Gender & Street Art

Most street artists are male, in Melbourne and around the world. Unlike in other visual arts where the genders are more or less balanced the gender imbalance in street art is evident; there are a few women street artists. Boo asked why at the artist talk at the Melbourne Stencil Festival. Boo was the only woman on the panel.

Rhen Fray found the issue irrelevant: that he wouldn’t care if the gender balance were reversed, and that balance was irrelevant both equality and to the art. However the panel, including Fray, and the audience were keen to explore gender issues in stencil and street art. Boo was not complaining about inequality, repression or sexism in street art. Boo is planning to run some women’s only stencil workshops in an attempt to encourage more women to do stencil art (there are plenty of women doing the workshops at the Melbourne Stencil Festival).

It is very interesting area for discussion because it is not clear why there should be such a gender imbalance. Answers could elucidate gender differences in the way that men and women use the streets and alleyways, proclaim their identity and show off. Speaking of showing off, not one of the other artists on the panel was as well dressed as Boo with her peroxide blond hair and deconstructed style jacket. Fray’s clothes were grey and forgettable.

Perhaps the question should be why there are so many young male street artists? The arts in Australia are regarded as feminine in comparison to the masculine area of sport. Street art is an exception, as well as, the street artists there are a lot more men interested in street art. I know many middle aged men who photograph street art as a hobby and I see groups of young men who admire and discus street art.

What makes street artist particularly interesting to men? Street art combines aspects that appeal to a masculine image: exploration, daring, and large scale. Above all, street art is a public display of bravado, just like a lead guitar in a rock band (and nobody asks the question why there are so many young men aspiring to play lead guitar because the answer is so obvious and phallic). Is spraying aerosol paint a sublimation of the desire to spray on the walls like tomcats?

The nocturnal external urban environment where street art occurs, especially the laneways of Melbourne, is still largely the domain of men. The imbalance in ownership of the street is an issue for women’s groups like Reclaim the Night, as well as, the general public in having a safe peaceful environment. Street art is not a safe activity and young men and women have different strategies for personal security.

What are the young women doing instead of street art? Looking at the organizational side of the Melbourne Stencil Festival you see a different gender divide. The majority of volunteers running the Melbourne Stencil Festival are young women, including both the curators. And it is not just at the Melbourne Stencil Festival; We Make Stuff Good also has a large number of young women running the events.

Thanks for raising the question Boo and I hope that the discussion continues.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

6 responses to “Gender & Street Art

  • GenderWarsAreBoring

    Excellent post! Flame me if you will, but are a lot of young women doing guerilla and contemporary craft (see: Meet Me At Mikes, Craft Victoria, Etsy, etc. ) instead of street art? Personally, I think the degree of daring has a lot to do with the male appeal of the “sport” of stencilling — and its lack of appeal among women. I enjoy viewing street art but personally feel uneasy wandering deserted alleys by day or night — a hell of a lot more can go wrong than “just” being arrested for vandalism.

  • Rhen

    they were the only clean clothes i had.

  • JNgaio

    Great post!

    I think that “GenderWarsAreBoring” about wandering deserted alleys at night being less appealing to women… I’ve often wanted to do street art but the safety factor is a big one and it’s not so easy to find a fella who would be keen to come along with me.

    Anyway, keep up the great posts. I really like the diverse stuff you discuss.

  • Next

    As a female stencil artist myself and Melbourne based I agree with Rhen, it is irrelevant, I’ve been in plenty all girl shows and been in shows where I’m the only female and it’s nice doing both. I sometimes think that saying ‘all girls’ is saying we are weaker and so we must have a show by ourselves.

    I’ve had this discussion numerous times with fellow artists and creatives and believe that in today’s society women have other things that they choose to focus on when they get a little older such as marriage, kids, running a household ect. The same is in sport why are there more males than females competing?

    I also surf and even there out in the water I’m sometimes the only female and yes, I get pushed around a bit because of that but I can stand my ground and there it doesn’t matter.

    Yes, it is an interesting topic of discussion, but what does ones sex or how one dresses reflect the artwork they produce?

  • Discoking

    Great Blog!……There’s always something here to make me laugh…Keep doing what ya do :)

  • Street Scrawl & Street Photography « Black Mark

    […] Debs sprays would have a completely different meaning. (See my post about the panel discussion on Gender & Street Art at the Melbourne Stencil Festival […]

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