Friday, August 21, 2009

Inked: Where are the ladies? (Part one)

I am a big fan of tattoos. I love seeing them on other people, and I have three of my own. I have gotten all of my tattoos at the same tattoo parlor, which was recommended to me by a friend, and I have noticed some things about this particular place that I would like to discuss here.

Observation #1: Where are all the female tattoo artists?

The tattoo parlor that I have visited for all three of my tattoos doesn’t seem to have any female tattoo artists. There is one female employee that I know of who pierced my eyebrow, but most of the times when I have been there, I haven’t seen any female employees, and all of the artists who have done my tattoos have been male.

This is just an observation. It may be that I just haven’t met any of the female tattoo artists at this parlor, and I know that some very famous tattoo artists (I’m thinking of Kat Von D from LA Ink) are women, but I can’t help think that there might be a difference in the way that men and women are perceived when they have tattoos or when they are in this profession. When men have tattoos, it is often seen as a display of their masculinity, and unless they have a large tattoo that is not easily covered up, they will suffer relatively few negative consequences. Of course there is the stereotype of “the bad boy” who has tattoos, but he still gets to be a human being. The same thing can’t be said of women. When women get tattoos, they are often reduced to their sexuality, specifically that they must be sexually available. In this respect, I think that tattoos are not generally something women can be passionate about either wearing on their bodies or making a career out of without taking some risks that are not inherent to men. Because of this, it would make sense if women were not deciding in the same numbers as men to make careers out of tattooing. Now, I don’t have concrete numbers on this, but I am interested to hear stories from anyone who may or may not agree that women tattoo artists are harder to find than men.

Observation #2: Sexy ladies – they’re everywhere!

The female figure plays a large role in tattoo culture today. Female figures are often sexualized and objectified in tattoo art design (sometimes in variations of the original pin-up girl tattoo) and they are often employed to help promote modern tattoo parlors.

For example, when I got my last tattoo this past June I was given a full color business card for the tattoo parlor. It contains all the necessary information: The name of the tattoo parlor, its location, phone number, website, along with the services available there. However, on the left side of the card there is a picture of a woman wearing a bikini and not sporting a single visible piercing or tattoo. When the card is turned over, there is information advertising another branch of the same company, featuring three more pictures of women without visible piercings or tattoos. Utilizing female bodies to advertise this shop doesn’t surprise me, and it shouldn’t. It’s a much-too-common and very problematic tactic. But the more I started thinking about the differences between how men and women with tattoos are perceived, the more upset I was with the inclusion of this woman’s picture on this business card when she clearly was not able to advertise the services offered at this tattoo parlor. When it comes to tattoos, women who have them (or are used to promote a place that offers tattooing) are associated with sexual availability. And that is a topic I will be covering in part two of this series, so check back.


yellowpansy15 said...

One of my tattoos was done by a woman!

Also, I know you read 2birds1blog, but I don't know if you read the one where she wanted to become a tattoo artist. She found someone to apprentice under (who was a woman) and then her parents told her she would be cut off, out of the family, etc if she decided to pursue it. Fortunately the woman went mad and murdered her husband (a nice side story)...

I think it's just like "woman shouldn't get into that biker gang kind of thing." My grandma definitely still feels that way. She doesn't think anyone (male or female) should have them. I dunno, just a thought.

Saranga said...

I'm sure I've come across female tattoo artists int he UK. i've def come across female piercers.
As for tats, I want a big back piece but fail to see how to it would heal when I need to wear a bra.

Amelia said...

I'm glad to see that other people know of female tattoo artists! I'm sure I'd be able to find some if I wasn't so stuck on this one parlor. The men who have done my tattoos have all done wonderful jobs.

And good point about the bra, Saranga. I wonder how women who have full back tattoos handle that?

Saranga said...

I guess if they're not too big then you could wear a strong bikini while it healed, or maybe use no bra at all?

Lizzy said...

I totally know what you mean about the use of women to advertise tattoo parlors. I was recently looking for a place to get a piercing and for a friend of mine to get tattooed. I kept running across recommendations from people online for a certain place, but when I found their website it was full of half naked women (sans tattoos or piercings) and animated gifs of ladies jiggling around. Silly me and my feminist logic thinking the parlor would want to highlight their work and cleanliness! Anyway, as you can imagine, that joint won't be getting business from me.

Amelia said...

@Saranga: No bra would be how I would do it. But I'm unusually lucky to be able to get away with stuff like that.

@Lizzy: I was surprised when I saw the images of the women on the business card. Granted, I hadn't visited the place's website before I went in, but the parlor itself wasn't filled with that much lady-part artwork. And the male tattoo artists I dealt with, although I wouldn't call them feminists, were respectful, fun, and did good work. It's a shame, then, that they can't seem to make that work for them in their advertising and have to revert to the old sexist "let's use the lady bits to sell our stuff!" tactic. Sigh.

Lady McScamp said...

There's definitely a couple of female tattoo artists in Manchester, UK. There's the Tattooed Lady, I think there's a woman in the studio in Affleck's & a woman at Studio 81 who I annoyingly can't remember the name of but she's lovely & did my mate's tattoo. I have 2 that I got in my teens, not keen on anymore and want covered up. I told her and she laughed and said 'we all make mistakes' which really put me at ease in comparison to my first tattoo where my arse was considered a worthy topic of conversation by creepy old guy with a penchant for young girls. Not nice.

lindsay said...

I know when I've seen ads for tattoo parlors, they use women in a 50's style, ala Betty Page. There's something about that era that really captures the attention of some people who get tattoos, apart from the naked female body, of course.

Boganette said...

Great post.

Your comment: "When women get tattoos, they are often reduced to their sexuality, specifically that they must be sexually available." was a really big one for me.

I have a rather large back piece and I had smaller tatts before I got it. I was astonished at how males reacted to my back tattoo in public.

Drunk males (even the occasional sober one) touched it all the time and were incredibly sleazy around me - grabbing at me and pretty much becoming animals around me. It was like they thought my back tattoo meant I was 'sexually available'. Or that they were free to touch me and be lecherous because of it.

It was hugely upsetting and a massive shock when it first happened. I now keep my back covered when I go to busy pubs because it got to the point where I was getting into screaming matches with men who kept touching my back.

I really can't describe how huge a change it was from having small tatts that were less obvious to having a large one - in terms of behaviour of people in public.

Oh and in answer to the questions about back tattoos and healing - you can't wear a bra for two days maybe three but then you're fine. I was back to wearing my bra to work about two days after I got my tatt.

Amelia said...


I'm really sorry to hear that you've had such bad experiences because of your tattoo. Being forced to change one's behavior or way of dressing just to avoid assholes who don't know how to be decent human beings (and being drunk doesn't mean that men can touch women without permission) is so incredibly frustrating. When you pay to have a tattoo done, there are times when you just want to show it off, and being unable to do that because of unwanted contact is absolutely horrible. I'm sorry you have to deal with it, especially because you're hardly alone in that regard.

Ashley said...

My tattoo parlor has one female artist. She's got lots of tattoos herself and plenty of piercings. When I first saw her there, I was like "rock on sista" because I think tattoos are a beautiful form of art and expression.

After I got my 6th tattoo my ex had said I couldn't get anymore because "girls with too many tattoos is a turn off." So for the next two years of our relationship, I didn't get anymore. Then I left him and a week later got my 7th. Then two weeks later I got my 8th :D