OPINION: Arts and Crap: Is Women’s Art Taken Seriously?

Kat Mullavey | guest writer

When I look at the covers of the magazines lining the checkout counter of Giant Eagle, I see them exactly as they existed in 1954, with the exception of “20 DIY Christmas Ideas!” plastered across Jennifer Aniston’s tits. Good job, everyone. We have at least broken the mold of sexual conservatism. “How useful,” I think, dripping with sarcasm.

Every magazine dedicated to craft, hobby, or skill that is also marketed towards women is oozing with a patriarchal misconception of femininity: “Lose Your Baby Weight in 30 Days by Eating These Super Foods,” “45 Sweet Treat Ideas To Do With Your Kids,” “259 DIY Home Decorating Tips – But #57 Requires Scissors SO Make Sure Your Husband Helps.” The mythical “domestic goddess” from days of old, once referred to as “the feminine mystique,” is back and now she has “69 Hot Tips to Please Your Man.”

This is something I come across pretty frequently as both a woman and a badass crochet extraordinaire: certain activities and hobbies are pigeonholed as appropriate for this or that gender. Leisure activities appropriated to men (such as wood carving, metalwork, and carpentry) require “skill” and “training,” and they can be viewed as a “specialized trade skill.” For women, however, it’s the likes of simple “how to” levels of DIY crafts. Soldering guns are sold separately for either gender – for men, it’s at Lowe’s in a bulky Craftsman box. For women, it’s in the jewelry section of JoAnn Fabrics in a purple case next to some plastic flower beads. Both genders use the exact same tool (that is thankfully sold at the same price) for heating up metal to the point of melting and fusing it with another piece of metal. But the patriarchy says that women are too fragile to use such a “dangerous” tool that requires skill and thus package it like a children’s toy. Masculinity is so fragile that it needs to be sold in the same place that sells circular saws, and there need to be lots of images of rugged, sweaty men who are covered in dirt and wearing welder’s helmets. It’s just a fucking soldering gun for shit’s sake. It isn’t that complicated – a soldering gun does not belong in the same area of the store as dangerous machinery. I’ve been to Lowe’s, okay. Some of that shit is more easily assembled than IKEA furniture. You aren’t fooling anyone.

Women are left to be considered nothing more than dumpy hobbyists. Always motherly, always homemaking, and, most importantly, never skilled. Talented! Talent is inherited – but skill is attained. Women are called “naturals” at cooking and decorating. Obviously, this is isn’t true – my boyfriend can attest that I can freehand paint an anatomically correct skull, yet have burned nearly everything I’ve cooked in front of him. Women dominate the idiot’s guide to home decor that is Pinterest. What Pinterest proves is that women’s abilities at image manipulation are far more advanced than their capabilities at decorating (yes, those unachievable photos of final products on Pinterest are often photoshopped – the real things are just too impossible to make). Things created by women are for other women (and children, but to some, ha, what’s the difference! Am I right?!) Creations that are easily replicated, unlike a man’s handcrafted hickory rocking chair, apparently.

Turn on the Food Network. Who is on? Is it Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, or Bobby Flay? Or possibly Rachael Ray, Paula Deen, or Giada De Laurentiis? All of these people are celebrity chefs (with the exception of Ray, who is considered a “celebrity cook”), but the men have one key distinction from the women: they look like chefs. Google the names of those men, then look at the photos of them above their quick Wiki biographies: they are all wearing crisp, clean, starched chef’s coats. The women are wearing either aprons or street clothes. When a man cooks he is a chef, a professional, and he looks like one. When a woman cooks that is to be expected. Many young men might stray away from reading the likes of magazines like Better Homes and Gardens because the front cover is full of pastel photos of floral arrangements and beds that have more pillows on them than the amount of times the average couple might have sex in a month. Towering cakes and a portrait of a celebrity stylist, who is typically a woman. The heavily gendered marketing would cause men to stray away from simple activities like cooking or gardening – because men aren’t concerned about making a meal that will help them battle that stubborn baby weight.

We must send the message to these magazines’ marketing teams that these activities are not gender specific. Outside of the so-obsessed realm of genitals, in the reality of day-to-day life, our individual activities are relatively ambiguous. Originally, both men and women used makeup, for example. Then, the social dynamic was obstructed and manipulated to create the idea that women needed the aid of these materials to appear “more feminine.” Shaving was typically only done by men, until razor companies wanted bigger sales. All of the sudden, women were expected shave their legs and underarms. Then there is the lovely “pink tax”, where women’s razors are more expensive than men’s despite the fact that they are not as advanced or designed to fit our bodies. Even centuries ago, Victorian era painters edited classic art dating as far back as the Renaissance to make the women look more submissive and adhere to their ideals of beauty. We’ve been tricked into thinking that certain activities are ascribed to certain genders, but if we peel back the layers and lies of time, we see that these are things that we can all do together.

Gentlemen, if you want to learn how to cross stitch, then learn. Ladies, if you want to pick up carpentry or welding, then do so. Soon enough, marketing companies will see we don’t adhere to their ideals of what constitutes our genders.

Kat is a guest writer for The Fourth Wave as well as a screenwriter. She spends most of her time telling people, “No, I really don’t want to be the next Lena Dunham…”

Check out more from this month’s issue here.