Friday, December 1, 2023

F ³: Pictures at an Exhibition

Two pictures have been appearing quite a bit this week in the aftermath of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s passing. I have been thinking a lot about them. Both are photographs of women.

The first was taken at Mrs. Carter’s memorial service and shows Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump. 

Photo credit: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/ AFP via Getty Images

The second photo shows Nancy Reagan, Lady Bird Johnson, Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, and Barbara Bush. It was taken  at the National Garden Gala: A Tribute to America's First Ladies in May, 1994.

Photo credit: Barbara Kinney

I have seen so many uncharitable comments about the first photo since it appeared on social media this week. Almost all are rooted in the political leanings of each poster. I don’t think it’s inhuman to look at a photograph and read things into it based on one’s world view. But to use such a photograph to spew hateful language is juvenile at best. 

But there’s a deep rooted misogyny at work here as well.

This behavior has underscored yet again that women in the public eye are under scrutiny anywhere they go, and a lot of that scrutiny will be rooted in their physical appearance. I wholeheartedly reject this. If you don’t like a woman’s political views or her professional accomplishments then explain that, and move on. That quick jump to throw out things like “fat slob” “looks like a slut” “witchy” “too masculine” “too girly” (or whatever is the insult du jour) is destructive and is offered with the intent to delegitimize women who have the audacity to step out of the shadows.

Women’s bodies should not be an acceptable talking point. But clearly this outrageous practice persists. We should step up to call people on it, even when the subject is someone we don’t like. To say that the sheer existence of a woman in a public space - - how she looks, what she wears - -  invites comment and judgement is not so far from suggesting that a woman invites sexual assault purely because of what she is wearing. 

It’s a kind of violence, in my opinion.

The second photo is a very different sort of view. It looks to have been taken in a moment of repose, when the subjects weren’t particularly aware that eyes were on them. A candid, I guess you’d say. I find myself reading so much into it, while also realizing how impossible it is to know the inner lives of these women in the one moment that the camera captured.

Who has someone to talk to? Who is isolated? Who looks comfortable or uncomfortable? My gut response to this is to feel a kind of sadness. To me Mrs. Carter looks separated from the others, as though she hasn’t been included in the cool girls’ lunch table gossip. It is all too easy project our own feelings into a situation we know nothing about.

We are invited to pass judgement on photographic images hundreds of times a day. Perhaps this has lulled us into believing that our largely uneducated assessments are The Truth. Sometimes we get into heated discussions on social media defending that truth, not understanding how shallow are the roots of our assumptions.  

I think we forget sometimes that people/accounts who post such photos stand to reap professional and/or monentary rewards from our arguments or outrage. They don’t care if the subjects of the photos are admired or maligned. They’re just looking to boost engagement numbers. We get on that rollercoaster willingly. Who benefits?

Certainly not women.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.