Quick, name five female artists.
How did you do? Who did you name? Were you able to name five?
or maybe only three?
This question is posed to several people during the movie “Who Does She Think She Is?”
Most people can’t name a single female artist.
A group of us, all women and all artists, attended a special viewing of “Who Does She Think She Is?” as part of a fund raising effort for the Maynard Cultural Council.
I think I counted 2 men in the entire audience. Maybe 3.
That is a curious observation.
Yes, “Who Does She Think She Is?” is a movie about five female artists. But it is also a movie that talks about society’s perception of women artists and the challenges women face when we wish, no, when we MUST embrace our creative, artistic calling. All five women in the movie are married and have children. All five women struggle with their roles as artists, wives, and mothers. And not all of their situations have a happy ending.
This is not Hollywood.
The movie reminds us of the role that women used to have in society, before we became a patriarchal, westernized society. Women were leaders and goddesses and powerful. Women presided over tribal events. Women were the glue that kept society together. Women were “cultural muses.”
And somewhere along the way, our role was diminished.
(Okay, I know that isn’t true in all modern day situations. I know men who are very supportive of the women in their lives.)
The reality is, however, that in many cases, artists (male or female) are not considered part of the fabric of society. Remember just earlier this year some members of Congress refused to endorse stimulus funds for art groups and organizations because that “doesn’t help create jobs.” We just paint, draw, sculpt; you know, play around but don’t do anything “serious.” And for women this is often even worse.
Statistics presented in the movie reveal that while women often are in the majority in art classes, it is men who make a name for themselves in the field. When it comes to exhibitions at major museums, the majority of exhibits feature art work by men. Is this because the subject matter may be “too feminine?” Is this because those who make the decision on who exhibits are predominantly men? Do women simply give up?
On the home front, it isn’t always better. We see relationships develop and fall apart. We see women striving for independence and the role support, communication, and economics all play in this scenario. I was struck by one artist’s comment that she works and creates in isolation, that no one in her church or at the schools her children attended knew she was an artist. (Of course this film probably changed that!) Another artist compared her situation to being in the woods, alone, and the wolves were circling. Support and networking is another theme that is present in the movie.
“Who Does She Think She Is?” provides insight into the lives of five female artists as they pursue their artistic goals, the roads they’ve traveled, the heartache they’ve endured, and the successes they’ve achieved. Interspersed is commentary by Dr. Maura Reilly, Curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art (Brooklyn Museum), Doctor and author Leonard Shlain, attorney and social scientist Raine Eisler, among others.
I left the movie feeling inspired, empowered, and a little depressed. I found myself shaking my head in agreement to statements made in the film, my eyes welling with tears as I felt the pain and sorrow several of the women expressed, and I wanted to cheer as they achieved some level of success and stood fast to their goals, hopes, and dreams.
Regarding the lack of men in the audience; Like I said, the title of the movie implies that this is a “chick flick” and on some level it is. But this is also a movie that should be seen by men (partners, husbands) and women (artist or not), parents, and sons and daughters. It is a learning tool on the lives of modern day artists. It is a learning tool on following your dream and embracing your creativity.
So I ask you Who Do You Think You Are?
To read more about Who Does She Think She Is? and for information on upcoming screenings, click here.