As a writer, I know that there is no greater gift to the world than a whole bunch of stock photos to choose from in order to make you want to read what I have to say. As a feminist writer, however, I have to tell you, I have a very hard time finding pictures that aren’t offensive that I can use.
You would be amazed at how many pages I need to sort through when I’m using “woman” and “handcuffs” before I can get one that isn’t subtly depicting kink; how I have to rearrange my keywords to get a teacher who doesn’t fall into the “sexy librarian” category; how nearly every image of a female firefighter or cop looks like she was pulled out of a bachelor party casting call; how most of the women in the board room look like they could be prepping for a dominatrix call.
A majority of the women drivers appear confused. Most of the pictures of maids are Caucasian and smiling coyly. A woman of color executive is almost impossible to find. When I tried to find an image of a pregnant woman worker who wasn’t at a computer, I had to finally give up, despite the fact that women make up a large percentage of non-office based workforce, especially the service industry.
Real pictures representing real women in real life situations are hard to find.
Now, someone is trying to change that.
Like many who advocate for women’s equality, I have a number of issues with “Lean In,” the Cheryl Sandburg movement that claims that any woman can be everything at once with enough dedication and mentoring. Those feelings deepened even further last week, when they chose to honor a woman who may be a role model for being elected to Congress, but has little relation to feminism as I know it as she uses her Congressional platform to thwart policies meant to end gender discrimination.
Still, LeanIn.org is giving me a moment of optimism with their new project, which will create a stockpile of photos that represent “real women.” In conjunction with Getty Images, the new set of images will show “professional women as surgeons, painters, bakers, soldiers and hunters,” according to the New York Times. “There are girls riding skateboards, women lifting weights and fathers changing babies’ diapers. Women in offices wear contemporary clothes and hairstyles and hold tablets or smartphones - a far cry from the typical stock photos of women in 1980s power suits with a briefcase.”
The idea, according to both the organization and representatives at Getty, is to broaden how women can be depicted in order to break the stereotypes portrayed in the media, which otherwise reinforces its own stereotypes about gender and race. “One of the quickest ways to make people think differently about something is to change the visuals around it,” Cindy Gallop, who started the U.S. branch of Bartle Bogle Hegarty advertising agency, told the Times. “The thing about these images is they work on an unconscious level to reinforce what people think people should be like.”
It’s a worthy project, and one that has the potential to reframe the role of women and girls publicly, showing that our options aren’t nearly as limited as the media often portrays them to be. It’s a job that many have been endeavoring to do on their own, such as the “redefining girly” campaign of Melissa Atkins Wardy or the push for realistic post-birth body images in the 4th Trimester Bodies project, which all seek to change our understanding of real images of women and girls.
Realism. It’s a great goal for everyone. It would make my job a little easier, too.
Photo credit: Thinkstock