In certain intellectual spaces, social and academic alike, it often feels like it’s been decided that talking about misogyny in art and literature is a moot point — an extraneous, distracting, overly orthodox and immature interruption to the real conversation. It feels like it’s been decided that the only inquiries there are to be made about artistic misogyny will inevitably be reductive, simplifying and short-sighted, and that whatever conversation there is to be had about misogyny in art and literature will be a short, perfunctory one; something to be gotten out of the way so that we can get at the real meaning. So, the female student who is preoccupied with, disturbed by, skeptical of or, at the very least, who finds herself unmoved by the aestheticized, unchallenged objectification of a Brian Jones sculpture, the sexual politics of a Woody Allen film or the gratuitous violence against women in American Psycho — and who wishes to engage with and speak aloud about the way she feels — takes a risk of not being heard. As it is with the reactions to many particular realities of being a woman, feeling discomfort and alienation from art is often met with gas-lighting or, perhaps no less toxically, a, “Well maybe, but that’s not the point.”
To voice disgust or reservation; to externalize one’s grappling with gratuitous and unchallenged depictions of female exploitation, violence, abuse, manipulation or subservience in a painting, novel or film — or god forbid, to claim that something is misogynistic — often seems to translate to failure of artistic literacy; an inability to “see past the obvious”: placing critical women on the same intellectual level of the parent who looks at a Jackson Pollack and says, “my kid could do that.”
To be clear, I’m making no claims that any particular art is misogynistic (the examples above are simply art that has been contested on these grounds) and I’m especially not making any claims about what women should read as misogynistic or be troubled by. I’m only saying that, in a patriarchal society, particularly considering that the art and literary worlds have and continue to be extraordinarily male-dominated spaces, women will experience art differently than men — in an endless number of different way, many of which might involve the discomforts of never really having been the intended viewers and readers of the art, at all.