We are so proud to bring you this special Women’s History Month edition of the Brooklyn Rail, carefully curated and brought to life by the contributions of our friends, colleagues, collaborators and like-minded women from across the disciplines. In the pages that follow you will see and hear from artists Judith Bernstein, Karen Finley, Alison Knowles, and Carolee Schneemann, poet and author Claudia Rankine, nu metal vocalist and activist Otep Shamaya, documentary filmmakers Marcie Begleiter and Alexandra Dean, and many more women whose fearless work displaces patriarchal notions of “relevance” and “importance.”
Women have shared their wisdom with one another for millennia, in oral histories that teach and inform subsequent generations of women about family, home, sex, power, politics, and survival. But patriarchal histories didn’t include these contributions. Huh!
Yet as times change, so do the opportunities and the settings for equitable story-telling. The movement under our feet toward the complete digitization of information is both an incredible opportunity and a reminder that we as women must take control of how, when, and where our contributions are documented.
Our reflex now when we need information is to “Google it.” Yet any search can only find what is online, which is largely by and about men.
We recognize that the historic inequality between the genders extends into this modern marvel. The mere EXISTENCE of information about women and women’s work online is critical to delivering gender fair results. In 2019, when one’s work, voice, and story isn’t digitized, it is forgotten, silenced, and made invisible. At The Feminist Institute, we refuse to accept this result. It is time to change.
Our mission at The Feminist Institute is to capitalize on the mass dissemination that online search and technology offers us to advance the march of feminism: to make visible the invisible; to achieve greater equalization through digitization.
At The Feminist Institute our work is interdisciplinary. We acknowledge the common thread that women—no matter their walk of life—have historically been ignored, their voices hushed, their work underappreciated or overshadowed, or worse, by their male colleagues.
The Feminist Institute is building a digital archive of feminist documentation (art, letters, ephemera, music, and anything women have used to tell stories) that will be made available through online search to the widest possible audience. We identify, catalogue, and digitize physical archives that are at risk of being lost, and create links to existing archives at universities, libraries, and in personal collections. Our goal is to give any person access to this history, regardless of means.
We are initially focusing on women born in the 20th century who are still with us and can play a role in how their work is presented online. For example, in 2018, using the latest 360 camera technology generously made available by Google Cultural Institute through the Google Arts and Culture platform, we collected and documented the innovations inside the SoHo studio of feminist artist Mary Beth Edelson. Artists like Edelson and Cindy Sherman have eagerly responded to our mission, generously granting us access to their life’s work. Working together, we are enabling these important artists to curate their own stories as we consolidate their histories into a focused and coherent narrative. Our public programming in New York City, Miami, and most recently at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, has featured key feminist figures such as Eva Hesse, Hedy Lamarr, Wilma Mankiller, Mickalene Thomas, Donna Haraway, Judy Chicago, and Judith Bernstein, and has raised awareness of gender inequalities in art, technology, political leadership, and more.
Feminism is collaborative. The essays that follow demonstrate our mission in action. You will be captivated by the personal narratives and hear new insights and revelations into the life and times of this generation of feminist thinkers, writers, and artists. We hope you will be inspired to be as fierce and uncompromising in your work and your lives as these women. If you know of a story of a woman who has been ignored, underappreciated, or just plain stolen—get in touch with us! We want to hear from you about incredible women.
Thank you to Publisher Phong Bui, Managing Editor Charles Schultz, and the remarkable team at the Brooklyn Rail for supporting our mission to give voice to these women. Thank you Amanda Taylor for editing my piece. Thank you to all the contributors.