March 5, 2020
In honor of Women’s History Month, I decided to address the importance of the conversation about gender and museums. I recently received the March/April edition of the Museum magazine from the American Alliance of Museums called “The Illusion of Identity”. The moment I saw the title I was confused since I did not understand what they were going for to describe the overall content of the magazine. It became clear that the magazine articles’ main topic was about gender. Not only is it a disconnect with the articles but it misrepresents what gender and identity are; gender and identity are not the same. Because I heard so much about the contributions made in the magazine, I decided to take a closer look at the articles for this edition, and see how each one adds to the conversation about gender and museums.
The articles were “The Life and Legacy of Harriet Tubman” written by Andrea DeKoter and Kimberly Szewcryk. It shared the life of Harriet Tubman, the central figure in the Underground Railroad, and how she influenced the writers quest for human rights and dignity. “Practicing What We Preach” by Paula Birnbaum is about students who co-curate a feminist art exhibition to test assumptions on inclusion. “The Art of Conversation: The National Museum of Women in the Arts”, written by Emma Filar, describes a conversation series called “Fresh Talk” focuses on the interplay between women, art, and social change. Kara Fedje and Jared Ledesma’s “Abstract Art, Concrete Goals” discussed what happened when The Des Moines Art Center diversified its audience with an exhibition on queer abstraction. “Beyond Binary” by Melissa Alexander and Dina Herring which was written about an exhibition on the many faces of gender identity unmasks the slippery nature of truths.
In the regular sections of the magazine, President and CEO of AAM Laura Lott provided some thoughts on women’s rights in “100 Years Later, Redefining Advocacy”. Lott shared a condensed history of the American Alliance of Museums, which was founded as the American Association of Museums in 1906 in New York City before it was relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1923. Also, she wrote about AAM’s recommitment to museum advocacy and the ability to have secured bipartisan congressional support for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). She also stated the AAM’s strategic plan asks museum professionals to think more broadly about advocacy. According to the segment, Lott pointed out that The Alliance aims to equip members and allies to make the case for museums and to help you tell your stories. AAM provides a toolbox for museum professionals to help advocate for museums since museum professionals are the best advocates to explain the significance of museums to policymakers and the public. Museum magazine also shared statistics about gender and sexuality.
The statistics suggest the conversation about gender and sexuality is important to address within museums. For instance, there is a 313 percent increase in Merriam-Webster dictionary searches for the pronoun “they” in 2019 vs. 2018; “they” was selected as the dictionary’s 2019 Word of the Day. Ninety-nine percent is the percentage of countries where women could vote with the Vatican City as the holdout. Also, there are four in ten history museum-goers who think history museums should be inclusive, including sharing stories of women and LGBTQ people. There are 142 countries that provide at least some legal protections based on sexual orientation, meanwhile 55 countries provide no protection and no criminalization. Seventy countries criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts between adults. By looking at these statistics, it shows that while we have made so much progress in our society in terms of gender and sexuality, we still have a long way to go.
Gender equity in museums, for instance, is still important to not only discuss about but museums need to make more efforts to making museums more gender equitable for its professionals. Amy K. Levin’s point of view article called “No More Platitudes: Fifty years after women’s lib and Stonewall, we’re still behind in advancing gender equity in museums” calls for more systematic and significant change in being more equitable in the museums for both exhibitions and the workforce. Levin included an institutional checklist for gender equity which includes the mission statement; exhibition content; collections/acquisition policies; database/catalogue categories; volunteer guidelines; employee policies, benefits, and hiring practices; and focus groups/public consultations. The importance of gender equity is emphasized not only in this point of view article but also in previous blog posts I wrote.
The post “Gender Equity in Museums: An Important Issue that Should Be Addressed” is one of the examples of why gender and gender equity is important within the museum field. I reflected that
The most important lesson I learned, and what we all should take away from this program, is that gender equity is not a woman’s issue it is a human issue. We need to recognize that equity is for all of us, and we need to find out how we can bring more awareness to equity.
By educating ourselves about gender equity, we would be able to better serve the public that walks through the museum doors. In another previous post about my experience presenting in a professional development program on gender equity and museums, I shared the Gender Equity Museums Movement (GEMM)’s mission as well as emphasized the impact museums could have when they strive to be more equitable for their staff; it will affect the experience museum visitors have while engaging with the staff and exhibits. The recent edition of Museum magazine shows we are continuing to strive for more equitable museums, and still have a long way to go. Since museums are seen as trustworthy resources for varying information presented in our institutions, we should be the example of advocating for social justice and equity.
Each article presented in this magazine show museums and museum professionals should learn who their audiences are, and continue to adapt to their community’s changing values.