Historicizing the Gender Gap & Problems With “Notability”

August 24, 2022

By Kelly Dennis, Network Organizer

Among the many trainings I’ve conducted over the past 7 years, the “gender gap” is an aspect of Art and Feminism’s work in Wikipedia Edit-a-thons that audiences have found most compelling, largely because it simply never occurred to them that it was going on. 

Indeed, “normalizing” inequities in the representation and participation of women, black, indigenous, and people of color, lesbian, gay, bi-, trans, queer, differently abled, and neuro diverse in the public sphere generally and on the internet particularly is precisely what renders those inequities invisible and helps maintain white supremacy as primary incarnation of hetero-capitalist-patriarchy. 

As an A+F  Network Organizer, I conducted two training events in two different countries in 2022: a museum in New England and an international conference in Toulouse, France. Students and museum members comprised the audience for the former, while UK and Western European scholars from France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal comprised the latter. For both audiences I relied heavily on imagery to historicize the gender gap—for even international scholars can overlook how deeply rooted it is. 

A key feminist resource for identifying the gender gap in art is the late feminist art historian Linda Nochlin. Her pioneering essay, “Why Are There No Great Women Artists,” published in 1972, was a watershed in the history of art. For my PowerPoint, I used the more contemporary “An Illustrated Guide to Linda Nochlin’s “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” for, a collaboration between artist Lauren Purje and contributor Tiernan Morgan. Thus this training PowerPoint included a primer on Nochlin’s key rebuttal to the vexing question—which, in effect, contains its own answer—as a means to highlight issues surrounding Wikipedia’s “notability” criteria, which remain largely based on an outdated “white male genius” model. Like itself, a highly influential art blog, the criteria of and venues for exhibition and notice have expanded greatly, even if the traditional venues and collectors have not—much. 

A decade after Nochlin’s essay, the anonymous activist artist group The Guerrilla Girls began their performative and interventional protests in museums to highlight these longstanding inequities in the art world. Their particular and longest lasting contribution was and continues to be a series of pithy, pointed, humorous, intersectional, and graphically canny posters, several of which were in the collection of the aforementioned museum. Combined with Purje’s illustrations, audiences had ample imagery to reinforce the importance of editing Wikipedia, one of the top 20 accessed websites globally. 

Both audiences were keen to participate and eager to contribute their first entry.