Meet Katie McIntyre, the Anti-Hero Challenging the Patriarchy Through Feminist Futurism
By integrating femininity into modern day art and technology.
Earlier this month, Pussy Riot co-founder Nadya Tolokonnikova and photographer Ellen von Unwerth joined forces with Rolling Stone to release “MATRIARCHY NOW,” an 11-part NFT collection and 1/1 Rolling Stone Cover that depicts a world in which everyone is equal, promoting inclusivity within the nascent Web3 community.
Over the past year, Tolokonnikova has continued to use cryptocurrency and digital art as a revolutionary tool to raise more than $12 million USD to support various causes, having raised $500,000 USD alone in 2022 for reproductive rights.
Unfortunately, the unfair practices still rampant in big tech have continued to contribute to today’s dogmatic, willful ignorance that actively pigeonholes conversations that challenge the patriarchy and empower those seeking to reclaim the gender space.
And for 25 year-old Katie McIntyre, a respected industrial designer, artist, and technologist, it is this dogmatic narrative that has led her down the path of working to create a universal design ethos that she believes goes deeper than simply throwing the words “empowering women” on something, and instead, actually investigates what the experience of womanhood looks like through deep visual and historical research, and its relevance in today’s culture.
From the world’s first “feminist futurist” car and Zero Gravity Space Suits to Shameless Menstruation and Lactation Couture, McIntyre’s art reflects the uncomfortable stigmas which have historically oppressed women.
Named by TIME Magazine as “one of the world’s leading female VFX artists,” she has certainly made her mark in pop culture as the go-to VFX artist and designer for album artwork (Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Normani, Lizzo, Latto, etc.), while also producing visually stunning, futuristic art that incorporates historical and feminist art principles and integrating them into emerging design philosophies that brands like TIME Magazine, Vogue, and DressX have openly embraced and supported.
She has successfully navigated big tech as a woman in design, having lectured in the country’s most prestigious STEM universities like Carnegie Mellon, and tapped by companies like Google Creative Labs and Apple to work on innovative new products.
Unapologetically, McIntyre considers herself the “anti-hero” when it comes to challenging the patriarchy through her work, adding an additional dimension of perspective towards the human body and the feminine that she feels should be a universal medium, regardless of gender.
“What I’m trying to do is create a strategy of designs that anyone can participate in, because the philosophy can be universal,” she explained.
Her visual philosophy of “feminine futurism” is a method she created during her college tenure that incorporates the empowered feminine voices into often highly patriarchal industries – specifically, today’s big tech sector.
McIntyre told Hypemoon that she believes that her philosophy, which is embedded into her work, is the “obvious response” to the many dark experiences she and many women have has as female designers inside the technology space.
“I think that’s something that I was originally really afraid to talk about, because my experience is quite dark,” she told Hypemoon. “To some extent, I feel like my voice has been suppressed in a lot of ways, and that’s something that I’ve found a bit frustrating.”
Last July, 23 year-old rapper, Latto, dropped her single, “Pussy,” as a statement about women’s reproductive rights and that month’s horrid decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
McIntyre, who was responsible for the song’s cover art, previously spoke out about the song being an anthem of protest and empowerment, and said that this was one of many examples of how she is able to integrate feminine futurism into her work for the purpose of evoking emotion, regardless of gender.
“…you have sort of a piece that hits at a time where politics are necessary in design, or they’re all intersecting, and you almost need that cathartic moment for women, and anyone who wants to see women empowered,” she explained.
She also said that her album artwork for Lasso’s “Pussy,” which went viral, was even censored in some Middle Eastern publications.
One of the most significant elements of the next century, according to McIntyre, will be how we as a society figure out how to surpass the negative sides of this patriarchy – something she says is not just damaging to women, but to everyone under regimes that are designed to oppress.
As an artist and technologist, she wants anyone who comes across her and/or her work to know that she’s here to push back against those damaging narratives of the patriarchy.
“I think of myself as kind of like an anti-hero. I like pushing the buttons of people who I disagree with. After surviving some of my experiences with very, very powerful men in the brutal tech environment I was in, I’m not afraid anymore. I don’t care anymore and I’m going to say what I’m going to say. Come for me. Go ahead. I’ve done the work. I know I’m skilled. I’m powerful in my abilities. I know I can create the change others need to see.”
The core of feminine futurism, according to McIntyre, has been the deep historical dive into ancient women and deities – an exercise that she credits rapper Nicki Minaj tasking her with during her college tenure at RISD and Brown University, majoring in Design and Gender Studies.
Ahead of Minaj’s release of her 2018 studio album, “Queen,” McIntyre was tasked with researching Indian and African goddesses and finding a way to reference that history into the album art for the upcoming album, including the actual “Queen” logo.
“My thought process at the time was asking myself why was this so ancient? Why hadn’t I seen this in pop culture? Why did I have to go this far back to find this ‘essence?’ And then it dawned on me that I had to create this philosophy in a modern context so that other people could participate in it,” she recalled.
Over the past two years, we have witnessed an incredible revolution around gender, specifically the expression of the ‘feminine’ by all types of individuals who embody different aspects of their personality.
But according to McIntyre, this expression doesn’t always have to relate back to the female body itself, but there are important rules to rewrite around the female form:
“It was very hard not to see the root of how the body has shaped politics and culture, specifically how our position in the world exists as a result of often being seen as the lesser sex, physically and often, mentally and emotionally. Through my work, I want to reposition women through design by displaying their bodies as inherently powerful – not lesser, including women owning their sexuality, rather than aligning with shame culture.”
Despite McIntyre’s love for today’s emerging tech, her past experiences in working for the country’s biggest tech companies, unfortunately, didn’t leave her feeling like there was much room for the expression of womanhood:
“I remember being told directly by one of the world’s largest tech companies that ‘female empowerment [was] not one of [the company's] brand values” and that ‘women are not worth advertising to, because they’re only 50% of the population.’ These were things that are inherently quite stupid,” she said.
One of McIntyre’s more powerful series of works is her art depicting Shameless Menstruation and Lactation Couture.
She said this was a Couture piece she had created over the course of a couple of months, where she wanted to address some of the current moral issues around how women’s bodies are shamed.
McIntyre shared a few examples where women have been shamed for menstruation and even bullied into suicide, such as the 2015 tragedy where a woman who had been breastfeeding her son under the cover of her burqa, in Northern Syria, was brutally murdered by ISIS.
“I think globally, women are still shamed a lot for that. My core aspect of developing this piece of couture virtual fashion is trying to take concepts like lactation and menstruation and show them as bold, powerful, beautiful, and natural – and not something to be ashamed of.”
She also said that some of the projects she had worked on in the tech industry, she would be privy to conversations where female leadership would tell her that they would have to make an excuse on their calendar in the event they had to leave the office to breastfeed.
Not understanding why there was so much embarrassment around something that is a natural part of being human, McIntyre then took those stigmas and uncomfortable conversations and put it into the context of an artwork – Rising Above the Glass Ceiling, which she says was also inspired by a song written by a musician friend of hers.
McIntyre revealed that the couture version of the art piece will be showcased inside Spatial during this year’s 2023 Metaverse Fashion Week in March, in addition to being sold as an NFT.
To this day, McIntyre says she has taken inspiration from artists like Judy Chicago, Zaha Hadid, and Iris Van Herpen, who have generated ideas of what the “feminine future” can look like.
“What I’m proposing through my work is that you can build off of historical and feminist art principles and integrate that into technology and into emerging design philosophies, and create a visual language that powers beyond what the conscious mind is understanding. It’s very deep rooted and it’s almost as if there’s a mysticism to really tapping into that energy and evoking these goddesses in the forms of design.”
The World’s First “Feminist Future” Car That Doesn’t Actually Exist – Yet
McIntyre’s latest endeavor and concept design completely changes the way we think about automobile design, which has since resulted in a collaboration with Mugler/Goat, featuring Eartheater.
Named after the Tibetan goddess who represents the embodiment of female empowerment and enlightenment, Dakini (“Sky Dancer”) is also the world’s first ‘feminist futurist’ concept car that doesn’t actually exist, and is entirely digital – at least for now.
“What I’m trying to do is revive some of this divine feminine energy and embody it in the form of technology and give it a space in culture and fashion,” McIntyre shared, describing her dream car as something that is “hyper-feminine, bold, and beautiful” in construct and design.
As to whether Dakini will ever come to be IRL, she told Hypemoon that since the debut of Dakini in Spatial’s metaversetwo weeks ago, “two of the biggest car manufacturers in the world” have already reached out about adapting Dakini into a product line.
“I think it’s really important to have an alternate dimension of womanhood in this space,” McIntyre said.
Our conception, according to McIntyre, of what the “future” looks like often depicts an element of masculinity and/or visual status – leaving women, who are also consumers, out of the picture.
Given Dakini’s status as simply a “concept car,” McIntyre says that the emotion of messages she has received for it is proof that this idea has a “really strong heartbeat.”
“One of the messages I got was from this guy who thought he was really clever. He wrote to me and asked, ‘what am I going to do when it breaks down?’ What I loved about that message is that he sent me this kind of message…over a render. He’s already thinking about it and on the point of ‘how do I maintain it?’ And that’s my point. I want to create this perspective of something like this having the potential to be a real thing in the real world.”
With almost two years spent working on Dakini, the first iteration of the concept car was first introduced in a lecture McIntyre gave at Carnegie Mellon in November 2021.
If Dakini were to ever come to market, she says that this would be an explosive idea that she feels would start to integrate the perspective of women into its evolving vision.
“While working at Apple, I met women who worked at these major car companies. And at a very high level, they confirmed we’re getting trapped inside perspectives of how men in power still don’t view women as the major consumers, and they’re actively not being advertised to and being ignored – even in test dummies. So, from an ergonomics stand point, we’re still at a greater risk of death in accidents. There’s a lot of bias and ignorance that has motivated me to want to add a dimension to this space.”
She referenced the book “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed by Men” by Caroline Criado-Perez, which talks about the adverse effects on women caused by gender bias in the automotive industry and in big data collection.
“There’s this huge demand, but no solution yet for how women are really going to be participating in this space and how their needs and desires can be met in every capacity. As an innovator, I love things that have been undiscovered and being that person to reveal those things from a new perspective.”
At the end of the day, McIntyre believes these cars to be of such a bold nature, that “they will bother the right people and empower the right people at the same time.”
Rewriting the Narrative for Female Astronauts with “Zero Gravity Space Suits”
When NASA published an update to its Artemis program in September 2020, highlighting its Phase 1 plans to land the first woman on the surface of the Moon in 2024, did it take into consideration that it would have to stop developing space suits (and spacecraft) that have been historically only built for men?
Since their first inception in 1978, NASA’s space suits to this day, still haven’t been updated nor redesigned to allow for women to be able to actually step foot onto the surface of the Moon.
Think back to March 2019, where astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch were preparing to make space history in conducting what was supposed to be the first ever all-female spacewalk when they stepped outside the International Space Station (ISS) to install new batteries on the craft’s solar arrays.
Unfortunately, McClain never made it outside the ISS for her spacewalk, as NASA had to cancel its first all-female space walk on March 2, 2019, because they didn’t have enough space suits that fit two women. So, instead, NASA astronaut Nick Hague took McClain’s place.
Dava Newman, the former NASA deputy administrator, told The Verge in October of that same year that NASA is working on a new spacesuit design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:
“Men are definitely not inherently better. We have evidence — it’s a small number because we only have a few females — but we have no statistical difference in the performance of astronauts between men and women. We just don’t have very many women because we don’t have many suits that fit them,” Newman said.
It is undeniable that with NASA’s extra $1.6 billion USD in funding for Artemis, its historic failure with female astronauts must now come to an end, posing the question of what’s in store for women when it comes to having a supply of custom-fit space suits and space travel that is equipped for the female anatomy.
McIntyre, who has been playing around with the philosophy of empowering women in space, began looking for ways to create a piece of fashion that women could rock in space.
“And that was a Zero Gravity Suit,” she told Hypemoon.
While they’re not designed to go to Mars at this stage, McIntyre’s Zero Gravity Suits are simply 3D-rendered silicone models designed for Zero Gravity Flights, which are the byproduct of what she considers to be a natural collaboration with Los Angeles bionic pop artist Viktoria Modesta.
Modesta defines her work as post-human and post-disability, combining visual and performance art with technology, science, and medicine to revive the concept of femininity and changing attitudes.
McIntyre described part of the space suit’s design as similar to that of a “vulva rocket” that sits front-and-center on the front pocket of the suit, which is designed to house menstruation products.
“We’re trying to rewrite history where women were not allowed to become astronauts because of menstruation, and NASA was unable to accommodate that,” she explained.
Despite the space suit’s IRL functionality (yet), the space suit’s initial design, according to McIntyre, is meant to create the idea of what fashion can start to look like once it’s integrated into these designs where the form becomes part of the utility.
She added that the zero gravity folds were also a really complicated simulation that she worked on, which was also presented in the Los Angeles Science Center on Yuri’s Night, an international celebration held every year on April 12 to commemorate the milestones in space exploration.
Building the “Feminine Future”
So, what does the “feminine future” look like?
“It means our spirit and our enterprise has been separated for too long and we need to see our souls again. It means we need to embody feminine aspects as a population, nurturing the earth, coexisting with nature, nurturing our emotions, bodies, and souls,” McIntyre shared to LinkedIn.
You can catch McIntyre at this year’s 2023 Metaverse Fashion Week, which runs from March 28-31 inside Spatial.io.
Over the next couple of weeks, Spatial.io will also be launching a video interview with McIntyre, which we will update accordingly.
- Andrew Rossow