Feminism & Tattooing: Let’s Talk!




 After a long time in the reading, planning and thinking phase, I’m now in the early stages of my empirical research – I have been in contact with a small number of tattoo artists via email, and have had some amazing and interesting responses to my questions, inciting some exciting discussion and dialogue.

I am always really humbled when I receive responses within my research – people giving up their time to write to me, or talk to me about their experiences and sharing personal stories and opinions never ceases to inspire me and I am forever grateful.

The most recent response really stood out to me – this artist was the first artist to self identify herself as a feminist (in her email); and within her response it is clear that her feminism is really important to her, and a huge part of her identity. My next set of questions to her will be about her feminism, and how (if) it intersects with her art, her professional identity as a tattooer and her personal identity as a tattooed gender-queer (self identified) woman.

I was really excited by this for many reasons, but mainly I think because I too identify as a feminist and this is a huge part of whom I am, and what my research is about. But until now, I haven’t thought about talking directly to the participants about if they identify as feminists, and if they do, how this might affect their work as tattoo artists, and them as tattooed women.


 When I think about this, it seems like a completely obvious subject to broach within my research and I’ve began contemplating why I haven’t thought about this before.

Surely feminism and tattoos lend themselves to one another? Reclaiming the body, subverting beauty norms, taking ownership, and creating an alternative identity – all feminist issues and ideals, right?

I myself am a feminist, carrying out ‘feminist research’ – I endeavor to ensure my research methodologies are feminist, so why aren’t I capturing this in the empirical research and the subject matter itself? Many of the participants talk about setting up women-friendly spaces, or all-women studios and negative attitudes to women tattooers. So why aren’t I asking a direct question about feminism and whether the artists think of these practices as Feminist?

One of my key themes within my research and literature review will be a discussion on feminist aesthetics and so my subsequent analysis of the data will no doubt include a link between these seemingly feminist practices carried out by the artists and feminism/feminist aesthetics.  It now seems like a ludicrous and glaringly obvious omission to not ask the participants about feminism.

Perhaps I was avoiding the subject?

Perhaps I was avoiding the F word?

I wonder if I felt that striding on in there with the big ‘Are You A Feminist’ question might put people off taking part in my research? Not that I think it should, but more that I think there is a risk of this happening. Especially when you are conducting research via email – it is much more difficult to convey what you mean in a succinct and clear fashion. Talking face-to-face is easier in many respects and I hope to broaden my research with face-to-face interviews soon.

Are people put off by the word Feminist still? Or am I making presumptions because of personal experiences, recent media reports and comments in public on-line spaces?

Maybe my initial concerns were about ‘putting people off’ – but as a feminist, conducting feminist research, I should be embracing this challenge and striving to redress this issue within my work.

I am so inspired and relieved (!) to have received the latest participant email; the artist, in effect has given me ‘permission’ to talk directly about feminism with the research participants and I’m looking forward to the discussions ahead….

Please get in touch with your tales of feminism and tattoos!



11 thoughts on “Feminism & Tattooing: Let’s Talk!

  1. Rose Holyoak says:

    Really interesting post!
    I had a similar dilemma in my PhD research into women’s participation in social movements – I was interested in whether they identified as feminist but didn’t want to ask them in such a way that suggested they should be doing. I found asking them “what are you thoughts or feelings about feminism?” meant that they could talk more broadly about feminism and feminist issues, and the extent to which they identified as feminist. It really opened up space for them to relate their experiences to issues of gender without enforcing a narrow defininition of feminism for them to work with.
    Hope your future interviews go well!

    • emmacbeckett says:

      Thank you for your comment and for sharing your own experiences. It’s so good to hear how you over-came this ‘problem’ in your own research and I will certainly be drawing upon this in my own work – so thank you!

  2. Bri King says:

    My ink is definitely connected to my feminism. The concept that this is MY body and I can do what *I* want with it and don’t have to conform to some notion of what society thinks I *should* look like as a middle aged (40 year old) woman. Not to mention I have another F word to add to the mix. I am fat. FAT. So I am middle aged, fat and feminist with copious very visible tattoos. I find the assumptions that some people make about me based purely on my ink to be very revealing. I find my own feelings about my ink to be very revealing! But they are very much about who I am as an individual, just as being a feminist is very much about who I am as an individual. It is all inter-connected for sure.

  3. Sarah says:

    I don’t know how relevant this would be, but in the Suicidegirls research, the Suicide Girls themselves describe their community as being empowered and having Feminist ideals. So, I think that people already understand that they may be a question worth discussing. If you get people talking about their tattoos, and their experiences, they may be more than happy to talk and answer questions on Feminism after they are started.

    I think, in my opinion, some people are scared off by the F word, because they don’t see it as a spectrum but more of an extreme movement that they are either fully part of, or not. I am sometimes even scared away by it because there will always be a more passionate Feminist, which is fantastic, that is determined your perspective is not ‘right’. I don’t know if that helps at all.

    Good luck with your research.

    • emmacbeckett says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, and advice: it does help a lot 🙂
      Is the suicide girls research published for public access?
      (Is it your research? Did you speak at York Body Projects conference?!)

      I completely agree with you that many self-identifying feminists get ‘put off’ sometimes by differing feminist standpoints and not feeling “feminist enough”. Something that certainly can be discussed within the research!

      Also, it’s interesting to think about how many women engage in activities we might identify as Feminist, but they may not… Another interesting talking point!

      Thank you 🙂

      • Sarah says:

        It’s being published soon with York university as a result of the Body Projects conference. So, it’ll soon be public access, but I can easily send you the rough working draft, if you are interested.


      • emmacbeckett says:

        Thank you so much, what a kind offer 🙂

        I was registered to come to the conference but couldn’t make it; I was so disappointed.

        I am totally happy to wait until its accessible, unless you really don’t mind me seeing it beforehand!
        I would obviously wait until the final piece before I cited anything.

        Thank you, again 🙂

      • emmacbeckett says:

        (I am so sorry, it didn’t ‘click’ until now that you had commented previously and mentioned the conference – I have only just realized you are the same person, my apologies – I will respond to your email now!)

  4. Sarah says:

    Hiya, came across Margot Mifflin whilst doing some of my SG.com paper, she does at times talk about Feminism with tattoo artists in her own research. You’ve already came across her, but just encase, you might find it interesting.

    Sarah (same one :))

    • emmacbeckett says:

      Thanks Sarah! You’ve just reminded me I need to order this book from my local Waterstones… I have vouchers & thought this would be a good book to spend them on 😉 interesting that she mentions feminism….

  5. Aimee M says:

    At age 45, I chose to get my first tattoos – large script words on both arms. My decision was not based on feminism at all, just a desire for self-expression. The resultant behaviour from people around me alerted me to the connection between feminism and tattoos.

    The negative reactions that I received were from men – the ones in prominent roles in my life – my husband, my father, my stepfather and my manager at work.

    On the positive side, I am frequently stopped by women that I do not know, in various places like restaurants, stores, etc. to ask about my tattoos – What do they say? Why did I choose those words? Then they show me and tell me about their own tattoos. Almost like two sorority sisters!

    While I did not get inked as an intentional feminist act, the positive reactions that I get from other women, and the notion that tattoos are “reclaiming my body” from a feminist perspective makes me so glad I have them. No regrets!

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