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Cooling Out - On the Paradox of Feminism
Renata Poljak, The View, 2005.

BASEL, SWITZERLAND.- Museum Kunsthaus Baselland presents Cooling Out - On the Paradox of Feminism, on view through October 1, 2006. A cooperation between Kunsthaus Baselland, Muttenz/Basel, Halle für Kunst, Lüneburg and Lewis Glucksman Gallery, University College Cork. A project by Sabine Schaschl-Cooper, Bettina Steinbrügge and René Zechlin.

The original goals of the women’s movement, i.e. legal equality, favorable educational perspectives for women, and combating male violence, have been achieved almost everywhere—as opposed to culturally conveyed clichés and traditions passed on from one generation to the next, which are much harder to overcome. But by and large it seems as if the women’s movement has become a victim of its own success and has brought about its own demise, as mostly young women, when being confronted with such issues as equitable participation in education and equal opportunities, don’t actually seem to notice the areas in which they are still substantially disadvantaged. Hence, they often display negative knee-jerk reactions to and a hostile attitude towards mainstream feminism or “affirmative action” and quotas for women, and this simply because they don’t realize that shortcomings still exist and don’t want to be branded as putative victims. For this reason, the term “feminism” has come to be negatively connoted. Naturally, things are a lot more complex, as illustrated by symptoms such as “cooling out” or by a study conducted by MIT in 1998 which suggests that that “gender discrimination in the 1990s is subtle but pervasive, and stems from unconscious ways of thinking that have been socialized into all of us, men and women alike.” A full-fledged women’s movement pursuing legitimate goals seems to have vanished; what we can see, however, is that women are very much involved in the workings of social mechanisms. This tends to be the view taken by well-educated single women that belong to the upper middle class—women who are aware that, having almost the same opportunities, they can also shape public and political life provided they are smart and know how to act and hold their own in what is still largely a man’s world. Building women’s confidence and raising their self-esteem, a professed goal of second-generation feminists fighting for recognition, seems to have produced tangible results.

According to Peggy Phelan, feminism is based on the conviction that gender constitutes a fundamental category in our social systems. The latter are predicated on hierarchical patterns that normally put men first and women second, giving preference to the male segment of the population in a variety of fields. Even though many demands made by the feminist movement have clearly been met, the cultural image of women still leaves a lot to be desired. There is a certain backlash regarding the image of women: In a time of crisis in employment markets outdated concepts on the division of labor continue to hold sway, as demands for autonomy and full equality are not given the weight they deserve. To what an extent do our societies, men and women alike, still consider the female body the basis of women’s identity? When talking about the return of sexism, the question arises as to how young female artists deal with these phenomena. After all, critical feminist artists such as Hannah Wilke or Nancy Spero have triggered a “mainstreaming” of sexuality in art. The exhibition revolves around these questions. It looks into approaches currently taken by young female “post-feminist” artists to this issue, and it explores whether or not ambivalence or rejection of feminism can also be found in them. How is feminism connoted? Are distinctions made between “difference-based feminism” and its constructivist embodiments, i.e. between essentialist interpretations of femininity and discursive-relativistic methodologies that pursue no political or identity-related agenda?

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