A recent study on the state of the NFT art market points to some of the lasting gender disparities in the world of cryptocurrency
A few months ago, when Fame Lady Squad launched, claiming to be the first ever female-led crypto art collective, it quickly raised $1.5 million from people who wanted to support underrepresented artists. Weeks later, it turned out, the group was actually run by men. After an uproar, the founders handed over the control to a group of women, but the incident hinted at deeper gender disparities in the digital art market – with male artists overwhelmingly capitalizing on the non-fungible token (NFT) art boom.
A recent study on the state of the NFT art market points to some of the lasting gender disparities in the world of cryptocurrency, and suggests the industry still has a long way to go.
The report (based its findings on primary and secondary market sales on Nifty Gateway over the past 21 months) published by the research firm ArtTactic, suggests, women account for just 16% of the NFT art market.
Despite being touted as an inclusive and diverse space, the NFT market has been dominated by the likes of the US artist Beeple (aka Mike Winkelman), Pak and Canadian-born Mad Dog Jones (the trio take top three spots).
The only known woman to make it into the top ten NFT artists is musician musician Grimes, whose sales total $8.9m to date, compared with Winkelman’s $50.8m, according to reports. Overall, male artists account for 77% of all primary and secondary sales, at $258.3m.
This hardly come as a surprise in a typical male-dominated crypto world, which has always been synonymous with a kind of toxically libertarian bro culture. If you take Beeple, today’s most expensive crypto artist, as an example, he sold an NFT called “Everydays” for $69 million earlier this year. The work is a collage of 5,000 individual images, drawn over the course of the past 13 years, some of which feature racist and misogynistic themes.
The Art Tactic study also points to some of the broader wealth inequality issues. Geographically speaking, the NFT market is heavily concentrated in the Global North, with US, British and Canadian artists accounting for 73% of NFT sales totals. Since February 2020, 174 US artists have generated $167.5m (50.1% of the total sales), followed by 40 British artists (13.1% of total sales) and 15 Canadian artists (9.9% of total sales).
A distinct lack of diversity in the NFT market is evident, with just 3.6% of artists coming from countries in Africa and Latin America. Artists working in the NFT sphere are concentrated in Los Angeles, where 51 artists raised a total of $35.2m, compared with 50 artists in New York who generated $31.5m and 22 artists in London raising a total of $24.8m.
Though predominantly white males have dominated the NFT market to date, the majority of them millennial, there appears to be some movement towards collaborations and collectives, which now account for almost a quarter of NFT sales. This is part of a broader cross-over by artists working across several industries including music, design, sport, technology and entertainment.
In fact, technology in itself needs to be more inclusive. According to the United Nations’ technology agency (ITU), less than half of women worldwide use the internet, compared to 55% of men, with the gap wider in poorer countries,
Similarly, women also lag men when it comes to managing and accessing assets or financial services worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum’s annual gender gap report.
Blockchain technology – which underpins cryptocurrency and NFTs – has been hailed as a path to a fairer, more transparent and inclusive world with its decentralized format.
And cryptocurrencies are quickly shifting from the fringes of finance to the mainstream, with investors, companies and countries adopting them as an asset, as a payment vehicle, and as a hedge against uncertainty and hyperinflation.
ArtTactic founder Anders Petterson said that the company’s findings were “depressing,” writing in the report’s introduction, “Before we throw ourselves into the metaverse, it might be a good idea to stop and ask ourselves what we want this digital universe to look like, before we repeat our mistakes from the past.”
NFTs meanwhile, have drawn celebrities, artists and investors, with the sale of a digital collage this year for more than $69 million recorded as the most expensive NFT sale so far – even as the number of NFT buyers remains relatively small.
But more than two-thirds of U.S. cryptocurrency investors are men, and about 60% are white, according to a recent survey by CNBC and Acorn, a gender gap that is wider than in other financial investments such as stocks, bonds and mutual funds.
While a crypto exchange in India said only 15% of its users were women, Rubina Shaw, a financial consultant says that it is again not surprising that the crypto world seems to mirror the tech and finance worlds in terms of gender, where there are women, but the space is heavily male-dominated.
There are quite a few women leaders in the crypto space who are well respected, who command strong influence and credibility within the space. Maliha Abidi, an artist and women’s rights activist for example, adept at using digital technologies, so when she came across non-fungible tokens she quickly figured they could be a way to reach more people, and for women artists to gain a bigger following.
The Pakistan-born artist who migrated to the United States as a teenager, created her first NFT a few months ago. She is on her way to launch Women Rise, a campaign to bring 100,000 girls and women into cryptocurrency by the end of 2022 to bridge the gender gap in this quickly expanding space.
With Twitter handles such as @crypto_chicks, @NFTgirl and@BTCbombshell, women NFT artists and collectors flaunt their affiliation on social media and cheer each other on. Many also support charitable causes for women and girls.
Their work is gaining recognition. In fact, a physical version of an NFT from Boss Beauties, a collection of 10,000 NFT portraits of women, was displayed at the New York Stock Exchange last month.
While Tavonia Evans, a U.S.-based data scientist who goes by the Twitter handle @cryptodeeva, created Guapcoin, a cryptocurrency to “amplify the economic voice of the Black community”.
Efforts such as these will go a long way in bridging the gender gap in blockchain. As crypto becomes more mainstream, it is important to have diverse perspectives in creating and running the systems so that better decisions can be made – and NFTs can be a key tool to that creative freedom!