Stock Photos and the Modern Working Woman

Interesting story from the NY Times regarding how outdated “stock photos” are of working women. (In the way of background, stock photos are those images websites, blogs, etc. choose from when they run a story on a particular topic).

nytimesApparently, most current stock photos of businesswomen and working mothers are pretty one-dimensional and unrealistically glossy.  The article and its accompanying slide show with examples of the newer, updated photos (example on right)–which include more images of men spending time with their families as well–provide an interesting take on our conversation about schemas, images, and social categories like race and gender (and give a bit of a preview for our discussion next week on issues related to stereotyping in Chapter 13).

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7 Responses to Stock Photos and the Modern Working Woman

  1. Zihan Chai says:

    I think this change of stock-image is a really interesting development in the gender discussion. The image of working women of the 80s surely entails a message of gender equality, that women are also pursuing professional goals, that women have careers. The emphasis seems to be equality: working women dress the SAME way men do and pursue the SAME professions men pursue.

    Now we are more comfortable acknowledging that it is okay to be different. Women do not have to dress the same way men do to look professional, nor do they have to distinguish themselves from the family duties. A stereotypical portrait of a power-suit-wearing and briefcase-holding career woman may very well limit the concept of “professional female” only to those who work in office, and that’s why I think this change of tone in stock images is really important to break the ceilings for women in the workplace.

    • Michael Rogalski says:

      What I found interesting, in addition to these gender-based nuances, is the portrayal of an incredibly diverse collection of women and children doing these activities. For example, there are four or five different races portrayed in the photographs, and one of the women has tattoos on her arm. Today’s trend in accepting differences certainly goes beyond just promoting gender equality and individuality; the initiative ostensibly includes other personal features that were previously the object of harsh judgments, such as race or tattoos or hobbies. We see social norms shifting from the “clean cut look that never goes out of style” to a broader acceptance not contingent on gender, race, dress, or lifestyle choices. This begs the question as to what the next set will endorse thirty years from now…

  2. Really interesting article! Each generation will have a new way of creating their own schemas. Since “imagery has become the communication medium of this generation” it gives us a real opportunity to reshape certain schemas, and people will become less reliant on traditional forms of generating those thoughts. We just got to make sure that instead of reinforcing old schemas, we are systematic in creating more respectful, accurate and decent representations.

    • Profile photo of Alison Hoi Alison Hoi says:

      I agree with this. I feel like each generation actively tries to usher in new schemas to replace the old; but sometimes, I wonder to what avail. I obviously agree with ones that, like you mentioned, create a more inclusive and respectful world for all people, but at the same time, it seems that certain schemas recycle themselves after they’ve laid dormant for a generation or two. An example that comes to mind is how in religiosity in younger cohorts ebbs and flows with the greater social climate.

      • I think that the replacement of old schemas with new schemas is incredibly important and effective. The images we use to represent ideas and feelings and concepts can speak more truthfully than our words. Like the fact that stock photos of working women were outdated, I’d say, is symptomatic of the fact that our societal views of the ‘working woman’ are also largely outdated. The language and symbols our culture use are closely linked to our social values and ideologies. They each pull on the other, so as our ideals progress, we’ll want to change our symbols. And if we change our symbols and language to reflect a certain belief, then over time our cultural ideals will grow to reflect those beliefs our images promote.

  3. Not only will each new generation create new schemas and social categories they will also counteract and make past schemas and ideas around groups of people obsolete enough to the point that it might become against social norms. I would also like to point out that even when the majority of the group feels one way that doesnt diminish the possibility of a small pocket of people retaining the old schemas and trying to make that the norm once again. I recently was looking at a very right wing page called Occupy Democrats Logic, a page dedicated to make fun of the equally extreme leftist page, and they recently posted the response of a female engineer to the wage gap. She stated she was the only female in her graduating class and got there by working hard. While this is no doubt true, it ignores the realism and accuracy of the world we live in in which women face countless more obstacles or more difficult ones. In this case the facebook page and its commentators were all single minded and did not allow for other opinions to flow. These stock images while subtle convey a similar message when no women are viewed as equal in the image to their working man counterparts.

    • Swhite13 says:

      I agree in the sense that there will always be polarization with respect to social norms. I think coming to Tufts really changed my perspective on how social norms differ depending on the environment you are in. I think there are two sides to it and a spectrum of people on both sides. The extreme left is trying to force social norms by condemning anyone who does not abide by them; And the extreme right is purposefully ignorant.

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