Recently the Anno Museum in Norway has released an anthology with an interesting article written by Mona Holm from the Women’s Museum Norway. It contains an analysis of the gender equality in Norwegian museums. With her kind permission we publish the abstract of her article here in English:
Women and Men on Display, Anno 2017
Since museums are institutions producing meaning, and since visitors tend to believe that what they see in an exhibition is a true picture of the world and the past, it is significant to question the assertions presented and who is included in the exhibition universes.
This paper discusses the representation of women and men in contemporary museum exhibitions in Hedmark County. The study uses the first research on gender balance in Norwegian museum displays, dating from 1992, as its starting point. Presuming that there must have been a considerable improvement in a country known as a pioneer of gender equality, three contemporary exhibitions are analysed. The research material is discussed with the support of museology and feminist theory.
The findings might be surprising. Apparently, there has been little improvement since 1992. The analyses show that men are still presented as the naturalized representatives of the human being, and women are given much less value and space in the exhibitions. Some possible causes for this slow development are then discussed; one being that the gender gap might be explained by a theory gap between University and Museum professionals.
The paradigm shift within the Academic fields of Women’s History (now: Women’s and Gender History) and Women’s Studies (now: Gender Studies) from its initial years – when the main concept was to make women’s life and work more visible, and into the exploration of various aspects of gender, has led to an increasingly advanced theorization. This has created a paradoxical situation: A better knowledge of new gender theory could facilitate more democratic and gender-balanced exhibitions, but at the same time the theories are difficult to access and can make feminist-oriented museum professionals feel outdated in their own approaches – and lead them to believe that it is hard to find support for their work in gender studies theories.
Anyway, it seems clear that there is a continuous need of making women visible in museum exhibitions – and that the original aim of creating visibility is a good starting point for any museum professional even today, independently of their level of knowledge of feminist and gender theory.
The book is written in Norwegian and can be found here.