Laurie and Debbie say:
Lindsay at Majikthise saw something in the long New York Times article, “The Women’s War,”. The article is a respectful examination of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in female Iraq veterans. Lindsay is writing about the accompanying photographs, and so are we; however, the article is excellent, and is also blogged here.
The photographs were all taken by Katy Grannan. Lindsay expresses every feminist’s anger about images like this.
Why would you get a woman in jeans and a t-shirt to pose like a swimsuit model on a beach in order to illustrate a story about how she got PTSD in Iraq and went AWOL?
And she’s right. Browsing through the pictures in the article, we see first of all that all the women are white, which is *ahem* not a reflection of the composition of American troops in Iraq. That speaks for itself.
Of the photos accompanying the article, we found one that we would call simply respectful (of a woman sitting in the woods), plus the one Lindsay features (the “swimsuit model” on the beach), and a very cinematic picture of a pretty blonde woman sitting in a car, with her hands positioned more or less like this one. Then there is one of a woman pushing a child on a swing, and one of a woman in a kitchen.
The message is straightforward enough: there are limited roles for women. Ironically enough, all of the women in this article are soldiers.
Look at how both the lighting and the camera angle in the picture above make the model’s legs bigger and more central and her head little and unimportant. (Photographers call this kind of use of camera angles “forced perspective”; it’s one of the ways full-size actors managed to play hobbits.) In this case, the photographer’s choices distance the viewer from the model: “I am not like her.” They also changes her pose from one that might look comfortable and protective to one that looks posed and can be interpreted as provocative.
So, out of six pictures for the article, Katy Grannan took five that stereotype women in familiar ways: three whores and two madonnas. We are aware that she’s replicating her own conditioning. Doing anything else, portraying women as fully human, is swimming upstream. Every photographer (or other creator of images for the media) will do this until she consciously examines her work and intentionally creates authentic images of women. Laurie remembers doing exactly this before beginning photography for Women En Large.
As some of the commenters to Majikthise point out, it isn’t only photographers who do this–women modeling for pictures are also very likely to fall into stereotypical “female” poses. However, left to their own devices, they are unlikely to stretch out along a rocky beach, and they are certainly not going to manipulate the camera to make their thighs bigger and their head smaller.
Oh, in case you’re curious? Pictures of men with PTSD, from a quick scan of Google images, fall iinto two groups: men actually on battlefields and men looking tortured and miserable … from the neck and shoulders up.
Katha Pollitt has said that “Feminism is the radical belief that women are people.” Because we have such a long tradition of women-exclusively-sexualized, women are frequently not portrayed as people. When female PTSD sufferers, or female scientists, or female athletes, or female prisoners, are portrayed only as mothers, whores and crones, it’s because the photographers, or the film-makers, or the artists, or whoever don’t know how to see women in their (our) full complexity.
Thanks to Alan Bostick for the link, and for getting us to dig deeper into it.