Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party”: What’s Represented, What’s Not

Going to visit The Dinner Party created by Judy Chicago was very enlightening. I was not expecting the plates to look like a women’s vaginal organs. I understood what the plates were, yet was confused on the reasoning behind the plates being designed to look like vaginas. After asking the museum assistant, I was told that Judy Chicago was trying to make it known that women could draw themselves and worship themselves in a different way then men worshipped them. Men would draw and paint women as things they could enjoy, while Judy Chicago was trying to tell us that women are beautiful naturally and they do not need to be appraised by men to be wonderful; that being appraised by a woman who has the same organs is better, because they are not looking at your body, but at the rawness that is a woman’s being.

My plate for Anne Hutchinson was painted quite similarly to a vagina in the sense that the grooves and lines in it show the wear of her bearing fifteen natural children, and by the time she died, her vagina might not be as “pretty” or as “perfect” as men would imagine or want it to be. It would be raw and worn down from constantly bringing life into the world.

While examining The Dinner Party, an issue that struck me as important was seeing Sojourner Truth’s plate, which was not like the others in a sense that it has faces as opposed to vaginal imagery. Her plate had the face of a lion, the face of a weeping person, and the face of someone who looks to be screaming. When I asked the curator why this was, she told me that in the second wave of feminism, which is when Judy Chicago came up with The Dinner Table, it was a predominantly white feminist movement. Chicago only created plates for Western women, most of whom were white. She did have a few exceptions, but the only non-white person whose plate had a face was Sojourner Truth’s. It is said that because the second wave was focused more on the rights of white women instead of women overall, she did not see the need to make hers exactly like the others. I found that this eventually riled up criticism from all around, claiming that Chicago was a racist who did not care for black women’s rights.

The second and final plate that caught me truly off guard was Ethel Smyth’s, whose plate was of a piano. I was told that it was a piano because, as a woman, Smyth would constantly cross-dress as a man to have the same rights as they did. She knew that women were not getting the right treatment and instead of fighting it the way many feminists did during her time, she “infiltrated” the men’s territory and dressed as one of them to be able to be taken seriously. Although Smyth cross-dressed for a year, I was informed that no one found out until her death.

Overall, the trip to see Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party was something I will never forget. Many things were missing from the table, such as Asian or Latina women, but there were also many women who helped in the movement for the better, women who were able to mold feminism for others to take over when their time was done. Judy Chicago did a wonderful art piece; it was a milestone for the rest of the second wave, and for generations moving forward.

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