Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Way the Internet Looks at Women

Women's representation in the media goes beyond what we see on television or in magazines and billboards. It is in our every day use of that media, and specifically, the internet. Indeed, it is in these seemingly innocuous daily uses that we become immune to the ways these images influence our perception of a woman's value, position and role.

Check out some of these images when googling terms like 'woman' (all white and highly sexualized poses), or 'working woman' (mainly white and behind a computer, with some frustrated and anxious looks thrown in for good measure), or 'young girls' (again, mainly white, and frighteningly sexualized).

Can she have it all? Who knows!!

Getty Images, the largest online stockpile of useable photos (all those pictures you see on websites), has teamed up with to change the way women are portrayed on the internet. Do you remember women laughing alone with salad? Or women sitting rather uncomfortably with computers? Or feminism according to Stock photography?

Sigh. (the tumblr devoted to it is quite funny though)

In a quest to move from traditional images of women to the reality of women's lives across the globe, a predominant theme emerged: Women must be the protagonists of their lives - the images are not happening to them but they are in charge of the image. As Pam Grossman, director of visual trends at Getty stated: "They should all feel like the hero of their image."

Participation is a major influence on the skewed power relations between the sexes in today's society. Just for a quick overview: there are three levels of participation:

1. Amina participates in her law firm's roundtable lunches by showing up.

2. Karina participates in her IT company's board meetings by showing up, sits at     the main table and voicing her opinion on different issues. 

3. Esther participates in her government's policy making by showing up, sitting       at the main table, voicing her opinion and has a vote on final decision-making. 

Globally, women are often stuck in Amina's position, and more and more are able to move towards Karina's. We are allowed a seat at the table, and maybe an opinion or two, but it is still not the norm for women to be the decision makers, to be the one who's opinions matter.

This is evident in stock photos: women are added parts, in the background, play traditional roles that don't involve much agency (power), have bodies and looks geared towards the male gaze. It is difficult to make sense of a society where women are trying to move more into decision making roles, and an ever present, overpowering media that has them firmly entrenched in the middle ages. Or the 90's. Or up until very recently at the very least!

The collaboration is a brilliant one and the photos are moving. It's sad to say, because photos such as these shouldn't be moving. They should just be. But their suppression from the public eye and the denigration of women's realities has been so pervasive, that the result is a moving collection of pictures that are finally (and only) beginning to capture the true breadth and scope of a woman's experience.

I especially like the inclusion of men in non sexual, and non traditional gender roles.

A few below. Enjoy.

View the full collection here

Remember that your perception is influenced by everything you see. So the next time you need to add a picture of a woman or girl to your website, to your presentation, to your portfolio or your powerpoint, think about what message that picture will send, and is it anywhere close to the reality of lives lived, or a reality that we must aspire to.

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