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Feeding Feminism: Food and Gender Ideology in American Women's Art, 1960-01979


In my dissertation, I examine the ways that women artists engage with two primary and interrelated themes in their art practice — food and femininity — in an attempt to challenge gender inequality in midcentury American society. As such, I illustrate how these women’s art practices are related to the discourse and political actions of the American feminism during mid-1960s. Recognizing that — despite the unity implied by the commonly employed umbrella terms of “Second Wave Feminism” and the “Women’s Liberation Movement” — feminism in this period existed in myriad forms and was very much a personal issue for many of the individuals involved, my dissertation focuses on the experience of nine women artists and collectives within the larger artistic and political climate of feminism. I thus highlight the ways in which these different women artists used their art practice for political purposes, examining particular aspects of women’s lives in a public forum in order to raise awareness to the ways in which misogyny and oppression are woven into the fabric of American culture and to simultaneously advocate for a potential alternative.

This dissertation is divided into two parts, spanning six total chapters. The first part, which consists of a single chapter, presents the history of women’s art in the United States prior to and during the emergence of women’s art activism in the 1960s and 1970s. The second part of the dissertation is comprised of the remaining five chapters, each of which follows a similar format, focusing specifically on how two different women artists engage with one particular aspect of American food culture as it relates to the cultural construction of femininity. These dynamic relations between food and femininity are: Cooking, Serving, Feeding, Eating and Being Eaten. In each chapter, I situate these artists within their contexts — both geographically and temporally — and I examine how these works relate to their individual experiences as women, as artists, and as feminists. In so doing, my dissertation combines both an in-depth analysis of individual feminist art works and a broader narrative of American feminism during this period.

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