They say that behind every great man is a great woman, but we chose to shoot at a different angle and put the ladies in focus for a change. So here’s a short list of women whose work was overshadowed by the fame of their partners and the media’s preference to celebrate men-- casting woman as a muse and supporter. These women worked hard to build careers and do meaningful things with their lives but have either been forgotten or had their roles marginalized and minimized (to the point of inaccuracy).
1. Lee Krasner
Wife of Jackson Pollock and impressive artist in her own right. Art History tends to be thought of as a neat path of stepping stones where we skip from one white male creation to another, but in every major movement, there have been women working and innovating. Lee Krasner had a unique style and method, so even though she and her husband worked in the same genre of abstract expressionism her style was distinctive. Despite her paintings being equally as worthy artistically, you’re probably more familiar with the work of her husband. The reason you know Pollock and not Krasner is because the characterization of Abstract Expressionism was intensely masculine with abstract expressionists portrayed like the silent and strong cowboys of yester year – wearing denim and smoking Marlboros. Women didn’t fit this mold and so were left out of most of the media coverage.
Krasner worked in an all-over method that could be seen as reminiscent of Pollock’s drip painting, but the fuller shapes and more intense colors identify her paintings as her own. Her technical skill and desire for expression caused her body of work to go through distinct phases where she would experiment with different styles and influences. She never wanted to be stagnant, which lead to her constantly revisiting compositions—sometimes destroying a work to create something new. She may be a foot note in your art history textbook, but we think her body of work killed the game.
2. Marcia Lucas
Marcia Lucas, a self-made woman who worked her way up from film librarian to Oscar Winning film editor—without a degree. She worked with awesome directors like Martin Scorsese and Frances Ford Coppola, helping them make their raw footage into masterpieces. She also worked with her husband George Lucas to shape the Star Wars Trilogy into the box office blowout it became. Maybe it’s because of their divorce, but Marcia is rarely acknowledged for her enormous contribution to the Star Wars franchise. She is mentioned only in passing in the books and documentaries that chronicle the making of these movies in favor of an auteur outlook, which credits the director with all artistic decisions of the movie. The accounts that exclude her contribution border on the dishonest because Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope was in serious trouble until Marcia reconfigured a faulty editing job. Most notably, Marcia redid the lack-luster Death Star trench scene. She took the drag of a scene and transformed it into the defining moment of the film. Who doesn’t cheer when Han comes at the last minute to save the day? So if you love Star Wars, holler at your girl Marcia, because she was the force that made it out of this world.
3. Emile Schindler
Emile Schindler, wife of Oscar Schindler – together they saved 1,300 Jews from the death camps of WWII. Using their factory as a cover, they employed Jews under the guise of needing cheap labor, when in truth they were providing a haven for the sick and starving people that would otherwise be killed. The movie Schindler’s List portrayed Emile as a supportive wife but unequal in her commitment to saving the Jews under their care, when actually it was both of their undertaking. Emile acted as a nurse and provider, procuring food and medical supplies on the black market. Survivors credit her courage and intelligence for keeping them alive. She single-handedly redirected four wagons of 250 Jews headed towards death camps to her and her husband’s factory, convincing the Nazi soldiers the detained people were needed as laborers in the war effort. Emile was a heroine in her own right and later received the Righteous Among the Nations award. However, the heinous minimization of her humanitarian efforts in the most publicized version of the Schindler story, Shindler’s List is extremely disrespectful of the extreme personal risk she took in order to protect others. For a more accurate portrayal of her experience during WWII check out her memoir Where Light and Shadow Meet.
4. Lil Harding Armstrong
During the 1920s, Lil Harding took the male dominated Jazz scene by storm as one of the most in demand piano players in Chicago. She played with big bands in New Orleans and then Chicago, where she met Louis Armstrong. Lil saw potential in this shy country boy and helped him climb the latter to success with her shrewd business sense and forward thinking. All the while Lil was playing piano, singing, arranging music, and composing tracks. Two of Louis’ hits “Strutting with Some BBQ” and “My Heart” were actually composed by Lil. Louis and Lil would later separate, but their friendship lasted as did the body of work they created together. Lil’s beauty and sophistication charmed audiences and friends alike and though we rarely hear about her, this gem of the Jazz scene is largely credited with bringing the world Louis Armstrong. Her determination to be a Jazz musician despite a disapproving family coupled with the extra challenge of being a woman is truly impressive.
5. Zelda Fitzgerald
Oh Zelda! Does anyone really know her deal? We see her demonized as a crazy person who dragged down the career of her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald but let’s get some perspective. Zelda was given very little credit for her writing. Her husband’s name was added to most of her work by his editor to increase its value, and Mr. Fitzgerald used her personality, phrasing, and even diary entries in his work employing the excuse of muse when really, it’s plagiarizing. Imagine constantly having pieces of your personality snipped away and added to something so someone else could be called a genius...and you’re supposed to be flattered? Muse, in this case, does not seem like a symbiotic relationship, especially considering his anger when she used their tumultuous marriage as inspiration for her novel Save Me the Waltz. Zelda was the American flapper and an iconic example of the new woman. She obviously suffered from depression, but that doesn’t mean she was crazy. Zelda goes on our list because she tirelessly strove to express herself in the face of an unreceptive audience, and the work she did create is stellar.
Images via fprisomthreads.blogspot.com, synergizingmusicandart.com, lickeringmyth.com, listverse.com, Stanford.EDU, vogue.com
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