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The Feminist Figure


Gloria Steinem

Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, I found escape and encouragement in books of all kinds, from those I was supposed to be reading at my age to those I definitely was not.

Only now do I ask myself: Why didn't I find rescue in images, too?  Toledo had one of this country's great art museums.  My mother and I lived only a block away, and my sixth grade teacher patiently paraded us through its galleries.

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Even after we moved to the other side of town, I could have taken a streetcar to find much-needed refuge from tumultuous teenage years in those calm and beautiful galleries.  But I didn't.

I don't know how I would have expressed this at the time, but I never for a moment felt that what I saw in that museum had anything to do with my life.  I couldn't transform myself into the girls and women who were portrayed as beautiful objects, nor did I want to become one of the old women or prostitutes or Madonnas about whom the artists seemed to be saying "We are so serious that we portray even the unbeautiful." Certainly, I never got the idea that women and girls ourselves could be painters or sculptors, nor do I remember seeing myself or any women I knew in those images.  Indeed, I don't remember one friend or relative who felt the museum was part of our lives and imaginations.  Even the grandiosity of the museum itself seemed designed to intimidate, not include.

Now, I think with pleasure of the difference a young woman may feel seeing "The Feminist Figure" in this inviting space of the Forum Gallery, curated by Marcia G. Yerman.  From Linda Nochlin looking out of a Manet setting to the realism of Jane Lund's Portrait of a Woman, from the kinetic humor of Kim Dingle's girls to the hard work in Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson's images and the fusion fantasy of Julie Hefferman, there is an invitation to see the female body as an instrument, not an ornament.  Women are taking back the power to see ourselves and the world.

I also think of the women and men, young and old, now discovering "Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, a long overdue tribute to forty years of feminist art.  I think of the millions who will see Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party and a continuous feast of changing exhibits at the new Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum; a place of such global importance that its opening attracted feminist artists from some seventy countries.

We may finally be entering into a time when "art" is no longer defined as what men have done in a European tradition, and the creativity of women and non-European men is no longer consigned to "crafts" or to invisibility.

We may finally be seeing with our own eyes.

Gloria Steinem__________________________________________________
Gloria Steinem is the Co-Founder of The Women's Media Center


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