03/05/2013 13:11 BST | Updated 03/07/2013 06:12 BST

Women's Right to Create: Feminism and the Arts


Sometimes people claim that we don't need feminism any more. Women have rights, they argue, so what more could they possibly want or need?

One only needs to look around the world at the terrible situation for many girls and women to realise that feminism is still necessary and vital. But even once females have better living conditions and more rights, feminism still has a role to play as women try to shape careers.

Several recent news stories have made it clear that women are way behind when it comes to careers in the arts.

VIDA's overview of who got published in literary magazines in 2012 suggests that it is still - no surprise - overwhelmingly men. Not only is it men who more often get their literary work published, but it is also primarily men who get their work reviewed and who are the reviewers, too.

And in the New Yorker, Alex Ross's piece on female composers shows that it is still primarily men who have their compositions performed.

It seems quite likely that if similar surveys were done in other creative fields, the results would be the same. Are female sculptors or painters or photographers exhibited as often? Do female playwrights have their works performed as frequently? Do female architects get as many commissions? Are there many women making films? And so on.

Not only should we wonder about women making art, but also about whether as many women work as art critics or judge prizes or get grants as men do.

While some might claim that there aren't as many women doing these things so it's natural that they get published/performed/whatever less often or even that they just aren't as good as men, neither of those things are likely, or neither claim is borne out by evidence.

And even if those arguments were true, these sad statistics all seem to come down to the same thing: women simply don't seem to be encouraged by our culture to be creative, and they aren't supported in their creative endeavours.

Why do we seem to feel that creative work is a domain for men? Why does it appear that some women might feel guilty if they want to spend time making art? Why does our culture encourage women to do practical work and to use their time in what we might consider a more profitable and potentially less fulfilling way? Why do women often feel that art is something they are allowed to do if they've done everything else first, the way you might be allowed dessert after eating all your dinner?

This is where feminism comes in.

We can encourage girls and women to try out different types of art by having more classes and workshops. We can support them if they want to make careers in the arts. We can have publications and festivals and exhibits that feature the work of women. We can have grants and awards to help females. We can teach about female artists and writers in schools, so young women have role models.

This is not, as some might claim, reverse discrimination. Rather, this is an attempt to make women feel that their creativity is worth as much as men's, and that their creativity is valued by our culture.

We can do this by changing the terms of our discussions about art, and making it clear that everyone can fulfil their creative potential.

Feminism is about helping all people figuring out who they are and how they want to live their lives, and it's about making sure they have the opportunities they need to do that.

Women have just as much right to be creative as men, and we need to encourage them in their artistic undertakings.