and why writing women out of art history matters
The quote “Nothing is certain except death and taxes” attributed to Benjamin Franklin needs revision along the lines of “and the escalating insane claims of gender identity ideology (informed by ‘Queer Theory’)”.
This latest episode of ‘Queer’ extremism was drawn to the attention of a group of women in North Yorkshire as York Art Gallery saw fit to ‘queer’ a whole section of its exhibition and in particular a 17th century painting by Bernardo Cavallino of a 3rd Century female Saint: Agatha. We wrote to the Art Gallery, and perhaps unsurprisingly received a fabulously Queer Theory reply.
The painting exhibited shows St Agatha apparently gazing up into the ‘heavens’. I accept art is, of course, open to interpretation. To me, she would seem to be imploring God if this is a test of her faith, or perhaps she is asking why he has allowed her to suffer in this way. (I say this as an atheist, but have respect for her faith and for those others who have a belief - something York Art Gallery seem not to consider). Indeed, a search brings up an uncontroversial commentary from their own website: “The Saint gazes upward, her right hand on her wounded breast; half length figure.”
All well and good. So what of her ‘queering’? First, I should explain that St Agatha was a deeply religious Christian young woman who rejected the advances of a powerful Roman. Clearly, I cannot claim the accounts are entirely accurate, but within reasonable limits for interpretation/perspective we can be fairly certain that for this she was horrifically tortured. She was forced into prostitution (i.e. repeatedly raped). When her faith did not waiver, she was stretched on a rack, burned, whipped and her breasts were torn off with pincers. That is the background to St Agatha. It is the best account we have - and it is the one the York Art Gallery and their ‘Queer Theory’ zealots had.
You’d think they (like we) would find this horrifying. Not a bit of it.
No, you silly heteronormative* dumplings, she “looks towards heaven in ecstasy”. Having had her breasts torn off, she is “androgynous” “euphoric”. Indeed “the elation of transcending physical form that we share is profoundly trans… [it] speaks to the queer experience of pushing against social norms to live euphorically as ourselves” (from exhibit label). The Head of Content and Public Engagement told us this “challenges and disrupts heteronormative* power which is still the hegemonic* societal norm” - yes, really!
I will pause here to express concern that the author of the exhibit label is not receiving the support she needs. She describes herself as ‘transmasculine’. She felt ‘gender euphoria’ the first time she wore a breast binder despite the pain it caused her. But she saw herself the way she wanted to be. This is tragic and extremely troubling. Women who experience such body dysmorphia are likely to do so for myriad reasons - often relating to experiences of abuse or other trauma. In celebrating this, York Art Gallery are promoting the dangerous practice of breast binding to vulnerable, distressed girls and women.
The ‘Queering’ of the Arts is endemic - it’s not just York Museums Trust - and in the process they seem to be unable to ‘see’ women anymore. It is telling that the Head of Public Engagement failed to even mention the word ‘woman’ in his reply to us. They consulted an LGBTQIA+ body (I don’t even want to consider what the + stands for) in order to sanitise, minimise and dismiss the horrific experiences of a young woman. Do they hate the female body so much that ripping breasts off becomes - not only nothing - but liberating! The unthinkable horrors she underwent allowed her to ‘be herself’ as she ‘transcended physical form’. Erm, no ‘anonymous’ troubled transmasculine woman, it didn’t.
This appears to be becoming commonplace as the Queering of history and culture continues apace. Women disappear. They disappear from art. They disappear from history (for example, Joan of Arc is no longer a courageous woman according to Shakespeare’s Globe - she is ‘non-binary’ because, goodness me we can’t have women behaving in a gender non-conforming way like that!)
Other women who must have been ‘transmen’ include: George Eliot, Radclyffe Hall, Queen Hatsheput of Egypt to name a few.
This matters. It really matters. The denial of the reality of our *sex* matters. That the arts are writing women’s experience out of the history of art and other cultural endeavours should concern us all, because it has an impact on women’s lives.
If women and women’s bodies matter so little - become a vehicle for the peddling of an ideology - as exemplified by York Art Museum, why should we listen to women, why should we consider them as having specific needs separate from men? (I’m reminded here that Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez is essential reading).
For centuries - millennia - the default has been men. The only thing that Queer Theory’s word salad ‘disruption’ of ‘heteronormative power’ project seems intent on achieving is the maintenance of patriarchal ‘hegemony’ - albeit in a ‘queered’ form. How transgressive is that?
Great job lads.
Hegemony: A pretentious way of basically saying the dominant authority, particularly through norms and ideas.
Heteronormative: Anything the Queer Theorists hate and anything they declare to be ‘heteronormative’. Which could be anything! Having a job/children/home etc. is ‘heteronormative’. Except when a person who claims to be Queer has/does it. Then it’s Queer. Obviously. Women having boundaries is obviously heteronormative. Safeguarding children is heteronormative - it is a principal project of Queer Theory to break down the boundaries, to even redefine what a child is. At the time of writing a paedophile apologist, Jacob Breslow, has just resigned from being a trustee of Mermaids. Go figure …