Gender Imbalances in Art Museums

Sorry for the unintended hiatus readers! This quarter has been a busy one (I’ll post some of my paintings as well as a paper shortly). However! I’ve recently entered a long period of free time (Fitting a semester of study abroad into my university’s quarter system is not ideal) and posts should be up on a more frequent basis.

For now, I’d like to suggest reading Museum 2.0’s article on the gender imbalance in art museums. This is an incredible blog and a fascinating subject, so definitely check it out!

Quick summary of the article: women usually make up the majority of art museum staff. Is this a problem?

In my opinion, no. Well, it is a problem, but not for the reasons you may suspect. While there are some who view women-dominated industries to be just as problematic as ones dominated by men, they’re not. For one, there are no systematic barriers in place deterring men from working in women-dominated fields (With the exception of working with young children–which is also a result of patriarchy). A helpful comparison is to think of the field of computer science, which is mainly made up of men. This is due to a number of reasons: women are raised to believe they are worse at math, women are discouraged from choosing fields that are considered too “hard” for them, women are driven away from the field because of a women-unfriendly environment, and so on.

So women are deterred from computer science because they are neither wanted nor welcome (Often, not always! My mother is actually a software engineering professor and she is very successful in her field. It’s not impossible, simply more difficult). Is this the same reasoning behind men not working in art museums?

No. No no no no no.

Art museums require a high level of education yet often offer low levels of pay. The types of people drawn to an art museum are overwhelmingly women (Overwhelmingly middle class white women in fact, due to an ability to participate in the unpaid internships required for the field) likely due in part to women being raised to value our time and our work less. It’s why women are more likely to volunteer, work for free, or contribute more work to a joint household (aka, work for free). Additionally, many women are subtly encouraged to become art historians or work in museums rather than create their own work. Not because women’s artwork is worse, but because of sexist ideas that are long-lasting and difficult to end.

Not necessarily! We also get to work there!

Men are deterred from art museums not because they are neither wanted nor welcome, but because it is one of the fields they do not want to work in. The pay isn’t great, the recognition isn’t great, and men are generally not rerouted in this direction from fields they may have more interest in. In fact, many of the major positions in museums (Director, curators, the higher ups in the departments) are taken by men. Even in fields dominated by women, men still hold power.

So actually yes, in my opinion, the gender imbalance in museums is a problem, but not a problem that can be solved by the women in museum staff. Rather it is the result of a patriarchal society that often values women’s work less and we can solve it by… ending sexism.  Which is easier said than done! And is also a task that women working in museums, who, according to the article, are very careful not to exclude men, should be responsible for. I’d also argue that the people demanding gender equality in art museums because of too many women are the art world’s version of the upset college dudes demanding the first thing feminism fix be ladies night at the bar. And hey, no one likes that dude. That dude is very tiresome.

But don’t just take it from me! My experience with gender imbalances in the art field is drawn from art school, internships at a gallery and museum (The Corcoran is largely run by women! It was definitely an eye opening experience. Additionally, of approximately fifteen interns only one was male), and from what I’ve learned in class and online. Obviously my perspective is limited by my youth. Click over to the article and learn more from someone with far more experience and stories to tell!

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3 thoughts on “Gender Imbalances in Art Museums

  1. Hey, glad to see you back! 🙂

    Another aspect of patriarchy that contributes to low paying jobs being “pink collar” jobs (ie, primarily done by women) is that whole man-as-family-provider thing. On the one hand, women may be able to afford to work a low paying job if they are married to a man who can help support them; and on the other hand, men are socialized away from low-paying fields because they won’t be able to support a wife and kids on their salary.

    And I think there’s some reinforcement that goes on based on the existing population skew. We’ve seen studies that demonstrate that if there are few or no women in a department, say, then it’s very hard to get more. I’d expect this to work in reverse, too, with an extra +10 patriarchy bonus due to the direction of travel down, rather than up, the gender status hierarchy.

    • Those are all wonderful points!

      The idea that men need to support families while women are supported is so infuriating. Not only do recent studies show over half of American women are the breadwinners of their household, the misconception ignores single women and queer women (And it’s likely many do realize these “loopholes” exist and yet enforce this idea still). And it does seem that for many women there is the expectation that they can simply marry up and away from all of their financial woes.

      Thanks for the warm welcome! I’m happy that I have the time to write again. And to catch up on all of the blogs I fell behind on. I hope everything’s going well for you!

  2. uocgender says:

    Reblogged this on uocgender and commented:
    this post may be relavant but i havnt had time to read all of it because i really need to get on with my animation. their is a link to annother blog that may be worth reading too.
    oz. (james)

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