The Turner Prize - Bastion of Maleness
The Turner Prize is given out annually to a British visual artist under the age of 50. It is a Very Big Deal in that country and raises a fair amount of controversy. One of the issues is whether the prize is dominated by men.
I am by no means a "feminist." Nor do I subscribe to the automatic assumption that men do terrible things to women while women are blameless and never injure men. At the same time, I'd prefer to examine a charge before I react. So I went to look at the list of Turner winners over the years.
That list is, to my eye, overwhelmingly male. I'm not suggesting at all that there must be awards ruled by gender parity. But you have to wonder the state of the judges and the decision process. Since the award started in 1984, with no prize given in 1990, there have been three women who won, versus 21 men. I would be suspicious of a perfect 50-50 split, but seven to one? Are male artists really that much better than female? Not from what I've seen in photography, painting, sculpture, video, and other art forms.
There have also been only three years in which the majority of judges were women (though not the same three years as when womeen won). I know that critics, curators, and academics are supposed to be above gender bias, but I think it becomes something that is culturally and even biologically hard-wired. For example, I'm a writer, and I enjoy the work of many writers. But I probably have a closer affinity in general to the work of male writers because they have a tone and approach closer to my own inclinations. I suspect the same might be true in any craft. (Consider your own social circle and how men and women often divide on gender lines over some types of popular entertainment.) If the committee stays generally dominated by male sensibilities, then I wouldn't be surprised if the prize continued to be awarded more often to men. That is wrong and also foolish.
To be fair, I understand that putting together a panel of experts can be difficult. I once moderated a panel on narrative non-fiction at a writing conference and was accused of gender bias because all of the panelists were men. As it happened, I asked a number of leading publications if they could send a representative, and those happened to be the people available. But when that happens 70 percent of the time, you must wonder whether it continues to be accident.