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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Portrayal of Women

Not in romance novels, not on television or in the movies. I'm talking about the portrayal of women in stock photography. This is one topic I never thought I'd be blogging about, but after a day of frustration, I need to vent.

I had this idea for a web page and needed an image of an "action" heroine--a woman doing something that could be construed as active, kick butt or along those lines. I hit a stock photography site and did a search for "woman." There were a lot of pictures there, pages and pages of them, but none showed a woman doing something active. Usually, the pose was serene or seductive. Even the fitness category didn't have what I needed. I tried the military category next. Mostly the pictures were of planes or equipment. Some were of historical reenactments. The pictures of modern soldiers were all men. Each and every single one of them.

Okay, maybe it was hard to photograph action or something. I decided to try illustrations. An artist can draw anything, right?

Looking through these drawings, I noticed something. If I were judging women by these images this is what I would think: Women love to shop--especially for shoes. Women go to spas, put on makeup and do their hair. Women talk on cell phones--a lot. Women go to parties and nightclubs. Women like to sit or lie around their homes--or the beach.

To be fair, there were some pictures of women in business. Usually, talking on cell phones or sitting in front of a computer. There were some where women were nurses or maybe even doctors--it was hard to tell, and some where women were doing some kind of sport. The kick ass heroine? Well, those were few and far between. When I did run into an image like that, it was generally very cartoonish with the woman dressed as a superhero complete with cape and mask--not quite what I was hoping to find.

If I wanted a picture of an action HERO, those were easy to find--both in photo and in illustration. But a HEROINE? Nope, there were hardly any. I finally did find a few that might work, although I didn't love them, but then I realized that I don't have the time to do this page I was thinking about anyway.

But this frustration I felt in my search started me thinking--always scary. :-) Why were women portrayed so passively? Why couldn't there be more images of women doing kick butt things? Why did 90% of the images involve shopping, child care, tending the sick, making ourselves beautiful, or going out to nightclubs? Where were the heroines in law enforcement? The military? Where were the heroines with guns? Or doing martial arts? Where were the strong women?

I'm not a crusader, I've never claimed to be. I tend to take things as they come and shrug off what I can't do anything about. But as I looked through all these pictures, I was happy to write heroines who aren't passive, who step up when the call to adventure comes and take action. It makes me feel as if I'm doing something to counter these very passive images I found. Maybe I'm not, maybe I'm just fooling myself, but I want to chip away at this attitude and change the perception of women. And 10 years from now, if I look through those photos and illustrations again, I want to find a lot more images of women in active roles. After all, it's the 21st century.

MN Weather report: 80 degrees.