We grow up with expectations: what to wear, how to look, jobs we can do, when to get married, pressure to have kids, responsibilities like cooking, cleaning, and caring...Our bodies are tokenized, judged, used, and de-prioritized. We're still fighting for certain rights over our physical needs, and we're always fighting for our voices to be heard....which is partly what International Women's Day and Women's History Month is all about. The main site for IWD proclaims, "Celebrate women's achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality." We have centuries of discrimination to dismantle, and the best way to do that is through communication, education, and pure solidarity. So, to celebrate in our way, we brought together some of our favorite female tattoo artists to speak on what this means to them.
The roots of International Women's Day can be traced back to several radical demonstrations by the likes of New York City textile workers, Russian feminists, and women's groups of war time during the early 1900's. All of these strikes, campaigns, and protests called for better living, higher wages, and more...women had had enough and were showing their strength in numbers. And although women received the right to vote in 1920, there were still many changes to be made. Perhaps one of the most well-known feminist groups, Guerrilla Girls are dedicated to constantly pointing out the inequalities and injustices that women still face to this day, particularly in the arts sector. And it's worth noting that many people who feel strongly about Women's Liberation do their part as well, which may include simply being an example of strength, support and empowerment for others.
Of course, the tattoo industry has had its moments of being under scrutiny for not being as inclusive as it should be, whether that be to female artists, people of color, those with queer identities, and more. It goes without saying that everyone has a different experience in this life, and while others may have faced enormous difficulty, some lady tattooists have been fortunate to find a caring and supportive community to take part in. La Dolores said, "The fact of me being a women in the tattoo world has always been super positive for me...When I started tattooing in Spain it was hard to find any other women, especially doing traditional tattoos, so everyone was very curious about my work."
When I asked Lara Scotton for a quote about what it's like to be a female tattooer, she immediately pointed to a statement by Mildred Hull, the first woman to open a shop in The Bowery of NYC. “No,” Mildred said, “It isn’t a handicap to be a woman in the tattooing business…” And Lynn Akura feels the same, “I think female tattoo artists should be appreciated and judged equally as men, as we are all the same kind. Females have the same inspiration and craziness in their heads as men, same dreams and ambitions. They have the power to succeed at what they do if they really want it!”
However, it is unfortunate that many people still feel inequality within the industry. Brigid Burke, of Armageddon Ink in Brooklyn, states, “Although our society and the tattoo industry has come a long way towards equality for women, we still have a ways to go. Even now, in 2019, I encounter clients who assume I’m the receptionist or “shop girl”....There are still a lot of people who believe that women should only exist in the background serving men...[but] we have the same goals, ambitions, and capabilities as men and deserve the same opportunities.” Jen Tonic has had similar experiences, being judged by appearances rather than realities. “I personally think women in the tattoo industry get judged a lot more by their looks than men. Either you’re 'too hot to be good' or 'not pretty enough', or whatever. People really have to stop trying to get an impression of a female artist by paying too much attention on the looks and concentrate on what’s actually important: the bomb-ass tattoos that all those lovely ladies do.”
Another important part of the tattoo community and industry, as well as art and life in general, is the beauty of diversity...Lorena Morato agrees, “Diversity is wonderful, since each one of us is a unique being and we express our essence with our art.” As well as Emma Grace who works with Fleur Noire in Williamsburg, “Having a variety of different perspectives is important to attempt at understanding anything, even yourself. We are made up of our perceptions, and our experiences, which are inherently subjective and if we are to ever arrive at an idea close to “truth” about anything at all, we need to examine multiple perspectives to find out what they have in common, as well as what is different.”
Brigid agrees, adding on, “I’m excited that we’re seeing so much more diversity represented in art and tattooing now. With different backgrounds, and experiences comes new perspectives and accessibility for artists and clients who have been marginalized. More diversity helps the entire industry grow in so many positive ways.”
There is also the aspect of tattooing, for all, as a way to heal trauma with acceptance through expression. Many female tattooists really love to help with this important emotional facet to the art form which they tend to resonate with more fully because of their living experience. Emma Grace explains, “Some women specifically request a female artist, either because they feel more comfortable with someone of their same gender touching their bodies, or because they want to empower female artists...There is a certain bond there of the shared experience of being female, and something gratifying in two women sharing a piece of art between their minds and bodies. For many, it creates a safe space."
When asked for advice, many of the artists lean in and have extremely positive and supportive words to share. Sion, based in Seoul, says “Never stop following your dreams. Never listen to those who look down on you. You are so powerful. Trust your artistic strength and unlimited capabilities. We are gentle yet strong artists creating eternal works of art.” Queen of glitter and glitz, Jenna Kerr, was sweet enough to add her sentiments as well, “Female artists are standing strong in the world of tattooing. When you are a strong, independent woman full of focus and passion and not deterred by the negativity of others, you can achieve anything!” Zlata, aka Goldy Z, concurs, “Don’t be afraid of the ‘male dominated industry’ label. Do what you love and what you are passionate about and you will succeed no matter what.”