New York City is Breaking the Glass Ceiling on Equality for Women in the Arts, in Business and in Everyday Life

Feminism in the United States isn’t a new concept. It’s ‘first wave’ came in the 19th and early 20th century. As Roberta Gold shares in her paper “I Had Not Seen Women like That Before”, young feminists in the 1960s and 1970s didn’t need to look far to have successful women to look up to because “New York’s tenant councils had, for decades, operated under predominantly female leadership.”

Fast forward more than 40 years and this increase of women in leadership roles has only grown. Cathy Young states that “[i]n many ways, 20th century American feminism was one of liberal democracy’s great success stories. Overtly discrimina­tory laws and policies crumbled; cultural attitudes on a wide range of subjects underwent a dramatic shift. For some, this means that feminism has won its battle. For others, that it must now fight subtler and more complicated obstacles.”

Fearless Girl, NYC

Feminism is now in its “second wave”, which touches “on every area of women’s experience—including politics, work, the family, and sexuality.” Women are standing up for themselves in every discipline to become equal in every sense of the word. New York City in particular has shown the strength and size of the feminist movement through marches, empowering art, non-profit organizations, alongside the ever growing number of women-run small businesses that are seeing success.

Still a Need for the Word “Feminism”?

In a study titled “Equality, empowerment, and choice: what does feminism mean to contemporary women?” conducted by Jill M. Swirsky and D.J. Angelone at Rowen University, they discovered that “the overwhelming majority of responses spoke to a need for feminism as a response to combat discrimination. Women in the ‘empowerment’ and ‘activism’ themes described feminism as the source from which they derived strength to live their own lives, make their own choices, and empower themselves and others to defy gender stereotypes. The fact that this source is necessary indicates that these women are aware of the discrimination and inequalities which still exist.

Feminism means not only supporting women but understanding and celebrating their differences and what they can do for a community.

Paige F.

New York City’s Celebration of Women

New York City prides itself on its ability to share and celebrate culture, equality, and community for all, and the reflection of these beliefs are shown in the arts and pop culture. From stands on the street selling clothing, stickers and pins with the slogan “she believed she could, so she did” a quote from author Rachel Grey or “the future is female” derived from an Instagram photo posted in 2015 of folk singer Alix Dobkin wearing a t-shirt with the slogan in 1975. This specific  t-shirt was more recently reproduced by Otherwild, an L.A. based boutique which has since made its way to NYC, and this powerful quote has now caught a second wind of popularity.

Bella Abzug Park, Hudson Yards NYC

NYC also has a number of parks and playgrounds named after inspiring women, such as the Bella Abzug Park, which was re-named from the Hudson Yards Park in March 2019. Bella was a feminist and civil rights advocate who gained notoriety as one of the most colorful and controversial House Members during the 1970s. There is also the Shirley Chisholm Circle at Brower Park, Eleanor Roosevelt Playground, Marie Curie Playground, to name a few.

Speaking with several women of varying ages and professions about what feminism means to them, everyone had a very similar sentiment. However, one great description was “Belief in, faith in, and respect for women and their role in our society. An understanding of and awareness for gender disparity […]. Empowering each member of our society to recognize that we all have value and women should not be any less valued than men. Empowering boys and girls to treat each other as equals and to believe that they can change the world for the better.”

Interview with Olivia

Olivia, a 22-year old singer-songwriter, had spent some time living in Nashville before moving to New York City. When asked about her favorite aspects of the city she said one of the things she enjoys most is “the progressiveness of New York. After spending such a long time in Nashville I felt oddly silenced. […] I would find myself to be really unapologetic about being a feminist.”

Feminism in the Arts

Harriet Tubman Memorial, Harlem NY

One of the ways women are working towards equality in New York is through She Built NYC. “She Built NYC is a public-arts campaign that honors pioneering women by installing monuments that celebrate their extraordinary contributions to the City and beyond,” their blurb on details. The goal is to increase the number of statues of women in public parks across all boroughs of NYC by 200%; currently only 5 of the city’s 150 statues are of women.

The current promotional project called “Statues for Equality” will include statues of women such as Jane Goodall and Oprah Winfrey and will be premiered on August 26, 2019, Women’s Equality Day.

Another way feminism and feminist art is celebrated in New York City, is throughout several museums and galleries, including the Brooklyn Museum. A branch of the museum, the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, is centered around a large piece by Judy Chicago called “The Dinner Party” created in the 1970s.

The piece is a large installation of a triangular dinner table, consisting of 39 place settings, it is placed on a white floor alongside 999 engraved names. All of the people inscribed on the floor, are females both actual and mythical who have or had been neglected in history. Carmen Hermo, the senior curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, says that she enjoys the opportunity to acknowledge “avant-guard art produced by women that is often underrepresented or acknowledged in museums.”

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Women in Business

Empowerment and pride in being a woman, and understanding, uplifting and recognizing the important roles women have in all facets of my life.

Eliza W.

Over the course of the past 30 years or so, times have been changing in the work force as well. Lucy Feldmen, a writer for TIME magazine, met two women “[…] Anu Duggal and Sutian Dong, partners behind the Female Founders Fund, a venture-capital firm that funds new tech-related companies created by women.” These women are part of a movement that works to help fund female entrepreneurs, specifically in an industry that “offered only 2% of VC dollars to women” in 2017.

Feminist Camp, which holds weeklong sessions in a number of cities including New York, aims to provide women with a place to share ideas, network, and gain information and access to other organizations, job opportunities, and more. Amy Richards, author and feminist activist, helped to start Feminist Camp over a decade ago. , helped to start Feminist Camp over a decade ago. She says that ‘[o]riginally the intension of Feminist Camp was to better expose people to how feminism was being experienced in real time (rather than what had been documented in books and movies). Over time, it was clear that there were two additional priorities: to put feminists in a community with each other and to expose feminists to the myriad of workplace opportunities […].The community piece is huge. People are affirmed in their activism and even if they aren’t ever in direct contact again, they are fortified knowing that there is a community of like-minded people out there doing great work.”

Eliza, 26, who’s been working in advertising the length of her career says “I work with a lot of amazing, intelligent and inspiring women, and it’s great that these women are finally getting the recognition and leadership opportunities they deserve. There’s still a long way to go to even out the ratio of men to women in the c-suite of big businesses, but the gap is closing. And for companies where the gap isn’t closing, the positive outcome of that situation is that we’re seeing more women starting their own businesses and saying f— you to those outdated, male-dominated companies.”

Sara Petriella, 25, works as a safety officer. She shares that “[f]or the last 7 years between school and work I have spent a majority of my time in a predominantly male environment. The best part of working in this environment is the other women I meet […] I have met some of the most driven, intelligent, fierce women working in my field.  Each one of them usually has a story about working extremely hard to be able to overcome challenges and become successful in their careers. I also find that the women I encounter are always rooting for their female peers to excel. Even in the three short years of my career I am happy to say that I have seen a steady increase in female presence in my workplace. The best way to prove our equality is to work hard and show that we can do anything we set our mind to, even when others tell us that we cannot!”

Many women today are working hard for leadership roles, and while it may be taking time it’s a slow and steady increase. As Michelle Moravec shares in Toward a History of Feminism, Art, and Social Movements in the United States, “under the powerful idea of feminism, some women took charge of their own lives and motivated other women to do the same, which led to their individual and collective empowerment.”

It’s a Woman’s World

As previously reported in my interview with Kelly Wang, owner and founder of Rue Saint Paul boutique, women aren’t letting themselves be put into a box. Whether it’s simply supporting women in the workplace, supporting female artists, or finding ways to publicly honor the women who have helped shape this city and country – NYC works hard to make sure it is equal and fair to its female demographic, which is almost an even 50/50 split according to the last census.

While there is still work to be done to help things like the gender pay gap and better inclusion of minorities including the trans-women community, NYC is certainly making moves in the right direction, and other cities should start taking notes.

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