The ways we behave and express ourselves are shaped by the cultures in which we participate. Since the mid-twentieth century, philosophers, social scientists, and historians have theorized that gender—the roles, characteristics, and activities that distinguish men from women—are not innate but socially constructed. Behaviors thought to be feminine or masculine differ from one culture to another and across time periods.

Many artists have used their work to examine, question, and criticize the relationships between gender and society. As the feminist movement gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s, artists began to challenge traditional roles of women, addressing topics such as women in domestic and public spheres, and the conventional standards of beauty. Artists have also addressed masculinity, investigating how societal pressures and mass media inform and shape our expectations of men. While many artists have tackled the social construction of gender over the last fifty years, they were not the first to do so: In the first half of the twentieth century, artists such as Claude Cahun and Frida Kahlo made self-portraits that emphasize the fluidity of gender, refusing to adhere to statically masculine or feminine characteristics.


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