• Wed, 15, Nov, 2017 - 5:00:AM

The weird world of stock image sexism

Here’s an experiment: visit Google. Click on “images.” Type the word “woman.” Hit “enter.”

Just make sure you do this when you’re sitting close to a tabletop – so you don’t have to stretch too far to whack your head against it.

Bikinis, bikinis, the odd lacy brassiere, bikinis and more bikinis – the first results on a simple Google Image search for half the human population are a pretty effing disgusting combo of come-hither stares, arched backs, and the omnipresent male gaze.

Even more ridiculous, look up “man,” and the first few pages of results will be mostly dudes in business suits and flannel shirts laughing. I’m not joking.

Things get worse when you add other terms, like “women in leadership” or “women in power.” Look up those, and you get a lot of images of giant women in sky-high stilettoes crushing tiny men in suits.

Welcome to the weird, weird world of stock image sexism.

Let’s just cut to the chase: such images of women aren’t “creative” or “artistic” – they’re just plain misogynistic. Why does a woman being a badass mean she has to trample men? Maybe the men are just tiny jerks (in which case, good riddance), but we also know it feeds into the negative (and patently untrue) stereotype that female success comes at the expense of men.

The same goes for all those images of tall, skinny white women in bikinis or lingerie with a very specific body type (a body type which, by no coincidence, happens to appeal to a lot of heterosexual men). What, pray tell, does an image of a nearly topless woman with boxing gloves and enough mascara to drown an elephant have to do with “girl power?” Or why, when looking up “women’s sports” are so many images a zoomed-in shot of the décolletage of a white woman wearing a sports bra? Look up “men’s sports,” and you won’t find any images of a guy adjusting a cup to cover his package.

It’s easy to dismiss the world of stock imagery of women that’s so full of boobs, butts, blush and blonde hair as just another cruel reminder of the power of the patriarchy. But the issue goes far beyond that.

The problem with sexism in stock images is the sheer pervasiveness of stock imagery. Since they’re royalty-free, they’re used in everything from news articles (even allegedly “woke” ones), adverts, packaging, and more. We even use them here at Villainesse (being a small media outlet with small budgets, we don’t have a choice). In other words, it’s almost impossible to escape – and, eventually, all that exposure can influence how we view women.

We can’t escape stock images, so the only solution is to demand more creative, less sexist images. Not exactly a shocker, is it?

Seriously, it’s not hard. Instead of “feminism” showing images of women strategically holding things in front of their breasts or nether regions, why can’t we get pics showing women, men and people of all genders, of multiple cultural backgrounds working together on something? Or instead of “female boss” showing a woman with a compact in front of her face while she applies lip gloss, why can’t it show a woman leading a meeting who – shock, horror! – is actually wearing pants?

There’s some precedent for this, too. In 2012, California photographer Karen Beard started SheStock, a stock image site that shows non-sexist images of women. As the site says on its homepage: “Most imagery has been created by anglo men, and their visual language has been circulated and consumed worldwide.  These visuals impact social norms and inform implicit beliefs, beliefs that may affect opportunities we offer others or choices we make for ourselves, without us even knowing it. We need more women of all ethnicities behind the camera. Art directors and brands need to actively seek diverse female talent, and photo editors need to be aware of subtle gender bias in imagery and its implications.”

If that’s not awesome enough, the site also only uses photography shot exclusively by women. Badass.

The thing is, why can’t every stock image site be like SheStock, and actually show women as fully capable human beings who are equal to men, and not just “eye candy?”

Wouldn’t that be a pretty picture?


  • Stock image /
  • Photography /
  • Sexism /
  • Misogyny /
  • SheStock /
  • Women /
  • depictions /
  • Art /
  • Media /
  • Culture /
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