Art, Artemisia, and International Women’s Day

When I was a young woman, perhaps 13 or 14, I was given a book on Feminism from an older cousin.  I smiled and thanked them for the book, but as soon as I brought the book to my room, I hid it away in the back of my bookshelf. ‘I am not a feminist!’ my young mind retaliated. Feminism was a bad word reserved for radical, horrible people who… who… Why was Feminism bad? It just was. I had heard it over and over again in media and from the mouths of those who had no need for such a thing. Which meant that as a woman, calling myself a feminist was the fastest path to alienating men, and therefore my chances of ever making something of myself in the male-dominated world. And I needed them, right?

In the words of one of my favorite Twitter accounts ‘NoToFeminism’;

I don’t need fimem because women NEED men! Once I tried to open a jar by myself and accidentally opened a portal to a hellscape instead.
— NoToFeminism

Today I am older, wiser, and very much a feminist. Sure, it is a different kind of feminism than in the book that sat on my shelf for all those years while I grew into the proud woman I am today. My feminism is still budding as I learn to turn the views that oppress woman across the globe into a power that I can use to help change the world. It might not feel like much sometimes, but even a single drop of rain, when joined by countless more, creates a thunderstorm. And women are a thunderstorm.

So what of women artists? It only takes a brief look at the hyper-sexualized character designs in the video game industry to feel overwhelmed by the same patriarchy that convinced me, as a young girl, that feminism was bad. This is not a new thing. The achievements and contributions of women in art have always been downplayed, stolen, or ignored by the men (and thus much of society) around them.

Take for example one my favorite female artists, Artemisia Gentileschi. In the early 1600’s, this Baroque painter used her experiences to give her art a powerful, emotional edge. The women Artemisia painted were not subdued, idle observers of the society around them. They were commanding, in-your-face masterpieces who rolled up their sleeves and severed the heads of men who would do them wrong. They were thunderstorms.

They were commanding, in-your-face masterpieces who rolled up their sleeves and severed the heads of men who would do them wrong.

Take ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes’ a work in which Artemisia drew herself as Judith and her male mentor, who was tried in court for her rape, as Holofernes. Not one to hide behind her creations, Artemisia used her hard-earned skills to stand up to the society around her. Yet even to this day, art historians are still attributing some of her masterpieces to her father, only to realize after that the signature on the work belongs to that of Artemisia. 400 years later, and her genius is still not rightfully attributed.

Judith slaying the patriarchy. 

Judith slaying the patriarchy. 

This is why International Women’s Day is so important; even 400 years later women see themselves in Artemisia; and understand her struggle because they have experienced the same oppression and negativity. Women artists hold back from promoting themselves because they are afraid of looking too demanding. They step back rather than shine because they have been told they are to play a supportive roll throughout the entirety of history. 

So happy women’s day to those female-identifying ladies who struggle to have their work shown amidst a sea of male artists. Happy women’s day to those who are called ‘bossy’ instead of a ‘leader,’ called ‘confrontational’ rather than ‘powerful,’ and ‘weak’ instead of ‘compassionate’.

You are an inspiration.

You are a thunderstorm.

For this generation and the countless more women to come. Never forget that.