Many moons ago, I wrote a post about Women Artists Owning Their Artistry.  That post focused on journalism and the media’s insistence on talking to women artists about the lucky nature of their success and talent, rather than engaging with the artist’s work seriously as they usually do with male artists.

This week I came across another aspect of women artists, and their work still receiving less respect than the work of men.  Lena Dunham has been making headlines for throwing shade at Woody Allen during a panel at the Sundance film festival this week.  However, if you listen to the actual discussion, Dunham (along with Mindy Kaling, Kristen Wiig and Jenji Kohan) is talking about how the world generally equates female artists and writers with their characters— assuming that the artist/author shares the foibles, issues, aspirations etc. of their characters— whereas this happens much less with male artists.  Here is the excerpted segment:

Again, rather than engaging with a story or a character as a serious piece of art and creativity in and of itself, people prefer to spend time puzzling out how the character is a window into the neuroticism or hubris of the female author/artist.

This is problematic and sexist because:

  1. It again refuses to take the art seriously, simply because it was created by a female.  The same respect, intelligence, experimentalism, and benefit of the doubt afforded to male artists are not extended to the women.
  2. It is a sort of dominance display, attempting to ferret out the vulnerabilities of a woman against her will, and prove that the investigator knows the woman’s mind and self better than she.
  3. It is based on the assumption that women are fundamentally crazy (hysterical) or flawed, and a morbid desire to expose this.

I had never consider this side of the complexity of being a female artist in this concrete a way, but after hearing Dunham identify and articulate this double standard, I think this is a very prevalent behavior.  I’m sure, women just like men do use themselves and their personal experiences in their art, but again, just like men, they are equally capable of distancing themselves, being objective, experimenting, or delving deep into an issue or idea from a non-intimately-personal perspective.

I think this is the very kind of subtle, underhanded sexism that is hard to stamp out. I find this very worrisome, because I am someone who writes fiction, and I am constantly worried that people will judge my personality and analyze me as a person based on the characters I create.  While to a large extent, I think this is a natural part of being a writer or an artist, it is upsetting to hear that it could be worse for me simply because I am a woman and that I might have to do extra emotional work to protect myself.

However, I am very glad to hear female artists pointing out the problem and objecting to it (and supporting each other in this work).  As the commenters on my above-mentioned post pointed out, female artists vocalizing their objections and defending themselves as artists is becoming more and more frequent. I think that this will really help in changing the discourses we have and recognizing when sloppy, sexist, and lazy journalism is happening.

For those interested, the whole panel is available to watch on YouTube.