It’s ridiculously difficult for women to earn competitive positions in design, sometimes simply because they are women.
As a professor at Parsons, Abdel Malak says her students are 90 percent female—a number that does not reflect the state of the industry outside of school. “I teach almost all women, but the industry is all men,” she said toward the beginning of the panel. “Why are men telling us what is in style and what is not?”
She made a point of noting that creative majors are seen as lesser in an academic context. Women are often filtered into them, only to be pushed right back out in the race for positions of influence. Abdel Malak works to help women who are struggling to break into the industry, though she knows a more fundamental change is required to truly add voices to the conversation.
Abdel Malak, personally, has lost out on promotions and other opportunities, specifically, because she is a woman, too many times over the course of her career. She thinks an important step is moving past that categorization altogether. “Woman shouldn’t be the first thing that I am seen as,” she said. “I’m successful, I’m a professor, I’m a cultural ambassador, I’m all of those things, and also a woman.”
Social media is one way to break down barriers for those hoping to engage with design...
In her work at the Jewish Museum, Fey does a lot of thinking about how social media should enter the typically walled-off space of a gallery. Viewing art is an often silent, or at least quiet, activity: you look at the pieces, maybe murmuring to whoever you brought along, but no one talks to you. Social media changes all of that, and it opens up a lot of new options for who can enter the art world. According to Fey, social media can be a tool in probing institutions’ often antiquated ways of thinking. “I’m kind of charged with thinking about how to translate what’s happening inside brick and mortar into the Internet,” Fey said. “With social media, it becomes a dialogue and there’s a responsibility to participate.”
... and designers themselves.
For Semman Vernon, the accessibility of the Internet changed everything in the early days of her design career. When she was struggling to get into art schools for being “too bizarre,” it provided an option for building her knowledge on her own. “The Internet was the way I discovered who I was [as a designer], through open knowledge and open culture,” she said. “That’s how I was able to find out who I was.”
“Sometimes being a feminist is not a conscious [act],” Semman Vernon added. “But more something that makes you break boundaries as much as you can.” It’s amazing how something as simple as the accessibility of design via the Internet invites more voices to participate.