Emily Hobgood, a first-year graduate art student, said she has not experienced gender obstacles firsthand at UNC or UNC-Greensboro, where she completed her undergraduate degree in painting, but knows they exist in the professional art world.
“I feel that both UNC-G and UNC have been very supportive of me being a woman in the arts, and I’ve had many opportunities at both universities,” Hobgood said. “But I still do see art as a male-dominated field, and as a woman, I do recognize when I’m out in the real world, that I will have a harder time getting into shows, or hooking up with galleries.”
Hobgood referenced a show at the Mint Museum in Charlotte called “Women of Abstract Expressionism,” which featured work by female artists. She said it bothered her that the artists were referred to “woman abstract expressionists,” rather than just “abstract expressionists,” because it separated them from their male counterparts.
Despite the obstacles to women, UNC art history professor Mary Pardo said women can be drawn to the art field in part due to stereotypes that depict the fine arts as feminine.
“I think historically, the arts seem like a more natural access point for women students,” Pardo said. “And there’s the ‘girly’ thing if you’re a he-man guy in a school that puts a very high premium on sports.”
Male students in the art and art history program can perform just as well as their female counterparts, Pardo said, but make up a minority of the student body for a variety of reasons. She said one reason is that men may be attracted to majors that will later lead to higher-paying jobs.
Pardo said the fact that careers in the humanities pay less than other fields may actually be due to the high number of women who do them. She cited a phenomenon during the early 1900s when secretarial pay dropped almost automatically because so many women entered the field.
“Women are always underpaid,” Pardo said. “Money attracts prestige and vice-versa, so one thing that happens in a program like ours is the faculty is more female… But what it means is the fewer men there are in our program teaching, the lower in a sense the University’s valuation of the program.”
Though prospects of low pay and prestige in the field may discourage men from the arts, Hobgood said she thinks the disparity between women in fields such as science versus art is more due to women being discouraged from STEM fields than men being discouraged from the fine arts.
Hobgood was discouraged from entering a STEM field as early as fourth grade when her teacher told her if she wanted to pursue a career in science, all she would be able to do was teach. Hogbood said the teacher did not mean that she could not do the work, but that she recognized the lack of opportunity for women in science-based fields. Art, on the other hand, did not seem to have the same boundaries.
As more men tend towards STEM fields and away from analytical fields like the arts — due to money, prestige or other factors — Pardo said they can lose important literary skills.
“Even the emphasis on STEM seems to mean not an emphasis on STEM but a de-emphasizing of humanities skills, and humanities skills are really skills of analysis,” Pardo said. “I’m sorry, learning how single-cell organisms work does not in fact teach you good analytical skills for big-question issues. It really doesn’t.”