As a professor of Communications at Madrid's Carlos III University, every year I ask my students studying journalism to look at the Feminist Principles of the Internet, a set of principles that provides a framework for women's movements to articulate and explore issues related to technology. After reading the principles and researching the context that made this framework necessary, each student chose one principle that particularly resonated with them and wrote their own piece inspired by it.
In this month of the International Women's Day 2020, we're offering a selection of these pieces. These are written by students of journalism at Carlos III University in Madrid, specifically for their studies around Online Communication and Citizen Participation.
Hacking patriarchy is possible
The internet is part of our daily lives and we, young people, take its use for granted. Feminism is more present than ever in our society, but many of us have not yet figured that something as common and modern as the internet can be sexist. This 8th of March has been a symbolic day for a feminist struggle that has been fighting for three centuries. I will focus on one of the 17th principles for having a feminist internet on use.
In an increasingly virtual and connected world, the gender gap in internet access is a threat to the future of equality. In order to narrow the gender digital divide, Global Fund for Women raises funds to pay for projects that help women benefit from online browsing. This non-profit foundation was founded by Anne Firth Murray, Frances Kissling, Laura Lederer and Nita Barrow in 1987, four women fighting for women's laws. The initiative to combat the gender gap in the use and creation of content on the internet was created by Google in 2015 and partnered with Womenwill. In total, they have managed to raise over 20 million dollars.
Another example that fuses use and creation of a feminist internet is cyberactivism against violence against women. The use of new technologies in feminist online collectives and activists created to fight against gender violence is vital in a feminist cyberspace. Montserrat Boix is a Spanish journalist who in 2000 developed the concepts of “social cyber-feminism” and a year later the “feminist hacktivism". Cyber feminism can be divided into radical, conservative and social cyber feminism. In the last one, Boix refers to social movements where electronic communication has been incorporated with a “certain tradition” and with thought prior to the emergence of the internet where traditionally marginalized groups claim new political spaces. Montserrat Boix created a feminist digital newspaper in 1996, Mujeres en Red, with the aim of uniting all internet users. This newspaper supports free software. With the intention of fighting against the gender gap, in 2015, Boix together with Ester Bonet created Wikimujeres, a group of women united with the purpose of achieving an egalitarian Wikipedia.
In the same way, it is also necessary to look at the basis of this internet born in the patriarchy so that it can evolve. Amelia Valcárcel, one of the great feminist Spanish thinkers, in her essay Ética para un mundo global explains the principles of global thinking. Networks are a “global village” (McLuhan) that interconnects us even more, and in order to transform this village into an egalitarian space we have to look at the feminist bases of globalisation. Beatriz Gimeno, a Spanish politician and activist who defends LGBT rights, has pointed out the existence of a "gay sexism" within the homosexual movement, where women felt doubly discriminated against for being lesbians and women. In the use of the internet we can point out that lesbian content is more criticized than gay content and this has to be changed. Another of the most influential feminist philosophers of this country is Ana de Miguel and her work Neoliberalismo sexual denounces the neoliberal ideology connected to the merchandise of the woman's body. In this book she explains the theory of “free choice”, which says that women are already free, but “is prostitution really a free choice?” Online prostitution exists and a woman's body is sold in all kinds of porn ads found on any pirate site. “And even if it was a free choice, what do teenage internet users learn about what a girl is and what can be done with her?”
“And even if it was a free choice, what do teenage internet users learn about what a girl is and what can be done with her?”
Until now women have been internet users and not creators. Patriarchy is alive on the internet and to kill it we need content creators in order to reach a young audience that is limited to social networks. DeVermut, a channel created by a couple of lesbian girls, Sara Giménez y Marta Sánchez, is one of the thousands of voices advocating feminism through videos on youtube. They are very activist and influence all their followers with their feminist content. Other content creators that also contribute to the cause are the comedians and comedy scriptwriters who are broadcasted on different platforms. The feminist late-night show of Las que faltaban produced by Movistar is composed exclusively by women and in it they demonstrate how "humour is not about gender". The author Lula Gómez with her episodes of Eres una Caca, published on Instagram, contributes to feminising and hacking the comedy genre on the internet, conquering from within.
Also, actresses like Emma Watson, one of the financiers of the #MeToo movement, give visibility to the gender equality discourse. And series like Orange is the New Black influence new generations and show a struggle for women's rights. However, a content creator is not limited to being an influential character that through networks helps us create a feminist internet. A content creator is anyone who creates their own content on the internet. Jocelyn Leavitt is the creator of Hopscotch, an application that teaches you how to program. Created by a woman so that other women stop being consumers and become part of content creation.
In conclusion, hacking patriarchy is possible. Following in the footsteps of the best feminist philosophers and listening to influential feminist figures is just the beginning to create a feminist internet. The key is to stop being part of the problem and become part of the change, we can not just consume and we can not be satisfied with the internet system we have. We must make room for all those creators and create ourselves. Media activism is also a way of fighting for a feminist internet. Lets’s hack this sexist man called the internet.
BEYOND THE HIDDEN
"One of the first times I wore a dress was a Carnival. My father neither looked at me nor spoke to me, and we were at the Carnival. I won't forget that for the rest my life" says Iria Obaya, a trans woman.
There are times when you have to put aside preconceived ideas, stop and listen. We live in a society hidden in Plato's cave that does not dare to look beyond the hidden. It is then when we discover lives, people and stories that shine by themselves, but the oppressive system in which we live has left them silent.
We are in the 21st century. The feminist movement has flooded the streets of thousands of cities around the world and the struggle for equality between men and women has ceased to be a utopian dream, to become a project for the future. The objective is resounding: to free oneself from chains that have bound women for too long. However, this struggle is not the same for everyone because there are women who also fight to be recognized as such. This is the case of trans women. Iria is 20 years old and she is a woman. If we ask her about feminism, she is clear: "the idea is to liberate women, which means that women are oppressed. However, not all women are oppressed in the same way. In fact, I think there are some that are hardly oppressed at all”.
“Not all women are oppressed in the same way. In fact, I think there are some that are hardly oppressed at all” ( Obaya,2019)
This leads us to look at the differences within the feminist movement itself. "You can't fight with someone who is looking down on you and who is scared when they see you enter the corridor," says Iria. In addition, she points out that there is a sector within feminism that does not recognize trans women as women. That is because they have a conception of sex and gender as interrelated elements. “There is no logical or rational explanation for the existence of gender or sex, nor is there a hierarchy of men over women," she states.
Despite this conception from the part of some feminist groups, the trans-inclusive feminist movement has received great support from digital platforms. Thousands of users flood social networks daily, claiming their rights and using these spaces as a means of disseminating ideas. "The internet has saved our lives, feminism and any other similar social movement," affirms our interviewee. This is based on the fact that, thanks to these platforms, narratives can reach many more people. Some examples that we find on the internet are some Twitter accounts as Trans Platform (@plataformatrans), based on giving voice to trans people or Transgirls (@transgirlspain), which promotes awareness, training and advice of the collective.
"The internet has saved our lives” (Obaya,2019)
Moreover, coinciding with the International Transgender Visibility Day (March 31st) a wave of awareness-raising massified the networks with campaigns. One of the most outstanding ones was #Beyourself, which consisted of publishing an old photo and a current one in order to make the cause visible. Thus, other hashtags were also used as #VisibilityTrans, which reached the second position of Trendic Topic in Spain.
As we can see, the internet has become an essential tool to bring about change. However, those same platforms that are so beneficial for broadening narratives can be used by people whose goals are far removed from those mentioned above. Sometimes, expressing opinions and making use of the right to freedom puts many trans women in the spotlight, becoming victims of harassment and online violence. This means that some of them are overexposed because the lack of understanding of many collectives. "It is not pleasant to expose yourself as a trans woman," Iria tells us, which can be seen in her story:
“Almost a year ago, a feminist activist on Twitter uploaded my profile photo and the photos of other trans women (we all have beards) and argued that we weren't women and that that was disrespectful for feminism. At that moment you realize that you are in the spotlight of these people. It's a feeling that's not cool at all. I'm not going to get bullied on Twitter, but in everyday life, who knows what I'm up against.”
The claws of the internet can save humanity or wipe it out. From there arises the need for a feminist internet. But "what is a Feminist internet?" many people will ask. As the association itself defines it, it is a space that aims to empower more women and queer people, in all their diversity, to fully enjoy their rights. In this sense and in order to achieve it, the seventeen feminist internet principles have been developed. These principles have a gender perspective and sexual rights related to the internet. The principle of amplifying narratives is one of the most prominent ones and is connected with what has been described above.
“A feminist internet is a space that aims to empower more women and queer people, in all their diversity, to fully enjoy their rights”. APC
In addition, this same association has developed a research project called EROTICS (Exploratory Research on Sexuality and the internet), which aims at "a better understanding of content and 'harm' based on women’s real experience of sexuality online”.
Twitter is the mean of social vindication par excellence with more than 326 million active users, according to the study Digital 2019: Global Digital Overview. There are many feminist activist movements both cis and trans that have emerged online. Cyber-activism is part of the principle of amplification of discourse and goes hand in hand with the movement building. Action, reaction and repercussion predominate in networks and movements. The creation of feminist hashtags such as #MeToo or #Niunamenos have populated these spaces, as have others such as #StopTransMurders or #WeJustNeedToPee to draw attention to and raise awareness of trans problems and threats of violence. This leads to many people joining the support of the cause and being aware of this reality, and what also becomes a way to fight for the recognition of many
trans women. "All trans women in this society have a fundamental problem that is recognition. The lack of recognition is emotionally traumatic" Iria highlights.
The lack of recognition is emotionally traumatic" Iria highlights.
While cyber-activism on the internet is a source of inspiration for hundreds of women, the interviewee acknowledges that this digital activism may end up demobilising the cause. "Many people identify with these movements, but when it comes to giving way to daily militancy, it doesn't," she says. "In addition, it used to be that the step was not taken because you were not a feminist and now it happens to us that you are a feminist, but you are not willing to get going". It coincides with the position of the journalist and American feminist activist called Gloria Steinem, who affirms that “sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are. Sometimes, pressing send is not enough”.
Every human being needs a referent. Since we are kids, we limit ourselves to imitating the behaviours of those around us. We seek models to follow and examples to look at. However, many people do not find them because the system does not offer it to them. "To be a trans woman in Spain is not to have clear references. That is because nobody teaches you what it's like to be a trans woman" states Iria. This is where, once again, digital platforms offer a lifeline and bring with them what conventional media do not show: diversity beyond normativity and the diffusion of this diversity. They are singers, influencers, actors.
But not only famous people. Also, people whose lives are not so different from ours. For thousands of children, adolescents and adults, whose gender does not correspond to their sex need to find people who tell them that they are not the only ones, and for this the internet can be a great tool.
"To be a trans woman in Spain is not to have clear references. That is because nobody teaches you what it's like to be a trans woman" (Obaya,2019)
Feminism has become the modern revolution. The figures support it with a sum of between 350,000 and 375,000 demonstrators in the feminist strike in Spain (March 8th), according to the National Police. This number has increased over the years thanks to its digital diffusion. The fight against the patriarchal system is in the spotlight and in the action of thousands of women today. But there is still a lot to be done, the battle has not been won and a feminist internet plays an essential role in this fight. This is a time for all of us to join in on the change, open our eyes and be aware that there are lives beyond what is socially established.
To conclude, remember, on Iria's words, "trans women exist, because there are trans women”.
A special thanks to Iria Obaya for accepting the interview, for her time and dedication to this project.
The Allegory of The Cave
“What does a feminist internet look like?”
As my professor asked this question, my mind started to wonder. In my life, I’d given quite some thought to feminism, but I had never given this a single thought.
The class continued, and she showed us something called “Feminist Principles of the Internet”. The website showed 17. I started to read them.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. They related to basically every issue: Movement Building, Economy, Governance, Consent, Privacy and Data… My goodness, even Pornography. It was very hard to hide my excitement. Not only did it exist, but actually, a university professor was teaching us about it!
I kept on reading, and then one specific principle caught my attention: Expression.
We defend the right to sexual expression as a freedom of expression issue of no less importance than political or religious expression. We strongly object to the efforts of state and non-state actors to control, surveil, regulate and restrict feminist and queer expression on the internet through technology, legislation or violence. We recognise this as part of the larger political project of moral policing, censorship, and hierarchisation of citizenship and rights.
I was over the moon. I instantly knew it was a principle I was dying to learn more about. I believe we can all relate to the necessity of it becoming a reality as soon as possible and...
Wait a second.
In order to explain why this principle struck me so much, I should talk a little bit about myself.
It’s a principle I find very close to me, and one that has always seemed obvious to me, ever since I was little. So it’s not hard to imagine pre-adolescent me being quite puzzled when the rest of the world did not feel that way.
I developed early. I got my period when I was ten years old, and got boobs at around nine. At first, it was a completely natural process: I did not feel as if I had to be ashamed or hide my body. My mother always talked about it naturally, so I was fine with it. “It happens to everyone, why should I act weird about it?” I thought.
However, the world showed me otherwise quite fast. People would point out that I had boobs at a pretty young age, and since no one around me had their period yet – and obviously nobody talked about it – I slowly started dipping into the feeling that I had to hide it.
From a very young age, women are taught to be ashamed of their sexual nature, and that includes periods. We are shown that it’s disgusting, and something that should be hidden. Nobody talked about it, not even among other girls. In addition to that, since I got it so early, no friends had their period yet, so I acted as if I didn’t either.
Years later, when I was around thirteen years old, almost every girl got it. And, obviously, we sometimes had to go to the bathroom to get our pads or tampons changed. Well, I think we have ALL experienced having to go to get changed, and acting as if we were carrying an AK-47 to the bathroom. And let’s not forget the feeling of being in constant fear that we would stain our clothes.
All of it has always seemed to me as an unbelievably unnatural way to deal with something that is so natural. I frequently found myself thinking “This can’t be right” or “This is ridiculous and does not make any sense”.
I frequently found myself thinking “This can’t be right” or “This is ridiculous and does not make any sense”.
As I grew up, I started realizing a lot of stuff related to how society viewed women which I thought was wrong.
I realized that we are told that men start masturbating at a young age, but for some reason women should not. And if we do, we should be ashamed because we are probably nymphomaniacs, and, of course, sluts. If a woman has “too many” sexual partners, she’s considered a slut. If she’s still a virgin, she’s a prude. We are shown that showing our bodies and expressing ourselves sexually is only acceptable for men’s consumption. Women are seen and used as products. Men seem to be totally fine with having women’s breasts shown, either in films or porn, but apparently, breastfeeding in public is perceived as offensive and unacceptable. We are told that if someone rapes us, and we are wearing “revealing clothes”, it’s our fault. If we are drunk, it’s our fault. If we are alone, it’s our fault. If we don’t hit or kick, even if we KNOW we will be killed, it’s our fault. Because we are “asking for it”. Women are not allowed to age, have stretch marks or gain weight… in short, to be women and human beings.
In school, women are taught to talk in a certain way, to sit down in a certain way, to think in a certain way and, to be completely honest, to live in such a way that made it seem as if the sole purpose of our existence was to please men in every conceivable way.
After years of speaking to fellow women in my life, I began to become comfortable with the idea that I, as a human being, should have the same rights as men do. That there is no sensible reason for me to not feel comfortable in my own body, my home, which carries me and allows me to live every single day of my life. That it makes no sense that I should not express my opinions on sexual topics, or to not share my sexual desires. I became quick with the idea that sexuality is the most natural thing human beings have. And after giving it some thought, I refused to bow down to the double standards that society intended to force on me; for I could not comprehend the demonisation around women and their choice to express and live in harmony with their sexuality.
Nonetheless, it did not take long for me to realize that this awakening, this empowerment that had taken place in my being, had not yet occurred in the world that surrounded me.
Frankly, it still has not. A deep pride and feeling of sorority overwhelms me when I see that other women have also taken this step, but it would be foolish of us to be oblivious to the fact that many people in the world still haven’t released themselves from these chains. There is still inequality regarding gender. There’s still sexism and misogyny. There is hate speech, gender violence, the glass ceiling, wage gap, sexist porn, prostitution, that abortion is not 100% legal… And even inside the feminist mind, there’s white privilege. There are many things wrong in this world – almost too many to remember all of them without feeling like it’s a lost cause.
But, changes like this: the fact that a list of the feminist principles of the internet exists, the fact that on 8M the streets were filled with people willing to fight for what is right… gives me hope. They make me think that we all have the ability to finally wake up, to free ourselves from what we have been taught is right, and to truly be critical and see what actually makes sense. Not in an individualistic way. In a humanitarian, global way.
I still have faith in the power of people – and their ability to finally escape the cave.
FEMINIST PRINCIPLES OF THE INTERNET: IN DEFENSE OF ANONYMITY
Valentina Salazar Tena
"For most of history, Anonymous was a woman." - Virginia Woolf, A Room for One´s Own
Having a voice to express yourself is one of the main goals of not only the feminist movement but also of the internet. The right to expression and to speak up for yourself has always been the starting point of any social change. After all, we need to listen to the oppressed to understand their struggles and act on it in search of a better future.
For these reasons, silence has always been the biggest ally of oppression and through history, we find countless examples of how the ruling social group found different ways to silent those who threatened their supremacy.
In the case of women, this idea has been forced on them for centuries: silence is grace and silence is comfort. Those who dared to defy this principle would be inevitably received with retaliation that went from public shame to incarceration and in the worst cases even death.
Nowadays with the revival of the feminist movement, there is a desire in society to bring to light this silenced women and her humanity and influence, and therefore we have come to blame anonymity itself as the ultimate proof of the repression of women.
But this idea is far from the truth since anonymity was not another symbol of oppression for women but an alternative way that allowed them to participate in society and have their voices heard without risking their lives.
It is easy to think that the need for anonymity with the arrival of the internet is dated and that women can now express themselves freely without fearing any repercussion. However, this statement can be easily contradicted when we take a look at the role the internet has had in some cases of violence.
With all of the above considered, when companies and political parties started to consider supporting a new online reform that plans to ban anonymity from social media, the conversation over its necessity was sparked once more, revealing the paradoxical nature of a concept that is both a weapon for abusers and a shield for the abused.
On the one hand those who defend the abolition of internet anonymity justify their answer saying that in a space with such blurry boundaries like the internet, not only women have taken the opportunity to tell their stories, but also perpetrators of violence have used the internet as a tool to harass, insult and even create business based on the suffering of the most vulnerable groups in society.
In the case of violence against women, one of the first topics that come to mind is sexual and domestic abuse. A type of crime where anonymity has a particular relevance given the fact that both of them tend to occur in a personal environment and in order to be reported the victim herself has to come forward, an action that requires a guarantee that her integrity is not going to be affected by her confession and that can only be assured by anonymity.
With the arrival of the internet, another discussion that gained importance is the issue of how we can protect our privacy in such an interconnected world. Privacy is for obvious reasons the main concern for survivors of domestic or sexual harassment, but it is also a kind of currency for corporations and governments since it allows them to have to control over the population and maintain their status quo.
Privacy is for obvious reasons the main concern for survivors of domestic or sexual harassment, but it is also a kind of currency for corporations and governments since it allows them to have to control over the population and maintain their status quo.
The loss of anonymity on the internet would not only set a precedent for the control of governments over the data of the citizens but could potentially put in risk the lives of thousands of women and members of other vulnerable groups.
This is the reason why many activists seek to fight back these kinds of policies. For instance, the Nameless Coalition gathered a group of human rights advocates to fight Facebook´s “authentic names” policy arguing that it facilitates harassment against women and members of the LGBTQ community.
Similarly, in Spain, the proposal presented by the Popular Party (PP) in 2017 was received with outrage by the people arguing that it is a way to reduce their freedom of speech. However many governments around the world seem to be willing to carry on with these types of policies justifying the extreme measure saying that by doing so they will help reduce the amount of fake news and bad behavior on social media.
However after finding out about scandals such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which Facebook was involved in selling data from its users and allegedly allowing Russian propaganda infiltrate on the user’s pages, we can´t help but wonder how making individual´s identity public can help in any way fight back against what seems to be an institutional problem.
The biggest risk with all this conversation around digital security is the fact that what really is in danger is the security of victims of sexual harassment, homophobic attacks, or of domestic abuse.
Not only victims of abuse find some comfort in not revealing their identity. But women located in countries that neglect their values and so they must use anonymity as their only resource to communicate the problem in the first place. For instance, in the case of female activists in Pakistan that have to fight against injustice in the shadows in order to protect themselves and their loved ones while trying to bring equality to their country.
It is not necessary to go to such extreme situations to prove the value of anonymity in the history of humanity and particularly for women. If we take a look at the amount of books, paintings and inventions that we have access to today created by women that were hiding behind a pseudonym we would be amazed not only at the incredible contribution that women have made to history but at the importance of the resource that allowed them to dodge the legal and social repurcussions of their time.
What is overlooked about anonymity is that it enables unfiltered opinions and behavior to show, allowing real and honest intentions to appear especially when these are related to sensitive topics, as proven by a study carried out by the US National Institute of Mental Health that focuses on the way people are much more tempted to be honest when they know their name is not going to be revealed.
Based on this we can conclude that those who would lean the most to the use of anonymity are those whose opinions contradict in some kind of way the established status quo either because they are members of oppressed social groups and therefore are concerned for their safety or because they are seeking to commit some kind of immoral act.
But the eradication of the option to hit anonymous is not necessarily going to make immoral acts disappear but it will however silence those who can denounce it in the first place. That is why historically anonymity has always been the tool of the masses to keep their government accountable and more importantly to maintain free and critical thinking.
Anonymity is for the people not for the powerful, for the victims, for the ones that have no other way to communicate. And just the same way freedom in the real world has sometimes negative repercussions, freedom on the internet is going to have setbacks too, but its the way we know to give people an equal chance at being heard. Taking that away from them is taking away their communication with the world and with that their chances at making actual changes in society. It would represent giving up a right that has kept us going for centuries.
Sara Baker Why Online Anonymity is Critical for Women (2016) retrieved from http://www.womensmediacenter.com/speech-project/why-online-anonymity-is-critical-for-women
Dear Facebook: “Authentic names” are authentically dangerous for your users retrieved from https://act.eff.org/action/dear-facebook-authentic-names-are-authentically-dangerous-for-your-users
David Kaye, Report on encryption, anonymity, and the human rights framework, United Nations (2015) retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/CallForSubmission.aspx
Lauren E. Durant, Michael P. Carey, Kerstin E.E. Schroder Effects of Anonymity, Gender, and Erotophilia on the Quality of Data Obtained from Self-Reports of Socially Sensitive Behaviors retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2430657/
Maria Josep Serra “El anonimato digital genera reacciones dañinas y machistas” (2018) retrieved from: https://elpais.com/tecnologia/2018/03/07/actualidad/1520421281_703566.html
Adrian Raya El Partido Popular presenta su proposición para prohibir el anonimato en las redes sociales (2017) retrieved from: https://omicrono.elespanol.com/2017/12/eliminar-el-anonimato-en-internet/
Listening to my mother’s stories
Ever since I was a child, I remember feeling the strongest admiration for my mother. I remember wanting to be like her, so in touch with her artistic side, but at the same time so passionate about learning. I’ve always been the type of kid who would love stories, and stare wide-eyed at the person narrating them, almost as if they were hypnotising me. Aside from all the children’s stories, my mom would also tell me others. Since she’s an artist and an art teacher for elders, she’s always wanted to read all she could on different artists’ lives. To practice for her classes, well, I was the perfect lab rat.
My mother would explain to me the lives of great artists (which would become my favorite artists for that same reason), such as Monet, Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe… But something that did strike as weird was the fact that there were way more famous male artists than female ones. So as a kid, I would constantly ask myself why there weren’t as many women artists and why they weren’t as good as their male counterparts.
As I grew older, I started to understand the reality of this situation. There have been so many women throughout history that created amazing art and changed the path of history; only they weren’t supposed to. They were expected to learn how to complete all domestic tasks, get married to a rich or successful man, and have babies to raise. As soon as a woman wouldn’t fit into this model, they would slowly become blurred out to either be forgotten or demonized by historians (most of which, even to this day, are men). When my mother told me about her favorite female artists (also mine), just like Tamara de Lempicka, Kahlo, O’Keeffe and many others, I could suddenly understand the depth of their unwillingness to let anyone other than them have control over their lives and narratives. They were strong, creative, but most importantly, they were themselves even when that went against society’s standards. And that, by itself, should always be remembered as part of their huge legacies.
There have been so many women throughout history that created amazing art and changed the path of history; only they weren’t supposed to.
But why was this like it was? Why were there so many difficulties for female artists? Why do we know so little about many of them? Why didn’t women have the same access to an artistic education as men? The list of questions goes on. The answer, however, is actually the same for all of them. Ever since most of the primitive societies, up until this very moment (and with some exceptions), civilisations have been built up to not be equal. At some point, men decided, since women give birth to children (a moment of apparent vulnerability), that they were superior and had to take care of “manly” stuff. This evolved into the toxic masculinity still present in this society and the sexist and chauvinistic values engrained in the deepest part of our subconscious. A shorter version is, women couldn’t be artists because their society was a patriarchy, and men felt threatened by those who did, erasing their presence in history.
Many argue that this sexism that reigned ideologies in almost all cultures even up to last century is no longer present in our culture. I, however, don’t agree with them. In my opinion, all those centuries of discrediting a whole sector of the population (among many other sectors that didn’t fit into the molds) can’t be erased by establishing a more similar or equal legal treatment for both. It takes centuries for a change to be engrained in the conscience of the people, and it seems as if though we’ve only started.
Now, proof that sexism still exists, is the massive and unbelievable number of rape cases, sexual assault, domestic violence against women and pay inequality, among others. This got to a point that on this year’s International Women’s Day (8M) women went on strike all over 120 cities in Spain and demonstrations lasted the whole day, asking for a change in the system. This has made me realize, the issue women painters and artists faced, the fact that we know so little about many of them, it’s all part of the problem. It’s part of the whole system, engrained in it, corrupting its very core, and causing injustice even in our generation.
The system is easy to talk about without really knowing what we’re criticising, the system is the politics, economy, society, and everything related to it. We are the system. And we are the ones with the power to change things. Something of particular interest to me is the internet, and the massive role it plays in representing our society in a more organized and understandable way. Because of this, the representation of the female on this website is lacking. Therefore, changing this could also impact our society positively. By making the reflection advance in a shorter space of time, the reality being reflected could actually absorb the change as if it was inherent to itself.
To make this change, there’s actually a really interesting website called “Feminist Principles of the Internet”, that gives us seventeen “changes” or principles a feminist internet should have, in order to further represent everyone in our culture (whether that be women, racial or queer figures) and to do it appropriately. These principles are that of access, information, usage, resistance, movement building, governance, economy, open-source, amplify, expression, pornography, consent, privacy and data, memory, anonymity, children and violence. All of those are aspects to improve or to develop in a more equal and appropriate way to our century. When reading the list, I couldn’t help but fall in love with one of the principles a little more than with the rest. This was the principle of “Memory”, which instantly brought me to those moments in my childhood (and even present-day) of listening to my mother excitedly tell me stories about powerful women who weren’t regarded as such.
The principle of memory defends a right to exercise and retain control over our personal history and memory on the internet. This includes the ability to access our information and personal data on the internet and to know who has access to them and under what conditions, and also the ability to delete it forever without any residual information being kept track of. This idea strikes me as self-evident, but the truth is great companies such as Facebook or Google have access to so much of our information that our presence on the internet is perfectly accessible by third parties (this is how cookie policies, and advertisements of products we actually want to reach us in such an effective way). We live a situation in which people are actually the product being sold by big tech companies, and a feminist internet would empower the users by giving them control over what others can know about them and over the information they no longer want available – a bit like Kim Kardashian on Instagram.
As people, we all need to be able to handle our narrative on the internet. Despite this, women are those who this principle would most affect. To put it this way. The same way a great majority of historians were male, a great majority of internet programmers, Wikipedia editors and basically people in top positions relating to the internet are male. This all leads to the disappearance of female narratives, which become either invisible or interpreted from a white straight cis male stand point, or a privileged position in the Patriarchy.
Since we can only make change little by little, not all of a sudden, and we each have to contribute a little bit to it, I’m going to give my little contribution as to some of the overlooked female history in relation to art. For this, I’m only going to focus on a few examples of known and unknown artists whose narratives don’t live up to who they really were.
The first example we have of history and the internet being male-dominated is that of the first successful female artist (that we know of), Sofonisba Anguissola. She was a renaissance artist who received her training from an artist. She defied everything that had been established and actually succeeded to do what she loved. There are even paintings by her in the Spanish Museum, “Museo del Prado”, which was the reason historians brought her back from being forgotten. Her portraits were said to belong to Juan Pantoja, but nobody really understood who was the author. After further investigation, they were proven to be hers, which would eventually lead to her being reincorporated into history of art as one of the first female successful artists. Some of her pieces include the portrait of “Felipe II”, “Isabel de Valois holding a portrait of Felipe II”, and “The Portrait of Queen Ana of Austria”. She started being strongly inspired by her master, Bernardino Campi, but would soon prove to be more skilful.
Another early artist to point out is the infamous Artemisia Gentileschi. This woman was a baroque artist known for the aggressiveness of her paintings and the incredible success she achieved from her art. She managed to free herself from the chains of the 16th-century society and claimed that “you can find the spirit of Caesar in this soul of a woman” when talking about her resilience. One of the things she’s known for is the rape she suffered at the hands of her teacher, Agostino Tassi; and the court case of rape against him that she won. Nowadays we regard her as a feminist icon, but her art had been forgotten until the 20th century. When rediscovered, everything regarding her craft would focus either on a hypersexualising approach to her style or on the fact that she was raped, instead of her actual paintings. Luckily enough, her story has eventually resurfaced, and can possibly stay in our minds and in a feminist internet, that allows her legacy to reach us.
The next example, Camille Claudel, is one my mother and I both have felt particularly angered about. When looking up her name on Google, some of the first articles to appear focus on the fact she was in a relationship with sculptor Auguste Rodin, and that she was his apprentice. Other than that, they mention the sad last years of her life and that she was the reason Rodin cheated on his wife. Now, when we stop to analyse her story, we realize it couldn’t be more different than that. Auguste Rodin was a sculptor who would hire apprentices, generally young women, and who is said to have cheated several times on his wife. He fell in love with Camille, who, by the way, is nowadays rumoured to have sculpted many of the pieces Rodin was credited as the author of. They lived as lovers for a long time, but he never left his wife. We’re talking about a woman so talented she would create sculptures that she couldn’t sign because of being a woman, and whose lover took advantage of her and would eventually let her spend the last thirty years of her life in a psychiatric institution. And she was still lucky enough that we later on started crediting her for part of her artwork, unlike many female artists whose existence we may never even be aware of due to the impossibility of them signing their own work.
When looking up Camille Claudel on Google, some of the first articles to appear focus on the fact she was in a relationship with sculptor Auguste Rodin, and that she was his apprentice.
After these few “forgotten” women, I’d very much like to mention three known women who are a source of inspiration for both my mother and me, and who our society, in my opinion, doesn’t know the extent to which they fought to be themselves and they should be seen as role models. These are Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’ Keeffe and Tamara de Lempicka.
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican Revolutionary artist and political activist, famous for her self-portraits and redefining beauty standards. She also included deep sensitivity and a connection with her indigenous roots and culture in her art. She started painting after a horrific bus accident that left her severely injured for the rest of her life. She fought the pain and expressed her deep intuition and sensitivity in famous paintings. My grandfather actually visited her blue house, now a museum, and bought a copy of her diary and historical accounts of her for my mother, who would then tell me stories about Frida. She would put all her emotions on paper by either writing or scribbling things. During her time alive, most people would know her better for either her political activism as a communist or her unconventional marriage to Diego de Rivera. Some believe her to be part of the surrealist movement, having met Andre Bretón or Picasso in her lifetime.
Something shocking is the fact that her first solo exhibition was only a year before her death, and the fact she was bedridden at the time, and actually spent the exhibition on a bed in the gallery, greeting people. She would attempt suicide several times, but decided not to kill herself because of her husband, to not let him suffer her death. Her last painting depicts a watermelon with really lively colors in which she wrote “Viva la Vida”, as a way to express the beauty in life and its ending. She has since become deservedly a feminist icon and one of the most important female artists.
The other two examples are more recent, which enables their memory to not be as manipulated by historians and a little more known. One of them is Georgia Totto O’ Keeffe, an American artist known for ending her days living in a desert, and also for her love of loneliness and nature, who would eventually create her own clothes and always wears black. There seems to be a relation with some of her art and death. Something she’s widely known for is her paintings of flowers, which were seen as heavily sexualised, almost symbolizing female reproductive organs. Despite her not really confirming this, it seems obvious that her art reflects struggles with sexuality.
It really amazes me to know she turned blind towards the last years of her life, and would still want to create, saying she envisioned what she wanted to paint despite not being able to see at all. She would even hire assistants to help her create art while blinded. Her paintings of landscape have always spoken to people and been similar to American modernists’ interest in nature and landscapes. She reportedly said that people called her one of the best woman painters, whereas she considered herself one of the best painters. This should speak to our generation as the very reason she defied the patriarchy and we should admire her for it.
It really amazes me to know she turned blind towards the last years of her life
Most people knew her at the time as lover of artist Stieglitz, and would often say she was only doing what he wanted her to do, regarding her as a gullible and brainless woman, as opposed to the powerful force of nature she would prove to be throughout her lifetime. Despite people pinning her success on the relationship she was in, Georgia O’ Keefe has been one of the most relevant painters of her time, who also was a woman and an empowered one.
Lastly, but not least importantly we have the case of another 20th century artist, Tamara de Lempicka, whose second exhibition in Madrid was held recently. She was a Polish-Russian artist who has only recently been credited as being one of the most important figures of Art deco and partially the one to start this whole genre. She has painted female nudes, cubist paintings and numerous portraits. She worked with Georgia O’ Keefe at a given point, and kept moving from Europe to the USA, achieving great success up until the World War was over, after which the world temporarily forgot about her and her talent. This would eventually change. Society judged her for being openly bisexual and for owning her sexuality. She slept with whomever she desired, was a strong woman. Some never even took her art seriously just because of her not fitting into the stereotypical role of a woman of the time.
All in all, these were some examples of the thousands or millions of strong women who have shaped our society through art, and who are now forgotten, mistreated by history and by the patriarchy. We now have the power, thanks to internet, to make sure stories and narratives are being told; but we need to make sure the internet is feminist and allows for everyone in society to have their story be told, and to have control over their narrative and personal data. If we all work hard, this surely will happen; the issue lies in when will we make the change. When will more Fridas, Georgias and Tamaras be discovered? When will history treat everyone fairly?
We now have the power, thanks to internet, to make sure stories and narratives are being told; but we need to make sure the internet is feminist and allows for everyone in society to have their story be told, and to have control over their narrative and personal data.
Caso, Ángeles; (2006) Las Olvidadas, Editorial Planeta
Claridge, Laura; (2000), Tamara de Lempicka, Circe
Cordero, Debroise, Fuentes, Lowe…; (1995) Frida Kahlo Diario: Autorretrato Íntimo; La Vaca Independiente
Cosmic Cousins Podcast, Queen of the zodiac project; @cosmic.cousins on Instagram (understanding Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe, among many other women, from an astrological perspective), https://cosmiccousins.podbean.com/e/s4-e13-season-finale-queen-of-scorpio-honoring-of-bjork-and-georgia-okeeffe-scorpio-panel-w-jerico-mandybur-pavanjeet-and-alia-walston/ for O’Keeffe, and this one for Kahlo: https://cosmiccousins.podbean.com/e/season-3-episode-14-mercury-rx-meditation-frida-kahlos-birth-chart-princess-dianas-birth-chart-cancer-panel-queen-of-cancer/
Feminist Principles of the Internet, A Feminist Internet https://feministinternet.org/en
The Art Post Blog, (26 March 2018), Rodin and Camille Claudel: A Love and an Art Story, Accessed on April 2019, https://www.theartpostblog.com/en/rodin-camille-claudel/
García, Ángeles; (7 Nov 2007), Los Demonios de Camille Claudel; El País; Accessed April 2019, https://elpais.com/diario/2007/11/07/cultura/1194390001_850215.html
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum: About Georgia O’Keeffe, Accessed April 2019 https://www.okeeffemuseum.org/about-georgia-okeeffe/
Gotthardt, Alexxa, (June 8 2018), Behind the Fierce, Assertive Paintings by Baroque Master Artemisia Gentileschi, Accessed April 2019; https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-baroque-master-artemisia-gentileschi
Museo Del Prado : Anguissola, Sofonisba; Accesed April 2019, https://www.museodelprado.es/aprende/enciclopedia/voz/anguissola-sofonisba/949e390c-13b0-429d-99c9-2b98f2e89a32