Works by Monique Régimbald-Zeiber, Chloë Lum & Yannick Desranleau, as well as those in the exhibition Afterimages, all deal with women’s bodies and experiences, among other subjects. Through humour and word play, they liberate women’s speech, question the distinction between reason and emotion, and awaken us to the predispositions that have conditioned our gaze and permeated our language, but without using the aesthetics of activism. While this exhibition program was not planned in response to current events, we would be amiss not to point out the topicality of its theme, which, like today’s headlines, draws attention to the continued marginalization, abuse, and unfair treatment of women.
At the start of this new year, women are at the centre of judicial, political, and cultural news. But this coverage reflects just a fraction of an all-too-often suppressed reality. The trial against Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood film producer accused of sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement, finally began in January. #MeToo has had repercussions among several public figures in Québec and Canada as well, namely through the actions of Les Courageuses. In France, Valérie Springora’s autobiographical novel Le consentement, published in January, recounts how, at 14, she was seduced by the award-winning French author Gabriel Matzneff. For the past forty years, he has openly and recklessly acknowledged, both in his books and in television interviews, his frequent “conquests” of girls under the age of 16. Although his actions have finally been condemned, the deep-seated patriarchal culture and unequal power relations at the root of this behaviour continue to hold out.
Proof of this lies in Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States in 2016, despite his frequent and disparaging comments about women. As one of the world’s most powerful political figures, Trump still enjoys significant support among American voters. In 2015, during a Republican Party presidential debate, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly questioned whether Trump was fit for the presidency, referring to how he called women he didn’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.” Trump later responded to Kelly’s comment with an avalanche of derisive and discrediting tweets, including one that crassly alluded to her period. And this, after he had already bragged about using his celebrity status as an excuse to grope women. This echoed the behaviour of Roger Ailes, former chairman and CEO of the Fox Media empire, who was forced to resign after similar allegations were made against him, as portrayed in the movie Bombshell (2019).
How is it that we still denigrate women by literally and metaphorically attacking their bodies? Of course, not all men behave this way. But the culture of violence, a subtext in these exhibitions, is pernicious and rooted in a longstanding ideology that views women as less worthy at every level: morally, physically, intellectually, and professionally. This long-tolerated and normalized attitude is no longer acceptable. But encouragingly, public denunciation is growing. Films, books, artworks and exhibitions play an important role in cultivating our outrage, and this energy is what fuels change.