A few months ago, the Leopoldmuseum in Vienna hosted several different exhibitions in one house. One floor was dedicated to Klimt and Schiele, another had a specific 20th century theme (I can’t remember anymore if it was expressionism or surrealism) and the basement hosted an exhibition of exclusively female artists. Apart fom the – surely unintentional – irony of the women being hung in the basement, I quickly noticed that the other exhibition only hosted a handful of female painters at best. Meanwhile, the women exhibition didn’t have any theme and with that lack came no incentive as to why visitiors should make their way down into he basement.
Maybe that incentive would have been given by an exhibition on e.g. how women* in the first half of the 20th century protrayed the female body? Or the male body for that matter (although material here might be rare)? Those are just two of countless possibilities for feminist shows. In these cases, it would make sense to isolate one gender’s perspective since the portrayal of the female body is different according to the gender, sexual orientation and race of the artist. However, in general, only “including” women* in spheres of male dominance by isolating them and setting them apart for no reason whatsoever is not inclusion and light-years away from being feminist.
And still, this is a form of half-hearted “inclusion” that isn’t only prevalent in the sphere of Art with a capital A. It’s the case for concerts, book prizes, film competitions etc. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not to say that events exclusively for women* never have value – as always, it’s more complicated than that. You want to start a prize for feminist literature or for female filmmakers since we’re not given a fair chance in the traditional ones? That’s great. But I always get suspicious when one organization does a “normal” event and then one for women* specifically, without that separate event having a theme or a purpuse mostly concerning women*. Those separate events alongside the “main” ones – which usually means their male equivalents – are a legitimization to not take the women* in the respective industry seriously. It means there’s a proper prize and a secondary one. It means the women* are displayed in the basement, when what most of us really want is a fair and equal chance in the male-dominated industries themselves.
So in my example, what would be fair would be to include women* in the regular exhibitions in the same way as men*. Because they were there in the last century, painting and sculpting and creating alongside their male colleagues, not being taken seriously by academies or gallerists due to the absence of a penis (or due to not wanting to perform in a body that was viewed as male). Pretending that they weren’t and that their lack of representation is due to them “just not being active enough” is to continue to disregard them based on that “pathology” of not being a man. And if they are given a separate space this has to be for good reason, not just so that a museum can say “look, we did something with women, too”.