Who’s Invited to The Dinner Party?

Judy Chicago's, The Dinner Party| Photo by Kent Wang, used with permission

The Dinner Partywas amazing.  I really did feel like all of the women represented were right there in that room.  I’m not sure as to whether the walls were intentional, but they were black and had an interesting reflection, I could look into the wall and not see my eyes, nose, and mouth, but I could see my silhouette.   I feel like in those walls I could see the reflections of the women.  And what an amazing thing it would be to be present at a dinner party with those 39 revolutionary women.

Upon finally arriving at the display after a week of watching the making of it, The Dinner Party was smaller than I thought it would be. I think that is interesting that in “A History of U.S. Feminisms” Dicker says, feminism is “not just concerned with equality,” because that suggests that “women will become equal when they have what men have. Should women want merely to copy men?” The idea that women do not want to be simply equal to men has been apparent in different feminists writing, but I do not understand, then, why Judy Chicago would create an art piece imitating the Last Supper. I would expect for her to come up with her own table, sure she decided to make it three sides instead of one and decided that there would be no head of the table, but she is copying the idea of 12 disciples and Jesus by seating thirteen women on each side of her dinner party table.

Harriet Tubman| NYPL Digital Gallery, used with permission

I was also shocked to see Harriet Tubman’s name on the floor below Sojourner Truth’s plate, rather than on a plate of her own. I do not wish to put one woman’s importance over the importance of another, but I believe that the accomplishments of Harriet Tubman far exceeded those of some of the other women. When Harriet was a slave an iron block hit her head, nearly crushing her skull. She was unconscious for days, and suffered from seizures for the rest of her life. Despite this disability she took 19 trips over the span of ten years, freeing over 300 slaves, without losing a single “passenger.” Is she undeserving because she fought for black people and not women? If her accomplishments don’t qualify for her to have a plate at The Dinner Party, then what does make her qualified?

I don’t approve of the history of feminism.

I feel as though throughout the history of feminism, people have put certain oppressions higher than others.  I feel that although women were fighting for women’s rights, there was a sense of superiority based on race.  Susan B. Anthony said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work for or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman… she had earlier fought for complete equality, she now took an elitist tone, highlighting the superiority of the female vote to that of the uneducated black southern male.”  I don’t understand what sense it makes to put other people down if you are trying to reach the same goal, working together will get you there so much faster.

The divide between black and white feminists was very apparent at The Dinner Party.  The plates were focused on the Second-Wave of feminism, a time when black and white women were divided.  There is no excuse for the lack of people of color at The Dinner Party.  It’s unfair to give credit to so many white women in history when great women from the civil rights movement are nowhere to be found at the table.

If the Dinner Party is feminist art than it is suggesting that feminism is for white women.  In “A History of U.S. Feminisms,” Dicker says, “the “woman movement” appealed only to those women who, because of their class and race privilege, were able to understand their identities in terms of their sex rather than in terms of any other identity category.”  I feel as though black women aren’t as apparent in the feminist movement because they are busy also fighting for black equality singularly or in addition to sex equality.

On the train ride back to school Talia, my classmate, brought up the idea that if something is art it should be able to stand on its own, without having to know the history or background of the piece. I think this goes back to Virginia Woolf’s idea that you cant be purely masculine or feminine and hooks’ idea that you can’t have an elitist group; feminism needs to be available to all people. I think Talia’s point was: could The Dinner Party be understood and appreciated by someone who is not a feminist? I think that Judy Chicago’s piece can be considered “art” because the beauty of the runners and the plates can be recognized by anyone.

If the piece was more symbolic, however, and less artistic, I don’t think the piece would be considered art. It’s like if you have a book that’s written for adults and you ask a child to read it. There is no way the child would be able to understand the book’s content, just like someone who isn’t involved in feminism would not be able to understand a piece of art that is directed towards feminist. I think that The Dinner Party can be art to all people, even people with no knowledge of the women or feminism because the piece is more focused on the detailed plates and runners and the embroidery than anything else.

I understand that a lot of thought went into The Dinner Party, that there was a lot of tension between white and brown feminists and that every person would have their own version of The Dinner Party, but because no people of color contributed in making The Dinner Party and very few are represented in the actual piece, it is hard for this to feel like an accomplishment for all women.

6 thoughts on “Who’s Invited to The Dinner Party?

  1. Hey Surayya, you use my quote really well in your argument. I just wanted to clarify that I was questioning whether it was good art; I definitely think that it was art, period. Thanks!

  2. The female Dinner Party, that’s what it is! Your post is straight to the point about the unfairness of the lack of black women in the table, while Carina’s post who had a similar theme was more passive and found a way to justify why there were not as many women of color presented around the table as there were in real life.

  3. I agree that there is too high a percentage of white women at the table, and that Harriet Tubman is hugely deserving of a place. However, Judy Chicago was trying to choose 39 women from all of Western history, and having two women who were contemporaries and involved in the same cause is illogical and smacks of tokenism. I also think that the way First and Second Wave feminisms are talked about nowadays is unfortunate; they did lack diversity and recognition for women of color, which certainly deserves criticism, but this criticism has taken over the conversation. Providing that one does not forget their shortcomings, there is so much to admire and be grateful for as well. I think your last point, however, that “because no people of color contributed in making The Dinner Party and very few are represented in the actual piece, it is hard for this to feel like an accomplishment for all women” is true, understandable, and eloquently said.

  4. I agree with you when you say “throughout the history of feminism, people have put certain oppressions higher than others.” That is why I find it so easy to be passionate about the present day feminism. Nowadays, rather than there being a hierarchy of oppressions like we have seen in virtually all past civil rights movements, feminism has taken a turn for the inclusive, every form of oppression being just as valid and important a fight as the next.

  5. I really liked your noting of Harriet Tubman. “I was also shocked to see Harriet Tubman’s name on the floor below Sojourner Truth’s plate, rather than on a plate of her own. I do not wish to put one woman’s importance over the importance of another, but I believe that the accomplishments of Harriet Tubman far exceeded those of some of the other women.” I totally agree, I feel that she should have had a plate of her own. I also liked your focus of who was selected to be at the dinner party and who was left out.

  6. I loved when you began to talk about Harriet Tubman because I felt the same exact way. I particularly liked when you said, “I don’t approve of the history of feminism.” Not only were you challenging feminist history and Chicago’s portrayal of it but you also made it clear that you just didn’t accept it. Even though I hate the way history happened and how unfair it was, I think it was necessary to get us to the point that we are at today.

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