Gender is a cultural and social description of masculinity and femininity, rather than a biological or physical distinction between the sexes. The process of determining sexual and social identity in culture leads to gender representations in art and design. The main media that depict this cultural process are literary and pictorial expression through metamorphosis and stylization. The concept of gender issues has been primarily driven by the advancement of women and the rise of feminism in the twentieth century. Women have sought to equal the rights, privileges, and distinctive forms of expression that men have historically enjoyed in patriarchal societies where social standing, racial background, and sexual orientation were defined by the gender that predominated. In addition to encouraging a larger investigation of gender-related themes in art, feminist art, and art history have contributed to a re-appreciation of the representation of women as subjects, artisans, and receivers of pictorial art.

Gender portrayal in art history  

The conceptions about what a “man” or “woman” should do were particularly strong and prevalent during the nineteenth century. Men belonged in the political, economic, religious, and academic spheres of the public sphere. They should be able to support their families financially and be physically strong. Women, on the other end of the spectrum, belonged in the realm of intimacy, privacy and were expected to be delicate and submissive while caring for the family and the home. Ancient images frequently featured themes related to female fertility, maternity, and gender interactions.

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In male-dominated cultures, gender depictions are frequently influenced by ideas of strength and weakness, superiority and inferiority, goodness, and evil. Since the Renaissance, more and more authors, thinkers, and creatives have been examining gender issues, notably the social function of the feminine. The term “querelle des femmes” (debate about women) is a French term that referred to humanist debates on womanhood and the role of women in the society of their time. Renaissance portraits of women in art and design aim to express their social status and almost archetypal beauty. The traits of a man’s occupation and social standing defined him.  

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Woman drawing water at the cistern_©

The photograph of Woman Drawing Water at the Cistern depicts a lady pumping water from a cistern while being observed by a small girl. She is dressed in long, flowing skirts and petticoats, giving the impression that she is a maiden due to her bonnet. The woman is highlighted in this artwork because she stands out against the darkness of the room. This piece is used to illustrate how daughters should learn from their mothers and strive to follow in their footsteps and how women are only good for domestic duties.

Challenging stereotypes

The rise of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s influenced how people perceived gender. Through their exploration of female identity, love, violence, and transgender identities, photographers like Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin challenged and transformed stereotypical gender norms. Gay imagery and vocabulary have been developed by lesbian artists like Harmony Hammond, sometimes mirroring stereotypes. The boundaries between traditional gender and sexual roles have been investigated and dismantled in the “queer” art and design.

The feminist movement has a close relationship with feminist art history. The male gaze and its impact on visual art was one of feminist art historians’ initial issues. During the Second Wave of Feminism in the early 1960s, the feminist art movement was born. International feminist artists set out to restore the tenets and reception of contemporary art. The movement brought about transformation, altered societal perceptions, and altered gender norms in the arts. The goal of the feminist art movement was to break down prejudice and create a fresh conversation about the feminine experience by using art to rewire long-held sociocultural perceptions. Feminist art’s overarching objective is to create a space for female-centered representation and highlight the marginalization of women and their contributions to the arts and other fields. Gender stereotypes in society were deliberately sought to be countered by feminist artists in Western culture. Performance art, digital media, and textiles—mediums traditionally shunned by men—took center stage. Male painters dominated the hierarchy of high and low art until the 1960s.

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Grayson Perry Gender is fluid thing_©

Guerrilla Girls, a group of feminist artists, challenged the prevalence of female nudity in Western art throughout the 1980s and called for fair depiction of women. Guerrilla Girls included graphic posters, typography, and print in their campaigns, following in the footsteps of street artists and activists.

Self-portraits by many artists emphasize the flexible nature of gender and reject sticking to strictly masculine or feminine qualities. Grayson Perry, who won the Turner Prize, went a step further. He has adopted a female alter persona named Claire to challenge stereotypical notions of men because of his experience growing up with toxic masculinity and an abusive stepfather. Even though he now despises the term “alter-ego,” “I’m the only one in a dress,” he claims. He makes pottery, wild garment designs, hand-stitched quilts, and other unconventionally feminine creative forms in his work.

Gender-specific design

Gender-biased art and design can lead to several negative effects. Among them are disregarding the requirements of marginalized populations, developing designs that are inappropriate for or exclude specific users, maintaining gender stereotypes, and fostering new socioeconomic inequities.

On Welsh Valley branch lines, railroad shelters were constructed in the 1960s. They were constructed with a male orientation, were frequently isolated, and had poor sightlines. The inference is that as women were more likely to have unfavorable judgments of the shelters’ safety, this led to an unequal social consequence depending on the gender of the end-user.

According to a study that examined how Amsterdam‘s public software was created in the 1990s, technological decisions were made that excluded female users. It was discovered that whereas male software users customized the technology to suit their preferences, many female users had to modify their lifestyles to accommodate the technology, which led to emotions such as irritation, rage, and self-doubt. Although it was first said that the program would be created for everyone, by 1996, the user base was more than 80% men.

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Traffic island on Boulevard Haussmann, accessible to men only_©

Long hours and weekend work schedules can be a barrier for women who have childcare duties. This may also lessen the voice of female end users and lessens the ability of women to influence design decisions.

Male public restrooms that lack baby changing tables are rarely marked as being opposed to male childcare. Instead, designers should be transparent about their influence so that they can lessen their prejudices.

To influence the design response, differences in experience due to sex or gender should be carefully considered and respectfully articulated. This is crucial since people of all sexes and genders have unexpected and varied worldviews.

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Gender Neutral Toilet signage_©

Pride art and gender neutral design

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Converse shoes, pride collection_©

The LGBTQ+ community gets together each June for a celebration of love, diversity, and inclusion. It is a moment that recognizes the extensive influence that members, supporters, and advocates of the LGBTQ+ community have had, not just in the United States but also globally. Pride Month honors the outstanding achievements and ongoing struggle for equality. Queer art has been depicted in a variety of ways for hundreds of years, from ancient Greek to contemporary art. The queer art movement experienced a huge upsurge in the 20th century, with an increase in the number of artists addressing LGBTQ+ issues in their works. The desire to hide one’s ‘identity’ during the first half of the century influenced queer art and design, but the second half was predominantly marked by works that battled for visibility, fairness, and growing acceptance.

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Colour defining femininity and masculinity in design_©

The usage of pink and other traditionally “feminine” designs in items has come under intense criticism in recent years, which has advanced the gender-neutral movement.As a result, there is a greater color range of feminine items on store shelves. For instance, to appeal to the millennial market, period products like Aunt Flow and TOMT use colors like yellow, blue, and gender-neutral patterns rather than the more traditional pink, soft, bubble gum design. The skincare company Curology, the cosmetics line The Ordinary, and the perfume company Byredo are other firms that have chosen to put more of an emphasis on functionality than gender targeting.

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Gender neutral colors_©
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Calvin Klein gender neutral packaging using minimal font and color_©


Soo, N. (2020). Challenging the Canon: How Artists have Raised LGBTQ+ Awareness Through Art. [online] The Artling. Available at:

Waters, P. (2021). Design has a gender problem. What can we do about it? [online] Peter Waters Portfolio. Available at:

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Millington, R. (2020). Gender in art history | 7 artists breaking gender stereotypes since 1600. [online] Ruth Millington. Available at:

Magalhães, M. (2020). Gender Neutral Design. [online] Forty8Creates. Available at:

‌Google Arts & Culture. (n.d.). Representation of women in art through the ages. [online] Available at:


Nishi is an inquisitive architect based in Nepal who sees architecture as a powerful means of storytelling. With a genuine belief that just like every person, every building has a unique story to tell, she is passionate about unraveling these narratives and expressing them through her words.