The Feminist Pitfalls of Stock Photography

Earlier this week, NY magazine’s The Cut ran a feature on which stock photos come up with specific search terms for female empowerment – the terms they searched were career woman, feminism, girl power, business women – among others.

Related to this class of course, I looked at the ones that correlated to the idea of ‘girl power’ with extra interest:

According to the powers that be in the stock photography world, girl power means mainly one thing: women doing masculine activities, such as physical exercise (and a very specific exercises at that, boxing, a sport with connotations of a violent masculinity, and lifting weights) or doing things with tools – of course, these tools are gendered – they are either pink or they are used in traditionally feminine ways (inexplicably and dangerously used to file one’s toenails!?). Girl power just stands for women acting like men, reiterating those structures of gendered power and not actually challenging those conceptions at all.

And what does stock photography have to say about feminism and feminists?

Oh yes, that feminism, isn’t about equality, or being treated other than a doormat by society, but is rather about dominating men – in a very literal, violent manner.

Now, it is possible to argue that this doesn’t really matter in a world where real harm is being committed against girls and women. But it does matter, in a very real way – as I’ve said before, representation matters. It’s hard to be what you can’t see. And if all you see are these images (and in the world of media, stock photography is a huge business), is it no wonder we can’t get past negative descriptions of feminism, or a traditional gender binary that only allows for female empowerment when all that entails is taking a traditionally male activity and substituting in a woman, or a splash of pink?

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One thought on “The Feminist Pitfalls of Stock Photography

  1. This is both horribly disturbing and yet not at all unexpected.

    I don’t have much else to say except fantastic, fantastic post. Concretely sums up so much of what’s been bothering me about pop-feminism and girl power.

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