May 2011 | L. D. Mitchell

Do Women Have to Get Naked to Have Their Books Collected?

Sometimes, battling sexism in the normal way just won't do. Sometimes, you must don a gorilla mask, adopt the name of a dead female artist and send estrogen pills to the White House. -- Heather Svokos, Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader.

In 1985, a group of feminist artists in New York City formed Guerrilla Girls, a group dedicated to fighting sexism, discrimination and corruption in art, film, pop culture and politics.  It is a sign of how entrenched such attitudes are that the group is still fighting this fight a quarter-century later.

The group suggests that while its actions have had some effect, there is still much to do.  With respect to female representation in institutional art collections, for example,

there is decent representation of women and artists of color at the beginning and emerging levels of the art world. At the institutional level however, in museums, major collections and auctions sales, things are still pretty dismal for all but white guys. We believe that the economics of the art market is responsible for this. As long as art costs a lot of money and can be owned and controlled by individual collectors, it will represent the values of those people, not the larger art audience or the culture at large. We are still condemning the art world for its lack of ethics, tokenism and other bad behavior.

The group's "agenda" has spawned a wide range of books, videos, posters, and related items.  These items make an interesting and important collection for anyone interested in feminism or modern social activism.

Understandably, the group's own titles are written to convey a particular point of view.  Among these are what are perhaps their two best-known titles, The Guerrilla Girls' Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art (1998) and Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers: The Guerrilla Girls' Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes (2003).

In 2001, three former members of the group organized Guerrilla Girls on Tour, a theater collective.  In that same year, a group devoted to sexism in the wired workplace, Guerrilla Girls BroadBand, also was formed.  Both of these groups are entirely separate from the original Guerrilla Girls.

More academic works about the group have only recently begun to appear (see Schechter, above).  Interested book collectors may want to set aside several feet of shelf space....