I have always found it odd that oftentimes people consider the kitchen to be the woman’s place, yet professional chefs were men. Women could be teachers but it was the men who became professors and taught at the higher levels. We could be seamstresses but actually designing our own clothes was left to men. The same goes for emotions and creativity—those tend to be considered as feminine qualities—yet most of the artistic ‘masters’ were men. In other words, history has routinely taught us that these are our domains but that we cannot be too good at them. That we would never get to the really meaningful levels of the fields that are pressed upon us because of our gender.
We’ve learned that women were the chief artists in prehistoric times, as the majority of cave prints that included handprints have been identified as that of women. If we base art on recorded history, a woman created the first drawing. Her name was Dibutades, and she traced the silhouette of her lover onto the wall back in the 1st century C.E. After that, men seemed to take over and women are glaringly absent from the art history books. You occasionally run across a name, but these women are always categorized as “unusually talented” who were able to overcome the limitations of their gender—as if being female is some sort of creative handicap. On the whole, the idea was that our nude bodies were great for inspiring art or being captured in stone or paints, but if a woman was behind the easel, that was an entirely different story. This went on for years. Women ‘dabbled’ in arts and made ‘crafts’ (as most of the textiles, pottery, and jewelry of prehistoric and early history are considered, potentially to trivialize the female contribution to early forms of art). Men were the artists, known for—and paid—for their work. They created all the schools and styles, lead all the moments. But women know the truth. We have always been there. Our voices were not heard. They were silenced. Underestimated. Disregarded. I am not just talking about female artists being discouraged or prevented from furthering their education. As late as the 18th and 19th centuries, artwork created by women was often attributed to someone else (Marie-Denise Villers, whose work hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art—a self-portrait, no less—was mistakenly credited to Jacques-Louis David), to the point where art dealers even altered signatures of artists like Judith Leyster.
To me, it is amazing that artists like Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, and Francoise Gilotmade themselves known in an environment like that at all. I am grateful to them, and to all the other women—known and unknown, who have blazed this trail for the women of today. We must continue to hold the torch high and keep the path lit so that the women who come after us can find their way as well. Our voices and our talents deserve recognition.