“These critics (still) don’t write enough about women artists”

By Pauwke Berkers, Marc Verboord, and Frank Weij

In 1985, feminist art collective Guerrilla Girls created a poster titled:  “These Critics Don’t Write Enough about Women Artists.” It included the names of 21 art critics and stated: “Between 1979 & 1985, less than 20% of the feature articles & reviews of one-person shows by these critics were about art made by women” . Surely, things must have improved since 1985, or at least, there is more gender inequality in Europe, right? Our research shows  that – by large – this is not the case.


In our article, we studied the extent and ways in which gender inequality in the elite newspaper coverage of arts and culture differs between in France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, 1955-2005. Through a quantitative content analysis, we mapped all articles that appeared in two elite newspapers in each country in four sample years 1955, 1975, 1995, and 2005 (15,379 in total). What did we find?

Little Longitudinal Change, If at All. First, while an increasing number of women are employed in arts and culture as well as journalism, elite newspaper coverage of women in arts and culture has hardly changed, making up about 20-25 percent in total consistently over the last fifty years (see Figure 1). We suggest two possible explanations to clarify this glass ceiling: first, the nature of journalism might have retained its masculine character, and, second, the proportion of highly successful women in the arts and culture has not increased, keeping their coverage limited.

Figure 1
Figure 1 – Percentage women in elite newspaper coverage of arts and culture per constructed week (N = 128)

Small Cross-National Differences. Second, our results show surprisingly few cross-national differences in the amount of newspaper coverage devoted to women in arts and culture (see Figure 1). Over the course of time, these differences have become smaller, because Germany “caught up” with the other countries, whereas the share of women in American elite newspapers never again reached the same level as in 1955. This might be due to, first, increased globalization of arts and culture, and, second, the international orientation of European elite newspapers.

Some Evidence of Sex Segregation.Third, women are underrepresented in the coverage of all artistic genres; however, the extent differs per genre (see Figure 2). There is some evidence of horizontal sex segregation as men are mostly overrepresented in stereotypical masculine genres – particularly architecture, while women are more present in modern dance and fashion, which have strong feminine connotations.

Moreover, we also found signs of vertical sex segregation, suggesting that men tend to monopolize high status genres. Women are given more coverage in ‘highbrow’ genres that have decreased in status (classical music and theatre), and less in popular genres that have increased in status (pop music, film).

Figure 2
Figure 2 – Percentage women in elite newspaper coverage of “highbrow” and popular culture genres per constructed week (N = 128)

Higher Status, Fewer Women. Finally, as the status of an actor type increases, the proportion of women in the newspaper attention to arts and culture generally decreases. Whereas women are only overrepresented in the low-status category laymen, they are strikingly absent as high status actors, such as artistic directors, producers, and creative artists.

Figure 3
Figure 3 – Percentage women in elite newspaper coverage per actor type (N = 128)

Conclusion. Our study confirms that “these critics (still) don’t write enough about women artists”. Yet, more research is needed on the role of gatekeepers (e.g., museum curators), making women in arts in culture invisible for media outlets (see Photo).

Pauwke Berkers is Assistant Professor of Sociology of Art and Culture in the Department of Arts and Culture Studies at Erasmus University Rotterdam, and ERMeCC (Erasmus Research Centre in Media, Communication and Culture). His research focuses gender and ethno-racial inequality in arts and culture and has been published in, amongst others, Poetics, Cultural Sociology and Journal of Gender Studies. Marc Verboord is Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Communication at Erasmus University Rotterdam and ERMeCC (Erasmus Research Centre in Media, Communication and Culture). His research focuses on cultural consumption patterns, cultural globalization, classification of cultural products, and the Internet’s impact on the social valuation of cultural products. He is also co-editor of Poetics. Frank Weij is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Arts and Culture Studies at Erasmus University Rotterdam. His research project is entitled: Geopolitics of Artivism: Comparing the Attribution of Societal Impact and Artistic Qualities in the Western Reception of Art Activists from Democratic and Authoritarian Regimes, and focuses on the relationship between art, protest and cosmopolitanism. Their article, These Critics (Still) Don’t Write Enough about Women Artists”: Gender Inequality in the Newspaper Coverage of Arts and Culture in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States, 1955-2005, can be found in the June 2016; 30 (3) issue of Gender & Society


2 thoughts on ““These critics (still) don’t write enough about women artists”

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