The Women’s March this past Saturday was amazing to see, and though I couldn’t participate in one of the protests, I was certainly there in spirit. For those of you who’ve read my blog before, you know I’m a feminist. I believe equality means EVERYONE is equal. I believe women should be treated as people, not objects to be grabbed by the pussy whenever a certain racist cheeto feels like it. That sentiment is behind this week’s post. I ask you, what’s wrong with this picture?
Why Is She Standing Like That?
I’m so excited for The Defenders. Really. I am. But, some of the latest photos released have left me a little underwhelmed. Particularly the pics with Jessica Jones, one of my favorite characters so far in the Netflix spin-off series. Of the three photos she’s in, two of them show her standing with her back to the viewer, looking over her shoulder in a mildly provocative pose. Why is she standing like that?
I know. I can hear it now. What’s the big deal with that? It’s not like she’s wearing a chainmail bikini, a swatch of spandex, or latex body paint.
Here’s my problem: why is she standing like that? Would Luke Cage stand like that? What about Daredevil? Or Iron Fist? Or ANY man? Not without looking ridiculous. That’s because the pose is objectifying the character, turning her into a body (specifically her butt) to be looked at.
Furthermore, she doesn’t look like she’s part of the team, turned away from the viewer and her teammates, one hip cocked out. The light color of her jeans, her central position in the photo, it all leads me as a viewer not to see a person first. I see her butt. And that seems to be the only advantage to having her stand like that: let’s show off her ass.
Let’s look at another publicity shot of Jessica.
Here, you’ve got Jessica walking up a fire escape. Again, she’s facing away from the viewer and looking over her shoulder – though not at us, but off in the distance somewhere stage right. The composition of the photograph leaves her butt almost dead center (at what I’d consider a sort of psychological eye level with the viewer). Again, I ask: Why is she standing like that? What was the purpose behind this publicity photo anyway? At least in this photo we’ve got some backlighting around her face to draw our eye and distract us from staring at Jessica Jones’s butt.
Would you see Captain America in this pose? How about the Hulk? OK, Deadpool could probably pull it off. However, in any case, photograph a guy in this pose and suddenly you’ve got the perfect shot for the cover of a cheesy romance novel. It’s objectifying. And honestly, it’s just bad design.
Why Is This A Problem?
Maybe it’s not a problem, but I think this kind of advertising speaks to an underlying culture in this country, a culture of misogyny, of treating women as objects first, instead of treating women as people. This publicity shot is part of the never ending miasma of objectifying imagery bombarding us on a daily basis, albeit a rather benign image in the spectrum of women in media. Though, perhaps that makes this photo worse in some ways. The image isn’t obviously offensive, it’s not overtly sexual, its message of objectification is much more subliminal and therefore pervasive. I mean, how many billions of people have seen this photo and thought nothing of it?
Even if you don’t agree that the photos are objectifying Jessica Jones, consider this: why is she being photographed like that in the first place? How does that photo reveal anything about her character or the story? If you’ve watched the first season of Jessica Jones, you’d have to agree that she’s not the type of woman to stand and be photographed like some supermodel on a catwalk, like she’s on display for your viewing pleasure.
What’s more, the pose is trite and uncreative (really, both of the above photos aren’t anything I’d call creative.) Can’t Marvel and Netflix publicity come up with something better? It’s the kind of pose I’d expect to see in a jeans catalog, not an advertisement for the much anticipated superhero mashup, The Defenders.
We Should All Want Better
My feminist leanings aside, the ad campaign is rather unimaginative, which is disappointing when you consider how excellent the different series have been so far. The production value and overall design in each of the shows released to date (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage) have been excellent, imaginative, and entertaining.
Perhaps Marvel has shot itself in the foot. I mean, they’ve set the bar pretty high for superhero movies and television. Let’s hope The Defenders don’t end up as lackluster and misogynist as the latest ad campaign.
Want to Beef Up Your Media Literacy?
Spotting this kind of objectification of women in media can be hard. We’re just so used to seeing it all the time. That kind of imagery is commonplace and brainwashes us into thinking it’s fine. It’s not. It’s hurtful, and not just to women. This kind of imagery is hurtful to men too. It feeds into that “boys will be boys” garbage and the outdated ideas of “being a man”. You know, the culture of misogyny that helped get a racist cheeto, who’s bragged about sexually assaulting women, elected President.
There’s nothing wrong with these images, as long as we understand and recognize what they do to us as a culture, as a society, and as an individual. Knowledge is power, and in the coming years we’re going to need as much power as we can get. That’s why we all need to build up our media literacy muscles (media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and even create media)
Here are some resources on developing better media literacy:
- The blog Everyday Feminism has some great tips on teaching media literacy (being aware of how the media impacts our lives) to kids.
- Caroline Heldman gave a great TEDx Talk called “The Sexy Lie”, and gets into why it’s not empowering to be a sex object, and how to identify when someone is being used as a sex object.
- Jason Katz gave another great TED Talk titled “Violence against Women: It’s a Men’s Issue”.
- J. Francis Davis wrote this brief article on Five Important Ideas To Teach Your Kids About TV, and he gives some tips on introducing the concept of media literacy to your kids (but this works with any age group too).
- The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media also provides excellent resources for understanding the impact of gender roles in media, especially on kids.
- The Media Literacy Project also has some great, informative articles.
- And here’s a list of stories on my own blog that involve women in media, media literacy, and feminism.
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