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Our latest post is by Karla McLaren, Campaign Manager: Women’s Rights in Afghanistan for Amnesty International UK who are campaigning for women in Afghanistan.

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Black women, feminism and the view from the outside: #solidarityisforwhitewomen

When #solidarityisforwhitewomen first appeared in my timeline I was really curious about what it was. As a Black women, I was worried that it was an attempt to exclude me from the feminist movement. Of course the opposite is true and the hashtag highlights the exclusion Black women currently face within the feminist "movement".

It reminded me of a trade union course I attended a few years ago. The course was aimed at women activists. When I arrived early I found a seat and started reading the coursework. As the room began to fill up, delegates were free to choose where they sat. There was an ebb and flow of women as delegates arrived and selected their seat before getting coffee or going for a comfort beak. Noise levels started to build as the room filled as we all knew each other.  

When the course started, I looked up at the presenter and then I looked around the room and I noticed that something odd had happened. In the middle of a room of white women there was a single table of Black women. It hadn't been prearranged, there was no seating plan and there had been no discussion beforehand - it just happened that way.

It happened that way, in my opinion, because we draw strength from each other. There was an unspoken level of support amongst the Black women as we are too often excluded from the main group. We have all experienced being shut out by white feminists.

We also have a shared understanding of what happens when sexism meets racism in modern Britain. There is no need to explain the nuances the insidious racism we face on a daily basis or to convince each other that our experiences are real.  

As a Black woman, I face the same gender discrimination issues as a white woman, however, as a Black woman there is and will always be a race dimension. When a white feminist shouts out against an injustice she will be told to get back into her kitchen and get the dinner ready for her husband and kids. As a Black feminist, I'm told f**k off back to where I came from as if the concept of a Black Scottish woman is such an alien concept. While some men will attempt to reduce a white women to the components of her physical appearance when they are handing out a put down to a Black women they are more likely to try and dehumanise us.

Black women are doubly disadvantaged in the workplace and in society as a whole. Too often, not only do we have to fight our corner but we also have to fight our white sisters to even get our issues on the agenda. When we raise our issues we are often told to be quiet that "we" are fighting for equality for all. Well the problem is how can you really tackle discrimination if you are not even willing to believe our experiences.

It is disappointing to see that the predictable backlash has begun in earnest that some feel uncomfortable that their white privileges have been laid bare for all to see. I love the hashtag. I know I shouldn't say this but I love the fact it is making some feel uncomfortable because in a lot of situations I face on a daily basis this is how I am made to feel. Most mainstream feminists are unable to step out of their comfort zone and recognise that at times being a Black woman (let alone a Black feminist) in Britain can be soul destroying. 

If the hashtag actually leads to a debate where everyone's voices and experiences can be heard it's a good thing. It may not lead to lasting change but while it is trending it allows the voices of Black women to be heard and allow us to contribute to the fight as equals.

Davena Rankin

Why hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen went viral in 24h

All feminists are equal (but some feminists are more equal than others)

One of the most fascinating things about Twitter is its power to open the floodgates to long held-back frustrations in just a couple of clicks. Since Monday, the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen is causing a frenzy all over the social network, sometimes at a rate of 50 tweets per second.

Starting off as heated discussion between Mikki Kendall and her followers over Hugo Schwyzer’s abusive behaviour, the hashtag went instantly viral in all five continents.

Now it looks like thousands of netizens were waiting for this moment to shout their exasperation against a colour blind brand of feminism.

Their point isn’t about denouncing discrimination against women of colour in the workplace, media, shops, culture, schools or universities – that has already been done. The hashtag stroked the nerve of Twitter users who were for a long time putting up with some white feminists’ hypocrisy when dealing with gender issues. 

It doesn’t take long to find everyday examples. How many Western feminists are proud of defending women’s interest, yet they don’t bat an eye when buying clothes made by disadvantaged women in Asian sweatshops? Or hiring (and underpaying) a woman of colour to take care of their children so they can return to work? How often do the media ignore reporting criminal cases when the victim is “only” a woman of colour?

Since the 1970’s, many black feminists have argued that women of colour experience a more intense kind of discrimination, combining sexism, racism, and class oppression. According to the Twitter posts, little has changed. Mainstream feminism seems to be stuck in a time warp of class and racial abuse.

Yet it’s striking how many women and men found this thread offensive, racist or simply depressing. Many said they felt uncomfortable discovering their ‘white privilege’. For others, the self-glorifying idea of being a hero in the war against gender oppression was shattered when confronted with the racial discrimination that millions of women of colour experience every day.

But probably the most important thing about #solidarityisforwhitewomen is that it finally says clearly that women are not one homogeneous group, as they are often referred to by feminists, economists, and politicians. It is the birth of a forum where all feminists have the opportunity to discuss, listen and learn from each other. It enforces the idea that discourse about gender equality needs to move beyond the patronizing approach that some white Western feminists are promoting worldwide, ignoring their own racial and class bias.

Whilst it started off as one single tweet, #solidarityisforwhitewomen is becoming a wave that remarkably shook the world of feminism – and it was about time.

Marcela Kunova

From Sexist Exclusion to Feminist Inclusion: the Art of Pauline Boty 
  -  by Caroline Coon

‘Amazingly’ said the invitation*, this is ‘the first exhibition in a public art gallery' of Pauline Boty's work. ‘Amazingly’ is academic-nice for an incredible story that I’m about to tell you in more gritty language. Let me set the scene: I can tell you some of this because I was there. I first saw Pauline Boty’s paintings, with her present, at her and her husband Clive Goodwin’s home in Notting Hill Gate in 1965. After Boty died of cancer aged 28, I spent many hours in the presence of these paintings in the large apartment where Goodwin lived in South Kensington.

Boty’s paintings were on all the walls – in Goodwin’s office, the corridor and the kitchen. The large sitting room - with ‘It’s A Man’s World 1’ and ‘It’s A Man’s World 11’ and ‘Jean-Paul Belmondo’ looking on - was one of the most lovely rooms in London. It had huge French windows and a canopied garden swing seat covered in orange canvas beside a huge bowl filled with plastic yellow daffodils. In to this vibrant scene would come most of the cultural movers and shakers of the day to create, plot and plan - Nell Dunn, Tariq Ali, Dennis Potter, Kenneth Tynan, Christopher Logue, Derek Boshier…

Before and immediately after her death Pauline Boty was IN this cultural life, THERE, co-creating, co-present. Her art practice is an exact reflection and incorporation of the concerns and aesthetics of the progressive culture that they were made in and part of.

As I got on with my life I assumed that these crucial paintings were safe, available and/or cared for in art dealer’s storage.

In 1991 I went to the Pop Art show at the Royal Academy of Art. I was longing to see Pauline Boty’s paintings again. As I walked around the show I realised that something was very wrong. Except for one painting by Niki de Saint Phalle, the show was all male. Marco Livingstone had curated an exhibition that was an apartheid, Men Only space. All the women artists who are integral to the wide field that is called Pop Art were disappeared, excluded and gone.

I was outraged. The exhibition was, frankly, a lie. After two decades of feminist scholarship and Guerrilla Girls protest, white male curators were still wilfully ignoring reality, busily falsifying art history and not only erasing women from the cannon but also denying women their place in the public art space.

If you remember back then… in dominant theory WOMAN was a disdained stereotype. For instance, the much-lauded surrealist expert, George Melly, trashed Dorothea Tanning as ‘nursery’. Here is Griselda Pollock noting what happened to Georgia O’Keeffe at the Hayward Gallery in 1993: ‘her work was greeted by a barrage of violent criticism in which a male-art-critical establishment crawled over the surfaces of her paintings to reassure themselves that she wasn’t any good at it so they would not have to confront the complex articulation of [] women’s perspective and sensibility on life, beauty, nature, belonging, displacement and desire.’

It was at about this time that two people who helped to overturn this apartheid politics of art selection came to visit me: Professor David Mellor and Dr Sue Tate.

Professor Mellor was curating his ‘The Sixties Art Scene in London’ for the 1993 Barbican exhibition. And Dr Tate was beginning her research.

David Mellor found Pauline Boty’s paintings rotting and dust covered in her brother’s garage. He was moved to tears when he first saw them. He had them restored. And he included Boty’s work with EIGHT more women artists in his Barbican exhibition. By including more women beside their male art colleagues than had ever before been included in a public art gallery exhibition, Mellor made his show history changing. The white male art establishment went berserk. They went to war. Dr Mellor was verbally attacked and physically assaulted by … well, Dr Mellor has been too discrete to say who it was but I’ve always imagined it to be some bully like Bryan Robertson.

Mellor was told that male artists X, Y and Z would withdraw their work if the Boty paintings were not removed from the exhibition. Mellor stood his ground and his inclusive curatorial intelligence gave the show the humanity and truth of real life.

But, the history-falsifying Men Only exclusionists were not finished.

I was invited to talk about the Barbican exhibition on BBC 2. In reply to a question about Pauline Boty’s painting, put to him by Richard Cook, Waldemar Januszczak sneered ‘Oh, Pauline Boty, she’s a bad painter. She’s just a dolly bird’.

Managing to contradict Januszezak, I said: ‘You are absolutely wrong. Pauline Boty is a superb painter. And, she was just as glamorous as the glamorous men around her like David Hockney with his dyed blond hair and his gold lamé jacket.’

I wish I’d been more prepared to contest what Kate Millett called misogyny’s ‘brutal contempt’ with some quip like: You are not an art critic Waldemar; you are just a meathead!

What permanently altered art history, and sealed the position of Pauline Boty in her rightful place as a vanguard innovator in the Pop Art movement, were the two co-operating shows at Whitford Fine Art and The Mayor Gallery in 1998.

James Mayor was the ideal person to aid this Women Included revolution. Ever since I was an art student I have gone to the Mayor Gallery sure of seeing art by women artists from Leonor Fini to Hannah Höch and recently Dadamaino. (Incidentally, James Mayor’s next show, maybe his last on Cork Street, is a group of five women artists including Agnes Martin and Aurelie Nemours.)

From 1998 onwards - the year that ‘The Only Blond In the World’ book to accompanied the Mayor/Whitford exhibitions was published with foundation essays by Mellor and Tate - I don’t think you’ll find any book on Pop Art that fails to include Pauline Boty.

Pauline Boty’s paintings are here in Wolverhampton Art Gallery today by chance and luck, yes, but mostly through the perspicacity of a few people who understood not only that they are superb works of art in themselves but that they need to be seen as evidence of the extent to which art history was falsified by the exclusion of so much art by women.

What I’ve outlined here is a story of reconnection, a sometimes-violent struggle to place women artists and their works back into the communities and contexts they lived and worked in.

When Boty lived, marriage gave husbands the right to rape their wives, women could not sign a contract or obtain a bank loan without her husband or father as guarantor, there was no law against sexual harassment at work, no equal pay act… women were not yet familiar with the feminist language that was being coined as the tool of liberation and human rights.

Women artists were as equally human as their male colleagues but they had to live beside history. They had to negotiate a history of patriarchy that, as Lichtenberg-Ettinger said, puts women down or ‘perpetually puts her in her place.’

Which is why politically engaged artists like Boty chose to incorporate politics in their art.

Pauline Boty was not ‘before her time’. Like many women avant-garde artists before her, Boty was IN and Of her time. She was on the front line, with an agenda as iconoclastic about women and sex as her newly empowered male artist friends were iconoclast about imperialism and class. As a woman artist – like many Pop Art women artists – Boty was bravely ‘out’, breaking free of patriarchal assumptions about women in the same way that an artist like David Hockney was ‘out’ braking free of patriarchal assumptions about what it is to be male.

This is why we must not be afraid of, nor need we hide, Boty’s sexuality or the beauty of her self-presentation as seen in photographs. Boty’s sexual persona in her art and in her life was ground-braking and consciously considered, giving form, as Dr Sue Tate says ‘to the pleasures of autonomous female sexuality that she considered inseparable from women’s social and political liberation.’

Pop artist women like Pauline Boty positioned their sexuality as a conscious alternative to the cold-cool de-sexing of art that flaws Modernism.

Combining her body – her sexuality, her female virility and libido – with her mind in her art was Boty’s reparative intervention, the cure to that fatal disconnect from life that so disheartens masculinity and is characterised by the ‘little death’ or the ‘petit mort’ in male narratives of orgasm.

In Boty’s art we see orgasm – her pleasure and desire – not as a little death but a burst of ecstatic energy that is the very beginning of life.

Which is why we must not let the trajedy of her early death obscure the purposeful life force and optimism in her work. Boty poured her love of life into her painting. She could paint loss and despair – ‘Colour Her gone’ or ‘ My Colouring Book’ - because she lived for joy.

Look at these paintings individually but remember they are only glimpses of what she was capable of! Look at her paintings – and all the other examples of her art practice – and remember that she actively and consciously wanted to change the future.

In this exhibition we see Pauline Boty feeling and finding her way. She is speaking without finishing… Had she lived she might have found a way of connecting with the many other vanguard women artists of her time and, today, I’m sure she would have loved political engagement with Riot Grrrls, and Girl Power and Slut Walkers and Pussy Riot…

Perhaps, as the exhibition tours, young women and men who support for example, The Woman’s Room, Hollaback! and The Everyday Sexism Project will see these paintings and be inspired and have their spirits raised as my spirits were raised when I first saw them as a student so many years ago.

After all, art does have the power to change human identity and the nature of society. The evidence is here in the exhibition of Pauline Boty’s telling, beautiful, valuable, tough and precious works of art!

*‘Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman’, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Friday 31 May 2013 to 16 November 2013.

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