Feminism! It’s a topic to which we have dedicated numerous issues, essays, and articles from the very start. For the authors of Texte zur Kunst, questions related to the role of women in the art world as well as theoretical debates on feminist theories or concepts of gender and queer studies have been and still are recurring points of reference in analyzing sociopolitical and art-political interrelations. Nevertheless, it is no coincidence that we are (re)turning to this theme in a concentrated manner at this juncture. The movement associated with feminism has evidently reached a precarious moment in its history (see our survey). There is the assertion that the demands of feminism have been largely met through establishing gender mainstreaming programs and institutionalizing gender studies in universities. The mood has never been more “post-feminist” or “post-gender” than today. However, this zeitgeist is also the symptom of an ideology purporting to be “post-ideological”, according to which there is no social inequality but only individual failure. Just like it is allegedly up to each person which place they assume in society, it supposedly also lies with the individual women whether they are restricted by their gender or not.
This process of depoliticization and eroding solidarity, not least taking effect within the feminist movement itself, is by no means reflected in a different state of society but in the persistence of well-known realities that starkly contrast to the assertion of a historically fulfilled feminism. There is still no equal pay for equal work. It has been impossible to introduce a legally binding quota on the executive floors of major publicly-held corporations. Even a return of the spirit of the 1950s is obvious in the brothel visits that the Hamburg Mannheimer insurance company organized to reward outstanding employees, or in a statement by the head of a major German publishing house that the former female boss of another major German publisher could not be taken into consideration as his successor because, with two children, she couldn’t handle the workload. Post-gender? Not really.
In the face of an ideology that obscures this situation, an ideology generously granting individuals liberty precisely to the degree to which the question of the social conditions of liberty is suppressed, one must call to mind feminism’s political stake. Feminism exposes the question of gender inequality as a social question. That this question cannot be adequately raised in view of gender relations alone – that it requires the awareness of the way questions related to gender identity are intertwined with class relations, nationalities, skin color, and sexual orientation in order to grasp the problem of unequal treatment of women in a differentiated way – changes nothing in regard to the necessity of recalling feminism’s basic impulse. On the contrary, this kind of recollection appears necessary even in some areas of gender studies themselves, where the fact that the respective focuses on the category of “woman” are contested indicates that this category has become superfluous (Pamela M. Lee’s text alludes to this phenomenon). Irrespective of this is the fact that rejecting the category of “woman”, which results from this short-circuiting, fits in all too well with the neoliberalism of post-ideology. Feminism was and is not an institution to defend the category of “woman”, but a movement that, like all social movements, aims at self-abolition, precisely because its pivotal category is in various ways factually connected to inequality and thus with the lack of freedom for those subsumed under it. But precisely against the background of its false (false post-ideological) abolition, the issue today is, as it was in the past, to paradoxically insist on the category of “woman” – so as to be able to dispense with it. That would only be possible under the conditions of realized equality.
That this is by no means already the case is exemplarily revealed in the field of art. As Lucy R. Lippard’s 1976 book “From the Center. Feminist Essays on Women’s Art” shows, political demands for equality and the attempt to relate these demands to the (re)valuation of aesthetic practice and institutional art history were extremely tenacious and painstaking even during the heyday of the second wave of the women’s movement. While these demands were aimed at raising awareness of patriarchal-macho mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion, they were also meant to upgrade the generally female-coded sphere of reproduction to the generally male-coded sphere of production. Yet wherever “gender” was successfully established as an analytical category indispensable in a socio-historically and psychoanalytically informed art discourse, it soon proved to be reductionist and insufficient in view of the complexity of socio-symbolic asymmetries. Just as the initial class-struggle attitude (“Feminism shouldn’t be an interpretation of this world, but a transformation of it”) had to recognize its constitutive contradiction, a feminist art history increasingly oriented toward cultural studies should begin to use “gender” in relation to the multiplicity and (non-)simultaneity of experiences of social privilege and discrimination (see Elahe Haschemi Yekani’s piece). More recent revisions of feminist (art) discourses now go as far as viewing the classical demands of the women’s movement in connection with the bio-political skimming off of the reproductive sphere. The writings in this issue show that the maxim voiced by Lucy Lippard 40 years ago, that feminism must always be simultaneously set in relation to aesthetics and politics, has lost none of its validity. Perhaps the primary difference is that the question of economy and the art market appears more pressing today than in Lippard’s time (see Julia Voss’s essay).
The question of the topicality of feminist concepts and ideas is also being raised in debates outside the art world, an example being the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (see the essay by Marie-Luise Angerer). That outdated role models can serve as models for self-empowerment is something that Monika Rinck’s literary-essayistic statement on the Diva makes clear. “Collision is correct” is the contentious tenor of her text. That is also true of feminism – yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
(Translation: Karl Hoffmann)