By Gabrielle Darling
Some of us are aware of the story behind the Guerilla Girls, but many of us are not. To cut it short: women were sick of unequal gallery space in the art industry, which chose to showcase a flimsy 10% of female artists. In order to show just how low the percentage of female artists were being showcased a group of women chose to don gorilla masks and make a public statement. They were dubbed the Guerilla Girls and have since done demonstrations in Istanbul, Shanghai, and New York to name a few. The entire point of the Guerilla Girls was to make an outrageous appearance to draw the public eye to a serious issue. Their focus is on the art industry, but it has only been in the last few years the publishing world has thought to create their own group, VIDA, to focus on more equal publication of women in literary enterprises.
Credited to the Guerilla Girls, 1990.
VIDA: Women in Literary Arts are the slightly less rambunctious version of the guerilla girls. They don’t wear masks, but rather they write. The written word can be just as effective as the visual aid of a gorilla mask. By use of articles, panels, and specific facts and figures targeting well-known magazines, which showcase male writers more than female they have created some headway in the literary world for women. They have built a sense of community for writers to ban together and point out the flaws within their own system. It’s a different way of handling the problem and in some ways it’s less visual, but it takes the same sense of community that began the Guerilla girls. As stated in “VIDA: An Interview with Erin Belieu” the “spark for VIDA happened when my co-founder Cate Marvin sent a handful of writers a particularly dismayed email asking what had happened to the feminist conversation in contemporary literature. That email went viral…” She went on to speak about a conversation she had with a male colleague who she respected stating “[the magazine editors] couldn’t think of a single other woman poet who was ‘significant’ or ‘deserving’ enough to receive [a major award].” This was a sad statement in regards to the literary world because there certainly isn’t a shortage of female writers. It’s a question of whether or not they write and discuss things that the men of the industry relate too
Photograph on VIDA website. From Event: VIDA Panels and Events at AWP
Although VIDA is a new program and is slowly making headway by reaching out to other writers both male and female to organize their ranks a question is brought up. In order to draw attention to the issues of female representation in publishing should we also don gorilla masks? VIDA is approximately nine years old, but the history of publishing is far longer and, yet it is only in the last few years an idea of equality has been started. In fact very few individuals are aware of this problem within the industry – myself included until recently. Sometimes it seems we have to do something outrageous in order for our issues to be noticed. While writing these issues and getting the word out is one of the best ways we can go about it I have to wonder if the guerilla girls have caused the public to react more strongly, for and against their cause.
Organization is key in any movement and program. While the audience for VIDA may be growing so is their community. In recent years publishers have made efforts for equality in magazines. These efforts are sometimes short lived, but there are attempts and with more people involved in the effort and aware of the issue someday these trials may stick and become industry standards. I only hope we don’t have to go to ridiculous lengths to bring awareness to an issue, which shouldn’t even be a concern in this day and age. Forming a community around such issues is integral in the recognition and action to take care of them. It cannot be left to one person or one group in particular, but must be an extension of many groups who all care about the same issue. The Guerilla Girls would not be possible if men and women internationally did not agree about the issues concerning equality in galleries. Headway can only be made by working together and communicating within our own fields of writing, publishing, and as being readers.