A couple of weeks ago I went to see the exhibition ‘Witches and Wicked Bodies’ at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. It was fantastic: disturbing, thought-provoking and heartbreaking. In much of the art – ranging from the 16th century to today – the female form was either seductively beautiful or horrifically ugly. In both cases, female sexuality was literally demonised. I walked out wanting to weep.
A week later, I led a discussion at our Women’s Night about the role of women in the church, and later that evening, Newsnight had a special report on the Everyday Sexism project and its attempt to highlight the more subtle, insidious sexism and abuse women are subjected to every day. I was discouraged to hear women both at the group and in the programme say that discrimination against women is a thing of the past and therefore feminism is redundant. When I look around, I might not see horrid pictures like Goya’s, but I do still witness (and at times experience) incredible amounts of hatred, disrespect and even fear of women’s bodies and sexuality in society, in the media, and to some extent, in the church. We really haven’t come all that far.
The exhibition was conscious of the resonances the images have today, as this quote from the final plaque illustrates:
The rise of feminism in the 20th century challenged centuries-old stereotypes of women as entrenched forms of discrimination. Within the closely argued body politics of recent years, such images have taken on new meanings, inversions and subtleties. Misogyny, gender, age inequalities and, increasingly, the commodification of youth and beauty, so closely related to the stereotype of ‘witch’ explored in this exhibition, remain significant issues in modern society and culture.
I feel a longer post about feminism coming on, but haven’t had the time to formulate my thoughts carefully enough to prevent it becoming an ill-advised rant. So for now, consider this a placeholder post and suffice it to say that since being ordained, I’ve become more feminist, more aware that the world in which I live is in no way neutral. I don’t like speaking in terms of a ‘battle’ or ‘fight’ to be won or lost, but I certainly don’t think we’re anywhere near achieving equality.