All our radical male feminists
When I started lecturing on feminist art and art history, at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki during 1998, the subject of my lecture series was the first of its kind. On the course there was only one male student, who did not finish it. In the 1990’s, I remember having heard the following sentence frequently: ‘I am not a feminist, but…’. It was usually when various values and themes were discussed, the promotion of which has traditionally been something only feminists took responsibility for.
In the collective consciousness feminism had a negative stigma, something that people mostly did not like to identify themselves with. The stereotypes about suffragettes raging with umbrellas seemed to squeeze everything under the same umbrella.
Everything is different now. In Finland, much hard work has been done over the last twenty years both in museums and in the world of academic art research, but the new thing is that men – influential in the cultural life in general and in the arts in particular – have come out of the closet as feminists.
Someone who has distinguished himself in this especially during this year is Janne Gallen-Kallela Sirén, the new director of the Helsinki City Art Museum. We must also not forget about Stefan Wallin, the new Minister of Culture in Finland, who – in his opinion – is a radical feminist because he is in favour of women’s emancipation.
How has feminism suddenly become so popular? It looks like there is global warming, on a lot of different levels.
Competing to become the director of the Helsinki City Art Museum last spring, Gallen-Kallela Sirén conspiciously referred to his background as a former student of the pioneering feminist art historian Linda Nochlin at New York University. He also expressed his willingness to bring the Global Feminisms exhibition to Finland, the co-curator of which was Nochlin herself. This caught the attention of the art critic Marja-Terttu Kivirinta, working for the leading paper in Finland, Helsingin Sanomat. She was wondering whether such a potential exhibition project was also about a possible need for sympathy and wanting to present his well connectedness?
Gallen-Kallela Sirén’s feminist media performance continued in the Finnish women’s magazine Eeva, in which he was quite smartly articulate about different shades of sex and looking at feminism as many feminisms. These are nevertheless subjects, which have been historically addressed by feminists who became labeled, in a pejorative manner, as ‘hard core’.
Is it simply so that we need a white gentleman, whose tie, smile and rhetoric are in the right place – and finally feminism is politically correct?!
Gallen-Kallela Sirén is certainly one hundred percent conscious of the ¨’year of institutional consciousness-raising’ (Phoebe Hoban, ARTnews, February 2007). During the year of 2007 in the United States, feminism has been celebrated in museum seminars and extensive travelling exhibitions. The New York Times critic Holland Cotter (29th of January 2007) was complaining about one thing though, saying that the ‘canonizing of feminist art in the museums can suppress everything that made this art radical’.
On academy courses however, new things are happening. Nowadays both sexes are usually represented in the lecture room in quite a leveled way. And in the same issue of the women’s magazine Eeva, Olavi Uusivirta, a little over twenty musician-actor who reads Luce Irigaray, put it in the following way: ‘It might well be, that my generation is the first one, in which – without people having a serious discussion – a woman can change a bulb and a man can do the dishes.’