[This is the final part of a thesis paper about the series Toying with History. Here is the master post.]
I began this artistic inquiry by asking whether or not the present is dependent on the past. After assessing sexism in contemporary politics and creative fields, I conclude that changing our traditions will only come at the cost of sustained effort, and it is far too early to be complacent about our progress.
The violent examples of social injustice during the summer of 2014 included in my introduction—such as policemen shooting unarmed black men—continued during fall 2014. The antagonism within the computer gaming industry has also escalated. “Gamergate” is the latest incarnation of this misogyny, though some make pathetic attempts to justify death threats as advocacy for journalistic ethics. I mentioned earlier that Anita Sarkeesian, one of the targets of these intimidation tactics, opted in March 2014 to accept a Game Developers Choice Ambassador Award despite a bomb threat. In October 2014, Sarkeesian canceled a speech at Utah State University. She reportedly decided to cancel when informed that—in spite of a threatened mass shooting—campus police would do nothing to prevent individuals with concealed carry permits from bringing guns to the event (McDonald 1). In cases like these, in which the right to bear arms trumps the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly, the crux of the problem is one of balancing priorities.
Our priorities are of course heavily influenced by our empathy. The fundamental bias of The Christian Science Monitor illustrates this point. While explaining the newspaper’s motto—”To injure no man, but to bless all mankind”—one of the editors described global news as essential to mankind’s well-being, because “caring about our neighbors begins with knowing something about them–how they’re doing, what they need, what their challenges are” (Ingwerson).
Art, literature, and film are tools by which we can hope to accomplish this. I still struggle to truly change my own patterns of thinking. Even in the middle of creating a self-consciously feminist series, I sometimes catch myself believing the very stereotypes I wish to reject. Shifting paradigms is no easy task, and each incremental change reveals another opportunity for character building.
Intersectionality—which I briefly touched on in this paper’s introduction—is the most important direction in which I intend to develop my series. Researching this project has made me more confident in my feminism, but it has also forced me to be painfully aware of the privileges I enjoy as a cis, white woman. Our shared traditions affect all of us, but not in the same ways. The series is conceptual rather than autobiographical, so there is no reason to exclude women of color from a visual discussion of how art history and pop culture affect worldviews. My unintentional omission of racial diversity shames me even more when I consider the fact that Kara Walker, Janelle Monáe, and Kehinde Wiley are artists whose work I look to as examples of how beautiful absurdity can have rhetorical power.
Toying with History could also do more to challenge heteronormativity. My earliest artworks in this series included a sub-series that acknowledged drag as part of this overall fantasy of dressing up in order to challenge preconceptions. I contended in the introduction to this paper that countering rape culture requires a deeper fight against lingering sexism in our culture as a whole. Challenging gender stereotypes is important, but the conversation is much richer when the gender binary’s dualistic nature is also challenged.
As a society, the good news is that we are discussing intersectionality and social justice. The paradigm shifts requisite to bringing about equality have not yet been realized. Equality will continue to elude us until we conceptualize it deeply, universally, and intersectionally. Inequality will end when we make it inconceivable and unnatural. We cannot ignore the past, but we are not fated to repeat it.
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