“Take Back the Night,” Short of Expectations
by Caitlin Shapiro
Feminism: n. The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. (http://dictionary.com)
“From the East Coast to the West, Women are the Best!” chanted the Guerrilla Girls in effort to enthuse their Ingle Auditorium audience during their October 1 show. Despite the Guerilla Girls’ seemingly good intentions, their performance seemed artificial and their material lacked research.
Feminists fight for equal opportunity, so why then do the so-called “feminist” Guerrilla Girls present themselves in a way that disregards the definition of their beliefs? The message the Guerrilla Girls sent to their audience did not focus on the equality of men and women, but instead affirming the image of power-hungry, man-eating women. Sadly, the immature antics of these women is the face of feminism, an unfortunate association in the minds of the uninformed.
After their introduction (which included them pounding on their chest and flinging bananas at their viewers), they explained that their presentation would address violence against women and date rape, and that it would be broken up into a series of reenacted memories performed by humorous feminists.
“How many people here are for equal pay for equal work, raise your hands?” asked a member of the Guerrilla Girls. Most of the audience raised their hands, and the performers applauded the audience for their feminism.
“Okay, how many people here are for more pay for less work?” joked another member of the Guerilla Girls. Almost every female’s hand went up. It was at that specific moment when they could have asked a number of questions or pointed out a number of reasons why inequality exists between men and woman in today’s work place.
Is it lazy women that encourage chauvinistic thinking? Did the way RIT women answer this question reinforce the female stereotype and confuse the Guerrilla Girls’ message?
They presented their facts on a large screen, similar to a PowerPoint presentation. The information they presented had the feel of propaganda; and the audience erupted in support. However, it was because of the propaganda that their credibility failed and their mission became overshadowed by their own warped opinion.
The attitude of the Girls could be represented through an analysis of a popular Guerrilla Girls poster. The image is of a superimposed gorilla mask on the Grande Odalisque, a famous 19th century oil painting by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. The caption reads, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” followed by “Less than 3 percent of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 83 percent of the nudes are female.”
Had they done their research before they pinned the famous Grande Odalisque on this poster, they would have realized two things: First, this painting can only be found at the Louvre Museum in Paris, not the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. Second, they would have noticed that although this painting was created by a male, it was commissioned by Napoleon’s sister, the Queen of Naples, Caroline Murat, a female.
A Personal Take
by Carolyn Dunne
As a proud woman who considers herself a feminist, I had very high hopes for this event and was really excited about attending, especially when I heard that the celebrated feminist group would be performing. As a victim of acquaintance rape, I wish that RIT’s “Take Back the Night” event was more informative and focused more on preventing sexual assault on our campus.
Instead, The Guerrilla Girls on Tour was more like watching a talent show put on by my mother and her friends after they’ve polished off a couple bottles of wine: boisterous, nonsensical and tactless. Rather than coming off as humorous feminists, it felt more like they were simply trying stretch the show out for the full two hours.
This image was made abundantly clear in the sketches “Saturday Night Fever” and “Obama,” both of which were dance numbers that featured similar, pointless flailing of arms in time with music. What did this have to do with feminism or “Take Back the Night,” an event that aims to prevent sexual assault?
The Guerrilla Girls advocate the elimination of the negative connotation feminism has in the minds of their audience, but in doing so trivialized the issues they deal with. Having images of women with the caption, “This is not an invitation to rape me,” does not even begin to tackle the issue of preventing sexual assault. The most useful part of the night was the sketch that dealt with date or acquaintance rape, but they were too hyperbolic to really be useful in most situations that a woman could potentially find herself in.
The 15 minute march around the ice rink and Clark Gym that constituted the actual Take Back the Night portion of the program was probably the most upsetting part of the night. I was expecting that this portion of the program would be longer, that there would be a keynote speaker on the issue, and that the Guerrilla Girls might actually join in. The substance simply wasn’t there, and as a result, the event rang hollow. Marching and chanting may make people feel like activists, but if no one is educated as a result, the effort is for naught.
About the Guerrilla Girls
Founded in 1985 in New York City, the Guerrilla Girls were known for speaking out against the underrepresentation of women and minorities in the arts. In 2001, they became three separate groups, referred to in the performance as “The Banana Split.” Soon, they became Guerrilla Girls, Inc., GuerrillaGirlsBroadBand, and then finally, Guerrilla Girls On Tour. For more information, go to http://guerrillagirls.com/.
About Take Back the Night
Dating back to the late 1970s, “Take Back the Night” events have been held to raise awareness about sexual assault and show support for those who have been sexually assaulted. For more information on the organization, go to http://takebackthenight.org/index.html.