What It’s Really Like To Be A Woman In The Design Industry

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Exploring art’s feminist issues

If you look around, a lot of creative professions are dominated by men, and design is no exception. That said, it’s strange when fashion schools filled with mostly women filter into an industry crowded with mostly men, or when mostly men are telling women what to wear and how to express themselves. There are ways to combat this situation—by being mindful and inclusive, for example—but design itself can serve as a platform more active feminism. The very process of creating items of self-expression plays a role in the identity of both the artist and the consumer.

Such was the conversation at Slow Factory in Brooklyn, New York, recently. An AIGA/ NY panel, titled Redesigning Feminism, gathered Laura Wass, the founder of WXYZ jewelry, JiaJia Fey, the digital director of the Jewish Museum, Céline Semman Vernon, a designer and the founder of the Slow Factory, and Hala Abdel Malak, a designer and professor at Parsons School of Design, to discuss these issues with moderator Kevin Allred, who apologized profusely for being a man in such a charged, feminist space. Here’s what we learned over the course of the evening.

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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. 

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Opening up the world of design doesn’t just mean more adding more women to the mix, but creating an equal playing field across the spectrums of diversity.

As a young Asian woman, Fey noted that she doesn’t often see herself reflected back in the field, and emphasized that it is important to be aware of diversity, in terms of race, as well. “At the bottom rungs, it’s white women,” she said of the museum hierarchy. “And as you move up, it’s all white men. I don’t have a quota I check off as a feminist, but it is something I am constantly, even unconsciously, mindful of.”

Semman Vernon also works to this end by using “plus-size” models at the Slow Factory. “Well, that’s what they are called, but of course, they are normal,” she explained, gesturing to her own frame. Growing up in Lebanon, she struggled to fit into a societally prescribed ideal, and she sees it as crucial to widen the span of images that women are offered, or, as she put it: “The campaigns that we work with are trying to empower by telling a different story around women.”

Design can be a powerful tool for creating meaning...

Part of Abdel Malak’s work centers around the keffiyeh, a Middle Eastern headdress, which she has worked to recontextualize for a western perspective. She engages with the plurality of identity by studying what the traditional male garb means when it is made accessible in women’s fashion. (Of course, this requires a sense of reverence, which she contributes from her upbringing in Lebanon. “I’m sure you’ve seen the keffiyeh at Urban Outfitters,” she joked. “It doesn’t really belong there.”) 

Reappropriating can also happen within a single culture. Semman Vernon brought up Tavi Gevinson’s aesthetic, and its quiet subversiveness. Gevinson’s use of sparkles or just the color pink works to take back a reductively “girly” space. As a designer, Semman Vernon says it’s a reminder that part of feminism is letting women be who they want to be by making their own meaning out of cultural symbols. She used to reject more typical gendered symbols, but has over time learned to embrace them. “Wear pink if you want to, put a unicorn on your head,” she said. As she sees it, style should be a way of being whoever you want to be, not another means of succumbing to societal judgment.

… and simply making use of it can be a feminist act.

Wass discussed the way she thinks about her work being used to help consumers express themselves. “I do think there is something empowering about building characters,” she said, “Jewelry has this power, and it’s had this power historically, it lets you define yourself through something symbolic that is explicitly nonfunctional.” 

With WXYZ designs, she often contemplates stripping away identity or building it out. She thinks accessories’ lack of practicality makes them crucial for that process. “Some people want to define and some people want to remove the definition,” Wass said. “Those are both ways that we can think about evolving our identities as individuals in this world or making our own world [outside of that].” 

That statement contains the most striking takeaway of the panel: Design creates meaning, and even just being aware of that, may be the start of a feminist shift in the industry. “Look at the art world, the design world, look at fashion designers,” Abdel Malak said. “We’re still dressed by men, we’re still told by men what we can be and what we can do, when really we should decide those things.”

Photo by Imani Givertz

Premiering today via NYLON

Small Talks, aka Cayley Spivey, has come a long way since starting a band, then becoming the entire band herself and forging her own fan base from the ground up. On her recent album A Conversation Between Us, she began to unpack any lingering baggage with one particular song: "Teeth." Today, she premieres the accompanying music video exclusively via NYLON.

"'Teeth' is about my personal battle with letting go of the past," Spivey tells NYLON, admitting that it's easily her favorite song off of A Conversation Between Us.

Watch the video for "Teeth" below.

Small Talks - Teeth (Official Music Video) - YouTube

Photos by Joe Maher/Getty Images, Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for TIME

Must have been pretty awkward

Taylor Swift and Sophie Turner were guests on the U.K.'s The Graham Norton Show together, which must have been awkward for Turner's husband, Joe Jonas, seeing as he also happens to be Swift's ex. I wonder if his name came up?

The interview doesn't come out until Friday night, but promotional photos show the two sharing a couch. Swift is making an appearance to perform her new single, "ME!" while Turner is promoting her new film, X- Men: Dark Phoenix. But it seems necessary for the two to be asked about Jonas.

Swift was just on the Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier this month, where she brought up the fact that she felt bad for putting Jonas "on blast" on DeGeneres' show back in 2008 by telling the audience that he broke up with her in a record-setting short phone call. But, according to Swift, she and Jonas are chill now, since it happened pretty long ago, which means she's probably already hung out with Turner and maybe even gossiped about him with her.

We can only hope that they get the chance to spill some tea on television.

Screenshot via YouTube, Photo Courtesy of HBO

"That's! His! Auntie!"

Leslie Jones has rewatched the Game of Thrones finale with a beer in hand, Seth Meyers at her side, and a full camera crew ready to take in all her glorious reactions. Spoilers ahead, but, if you haven't watched last week's episode already, that's kind of on you at this point.

When Jon Snow started to make out with Daenerys, also known as his aunt, only to stab her through the chest moments later, it was emotional whiplash for everyone watching. And, Jones' reactions—both from her first and second viewing—sum it all perfectly.

"That's! His! Auntie! [gagging noises]," Jones says before making an aside about calling the police if her uncle ever tried to do the same. But then the knife goes in, and Jones screams. "Did you see that?!" Jones asks, "Yeah bitch, that's a knife in you." Meyers points out the funniest part of all: "Why are you so upset about someone kissing their aunt but totally fine with someone killing their aunt?" Jones replies, "Because that bitch needed to go," and, well, same.

Other highlights from the comedians' rewatch include comparing Dany's victory speech to a bad improv gig, predicting that their dogs would have less of a reaction to their deaths than Drogon did to his mother's, and more.

Watch all of Jones' reactions from this Late Night clip below.

Game of Jones: Leslie Jones and Seth Watch Game of Thrones' Series Finale

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These lyrics are a lot

Robbie Tripp, aka Curvy Wife Guy, is back with a music video, titled "Chubby Sexy," starring his wife and a trio of models. In it, Tripp raps about his bold choice to find women with an average body size attractive.

The video begins with a series of statements laid over some pool water: "Curves are the new high fashion," "Chubby is the new sexy," "We Out Here." Tripp posits that these queens deserve an anthem, which they do. What they do not deserve is this Cursed Song. As he lists all the names he knows to call them by (thick, thicc, and BBW), one model (who I really, really hope was paid well) squirts some lotion down her cleavage, and Tripp begins dancing.

"My girl chubby sexy/ Call her bonita gordita," Tripp states in his chorus, before going on to compare "big booty meat" to the peach emoji. Another thing he mentions is that his wife can't find a belt that fits her waist, and that's why he calls her James and the Giant Peach. He then tries to dab. Here are some of the other Cursed highlights from his, uh, verses:

Got those Khaleesi curves/ Knows how to dragon slay
She like a dude that's woke/ We like a girl that's weighty
Some say a chubby girl that's risky/ But they ain't met a curvy girl that's frisky
Imma dunk that donk like I'm Andrew Wiggins.
Thick like an Amazon/ Built like Big Ben.

Tripp says one thing in the video that I couldn't agree more with: "She don't need a man." No, she does not. Please run. If you must, watch the entire video, below. Or send it to your nemesis!

Robbie Tripp - Chubby Sexy (Official Music Video)

Photo by Emma McIntyre / Getty Images.

See the promo here

It was bound to happen. The Kadashians and Jenners have committed themselves to letting the cameras roll on their lives, for better or for worse. So if you thought that the Jordyn Woods and Tristan Thompson cheating scandal was off limits, you thought wrong. The trailer for Sunday's episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians was just released, and it involves the famous family working through the fallout of what happened when Woods went to a party at Thompson's house.

The teaser includes the infamous clip of Khloé Kardashian screaming "LIAAAARRRRRR." It's still not explicitly clear who prompted that strong response. She could be responding to Thompson, who clearly isn't always honest. Or she could be reacting to Woods account of the events on Red Table Talk. But the most revealing moment comes when we see Kylie Jenner—who was Woods' best friend before all of this happened—react for the first time.

In a heart-to-heart conversation, momager Kris Jenner says, "For you and Jordyn, it's like a divorce." Kylie only offers this in response: "She fucked up." Based on Woods' version of events—which I'm inclined to believeThompson is the one who fucked up. Still, I'm hoping for some kind of reconciliation between the two longtime friends. Perhaps we'll have to wait until next season for that.

Check out the promo video below.