Where do women and minority genders factor into the rapidly growing NFT space?
With NFT (or non-fungible token) becoming Collins Dictionary’s word of the year in 2021, their growing popularity and impact are hard to ignore. From Bored Apes to CryptoPunks, the past year has been huge for the growth of NFTs. In fact, we saw celebrities, like BTS, Shawn Mendes and Snoop Dogg, coming out with their own NFTs as well.
While all of this might sound exciting to those within the NFT and crypto space, the sector’s growth isn’t all sunshine and daisies. Much like other parts of society, the NFT economy isn’t immune to gender disparity. As of 2021, according to an ArtTactic research, women make up only 16% of the NFT market. While women accounted for only 5 % of NFT art sales, 77% went to male creators’ wallets. The only female on the list of top ten NFT creators is Canadian singer Grimes, who has made US$8.9 million from the sale of all her NFTs, which is in direct contrast to male American digital artist Beeple who made US$69.3 million from a single NFT. Let’s take a closer look at how gender operates within the NFT space and what this means for the future of NFTs.
Misogyny in NFT art
In June 2021, the NFT project “Misfit University” released a series of NFTs that depicted women with tape covering their mouths. The project also had some female NFT avatars with blackened or tearful eyes. These depictions received tremendous backlash from domestic violence survivors for their portrayal of women, and Misfit University eventually apologized and bought back the NFTs from the upset users.
This isn’t the first time that the NFT space has seen misogyny. In fact, the previously mentioned artist Beeple and his famous NFT “EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS” has also been called out for featuring racist, homophobic and misogynistic themes in some of the art pieces that make up the 5000-piece mosaic.
Deceptive promotional techniques
The gendered concerns of NFTs don’t end with misogyny. In 2021, we also saw the arrival of the “Fame Lady Squad” on the NFT scene. The team behind it claimed the project to be the “first-ever female-led crypto art collective”. The project raised US$1.5 million from those eager to support underrepresented artists. However, soon after the funds were collected, it was found that the team behind the project were actually all men. NFT enthusiast Fedor Linnik, who revealed the team’s true identity, says that they were “just cynically exploiting the Western, left-liberal agenda of protecting female rights”.
Seeds of change
While both these examples paint a disheartening picture of the current state of the NFT economy, there have been attempts to improve gender disparity within the space. For instance, after all the backlash that the Fame Lady Squad received, they handed control over the project to a group of women.
NFTs have also begun being actively used to quash misogyny. In November 2021, Pakistani artist Maliha Abidi launched the “Women Rise” project to mint 10,000 NFTs and donate part of the proceeds acquired from their sale to advocacy groups that support women’s rights. Abidi says that the goal of the project is to raise awareness about the “financial independence to be gained from participating in the internet and blockchain community”.
Hoping to address the gender gap in the NFT space, the Russian protest punk rock group Pussy Riot is planning on launching a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) for women artists and the LGBTQ community. Even before the announcement of this project, Pussy Riot sold NFTs of the music video for their single “Panic Attack” to raise funds for victims of domestic violence.
The NFT space is opening its doors to minorities and diverse gender identities. For example, Trans artist FEWOCiOUS has made a name for himself in the NFT economy, with the sale of his pieces fetching US$18 million to date. Diana Sinclair, a queer black photographer, has utilized the space to create art that advocates for queer and transgender rights and supports social and political movements, like Black Lives Matter. She has also co-founded HerStoryDAO to celebrate the arts by marginalized artists in the metaverse.
While progress towards becoming more gender-inclusive has been slow, the blockchain, which claims to decentralize and democratize the current power structure, boasts the potential to narrow the gender gap within the space. Hopefully, the increased representation and participation of a more diverse group of artists in the blockchain can point to a more gender-equal future for the NFT economy.
Header image courtesy of Freepik