“It’s important to make fun of the oppressor – that’s the one thing they can’t stand” Guerrilla Girls, Amsterdam 8th March

One aspect of feminism is not taking for granted the world around us, to look twice at society and to check the equality within. In the past decade, society on the whole has a greater awareness about the concepts of diversity and equality, but when we really challenge what that means and look at the facts, the parity just isn’t there. Comedy has always been an effective mechanism for challenging societal norms, flipping them on their edge to generate a laugh. There’s a sweet spot in the world of comedy where you can be funny and informative, making people laugh and think at the same time.

For International Women’s Day 2018, I was excited about the night Mama Cash planned at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, featuring a live session with the Guerrilla Girls, DJs Ruby Savage and Josephine Chime, a live model drawing and a feminist open mic session. It certainly did not disappoint and I felt inspired and hopeful, exactly the emotions required on this day.   

The Guerrilla Girls are an excellent example of feminist activism, bringing inequality to the forefront of people’s minds, using thought-provoking artwork showing the facts that people overlook. Their most iconic piece of art is a poster asking “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” Starting from 1989 they have compared the number of female artists to the number of female nudes at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. In 2012 the poster read, “Less than 4% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 76% of the nudes are female.”

The live model drawing session. The male model posing as the nude in the Guerrilla Girls poster from 2012, shown in the background
The live model drawing session. The male model posing as the nude in the Guerrilla Girls poster from 2012, shown in the background

Inspiration from the Guerrilla Girls:

  • Be anonymous: keep the focus on the issues you represent, it’s not a personal battle but a united front
  • Be a creative complainer: complain and don’t apologise for it
  • Behave badly: disrupt the system
  • Criticise art museum right inside their walls
  • Make fun of the oppressor: they can’t stand it
  • Feminism = future
Presentation of the Guerilla Girls: Picture of a female gorilla in a pink bathing suit, with the wrods "Be crazy" written on the picture
Last but not least, be crazy. Inspiration from the Guerrilla Girls presentation

The Guerrilla Girls have been anonymously dropping posters, stickers, billboards, videos and actions since 1985, wearing guerrilla masks when they appear in public. Their focus is the gender and ethnic bias within politics, art, film, and pop culture, adding humour, which they admite, can sometimes be the only way to influence the oppressor.

There was a buzz in the room before they came on stage and soon after they appeared, they organised a collective scream. Demonstrating that a lecture or keynote presentation by the Guerrilla Girls is not going to play by the rules. They called out the very museum we were in and did a fantastic portrayal of the concept of female hysteria, the history of vibrators and in their way explained that “feminism cured the disease of female hysteria” and that we must not be afraid to be proud feminists and to get the message out.

Photo of the presentation with text written on it
It’s all about the facts, make people see the reality of the systems of wealth & power – Guerrilla Girls
Oonagh Eastmond
Oonagh Eastmond is a regular contributor who lives and works in the United Kingdom. She has recently completed the Erasmus Mundus Master's in Gender Studies during which she completed an internship with the UNDP in Bangkok, working on a conference focused on women's economic empowerment. She has also worked in Cambodia for an agency protecting female victims of trafficking and wrote her thesis on human trafficking, which is due to be published soon in the academic journal, Femina Politica. Oonagh is passionate about improving women's rights and ensuring gender equality across all aspects of life.

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