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This article extracted from Design Issues, Vol. 3, N. 2 (Autumn), The MIT Press, Cambridge 1986, pp.

Women have been involved with design in a variety of ways as practitioners, theorists, consumers, historians, and as objects of representation. Yet a survey of the literature of design history, theory, and practice would lead one to believe otherwise. Women interventions, both past and present, are consistently ignored[1]. Indeed, the omissions are so overwhelming, and the rare acknowledgment so cursory and marginalized, that one realizes these silences are not accidental and haphazard; rather, they are the direct consequence of specific historiographic methods.[2] These methods, which involve the selection, classification, and prioritization of types of design, categories of designers, distinct styles and movements, and different modes of production, are inherently biased against women and, in effect, serve to exclude them from history. To compound this omission, the few women who make it into the literature of design are accounted for within the framework of patriarchy; they are either defined by their gen der as designers or users of feminine products, or they are subsumed under the name of their husband, lover, father, or brother.[3] The aim of this paper is to analyze the patriarchal context within which women interact with design and to examine the methods used by design historians to record that interaction. To a certain extent, this paper is also an attempt to pinpoint some of the key debates to have emerged in design history in Britain concerning the role of women and design. Most of these have taken feminist theory as their starting point. The work of feminist historians and art historians has also been important, especially the critiques of the discipline of history revealing the ideological reasons for the silence about women.[5] As Parker and Pollock have argued in their book Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology, discover the history of women and art is in part to account for the way art history is written. To expose its underlying values, its assumptions, its silences, and its prejudices is also to understand that the way women artists are recorded and described is crucial to the definition of art and the artist in our society. Instead, they have pinpointed domestic labor and non professional activities as crucial areas of women history, and they have located alternative information, such as oral sources, to counterbalance the great weight of documentation. In recent years, a feminist approach to design history has been placed firmly on the agenda. Feminist design historians, theorists, and practitioners have attempted to coordinate their activities through teaching strategies, the organization of conferences, and in publications, because, as Griselda Pollock has stated, a feminist approach is neither a side issue nor a novel historical perspective it is a central concern of contemporary design history. As she has pointed out, are involved in a contest for occupation of an ideologically strategic terrain. The resulting female stereotypes delineate certain modes of behavior as being appropriate for women. Certain occupations and social roles are designated female, and a physical and intellectual ideal is created for women to aspire to. These stereotypes have had enormous impact on the physical spaces whether at home or at work which women occupy, their occupations, and their relationship with design. Design historians who examine women role in design must acknowledge that women in the past and women today are placed within the context of patriarchy, and that ideas about women design abilities and design needs originate in patriarchy. Recent debate within feminist history and theory has highlighted the dependent relationship between patriarchy and capitalism and the ability of both to reshape and reformulate society in order to overcome potentially transforming processes.[9] To what extent, then, does patriarchy form the framework for women role as designers? In a patriarchy, men activities are valued more highly than women For example, industrial design has been given higher status than knitted textiles. The reasons for this valuation are complex. In an advanced industrial society in which culture is valued above nature, male roles are seen as being more cultural than natural; female roles are seen as the reverse of this. As a consequence of their biological capacity to reproduce and their roles within patriarchy of caring for and nurturing the family, women are seen as being close to nature. As Sherry Ortner has argued, is to male as nature is to culture. Women are considered to possess sex specific skills that determine their design abilities; they are apparently dexterous, decorative, and meticulous. These skills mean that women are considered to be naturally suited to certain areas of design production, namely, the so called decorative arts, including such work as jewelry, embroidery, graphic illustration, weaving, knitting, pottery, and dressmaking. Linking all these activities together is the notion that they are naturally female; the resulting design products are either worn by women or produced by them to fulfill essentially domestic tasks. Significantly, men can be the designers of clothes, textiles, or pottery, but first the design activities have to be redefined. Dressmaking, for example, has been seen as a area for women to work in. It is viewed as an obvious vehicle for their femininity, their desire to decorate, and their obsession with appearances. Fashion design, however, has been appropriated by male designers who have assumed the persona of genius Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and, more recently, Karl Lagerfeld. Fashion as a design process is thought to transcend the sex specific skills of dexterity, patience, and decorativeness associated with dressmaking. Instead, it involves creative imagination, and the aggressive business and marketing skills that are part of the male stereotype. This practice of defining women design skills in terms of their biology is reinforced by socially constructed notions of masculine and feminine, which assign different characteristics to male and female. Sonia Delaunay, the painter and designer, is noted by historians for her feeling for color, whereas her husband, Robert, is attributed as having formulated a color theory. Robert Delaunay embodies the male stereotype as logical and intellectual, Sonia embodies the female stereotype as instinctive and emotional. To compound this devaluation of women designers work, designs produced by women in the domestic environment (their natural space within a patriarchy) are seen to represent use value rather than exchange value. The designs produced by women in a domestic environment (embroidery, knitting, and applique) are used by the family in the home rather than exchanged for profit within the capitalist marketplace. At this point capitalism and patriarchy interact to devalue this type of design; essentially, it has been made in the wrong place the home, and for the wrong market the family.[11] So, one result of the interaction of patriarchy and design is the establishment of a hierarchy of value and skill based on sex. This is legitimized ideologically by dominant notions of femininity and materially by institutional practice. British art and design education at degree level, for example, reinforces this hierarchical and sexist split between male and female design activities. Because of sexism few women industrial design students survive to the end of their courses which are outside the female stereotype. They succeed well with fashion and textile courses which are considered to be suited to female abilities, but fare badly with industrial design, which is considered male.[12] Design historians play an important role in maintaining assumptions about the roles and abilities of women designers by their failure to acknowledge the governance of patriarchy and its operation historically. As a result, women design is ignored and unrepresented in the history books. Clearly, then, one of the main issues for historians to tackle, if they are to account adequately for the role of women designers, is patriarchy and its value systems. First, the terms by which inferior status is assigned to certain design activities must be analyzed and challenged. The ideological nature of terms such as feminine, delicate, and decorative should be acknowledged within the context of women design. Second, it is crucial that design historians recognize the patriarchal basis of the sexual division of labor, which attributes to women certain design skills on the basis of biology. Third, they must acknowledge that women and their designs fulfill a critical structuring role in design history in that they provide the negative to the male positive they occupy the space left by men. If, for instance, historians describe men designs as bold,
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assertive, calculated, then women designs are described as weak, spontaneous, or lacking in rationale. Design historians, then, should recognize that cause of the economic, social, and ideological effects of sexual difference in a western, patriarchal culture, women have spoken and acted from a different place within that society and culture. Both produce designs formed within patriarchy. Fourth, historians must take note of the value system which gives privilege to exchange value over use value, because at a very simple level, as Elizabeth Bird has pointed out, objects women produce have been consumed by being used, rather than preserved as a store of exchange value. Pots get broken and textiles wear out. This is problematic, irrespective of the sex of the designer, as it excludes an important area of design production from history. Finally, historians should heed Sheila Rowbotham point, in Hidden From History: history simply makes no declaration of its bias, which is deeply rooted in existing society reflecting the views of the people of influence. [15] Central to a feminist critique of design history is a redefinition of what constitutes design. To date, design historians have esteemed more highly and deemed more worthy of analysis the creators of mass produced objects. Subsequently, they have argued that history is a study of mass produced objects. This challenge is complicated by the development of craft history as an academic discipline distinct from design history, although, to date, craft historians have not dealt adequately with women craftwork.[17] In fact, it has been dealt with in a cursory way and mirrors the approach of design historians by seizing upon a few famous names.[18] Arguably, if a feminist approach to women design production is to be articulated, it must cut across these exclusive definitions of design and craft to show that women used craft modes of production for specific reasons, not merely because they were biologically predisposed toward them. To exclude craft from design history is, in effect, to exclude from design history much of what women designed. For many women, craft modes of production were the only means of production available, because they had access neither to the factories of the new industrial system nor to the training offered by the new design schools. Indeed, craft allowed women an opportunity to express their creative and artistic skills outside of the male dominated design profession. As a mode of production, it was easily adapted to the domestic setting and therefore compatible with traditional female roles.[19] Women as consumers and objects To date, most historical analysis has dealt solely with the role of women designers, even though women interact with design in a variety of ways. Feminist design historians have thereby adopted the methodologies of mainstream design history, which esteems the activities of designers and emphasizes their role as agents of history. (As I describe in the next section, there are serious problems inherent in this methodological technique.) Most important for this discussion is the point that design is a collective process involving groups of people beside the designer. In order to deter mine the meaning of a given design at a specific historical moment, it is necessary to examine these other groups. Probably the most historically neglected group is the consumer; indeed, it can be no accident that the consumer is often perceived by design organizations, retailers, and advertisers to be female. Just as patriarchy informs the historian assumptions about women designers skills, so it defines the designer perceptions of women needs as consumers. Two basic ideas inform the designer assumptions about women consumers. First, women primary role is in domestic service to husband, children, and home; and second, domestic appliances make women lives easier. The first assumption stems from the central classification of patriarchy the sexual division of labor. As Heidi Hartmann has argued, sexual division of labor is the underpinning of sexual subcultures in which men and women experience life differently; it is the material base of male power which is exercised (in our society), not just in not doing housework and in securing superior employment, but psychologically as well. This role is basically the same one that the Victorian social critic John Ruskin identified and glorified in his writings.[22] As a result of this sexual division of labor, designers assume that women are the sole users of home appliances. Product advertising presents women as housewives who use domestic appliances and family oriented products. When British advertisers make the rare representation of women driving motorcars, it is significant that they are not shown speeding along in a Porsche. Rather, they are shown parking their modest and c onvenient hatchback near the supermarket. Design historians have played their part in reinforcing women position in the sexual division of labor. In Reyner Banham well known celebration of the first machine age, he identified two sexes men and housewives. Banham defined the female sex as house wives whose lives are transformed by machinery, such as vacuum cleaners.[23] Informing this paean to woman controlled appliances is the belief that these products make women lives easier. Banham, like other historians and theorists of design, fails to acknowledge that designs take on different meanings for the consumer than those designated by the designer, the manufacturer, and the advertiser. Philippa Goodall has outlined the reasons for these shifts of meaning.[24] She cites the microwave oven and freezer as products designed ostensibly to lighten household chores but which have ultimately created more work. Both products have been widely introduced into the home under the pretext of convenience. The question, however, is convenience for whom the housewife or the family? Convenience to the family means having rapid access to food at all times. To the housewife, this is not convenience. It is instead a duty, a duty to provide food at all times, even when the shops are shut or the market closed and most of the family has already eaten. Goodall argues that, numerous such ways women work is increased, the qualitative demands raised. The tyranny of the whiter than white wash is now for many a daily event, rather than a weekly one. the loved ones better are slogans motivating and directing our work as consumers and producers. It stereotypes women as mothers, cleaners, cooks, and nurses in order to define and direct the market. In effect, the category woman, as constituted in patriarchy, is appropriated by advertising. Woman is either the subject of patriarchal assumptions about women role and needs as consumers, or the object in sexist advertising. As Jane Root has argued in relation to representations of women in TV advertising, are often made absurdly ecstatic by very simple products, as though a new brand of floor cleaner or deodorant really could make all the difference to a lifetime. The actuality of the use and user are unimportant when confronted with a powerful fantasy the immaculate designer kitchen with superwoman in control, combining with ease the roles of careerist and perfect wife. Like television and cinema, advertising appropriates women bodies. Women are objects to be viewed; they are sexualized things whose status is determined by how they look. advertisements help to endorse the powerful male attitude that women are passive bodies to be endlessly looked at, waiting to have their sexual attractiveness matched with active male sexual desire. Gender is embodied in historical and contemporary representations of women as consumers, objects, and designers; but it does not remain fixed, having changed historically. They must remember that as a consequence of patriarchy, the experiences of male and female designers and consumers have been quite different. Design historians should outline the way that patriarchal definitions of women roles and design needs, which have originated in the sexual division of labor, have shaped design in the past and present. A feminist critique of design history must confront the problem of patriarchy, at the same time addressing itself to the exclusion of women in the historiographic methods used by design historians. Though many of these methods are problematic for design history in general, not just a feminist design history, feminist intervention, as in other disciplines, has demarcated the basic ones. Rozsika Parker described them as rules of the game. Some art historians, such as Nicos Hadjinicolaou, T. J. Clark, and Griselda Pollock, have done so; the last wrote, central figure of art historical discourse is the artist, who is presented as an ineffable ideal which complements the bourgeois myth of a universal, classless man . . . our general culture is furthermore permeated with ideas about the individual nature of creativity, how genius will always overcome social obstacles. In this approach, design history mirrors art history in its role as attributor and authenticator. First, it attaches meaning to a name, thereby simplifying the historical process (by de emphasizing production and consumption) and at the same time making the role of the individual all important (by aiding and simplifying attribution). Second, as a direct consequence of this first strategy, historians have analyzed the design in terms of the designers ideas and intentions and in terms of the formal arrangement of elements (just as formalist art history analyzes a painting or sculpture), rather than as a social product. The design is thereby isolated from its material origins and function, and if it conforms to dominant definitions of design, it and its designer are obvious candidates for the history books. At this point, the design has been firmly positioned within the confines of the individual designer oeuvre, aiding attribution and authentication of the design as art object and simplifying historical analysis.[31] The history of design is reduced to a history of the designer, and the design is seen to mean and represent what the designer identifies. Extraordinary designs are judged in terms of creativity and individual extraordinariness. This is problematic for women, because has been appropriated as an ideological component of masculinity, while femininity has been constructed as man and, therefore, the artist negative. It represents political, economic, and cultural power and values within the different spaces occupied, through engagement with different subjects. Its meaning is therefore polysemic and involves the interaction of design and recipient. Designs, as cultural products, have meanings encoded in them which are decoded by producers, advertisers, and consumers according to their own cultural codes. these codes and subcodes are applied to the message in the light of general framework of cultural refere
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