The New York Times covered a new initiative by Sheryl Sandberg's LeanIn.org via a partnership with Getty to update and diversify stock photo images of women because, in her words, "you can't be what you can't see."
"The partnership is a way for Lean In to broaden its reach after criticism that Ms. Sandberg’s advice is relevant only to women in corporate America and that she places the burden of breaking through stereotypes on individual women instead of on workplaces and society."
Stock photos might not be where your mind goes initially when thinking about hard-hitting feminist activism and change-making, but this seemingly simple project has a lot of promise in impacting women's representation across media mediums. In a highly visual, internet-heavy media culture, outdated, toxically stereotypical, and deeply exclusionary images of women become a warped and false representation of the realities of the lives of women and girls today, and also limit the possibilities of collectively visualizing a more lucrative and fulfilling future for gender equality.
Representation is a hugely impactful aspect of media, and re-vamping stock photos - used widely on the internet, in business and scholarly presentations, and really anything you need a quick Google-image-search photo for - is an intelligent way to intervene with the limited and frankly insulting photographic representation of modern women. For example:
(Google Image search of "career woman")
Now lets hope that this partnership has really gotten it right, and shows a wide range of women in jobs of all class levels, moms and families of all types, is sensitive and challenging to racial stereotypes, utilizes a wide array of body types, and truly depicts women of this era while also imagining a future of more expansive gender equality. It might seem like a tall order, but if you're going to do something, you should do it right. Looking at the photos - which are also beautifully done - it looks promising. What is largely disappointing is that the images are not immediately available to the public, and businesses must subscribe to Getty to access them.
This initiative stirs the brain in that areas of seemingly small impact should not be overlooked. Although feminist activism arguably has bigger fish to fry, this project is an intelligent intervention in support of the Lean In mission to foster women's empowerment and leadership. Hopefully it has us all looking more closely at the small pieces that create the larger picture of inequality as spaces for intervention.
Thanks to New York Times.
Images via LeanIn.org and Getty Images.