When it comes to examining how women are portrayed in media — and how those portrayals shape our attitudes toward women — we here at SIAC often focus on advertising, TV shows/movies and music.
There is, of course, another form of media that insidiously propels sexist stereotypes about women, and that is the wonderful/terrible world of stock photography, in which the whiteness of everyone’s teeth is rivaled only by the whiteness of their couches. And skin.
In an era defined by speed and convenience, stock photos are big business. Stock photos, by their very nature, are supposed to be basic, generic and everyperson — a way to easily and, ideally, effectively illustrate an idea. But, we all know what happens when you try to illustrate ideas using a nondescript — and non-existent — everyperson: you end up with a shit-ton of tired gender stereotypes in khaki pants.
And these images — which are easily accessible/available — are EVERYWHERE. They proliferate on all manner of web media, on both traditional sites and blogs. They populate corporate websites.
They are ubiquitous. They are dumb. They are not going anywhere.
Earlier this year, Getty Images teamed up with Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.org to create the Lean In Collection, which is not, in fact, a pantsuit capsule collection for Target but rather a collection of stock photos that aim to positively depict women in work and life.
The photos are pretty damn deece, even if they skew a little Pinterest aspirational. The women depicted not only represent a wide cross section of races and ages, they are also IN CONTROL OF THEIR LIVES. They are, to borrow a phrase from Getty’s director of visual trends Pam Grossman, the protagonists in their own stories.
The Lean In Collection — ugh, can we call it something else? — is a response, of course, to the absolute shit you can find everywhere else (including on Getty!) And if you search the most popular images on most big stock photography sites, it’s obvious we’ve still got a long-ass way to go.
For example, when I hit up stock photo juggernaut Shutterstock and searched ‘Woman,’ I was greeted by lots of smiling (and largely white) ladies. They were mostly either pregnant, standing in a field, pregnant while standing in a field, attending a fitness class, standing around having abs or standing around looking professional (but still sexy!) dressed in the stock workwear uniform of glasses, pencil skirt and crisp white Oxford button down.
Next, I searched ‘Business woman.’ Grey Blazers, Arms Crossed is by far the most popular image. Lots of laughing on laptops and talking on cell phones. LOOK HOW BUSY AND HAPPY WE ARE. When women are not laughing on Blackberries, however — i.e. when there’s actual work involved — they are furrowing their brows and massaging their temples. (I know that there’s actual work involved because they are surrounded by towers of very thick binders.) They are very stressed out.
Giant Business Ladies Emasculating Teeny Tiny Men has emerged as a stock photo cliché right up there with Women Laughing Alone with Salad and Apples Wearing Tape Measures — the international stock photo symbol of good health.
We all remember that recent Time magazine cover that depicted a teeny businessman dangling from a pant-suited woman’s kitten heel to illustrate a piece on Hilary Clinton, but there’s also a wealth of imagery depicting 50-foot women towering over cowering men — or standing atop buildings towering over men. There’s also many shots of women puppeteering fearful-looking mini-men marionettes. Because, you know: a woman’s success is always threatening to The Menz and we must show this in the most heavy-handed way possible.
What does a Stock Feminist look like? Why, exactly like a cheap Sexy Rosie the Riveter Halloween costume!
(Fun, vaguely related fact: If you attempt to search ‘tampons’ you will be met with stamps. Really? That’s the “most relevant” image for ‘tampon’? WHY IS SHUTTERSTOCK TROLLING ME.)
Here are seven truisms about women, according to stock photography.
Women really like salad. And yogurt.
And maybe cereal. Cereal’s OK. Maybe. And chocolate, but only if nibbled/admired. But mostly admired.
They want to Have It All, but they absolutely CANNOT handle having it all.
Being a woman is overwhelming, mostly because they are always required to hold lots of shopping bags, laundry baskets, laptops and small, yelling children at the same time (maybe the floor is lava?) Sometimes they smile while they’re doing it, but don’t be fooled: look for the panic in their eyes. REALLY busy women can grow many extra arms.
They uniformly suffer from debilitating period cramps which is probably why they can’t run countries.
They respond to this mind-altering pain by grimacing dramatically in the fetal position, clutching an old-tymey water bottle while wearing pristine white cotton panties*. Or plaintively holding a hydrangea in front of their crotch. (There’s also this image of a woman wearing a pad horizontally across the crotch of her pristine white cotton panties because women are obviously also stupid.)
They only work in offices.
That’s the only kind of work that is available to women, other than being a mom in all its sun-dappled, idyllic stock-photo glory. Not like one of those harried, haggard Having It All Moms, but a REAL MOM. Also, women can’t do blue collar jobs, silly. All the signs say Caution: MEN Working Above for a goddamn reason.
They are highly suspicious of/totally mystified by birth control.
They suffer serious mental anguish looking at a scale.
Or a calendar.
They don’t know how water bottles work.
ETA: This Tumblr. #LiveBeige
don’t ACTUALLY menstruate because EW GROSS only bleed the blue liquid from pad commercials.