Those who lived through their childhood and youth as members of the baby-boomer generation in the period of the late nineteen-fifties to the mid-seventies, as we did, received a clear view of the world along the way. It was the Cold War. There were precise dividing lines, and it was possible to completely separate good and evil, right and wrong, from one other. The division of roles between men and women was regulated in a way that was just as self-evident. For many children of this time, it was natural that the father earned the money while the mother was at home around the clock and, depending on her social position, went shopping and took care of the laundry herself, or left the housework to employees in order to be able to dedicate herself to “nobler” tasks such as, for instance, beauty care. Family and social duties were clearly distributed between husband and wife: the “strong” sex was responsible for the material basics of existence and for the social identity of the family. The “weak” or also fair sex, in contrast, was responsible for the “soft” factors inside: children, housekeeping, and the beautification of the home. The year 1968 did away with bourgeois concepts of life. Feminism and emancipation anchored the equality of men and women in law. And since the nineteen-sixties, art has also dealt intensively and combatively with feminism and gender questions.
Since VALIE EXPORT walked her partner Peter Weibel on a leash like a dog in their public action that unsettled the public in 1968, legions of creators of art, primarily of the female sex, have questioned the correlations between the genders and undertaken radical reassessments. The formerly “strong” gender has thus long since become a “weak” one. “Nevertheless, the exhibition The Weak Sex: How Art Pictures the New Male is not dedicated first and foremost to the battlefield of the genders. Nor is the gender question, which has so frequently been dealt with, posited in the foreground. The Weak Sex is instead dedicated to man as object of research. In what state does he find himself now that his classical role has been invalidated? How does he behave after the shift from representative external appearance to work within the family unit? And where does he stand in the meantime in the midstof so many strong women? What has become of the proud and selfassured man who once signed the school report cards with praise or reproach as head of the family? What has become of the XY species since then is presented— insightfully, sarcastically, and wittily—in the exhibition by Kathleen Bühler.
Excerpt from Stronger and Weaker Sexes: Remarks on the Exhibition, by Kathleen Bühler (Curator Kunstmuseum Bern):
In 1908, the Genevan politician and essayist William Vogt wrote the book Sexe faible (The Weak Sex), in which he examines the “natural” weaknesses and inabilities of the female gender. Intended as a “response to absurd exaggerations and feminist utopias,” since then the catchy title has shaped the battle of the sexes as a dictum. Like Otto Weininger’s misogynistic study Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character, 1903), Sexe faible is one of the texts from the turn of the previous century that justified the legal, political, and social subordination of women based on their anatomical and, according to the opinion of the author, thus also intellectual inferiority in comparison with men. The perception of women as the “weak sex” persisted tenaciously. It is first in recent years that this ascription has slowly been shifted to men, as for instance in the report by neurobiologist Gerald Huther called Das schwache Geschlecht und sein Gehirn (The Weak Sex and His Brain) published in 2009. Polemics has long since yielded to statistics, and the most recent biological discoveries are gaining currency, such as the fact that male babies are already at risk in the womb because they lack a second X chromosome. This genetic “weakness” would apparently lead seamlessly to a social weakness, since males more frequently have problems in school, turn criminal, and die earlier. 4 In addition to the findings on biologically based weaknesses also comes the social, economic, and political challenge, which has for some years been discussed as a “crisis of masculinity.”
(…) After various exhibitions in recent years were dedicated to gender relations, gender imprinting, or the social latitude in performative stagings of gender, the exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bern focuses exclusively on men in contemporary art for the first time. It brings together the points of view of male and female artists who deal either with their own experiences with men and/or being a man, or with an examination of the images of men that are available. This exhibition has been long overdue. Nonetheless, what first needs to be overcome is the perception that “gender” themes are a woman’s matter and that only marginalized positions have addressed their social gender. Hegemonic male types—thus men who, according to general opinion, embody the dominant masculine ideal most convincingly—have only been reflected in public through media for a relatively short time, even though the male gender is also a sociocultural construct, just like that of women, transgender, or inter-gender individuals. What comes to be expressed here is the invisibility of norms. As is generally known, it is those social groups that hold the most power that actually expose their own status the least.