A book to be vigilant on the topic of gender: because as Simone de Beauvoir said, women's rights are never acquired

Gender issues - especially when it comes to women and design - seem generally outdated, often considered boring, or worse specious, useless claims by 70s feminists.

But are they really?

Or rather, with a question that Domitilla Dardi asks in the book “Designers and designers: a question of gender” (Methylene Editore), edited by me with Dora Liscia Bemporad: “ Do we still need to study lesser-known parts of history, which have been penalized by a perspective centered on gender and, often, on geographies and the usual social dynamics?”

Dardi's answer to this question is a convinced yes.

It is starting from this premise that it makes sense to read the research of scholars, teachers, curators, which Dora Liscia Bemporad and I have collected in the aforementioned volume, a collective work of the Design Lessons Florence series.

A series of essays that I have summarized here in a sort of handbook to understand which actions and attitudes contribute, in everyday life, to helping us overcome the gender issue in the field of design.

1. Study history to avoid shadows

Historical studies, such as Women in the Shadows, by Dora Liscia Bemporad and Silvia Fabbroni, have the aim of pulling some figures out of oblivion and giving the right visibility women emblematic of the 'critical misfortune' to which they have been condemned.

Women who – write the authors – with their work, their inventiveness, and with their 'help' have allowed famous architects and designers to emerge. Like Aino Marsio Aalto, Annie Griswold Tyng, Charlotte Perriand, Harriet Pattinson, Lilly Reich, Mrgaret Macdonald Mackintosh, Marion Mahoney Griffin, Ray Kaiser Eames, who were colleagues, companions, lovers, wives and muses of famous architects, who remained in that 'cone of shadow', a step back compared to the better known figures of their partners, even in the cases of the best known figures such as Charlotte Perriand and Ray Kaiser Eames”. An attempt to put the scales back in balance, giving to Caesar what is Caesar's.

2. Be eternally grateful to the 494 design pioneers

There are 494 Bauhaus girls as told by Anty Pansera in her book "494 Bauhaus for women" (Nomos editions). Strong-willed, determined, ambitious, creative, courageous, the first to face the male environment of design and applied arts, until then closed to women.

In the same year, 1919, as the institution of the Bauhaus, which Walter Gropius opened to everyone, without distinction of age and sex (although sending the girls after the preparatory year to the weaving workshop, with the exception of Marianne Brandt who was allowed access to the metal workshop with exceptional results), the Constitution of the nascent Weimar Republic sanctioned equal rights between men and women and consequently equality social issues in education.

Women obtained the right to vote and became part of government bodies. 100 years have passed, a long and tortuous road, but it seems that creative women, and not only creative women, have (almost) made it, at least in the West. Or not?

3. Equip yourself with invisible wings and fly high, without setting limits

Anna Lindgren and Sofia Lagerkvist, who I interviewed for the book, are the Swedish designers of the studio Front Design, born in 2004. And, surprisingly, they tell us that in Sweden the architecture and design faculties still seem to be quite conservative.

Experiencing with what design could be, without setting any limits, has been their mission since their university days.

Atypical Scandinavian designers, they have made a clean sweep of traditional schemes. Deeply immersed in the contemporary, Front investigates the creative force of natural systems and the observation of plants, animals and their habitat is often the reference element, together with new technologies, from which their objects and projects are born.

4. Search for your own personal expressive language

Is there today a feminine design gaze capable of defining a specific expressive language or are they just stories?

It is not clear to anyone, and perhaps no one is interested, but it is worth following your intuitions and not being discouraged to search, explore, experiment and find your own voice 'out of the grid'.

The hypothesis of a new narrative, of a feminine language that no longer refers to a somewhat technical and mechanical lexicon of design, but to stories to tell, of an expressive language different from the male one, more suitable for expressing emotions, capable of giving a name and a new face to things was formulated by Andrea Branzi regarding the products designed by Front and Nika Zupanc for the Qeeboo collection.

5. Throw yourself in with courage and don't be afraid

In Europe it is very common today for there to be more than 50% female students in design and architecture faculties. “Our message, say the Front, is this: you will have to work hard, but the most important thing is to find your own voice, understand what your questions are and what you want, without trying to do what you think is right to do or what others do.

Be original, aim to be different, to emerge, stand out with your ideas and push them further, try to be unique, to be yourself. Dare and start having your own studio right away, immediately after school. Without doing too many internships or starting to work in the structure of a large studio. We think you should go out, open your own studio and 'just go for it!'.

Make your own plans, look for those who can offer you opportunities, courageously show everyone your plans. Without any fear! Women have to work a lot to gain visibility, it happens everywhere. It's time to try to make the issue equal, even if it's still a long road."

6. Repeat like a mantra every day several times a day

“Never mind that a political, economic or religious crisis suffices so that women's rights are left in question. These rights are never acquired. You must remain vigilant on your life throughout” Simone de Beauvoir

“Never forget that a political, economic or religious crisis will be enough for women's rights to be called into question. These rights are never acquired. You will have to remain vigilant throughout your life” Simone de Beauvoir

Cover photo from the movie by Susanne Radelhof The Women of the Bauhaus, 2019

“Designers and designers: a question of gender?”, Series Lezioni di Design Firenze, Methylene Editore, Vol, edited by Patrizia Scarzella and Dora Liscia Bemporad, graphic project Rovai Weber Design, with contributions from: Stefano Bettega, Pierluigi Bemporad, Rosa Maria Di Giorgi, Serena Bedini, Claudio Paolini, Valentina Gensini, Giuseppe Furlanis, Silvia Fabbroni, Domitilla Dardi.