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If we got angry about this kind of thing we'd be angry all the time

Lean In, Getty Create More Diverse Stock Photo Pool That’s Still Problematic


Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg‘s nonprofit created to empower women, has partnered with Getty Images to create a stock photo pool that represents more diverse women in more diverse roles. That’s a good thing! However, as with most things Sandberg does, it has its massively problematic sides.

On the one hand, more diverse representation of women in things like stock photos is a great place to start so that young girls and women see more accurate representations of themselves in the media they view. On the other hand, Getty Images is the most expensive place to get stock photos and many outlets prefer places like Shutterstock or even Creative Commons photos. There’s also the fact that unless a journalist or editor is looking to have a more diverse representation of people included on their article, it’s unlikely they will make any special effort to use these photos. People who already cared about diversity will use them, certainly, but they were probably looking for diverse photos already. Plus, there’s still a general quality of pretty, attractive, posed women of not too different body types in the photos. Writer Michelle Rafter has some suggestions for places to find better images to illustrate blog posts to branch out further than stock photos.

One of the bigger problems, though is the Brian Lehrer show is encouraging women to tweet photos of themselves with the hashtag #notyourstockwoman which they will encourage Lean In and Getty to use in their stock photo pool. As many, many people have now pointed out on this hashtag, there’s a huge problem with claiming to support and empower women while asking them to basically give you free images that you then sell (as Getty Images charges for all their photos). It’s hard enough for women to make equal money with men, and getting free images from women to make a profit is definitely problematic. In addition, there’s been some issues with things like marketer and photographer Vivian Nuñez Antia posting a photo of an African woman she deemed “powerful” to the hashtag… a woman who had not given consent for her image to be used for commercial purposes. Many took offense to this as well as to the use of “powerful” in a way that feels very condescending. Plus, there’s some speculation that the hashtag itself is a rip off of Suey Park‘s hashtag #notyourasiansidekick.

Finally, it must be said that with the money that Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In have they could be doing far more important things than 40 images of women working. Like, maybe, not using unpaid interns. Or doing other things that more actively help women actually get hired and actually make money instead of posting pretty images. Representation is important, and it’s important in all media. But action is also important and necessary for change.

(via Jezebel)

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  • Anonymous

    I think people don’t really get that the way non-black people refer to black women as “Strong” and “powerful” is actually really condescending 99 percent of the time?

    Look at how “I’m a strong, independent black women!” has already become some sort of jokey meme for white women.

  • Anonymous

    What Sheryl Sandberg does is great for other women like her who are already in positions of power and authority. But it’s a kind of feminism that rings false for the majority, and forget pillars of inclusion, and intersectionality. I won’t won’t “boo” what she is doing- but but I’m not calling this a victory either.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with you completely, and would like to add that the idea of “leaning in” is basically the old “work harder, work smarter to be considered equal to men.” It’s tough to “lean in” when child care costs are skyrocketing and wages have less and less buying power in today’s economy.

  • Anonymous

    I like the way you think. Let’s be friends.

  • Ashe

    Man, there is just so much wrong with this it’s actually impressive.

    This is why I hate mainstream feminism. It’s a bunch of well-intentioned garbage and hot air by those swinging from the top, careless of the trunks and branches that are holding them up in the first place.

    Stereotypes, underhanded classism, no diversity in body types and very likely appropriating a movement from people of color? Thanks, but no thanks, Sandberg. Do us an actual favor and Lean Into a mud pit.

  • Ryan Colson

    Yes, while the wage gap is something like 6-11% difference now when you look at non sensationalist writings (many by women mind you; the 77% myth largely comes from finding men are paid 23% more for legit reasons as far as I ever read), it is still bad to want someone’s property for free.

  • http://adornyourhearts.tumblr.com Xomyx

    What are the legitimite reasons for paying white men more? Because what the 77 cent statistics often leave out is that there is also an racial wage gap.

  • http://adornyourhearts.tumblr.com Xomyx

    Its the kind of feminism based on the idea that if you put rich white women in power somehow they’ll trickle down “equality” to the rest of us, as if somehow they won’t employ the same shady practices their male counterparts use.

  • Laura Truxillo

    Well, y’know, if they’re, like CEO’s or something. CEO’s earn more, everyone knows that. And it just so happens that, y’know, most CEO’s are men. It’s not like they’re just automatically paying women 33 cents less, so there’s not really much of a wage gap at all, y’see. Nothing about institutionalized sexism and racism being in play in such a way that makes it harder for women and PoC to get into those positions that make more money…

  • Laura Truxillo

    I dunno, I think I might “boo” it. Because it sure sounds a lot like a way for her and her company to make money by using a rallying cry of “feminism!” but then not paying the people supplying the actual content–no, they just get a warm glow of satisfaction for contributing to The Cause.

  • Ashe

    Because white men are just better at everything. They are responsible for all our technology and our history and food and sex and all of the things we take for granted. How dare you be ungrateful for all the endless, godly contributions of white men!

  • Loulou

    I get your point but no need to hate mainstream feminism, as feminism is way too big and too diverse to center around this company. those at the top may speak louder but more of us are speaking at the grass roots. i don’t consider rich white women the mainstream in this movements, but that could just be me (a non-american).

  • Anonymous

    First off, thanks to linking to my post on this. As someone who regularly uses stock photos for my blog, and for contract editing work, I know first-hand how bad existing stock image libraries are when it comes to depicting women in the workplace, but also other things (anything tech and business related). I think @LeanIn’s intention is good, but how the organization is going about it has a lot to be desired, for reasons you explained. Sources such as Creative Commons, Flickr and Wikimedia can be helpful for finding images that do a better job of showing diversity, but they aren’t always appropriate in situations where you need to use rights managed photos. I still think there’s an opportunity for an entrepreneur or startup to create an affodable yet diverse and up-to-date stock image library.

  • Ashe

    Mainstream feminism exploits and takes advantage of power systems while claiming to fight against it. Mainstream feminism regularly draws attention to a privileged few while ignoring or shitting on those who fall outside the circle. That is more than enough reason to hate it.

    I don’t have a choice in considering rich white women the face of feminism, because they constantly are. That’s not to say grassroots movements aren’t creating change, they DEFINITELY are, but they have to jump through a lot more hoops to do so. There’s no solidarity.

    Curious, how do things work in your country? My American perspective only goes so far.

  • Loulou

    Well certainly it’s dominated by white women here aswell. Scandinavia is pretty white, and I speak from a white perspective. But we have a great grassroot movement, as being feminist is a lot less provocatiive here I think (been to the states a few times). Not to say it’snt provocative, but here we remind eachother of intersecionality alot. A lot of our media voices are born in different countries and speak loudly from their perspective. We also talk about class. The white women icons on top of the movement here are getting questioned, by everyone, including the mainstream feminist (who I’d descibe as 21, well read, and social). I guess it’s slightly less hierarchy and more even in the ranks (do I explan it well? tired atm) here. It’s very difficult to be an icon in Scandinavia. :)

    Sorry to hear about your experiences though, Feel free to expand further on it.

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, white women are the mainstream. White people are still considered default, they still dominate society, and thus they’re mainstream. And of course poor people aren’t listened to. So, yeah, it’s rich white women (and men who think they can speak for us).

    It’s very easy for white feminists to appropriate something from black people or any minority and have it take flight (because white people are taken more seriously, because racism), never crediting who it’s originally from. This has happened a lot. Not a couple times – a lot.

    So, “mainstream feminism” is usually shallow, self serving, and usually only for white people. While I agree that any feminism is good feminism, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its problems that we should try to fix.

  • Anonymous

    LIES AND SLANDER!!! 11……

  • Ashe

    Very interesting!

    Yeah, over here in the States a very specific kind of woman gets the most press coverage and is generally taken the most seriously. The moment you have brown skin, are gay, transgender, are an immigrant or have a disability (goodness help you if you’re more than ONE of those things), you’re shoved off to the side as a specialty interest. It’s like walking into a bookstore: mainstream feminism are the big standees by the door, while intersectional feminism are the tiny sections all the way in the back.

    Women like Jennifer Lawrence, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and Tina Fey are hailed as feminist icons, yet they regularly engage in racist, homophobic, transphobic bullshit. Meanwhile, less problematic women like Janelle Monae, Margaret Cho and Laverne Cox struggle to make the same headlines. You start to see a pattern after a while.

    There are many grassroots movements and fantastic websites/blogs working hard to create intersectionality. Sadly, it’s an uphill battle. Feminism in America started as a very exclusionary movement and even after many decades, it’s still this way.

  • Loulou

    Sorry to hear Jennifer Lawrence and Tina Fey has engaged in something horrible, they seemed pretty likeable. The others I find very problematic in different ways.
    The web is also the grassroot’s main platform here, groups and pages on fb, combined with blogs and tumblr.
    We’re not really good at talking about ablesm though. I’m hoping that will change in time, meanwhile I just try to support all women’s rights.

  • athenia45

    Yeah, I’m not sure how the “sad babies in purses” problem will go away if people are still writing articles about frazzled working women and “having it all.”

  • Anonymous

    Coming to this a little late, and I do I agree with a lot of the criticism here, and would like to add there are some good free stock photo sites that are great for blogs etc, such as sxc.hu and morguefile.com.

    Getty is not that; it’s pretty much just meant to be generic photos to use in ads and company websites. Think about what kind of people most companies like to use in their ads (i.e., will pay for) – that’s what sites like this will focus on. The problem really is with advertisers and with conventional ideas in our culture about what “attractive”, “professional”, etc looks like.

  • Levi Hawk

    I’m not supportive of the Non Profit setup. The truth is, if you want to fully represent subject matter, you must do just that. And stock photography isn’t the answer. If you want to represent women, in the real world, then hire local photographers to capture their images in real world situations. The problem with using what I call fake representation is, most of us know it when we see it. Much like an operating room. There’s gonna be blood. Show the blood and you’ve giving your customers the real world. It’s meant metaphorically. The constant unrealistic images that are used in media today or without a doubt lacking in realism. Several posters have already pointed out, the fact that images being used are more often no more representative of today’s women then Barbie. I am a firm believer, that is you want to represent a particular image, then go out and capture it. The old fashioned way. Want to represent the medical field, from the female point of view. Then go out and photograph local women that work in the medical field. It’s that easy! I know I am not the only one that has had it up to here with fake generic images that do not represent the world we live in or want to live in for that matter. So, moral of the story ” Keep it Real “. Hire a local photographer that uses local subjects that everyone can relate too!