The Badass Bitches Tour

Kate Villa

Michelle Mishina

The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses pieces that span 7000 years of history—stretching back to the beginning of civilization (though that’s always debatable) through the surrealist movement in Spain and the impressionists in France. It beautifully catalogues the history of art with one glaring omission: women.

The Met is lacking in women artists. Badly. So a group of women took up the cause, speaking up for the women artists on display and the women who ought to be. This movement of babes—I call them that with the utmost respect and admiration, and also because I’m one of them—has made it their mission to give their tour groups an entry-level education in what it means to be a woman artist and a feminist. It’s called the “Badass Bitches” tour and is given by MuseumHack.

The tour was originally written and conceived by Kate Downey, who spent months trying to convince the straight, white, male CEO of MuseumHack that we needed to talk about the underrepresented women in this beautiful museum that we’ve all come to know and love. He asked if there was a market for that. Ten years later, the sold-out tours prove there most certainly is.

Anna Bianco and Bex Odorisio, two of the aforementioned “babes,” are the performers who lead these adventures through the feminist looking glass. Anna notes that her values generally align with the activist, educational undercurrent of the tour. “It’s sort of self-selection, right? I have chosen to give the feminist tour.”

But she doesn’t use any rhetoric she doesn’t believe. When Anna isn’t quite sure about something, she opens up conversation about it, creating a safe space for guests to begin a dialogue. There’s one particular piece on her route where she grapples with how Catholicism intersects with feminism. Instead of giving a hard-and-fast answer as a docent might, she asks questions and opens a discussion—because the women who give this tour are acutely aware that they don’t have all the answers. They see the tour not as an all-encompassing feminist education, but rather as a starting point for guides and guests alike.

Men don’t give this tour, which has been a point of discussion in the company. It also begs the question: are you qualified to give this tour just because you’re a woman? Not all women are feminists and many men are. I spoke to a few of the guides about this distinction. Bex noted that it’s hard for men to give this type of tour because we aren’t “able to speak about an experience [we] haven’t had.” Though, in the future, there might be some value in opening it up to allies. For now, Anna’s in the camp of letting women talk about their own history: by doing so, they’re automatically lifting off one layer of the male gaze.

The tour is a celebration of female artists throughout history, and yet it seamlessly weaves in current events. For example, by peacefully walking out on interviews, Nicki Minaj echoes an idea initially demonstrated by Georgia O’Keeffe who, it’s anecdotally said, ignored questions she didn’t deem worthy of answers. Kiki Smith, a feminist artist that contorts and plays with how we visualize women’s bodies creates space for conversations about periods and bodily fluids with her work much as THINX does with theirs. The creator of the tour, Kate Downey, has constructed moments in which history becomes inescapably relevant, reminding us that the past influences the way in which we create and view women’s artwork today.

I have to admit, when I give the tour I feel a sense of duty to get through to my guests and speak to their inner activist. These feelings begin to blur the line between emotion and work. Emotions run high when we discuss the disgracefully small number of women in The Modern and Contemporary Wing. And no matter how many times you look a young woman in the eye and tell her there’s a better chance she will be painted nude and end up in The Met than if she worked her way there as an artist, it still stings.

And yeah, it sometimes gets in the way of your job. Which begs the question I’ll leave you with: Are we “selling” feminism? How do you market an ideal? This was one of Downey’s challenges before Badass Bitches was made into a permanent, best-selling tour on MuseumHack’s roster.

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