….but we are all fabulous.

Women in art and academia: past and present

I was prompted to write this blog by my visit to Manchester City Art Gallery yesterday with my friend Ruth. We had a late lunch and then wandered through the 2 free exhibitions: Art for All: Thomas Horsfall’s gift to Manchester and Sculptural Forms: A Century of Experiment ( We were looking at some beautiful drawings of flowers:


Red Clover (1882) by Emily Gertrude Thomson



Blue Harebells (probably 1880s) by Emily Gertrude Thomson

when I read the accompanying text on the wall:


“we have chosen to exhibit their [Victorian women artists] watercolors here as they are better pictures, of their kind, than the more expensive paintings by men…”

One painting I loved in particular: “June Riches” by Edith Martineau:


June Riches (probably 1903) by Edith Martineau

The accompanying text for this painting intrigued me to read more about her and I discovered she was the first woman, in 1862, to be admitted to the Royal Academy Schools.

Back to 2014….

It feels as though we are experiencing an uprising of women in the press, in social media, and very noticeably for me in academia. Of course these voices have always been there but in the cyclical nature of things, the voices are now swelling to a roar again.

With Cambridge University’s publication of “The Meaning of Success” which explores what success looks like for females in academia, increasing celebration of International Women’s Day at universities across the country, and academic equality initiatives such as Athena SWAN and the Aurora women’s leadership course launched in 2013 by the Leadership Foundation to name but a few, there is every reason to hope that real progress can be made.

Is further progress necessary? Yes, yes and yes! I have male colleagues who refer to the “female mafia”, who roll their eyes when such matters are raised, despite the evidence that improving the lot of women improves conditions across the board, who call younger female colleagues “little lady”. I have young female students who believe that we don’t need feminism because we already have equality in this country. In academia alone, a relatively liberal environment, this is demonstrably not true:  women make up 45% of non-professorial grades in academia yet there are still only 20% of female professors:

In the wider world, things are just as bad if not worse. Women are still paid less than men: and according to a 2013 report by Grant Thornton, globally women hold just 24% of senior management positions in business. This figure is bad enough, but worse still for the UK who are below the global average at 19%:

Beyond the world of work, there is the prevalence of violence against women, whether personal domestic violence, or as an act of war and many other distinctions between, see this Wikipedia link for a depressing introduction:

Statistics aside, the ‘everyday sexism’ project shows us that women experience constant background levels of sexism and discriminatory behaviour, whilst the current ‘ban bossy’ campaign illustrates how language is a weapon as well.

Ending on a positive note, I am fortunate to be in the first cohort of Aurora trainees. Being in a room with 200 other women from across academia, with senior female role models sitting at each table of 9 delegates and more inspiring women facilitating the sessions (a shout out is due to the wonderful Rosemary Stamp: is quite inspiring and motivating. Hopefully it won’t be too long before such schemes start to bear fruit, cherries maybe:


Cherry Blossom and Fruit (probably 1863-4) by Edward Burne-Jones

PS if you do visit Manchester City Art Gallery in the near future, don’t miss the lace covered marble lions or this sculpture by Juan Munoz:


Joanna Vasconcelos


Blotter Figures : Standing Still (1999) by Juan Munoz


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