Invisible Women: default viking of the week
You have to get up early to stop a Danish feminist
Hello GFPs and welcome to your penultimate Wednesday morning missive! Penultimate as in, after this we’ll be moving back to start-your-week-off-right Mondays. Today marks the release of the penultimate episode of Visible Women the podcast and we are reporting from the heart of one of the perennial injustices our times: the queue for the ladies.
In this episode we speak to a toilet historian, we discover an unlikely ally in the fight for women’s right to pee freely…and we unearth an incredible coincidence that just makes this whole thing kind of feel like…it was meant to be. You can listen below or wherever you get your podcasts.
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One thing we sadly didn’t have room to cover in the episode was the issue of female urinals. I have to admit I came to the episode feeling slightly sceptical, but I’ve kind of been converted. It turns out female urinals go back a long way. The historian we spoke to, Barbara Penner, told us that the comprehensive history of the female urinal has yet to be written, but she has found examples dating back to the 1890s at least.
As many GFPs may be aware, one of the long-running injustices when it comes to male versus female sanitary provision is that while urinals have often been provided free, toilets have not. The argument for this discrepancy has always been suspect, but it is exploded by the female urinals, which, it turns out, were also not free. It’s almost like we think women just don’t have an equal right to access public space or something? Perfectly nice toilets for you at home where you belong, little lady
In other news, this week I am writing to you from Denmark, where I have been having a BRILLIANT time. I’m here to do promote the Danish edition of Invisible Women, hosted by my lovely Danish publishers. I even got to meet a couple of Danish GFPs at book signings! And I got to do loads of other awesome stuff too.
First of all, and fittingly, I visited the toilet…and look!
Turns out it is possible to do gender neutral toilets without urinals, who knew? Can confirm these gender neutral toilets also had sanitary bins in the cubicles…a comment that will make sense once you listen to this week’s episode of the podcast.
Next up I got to meet Tora Schultz, an artist who has a show inspired by Invisible Women on at the Palace Enterprise gallery. This is hands down one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me.
Here we are posing next to her piece Stratification, which is made up of dishwasher racks — piled too tall for the average women to reach (remembering of course that the majority of this kind of work, both paid and unpaid, is done by women.)
There is much more to this piece than that, it’s steeped in minimalist references, and is responding to a particularly famous piece by male artist…
Stratification can be seen to allude to Donald Judd’s ‘stacks’ of uniform rectilinear units, such as Stack (Pile) (1972). These works share a searing red palette and, just as the number of units in Judd’s stacks is reduced to accommodate the equal spacing between units depending on the size of the exhibition space, Stratification has been built specifically to fit the height of Palace Enterprise. However, while Judd valued the box for its symbolic neutrality, Schultz’s plastic trays are far from impartial. If Judd’s stacks can be viewed as totems to the machismo of mid-century minimalism, Schultz’s are concerned with the gendered strata of society. (Source)
Making unpaid care visible AND challenging default male “neutrality”? 😍 I could not love this more.
The design of the chair encourages students to sit in the same position, based upon a male model. Women, whose bodies do not align with this male template, are forced to sit awkwardly. Just as Schultz’s playful title conjures a dominant/submissive sexual encounter, the Olesen chair sees the female body submit to a default male design. (Source)
Schultz also showed us some photos of the exhibition she’s working on at the moment. It’s going to be based around the female car crash test dummy developed by Astrid Linder, the Swedish traffic safety professor I interviewed for Invisible Women and for episode 1.4 of the podcast — and I’m so excited for it!
So that was Copenhagen. Next stop Aarhus, where we visited the city’s sex/gender museum, and I say sex/gender because it turns out there is just one word for both in Danish: køn. The first thing to say about the køn museum is that it is in this building:
I don’t know about you, but I expect my køn museums, should they exist at all, to be tucked away out of sight in tiny run-down basement rooms at the back of an asbestos-ridden pre-fab, not occupying an imposing, centrally located ex city hall. But the Danes do things differently, and this building is where you find a really fantastic feminist collection. We were shown around by the director, Julia Rokkjaer Birch who told us about how the women took over the site.
As ever, it turns out that the city let the women have this space once the building had been run into the ground by men (in this case the police) and no one else wanted it any more — kind of like what we do with leadership 🤪. Julia explained that the walls were all stained yellow with nicotine — so the women got on with painting and repairing…well, pretty much everything.
It’s an impressive collection and I massively recommend a visit if you’re ever in Aarhus, but let me just give you some highlights…
Gender data gap of the week
This week’s gender data gap comes to you courtesy of the Danish Red Stockings movement. Loyal listeners of the podcast may recognise the name from last week’s episode where we met two of Iceland’s Red Stockingers, Gu∂run and Lilya, who were involved in setting up the Women’s Day Off in October 1975, when 90% of Iceland’s women went on strike.
Well, it turns out that their Danish counterparts were no less busy — here is an amazing photograph that I am desperate to find a print of
This photo documents the day a bunch of women got up early and installed ramps for prams on city steps, before officials could stop them. Total bad-asses. And it wasn’t long before those ramps became part of the permanent infrastructure of the city.
Default male of the week
Danish women started fighting for their right to vote in the 1880s and in 1915, they were finally granted the right to vote in national elections. Here is the commemorative plate that was issued to mark the occasion.
Oh men. Never change.
The museum also had an exhibition all about Astrid Lindgren, the author of Pippi Longstocking, who I have to say I had no idea was such a feminist icon.
You tell them, Pippi!
Default viking of the week
In Aarhus, it’s not a default little green man that tells you when you can cross the street…
Poppy pic of the week
That’s it! Until next time, my dear GFPs…xoxoxo