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'Wack!' Through Female Eyes

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A man can try to be a feminist, and even think he is. But when it comes to truly feeling what it is to be a woman in the world, and all the predicaments that presents, he might as well give up. That's why I asked my sister Alison Gopnik to go through the "Wack!" exhibition with me. She's 50, a professor of child psychology at Berkeley and a longtime feminist. Alison was thrilled by what she saw, but also sometimes troubled.

Here are a few of her concerns.

Too many sexy bodies. One of feminism's crucial points has been that, in our culture, men get to just be people, whereas women are always also -- even first and foremost -- bodies. And preferably young and gorgeous ones. Yet the feminist artists in "Wack!," often young and, as it happens, gorgeous, were keen to appear nude in much of their art. Instead of fighting the idea that being a woman is all about the kind of flesh you wear, they sometimes seem to buy into it. For women in our society, once you strip in public -- or in art -- you risk becoming cheesecake.

Does art-world injustice matter? The first feminist artists were deeply concerned with sexism in art and the art world. But how much does that touch most women?

Where's most of what most women do? On top of holding down the same jobs as men, many women also raise the kids, tend the home and nurture friends and relatives. Yet housekeeping, and especially child-rearing, got scant attention from the young feminists who made the art in "Wack!" When their art did feature homes and kids, it was often with a negative spin, as prisons for women.

-- Blake Gopnik

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