and anybody with a bone to pick will always be usurping old material, showing it over again, sometimes changing it, sometimes leaving it as is... and they will always be protected by the laws of Fair Use.

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