Shining the spotlight on gender inequalities in culture
From literature and theatre to social media and sport, an EU project has investigated the production of gender equalities and inequalities in different forms of culture across Europe.
© Feodora #293834689, source:stock.adobe.com 2020
Gender inequality is often expressed in measurements such as the pay gap between men and women, or the number of women in high-level positions within globalised companies. However, there are many other less quantifiable ways in which gender inequalities exist, including in many different forms of culture.
Through cinema, theatre, literature, sport and social media, the EU-funded GRACE project has investigated what gender equality means today in different places across Europe. Fifteen early-stage researchers from interdisciplinary academic backgrounds in sociology, literature, the arts, humanities and natural sciences explored the production of gender inequalities in culture and brought their findings to the publics attention.
Inequality is so embedded in our everyday cultural lives that it often goes unchallenged. The GRACE project uncovers the hidden cultures of equality and inequality by supporting young students to creatively engage with ideas around equality and show them to public audiences in very diverse and artistic ways, says project coordinator Suzanne Clisby, Senior Research Fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Gender equality and economic growth
The goal of GRACE was to raise awareness about gender equalities and inequalities present in the culture defined by the project as the processes through which people create the worlds they inhabit that surrounds us. This is crucial because, according to Clisby, culture underpins, enables and constrains the governmental policies and legislative frameworks that govern our society.
In one thread of the project, GRACE delved into the social media platform Twitter, exploring gender equality institutions, womens rights activists, LGBTI rights activists, and private users.
Tommaso Trillò, a GRACE early-stage researcher, examined what people mean when claiming European culture is a culture of gender equality at both the EU and the national level in his native Italy. He found that at the EU level, gender narratives are largely used in neoliberal discourse portraying equality as important for achieving economic growth. While in Italy it is a progressive, counter-narrative whereby gender equality is a value in its own right.
He also argued that visibility on Twitter is very hard to achieve and is usually dominated by pop stars, elite football players, well-known journalists, entertainment networks or the President of the United States. However, it offers a training ground for activists to gain confidence in promoting ideas of equality and for letting people know about inequality by giving a voice to protest culture.
The project created a smart phone app called Quotidian to bring empowering feminist quotes to a wider audience. A favourite of mine is by American suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In 1885, she said: men think that self-sacrifice is the most charming of all the cardinal virtues for women, and in order to keep it in healthy working order, they make opportunities for its illustration as often as possible, says Clisby.
GRACE created an exhibition of its findings called Footnotes on Equality. Launched in Utrecht in the Netherlands, then moved to Hull, UK and scheduled to show in Oviedo, Spain, it showcases cultural props such as audio and visual recordings, artworks, objects, fieldwork notes and interview transcripts telling stories around moments when inequality is experienced, as well as instances of resistance. Footnotes has created spaces of achieved equality and global horizons of the not there yet in the current discourse on equality. People said our work meant a lot to them and offered them profound moments to relate to, Clisby explains.
The project also explored the production of equalities and inequalities in modern poetry; in the treatment of migrant communities in Sweden; through the history of black, often hidden, female playwrights in Italy; through women in boxing in the UK and women within science fiction over the last 200 years; and the idea of using the designation of the cities of Hull in the UK and of San Sebastien in Spain as cities of culture as a moment to promote equality.