If you do a quick google search for the phrase “Women in tattooing,” you’re going to find yourself staring at search results like A Secret History of Women and Tattoo, 5 Female Artists on Making it in a Male Dominated Industry, and Badass Women in the Man’s World of Tattooing.
Just a quick glance at the results will give you the impression that tattooing is a male dominated industry. In fact, if you didn’t know any better, it would appear that not only are there very few women tattoo artists but that men get inked more frequently and on a larger scale than women.
But, that simply isn’t true.
Public opinion has a way of being distorted, generally, with the help of the media we are so enamored with. Historically speaking, it would appear that men have dominated the tattoo industry for hundreds if not thousands of years. But, this just isn’t true.
In ancient Egypt, for example, women were the only people to wear tattoos on their skin. Originally it was thought that concubines and dancing women (women of lesser stature) would ink protective symbols and motifs onto their bodies as a means of protecting against unruly men, sexually transmitted diseases, and complications in childbirth—but today’s archeological community has since developed a theory that women of higher social levels, such as high priestesses and royal concubines, would use tattooing as a permanent amulet and therapeutic tool, as well. In either case, tattooing was reserved solely for women.
In the ancient Maenad society, female followers of the god Dionysos—the Olympian god of wine, vegetation, pleasure, festivity, madness, and wild frenzy—would often tattoo themselves in worship. It was often seen that these women would ink a figure of a fawn on their bodies.
Another culture in which women dominated tattooing was Ancient Thrace. Thracian women would decorate their bodies with indelible images related to their religious practices. These images would connect them with the superhuman forces associated with their cultic practices. Even today, these patterns—straight and skewed lines, wave and zigzag motifs, points, rosettes, animal silhouettes, and parallel lines combined with animal silhouettes such as snakes, does, or elk—are still in use in the area’s popular culture.
Throughout history, women have undergone the tattoo needle for religious purposes, rite of passage, and regaining their freedom. Women in the Victorian era used tattooing as a means of exploring their sexuality by hiding delicate designs under their bodices and women during the rise of feminism in the 70s used tattooing to regain their independence from the men they felt were oppressing them.
Today, 59% of tattooed individuals are female—a glaring difference from the 41% of tattooed men.
As for the other side of the needle, the first modern female tattooer, Maud Wagner, appeared on the scene in the early 1900s. Females have continued to break through the unrealistic stereotypes of the tattoo industry ever since—with big names like Shanghai Kate Hellebrand, Kandi Everett, Sheila May, and Cindy Ray pushing through the height of the tattoo revolution in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Now, the women of the tattoo industry are shouting their presence—and they’re not going to be ignored any longer. Tattoo artists like Kat Von D and Megan Massacre have been ruling over the tattoo industry’s depiction on television. Just recently, Ryan Ashley Malarkey took home the title of the first female Ink Master, making history on the show’s five-year run. In fact, thanks to the popularity of the women tattooers appearing on the show, Ink Master announced a new spin-off, Ink Master Angels.
It may be the belief that tattooing is a male-dominated industry, but that simply isn’t the case.
Women belong in the tattoo industry—on both sides of the needle.