What the changing roles of women in archival photos reveal about gender


“Brains are wired to process images much faster than they process words,” says Pamela Grossman, director of visual trends at Getty Images. As someone who spends most of her days immersed in images, it’s understandable for her to say that “visuals are an immediate and universal language, and it’s how we all communicate, far more than ever.”

This last part is all the more plausible when you consider the convenience of a pocket camera, i.e. a mobile device, which is ready to capture an image and share it at any time. According to the most recent data from InfoTrends Worldwide Image Capture Forecast, the industry analyst firm estimates that consumers took 1 trillion photos in 2015 and predicts that number will reach 1.3 trillion photos by 2017.

If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, such an open fire hose of images can be powerful, as Grossman observed in his studies of visual culture. “The one thing we think about a lot at Getty Images is the idea of ​​storytelling in imagery,” she explains. To combat gender stereotypes, ask yourself: “Do women play protagonists or secondary roles in an image? she says.

We have reported on how search algorithms, like humans, can foster unconscious bias. A recent study by researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Maryland revealed how gender bias can be present in Google searches when people search for images to represent careers and jobs. The more people saw certain images, the more they reinforced long-held stereotypes about women in the workplace, even if they weren’t based in reality. For example, in telemarketing, men and women are equally represented, but Google image results would have you believe that 64% of telemarketers are women.

A positive trend that Grossman identified is curated in Getty’s Female Rising collection. It represents a changing world in which ideals of beauty are more inclusive and authentically represent the global population. Grossman also oversees the Getty Images Lean In Collection, a partnership with Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit, LeanIn.Org, which aims to break gender stereotypes and use the power of imagery to change perspectives and promote equality.

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So far, the Lean In collection has collected over 8,000 images and has been licensed in over 65 countries, from Kuwait and India to Israel and Angola. Grossman notes that images have been allowed in a wide variety of industries, but two of the biggest sectors using images are finance and technology, which are actively trying to attract more women, Grossman says.

What emerged from this particular collection are two important trends. “We’re definitely seeing women in positions of leadership, authority, and power getting more exposure,” Grossman says. “They don’t just lead, but they also collaborate in equal partnership with people of all genders.”

Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

She also points out that the Getty Images website has seen a 722% increase in search terms such as “women’s empowerment” and that searches for “woman entrepreneur” have increased by 402% in the past 12 months. .

Although she notes that most nations in the world have never had a female leader and that only 4% of S&P Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, “we still have a long way to go until the reality is catching up with the current visual representation of women. But she adds, “It proves that our customers are obviously hungry for this type of content to tell their brand story and reach the modern woman.”

Grossman says Getty’s search function uses a combination of factors to ensure the most relevant, current and diverse images are delivered to users. This is partly due to a creative research team made up of visual anthropologists who analyze trends and monitor the visual landscape. “We study the image sales and search behavior of Getty Images customers, which are fed back to our art directors, content editors, photographers and videographers around the world to ensure that the images we create are as inclusive as possible,” says Grossman.

The success of the Lean In Collection has also prompted Getty to evaluate how other concepts are communicated visually across other content collections. The RePicture movement was launched last year in response to the assessment that more content was needed to help break stereotypes around themes such as family, love and community. Grossman says Getty has also partnered with the United Nations’ Global Goals campaign, “which, as one of 17 global goals, seeks to address gender inequality and promote unity. “.

The problem with images of women “having everything”

One of the most stereotypical images found in media and advertising around the world is of the woman juggling career and family, admits Grossman. “It’s for good reason, because it’s definitely a concern that a lot of women have,” she says. “When that’s the only image we see, it’s very limited.”

Grossman emphasizes the importance of showing that motherhood is not the only valuable experience a woman can have. “It has the potential to be detrimental when it’s the only image we see, which is why we are committed to creating alternatives,” she says.

Not only does Grossman say it’s imperative to continue to see women take on the wide variety of roles that men have taken on for centuries – athletes, scientists, business leaders, etc. – to ensure that the “woman” is not always relegated to the “mother” archetype, but to look at the bigger picture (unintentional pun).

“Female representation is only half the story,” Grossman says. “We need to evolve the way we portray and define masculinity” – images that portray men who are involved fathers and who are equal partners at home and at work. Another project that is part of the Lean In Together campaign is a selection of images that reflect this “contemporary, involved and evolved man”, she says.

“Images change people’s perspectives and expectations, and that drives action,” Grossman says. “The more you see these images, the more they normalize and the sooner we can live in a world of equal opportunity for all.”


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