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artofbonsai.org • View topic - The Gentlemen's Club
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 Post subject: The Gentlemen's Club
PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2005 2:07 pm 
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The Gentlemens Club
article and images by Richard Fish

An interesting and insightful question was raised by a female colleague of mine a few days ago when she visited the Art of Bonsai project website to read some articles:

"Why are they all men?"

A simple question, without a simple answer; at least I didn't have one handy. My colleague's overriding and most indelible impression of bonsai art was that this is a women-free zone.

Looking at the latest member list for the Art of Bonsai, under 10% of our membership is female. (Admittedly a small sample, but probably an indicative one nevertheless). Bonsai clubs are male dominated, bonsai web-forums are male dominated; and study groups also from my experience.

Perhaps the lack of female participation in bonsai has a simple answer; that is, it is simply a reflection of a wider difference in artistic participation between men and women.

In 1997, the National Endowment for the Arts conducted a survey of art participation within the United States and its results by demographic group are fairly conclusive. Although the organisation somehow neglected to include bonsai art in its survey, we can perhaps draw some conclusions from art participation and creation in other broadly similar fields.

Looking at the survey results for other visual arts such as painting, drawing and sculpture, direct participation in the creation of these works by women was 17.1% of the overall adult population; for men it was 14.6%. Photography gave broadly similar results, with 18.2% of the female population creating photographic art, against only 15.6% of men.

If any conclusion can be drawn from this, it is that in the overall area of the visual arts, women actually participate in the creation of these works more than men do. Female participation in bonsai art should not therefore be simply due to differences in the attractiveness of visual art between the sexes and the answer lies elsewhere.


Image


Bonsai is one of those now rare institutions - a predominantly male bastion in a sea of diversity. A club where we can relax with a drink, share ideas and enjoy mediocre food, while only the most determined women are allowed entry; and then only via the side entrance.

Why then, is the participation of women in bonsai akin to the levels of female membership of a gentlemen's club in St. James? What is it about bonsai that attracts men to bonsai clubs, forums and participation in creation of the art, while deterring women? Bonsai club committees and forum moderators certainly do not operate any form of direct exclusionary policy, so just what is going on here? What is it about our art that means that women are not inclined to join the stuffy, leather-bound, dark recesses of the male-dominated bonsai club?

My colleague's simple question raises deeper and more fundamental issues for our art. Is it possible to have the most successful and flourishing art form that, by design or accident, excludes almost half of the potential artists from participation? Is bonsai institutionally sexist?

The next Kimura could be called Jane, but probably won't be if this continues. Jane will be achieving great things elsewhere.


Last edited by Richard Fish on Sun Apr 10, 2005 4:51 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2005 4:01 pm 
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I will just point out one factor, from my personal experience.
Creating bonsai has one particular aspect that may not be too appealing to women: it involves hard manual labor.
After using my concave cutter for an hour, cutting branches of some species with hard wood, I can barely close my fist. It is hard for me to imagine a woman with delicate hands doing that kind of work. And these branches aren't even too thick, maybe 1/2 to 1 inch.
I would say the same thing about repotting, lifting and carrying a medium size yamadori (not to mention large ones). Sure, there is the dolly and all kind of mechanical devices, but my back tells a different story next day. I wouldn't even attempt to ask my wife to help me carry some of that stuff, and I my biggest trees are not taller than 3 feet.
I guess for the above reason you wouldn't find too many woman stone carvers either.
I am sure there are other reasons as well, but I just wanted to point out this one.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 3:19 am 
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Thanks RICHARD for initiating the topic & ATTILA for the viewpoin
here .
As a matter of fact the same concern was placed before ANDY few months back thru a personal e-mail ( if he remembers ) by yours truely & the same was posted in IBC forum under 'DISCUSSION' GALLERY.
My assumption was that the root cause could be the emphasis on Jin & Shari and collection of Yamadori etc that dwells on aggressive approach to an otherwise , rearing ,nurturing, caring art form which should have been the natural domain of women & womanhood.
Just imagine just how much colourfiul and creative & productive scene that it could have been.
Perceive what is the scene like in the IKEBANA front!


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2005 11:59 am 
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I think bonsai, by and large, is about wilderness and interaction with it, at least from a male perspective. I think it speaks to something different in women and not as loudly.
One of my first attractions to bonsai was because I was a hunter (gun and bow). By the way, let's not start the arguments over that sport--it would be a sidetrack. I wonder how many other hunters or "simple minded outdoorsmen" do bonsai...
In bonsai, I saw the sometimes harsh natural beauty that I saw as I hunted and fished. On sharied, literati bonsai I saw the same marks of hard lives and harder battles that wild things face every day. I saw austere, sometimes even bleak, desolate landscapes, as well as lush, verdant woodlands. I've always appreciated naturally desolate places, like deserts and mountaintops as some of the most beautiful places on the planet. I don't think tropical beaches and flowering gardens can compare with them.
Also, this gender difference crossed my mind when we were talking about the "scary tree" and Lisa's reaction to my use of darker imagery to describe bonsai. There is a link between the appreciation of the bleak and the XY chromosome pair, I think. Not that women don't appreciate such things, they're just drawn to the less austere. Steven King (don't roll your eyes--he's capable of some good prose occasoinally--says "men's hearts are stonier ground" than womens.'
Just some random thoughts...


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2005 1:38 pm 
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I have to admit this is an issue I have never even cared to consider. As far as I know, there is no form of discrimination present and therefore, just the way it is. I certainly welcome anyone (any demographic you choose) to become involved in bonsai. As long as it's open to all, I have no desire to ask why it doesn't appeal to some.
Someone may have the answer, but in all honesty I don't really care what it is. A non-issue in my book, but to each his/her own.
John


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2005 1:49 pm 
It is always possible that the reason is the same that is found in many of the other arts? women were treated as second class citizens for so long (and some would say, still are) with their efforts denigrated that few choose to exhibit their talents. Many who did succeed had to adopt a male persona to market their wares. With the rare exception of the wealthy female artists it must have been hard for women to practice their art after a long day of cooking, cleaning, child rearing, and a possible outside job. Women are still thought to be weaker, more delicate, ornamental at best (to make club meeting worth attending), when in fact they are as capable as men. It might be suggested they still have less free time to practice a hobby or prefer not to be ogled by grumpy old men. While I prefer to assume there are no sexists in this forum, the nature of the rules here ensures we know the gender of each poster. I have seen it transpire in bonsai. I have seen women receive the same treatment in nurseries that they do at car dealerships, with men trying to steer them to certain items instead of what they have asked for. Hopefully, as women continue to make strides toward equal status with men in other areas so too will they share their abilities with bonsai.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2005 2:35 pm 
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I think this runs deeper than simple clumsy sexist attitudes. In Japan, it is also largely a man's hobby, while ikebana is a hobby for women.
Undoubtedly there is some traditional gender role thing going on there, but I think there is much more to it. Don't know what that is, though...


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2005 5:01 pm 
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The original issue is not about gender discrimination but a poser about prevailing gender imbalance in bonsai arena.
Lisa?s post throws some light that shows how close or how far we are in understanding what attract or detract the women to this otherwise sensitive art.
It also indicates how unaware we are of the interplay of the basic instinct of women towards bonsai.
My another assumption is due to their instinctive abhorrence for harsh measure(necessary or not)even the women who are in the field would prefer more of fruiting/flowering/evergreen bonsai species than the deciduous or rugged perennials and preferring their bonsai styled in informal, slanting, S?mi cascade/ cascade and forest planting.
We may care or don?t care about their sentiment and brush aside the issue as non-issue but will that benefit the bonsai cause indoor & outdoor in times to come?


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Last edited by Reiner Goebel on Sun Mar 20, 2005 1:21 am, edited 1 time in total.

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