Tuesday night, tattoo artist Ryan Ashley Malarkey became the first woman in eight seasons to win the coveted title of Ink Master. Prior to this season of Ink Master, women had yet to dominate and time and time again, male artists ended up on top. However, Malarkey defied the odds by proving that gender has nothing to do with artistic talent and feminism can make a positive difference in a competitive setting.
It is important to recognize that although Malarkey is an extremely talented artist as well as a fierce competitor, she may not have ended up on top if it hadn’t been for the assembly of an alliance between the female competitors. Early on in the season, Malarkey, Kelly Doty (who placed third), Nikki Simpson (who placed sixth), and Gia Rose (who placed 10th) created a female alliance that arguably aided in the women excelling challenge after challenge throughout the competition.
In the live finale last night, it came down to Malarkey, Doty, and Gian Karle Cruz—making this the first season that two women had made it to the final three. In the end, the competition came down to a seven-hour live tattoo, which was hand picked on social media by viewers, as well as a 24-hour chest piece that had been assigned to them by their fellow competitors. Malarkey impressed the fans at home as well as the judges with two incredible tattoos, one in her specialty of fine-line black and gray, another in a 90’s new school style, and was crowned the first female Ink Master in the history of the show.
Malarkey’s win is important, because although female artists have gained equality over the years, they still have a long way to go in terms of being fully accepted within the industry. Tattooing began as an industry dominated by men and only within the last several years have we seen women, like Kat Von D, Megan Massacre, and Rose Hardy, receive international recognition for their artistry within both the tattoo and entertainment industries.
Women from around the world still face challenges when entering the tattoo industry, because there are many stereotypes and stigmas surrounding female artists. For instance, many women have felt that it is difficult to be taken seriously as artists, both by their fellow male artists and by clients. The apprenticeship process, the time where new artists are mentored by a more experienced artist, is often the time in which female artists receive the most scrutiny and many women find that they have to adapt a masculine attitude in order to assimilate into the environment.
Luckily, Malarkey, who began tattooing just five years ago, is a product of women becoming more integrated within the community. She stated in an interview with Dave Navarro, the show’s host, that her mentor taught her to look up to certain women in the industry, one of whom happened to be her fellow competitor, Kelly Doty. It’s safe to say that if it hadn’t been for women like Von D and Doty, who faced adversities as women in the tattoo industry and rose above the challenges to become role models for female artists to come, Malarkey may not have been in the position and had the game plan to snatch the title. As the new reigning champ, she will likely open doors for countless women to excel in tattooing in the years to come. She and her fellow female competitors have also shown that girl power can cause big changes to happen within an entire industry and fighting for a female equality can make tattooing a better place for women overall.
A female winner of Ink Master was just one step in the fight for women’s equality in tattooing, but Malarkey’s victory encompasses the struggles that women artists have gone through for decades and shows that their collective hard work made a huge impact. Going forward, we should all keep our eyes out for female tattoo artists smashing the patriarchy, as well as continue to recognize the incredible obstacles that female artists have overcome, and will continue to conquer as time goes on.
Photos via @ryanashleymalarkey, @jeremysaffer, @spikeinkmaster
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