Monday, June 22, 2009

Gender in the Arts; Gender on Etsy

Once upon a time, long, long ago when I started as a potter, there were only a handful of women in a sea of male potters. The way that men typically approach pottery was In, and what I did, for the most part, was not. The In thing was wood or reduction firing of simple, primitive, massive pots. I, on the other hand, liked thin pots with careful, intentional imagery. I liked oxidation firing in an electric kiln at cone 6, which is economical, earth-friendly, requires no chopping of wood, and uses no power tools.

Things have changed since long, long ago, and now the way that I like to make pots is In. There are more female potters, and more women in the arts. We are now 46% of all full time career artists, but we earn 75% of what our male counterparts earn. So long, long ago isn't really all that far, far away, is it.

I admit that I absolutely love how there are less than 4% men as sellers on Etsy. It's not at all that I dislike male artists- I just really, really enjoy having women drive the aesthetic bus. I love women making most of the treasuries, and dominating the discussions. Mind you, for most of my artistic life, I was the 4% minority, so I think that a bit of turnabout is decidedly fair play. And though Etsy has recently been called a Female Ghetto, I think that this is missing the point, which is that art always gestates in underground settings. By the time any art trend peaks and becomes mainstream, it is creatively dead. Etsy may be the time and place when young (compared to me) women create a new genre of art. I don't know what it is exactly, but it's very interesting to watch the flow of visual ideas on Etsy. It's not something I've ever seen before. Something new is happening.

If you have any ideas or observations about this, please comment. I'm interested.


  1. I was surprised to read the statistics on earning power. I don't understand what would cause that but maybe websites like Etsy will even the field.

    I believe being able to market directly to the buying public makes for a more democratic marketplace.

    The ability to see the creativity from around the world and in every possible medium, I think, drives the creation of new art forms or spreads new ideas faster than would happen without places like Etsy.

  2. The gap isn't just in the arts. I saw it in the sciences and in the tech field. I also agree that the undergound is the best place to be while making art. There's no one telling me to make X item to make them happy, there's just a skull full of ideas and some material. That makes me happy.

    I really found the 'female ghetto' comment in that article offensive. If they are trying to present a feminine point of view (assuming with a name like 'XX'), I think that was the worst way to put it. I think they were right to point out the fantasy element of the "quit your day job" articles, but there's no need to insult people over what are, for a 1,000 reasons besides motherhood very personal choices in life.

    I do like working around women these days. I have to admit that I spent the last 20 years of my life around men in male dominated fields. My last job of 10 years I was one of two women in a team of 13. It's a nice change to go to a studio and be with 4-5 other women.

  3. Thanks for this thought provoking post WolfeWoman. It's a nice gesture for Etsy to reach out to male artists and maybe attract a few more of them as sellers. But if they're not terribly successful at pulling in these reluctant heros would it be such a loss? The men that already naturally gravitate to Etsy seem great. If Etsy were male dominated it would have a much different flavor.

  4. Very interesting. I wonder what a male dominated Etsy would look like. It never occured to me what the stats were so this is a shocker. But I guess it makes sense. I also wonder if most men have the patience thats required to sell on Etsy. I know my darling husband does not. :)

  5. It doesn't go away--that feeling of burn from being spurned for not being male...that is because that discourse continues. I could link you to more that one thread on the web here and now where the masculine ones have taken over the track.

  6. Thank you all! It's a tough issue for both men and women to discuss. I don't blame any individual man for having Male Privilege, and I've gotten beyond the sense of injustice as I've aged - though I do totally understand that. I do think that women bring a different artistic vision to the table overall, and I am very intrigued by that.

    I'd like to know what the guys on Etsy see- I wonder if the huge gender imbalance is more obvious to them than it is for women.

    I was also concerned about the 'Female Ghetto' characterization. I can see how some of that is true. But I also think that being on Etsy is simply a choice that more women are making. Why, though?