No Country for Exceptional Women


Artemisia Gentileschi was considered one of her generation’s most gifted painters, and yet I hadn’t even heard of her before watching a TV documentary last week. I admittedly mastered in Maths at French schools, where  History of Art wasn’t compulsory. But I was introduced to the world of art by a stepmother from generations of artists, who knew all the major NYC and Paris gallery owners by name. So how come I’d never heard of her? Simply because Artemisia was a woman.

Further, even after years in this country, how could I have missed coming across her in some exhibit or museum? The documentary on her was fascinating and delved into her life and works in great detail, so I’ve also been looking her up elsewhere since. Her works are variously described as Baroque or tail end of the Renaissance, and are not really to my taste. The colours and composition are superb, and most of her subjects are extremely expressive, but harsh and violent.


Indeed, they’re meant to have been cathartic for her, as she’s come down in history asides mainly because she was a victim of rape at the age of 19 and dared confront her rapist in court. And not because she was the first woman accepted into the prestigious Accademia delle Arti del Disegno of Florence.

In the History of “civilization”, there are droves of extraordinarily capable women who were belittled by their contemporaries and neglected and disregarded by future generations. The tenacity, strength and self-possession they had to rely on just to push ahead with their talents and dreams are undeniable. Even today, societies appear to get satisfaction from bringing them low, by criticizing their very qualities –as if determination, talent and intellect in a woman were something bad.


On a profound level, women are not taken as seriously as men, and the ones who dare rise above the crowd get their very core and even sexual identities questioned if they don’t kowtow to the overall “socially acceptable” pattern of a “second” sex. If they don’t play by the rules, as many successful men are known not to do, they are crucified. They cause otherwise decent intelligent men to regress to subconscious distaste for the upstart: “she’s not nice” (that one warrants a snicker). And a great number of more conforming women “can’t trust her” … for some similar obscure and arcane reasons.

Like many women, I know it can be tough doing what you want to do in a men’s world, but I’ve never considered myself a feminist. My favourite author Doris Lessing refused to be labelled a “feminist”, saying gender differentiation was useless.


I suspect it even backfired in the USA. The outcome will be explained in dozens of different ways, but I believe there were many irrational reasons too long to list: partly irresponsible media coverage, partly the jobs – which automation won’t bring back anyway -, partly fear of immigrants if not racism, partly hating Wall Street and the Establishment…

… but also because she’s a woman.



This entry was posted in Blogging, Cultural, Elections, Italy, Opinion and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to No Country for Exceptional Women

  1. zipfslaw1 says:

    Yep… Assholes.

  2. I respectfully disagree with the idea that Hillary wasn’t elected because she was a woman. She was a totally flawed candidate even with the media firmly in her camp (they admit it themselves in WIKILEAKS and elsewhere). I would never vote for someone based on their gender and I think it’s a little insulting to say that half the people in the US voted against Hillary over gender. I voted against her because of her terrible handling of Libya and the humanitarian crisis largely caused by years of bad policy (Democrat and Republican). WIKILEAKS made it very clear for anyone who wanted to read that Hillary is corrupt.

    How many people actually know more than one or two masters of Baroque art? I’d say there are a lot of forgotten artists from the old days. I’m sure Artemisia had it tough, but personally I don’t think her works are that earth-shattering or original. Anyone who’s taken a basic art history course is only going to see the very, very best artists. I love some of the late 19th century women artists of the West but most of their work is overshadowed by the rule-breakers who happened to be men. There would be no Mary Cassatt without Monet etc.

    WE also have to remember that Christendom made it possible for the first time for women to be seen as equals in Christ. Such a revolutionary idea takes years to filter down into society and from where I stand I see Western women as truly blessed and highly successful. Men still die young, suffer more rapes (mostly in jail) and carry the burden of combat in war.

    Another woman candidate with less terrible baggage could easily get my vote–but not just because she’s a woman.

    • Bea dM says:

      Hello Adrienne, thanks for taking the time to reply at length. Courteous disagreement is welcome 🙂 There were indeed many issues at hand, but it is beyond belief that with the male candidate’s character, “terrible baggage” and apparent dirth of expected leadership qualities, so much emphasis was put on her shortcomings. As for Artemisia, I did grow up in a – partly- artistic family, and have been living in Italy for years where Baroque art is everywhere….

      • Lucky you! Not much Baroque here in Upstate NY. I think people miss the point of the election–the people who voted for Trump were sick of insiders. Hillary is an insider who did what most insiders do–they play gender and racial divide politics. She also had terrible foreign policy. I wouldn’t have voted for a man with her political experience. They both have bad personal baggage.

        But I do appreciate people who don’t take political differences of opinion personally! Thank you for that.

      • Bea dM says:

        Good conversations are the only way ahead. Thanks for following my blog, I just dropped by yours and will probably do the same 🙂

  3. Barb Knowles says:

    I was going to write “What a fabulous post” and then I saw your reader above use that same word….I guess I’ll go with magnificent. Because it is that. I can’t even describe everything I love about what you have written here. History that I didn’t know, artwork that I haven’t come in contact with, and a thoughtful viewpoint with which I agree wholeheartedly. And yes, I believe that Hillary Clinton being a woman was a big part of her defeat in our election.

  4. M. L. Kappa says:

    Good post. I’d read about Artemisia before, a cautionary tale…

  5. Yvonne says:

    I guess Hillary has at least put a crack in that blasted glass ceiling. She fought a tough, uphill battle.

    Artemisia, I sure do admire her, and quite like her gutsy style. I first encountered her in the novel The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeeland.

  6. nananoyz says:

    What a terrific piece! I didn’t identify as a feminist for many years because I thought it was divisive. Now, though, I’m a proud feminist.

    • Bea dM says:

      Good for you! Some fights do have to be fought by someone. But my feeling is that pushback against feminism in these elections probably contributed a lot to the outcome

      • nananoyz says:

        Perhaps. The far right has succeeded in making people afraid-of blacks, Muslims, strong women, Latinos, and on and on. Fear leads to ugliness.

      • Bea dM says:

        Yes, lots of ugliness…

      • Ellen Hawley says:

        I wonder if the fear of pushback isn’t sometimes more damaging than the pushback itself.

      • Bea dM says:

        There was no fear there. I expect she’ll eventually turn to other less stressful roles, and will be better off without having to deal with all the mud and hate she was targetted with over the last year.

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