On November 6th, Los Angeles’s Beacon Arts Building featured a panel of speakers debating the issues raised by its exhibit The Feminine Canvas. The exhibit, which closed on that same night, featured works by many artists that all explored the subject of gender politics and female body image. Panelists included art critic Jeanne Willette, artists Zackary Drucker, Meg Cranston and Alexis Smith; writers Ezrha Jean Black and Mat Gleason; and the Center’s own executive director, Jessica LeRoy.
Much of the discussion focused on the idea that the feminist movement has become a humanist movement, where the goal is to be seen as people first and foremost. Our traditional definitions for the labels and words we use to identify ourselves need to be extended in pursuit of a more equal relationship between the sexes. As the movement has expanded to embrace rights for gay and transgender individuals, the definition of the word “woman” itself is constantly growing and changing. Femininity, the panelists debated, is something that can be created and cultivated, not something that’s assigned along with the bodies that we’re born into.
Zackary Drucker, a performance artist, made particular mention of this fact. “I can identify with the feminine ideals because I’m a self-made woman,” she said. “Like making a painting, it’s been layers of creating my feminist self.”
There are plenty of negative connotations that come with the word “feminist” itself, and it’s one of the reasons why the speakers argued for a more extensive, embraceable vocabulary. When Meg Cranston was asked if she considered herself a feminist, she responded “What’s the alternative?” which was followed by a rousing round of applause from the audience.
It’s a word that many women often seem to be afraid of, but she was completely correct – there is no alternative. It’s the connotations surrounding “feminist” that give the word the potential to be twisted negatively, and that’s exactly what the exhibit explored: the shifting, changing definitions of feminism for every woman out there, both born and self-made.
“We’re always starting over from scratch,” said writer Ezrha Jean Black. “And maybe that’s a good thing.”