Photographing Women in a Sexual Manner: Are We All Guilty of Objectifying Women?

Photographing Women in a Sexual Manner: Are We All Guilty of Objectifying Women?

Glamour photography, fine art nude photography, lingerie photography, swimwear photography — all of the above involve nudity. Sex sells — no explanation needed here. Or, at the very least, it will get you more likes on your page or your Instagram account. Is the sexiness in itself a problem? This is a recurrent debate. The #WomenNotObjects campaign, launched by Advertising Executive Madonna Badger, is calling on the advertising industry to put a stop to objectifying women for marketing purposes. As photographers, do we have a responsibility in this controversy?

Badger, co-founder and chief creative officer at New York advertising agency Badger & Winters, was inspired by a Google search and decided to raise awareness on the way women's bodies were used to sell pretty much anything. The loss of her children in a tragic house fire in 2011 made her see her industry in a different manner: "I want my life to have a purpose."

The video of the campaign has been released and it's going viral. UN Women tweeted about it and it got support from Ashton Kutcher, Alanis Morisette, and George Takei. Will it have an actual impact on the advertising industry? Unless Congress passes a bill to that effect, I doubt it. The goal of campaigns is not only to get results, but also to start a discussion. So, let's chat for a second here, because ignoring the problem is part of the problem.

Sex is in every visual genre: conceptual art, film, and photography. It is not an underground current; it is in your face on a daily basis. The campaign focuses on the problem of using sexualized women's body parts in a commercial capacity. But what about the norm of sexualizing women in imagery in general? Why would we frown upon Burger King implying oral sex with a seven-inch sandwich and not frown upon the fact that when a woman gets into a bikini, we photograph her on her hands and knees looking up, whether it is for a swimwear catalog or a personal series? If we want to show respect to women, does that mean we should not shoot them in a sexy manner at all? Are men's bodies just not sexy enough to become objects? Or maybe retouching male hair on torsos, thighs, and calves is too big of a deal?

We might fully agree with the precept of equality, frown on sexism, and generally treat women with respect in our personal lives. And yet, when we are editing our last shoot, don't we choose the image of the girl with a slightly open mouth and a lascivious pose to post on social media? 

It would be easy for me to point an accusing finger at all the male photographers out there. Yes, the photography industry is dominated by the male human species, and it is a common assumption that men think about sex every seven seconds, so adding the two together could lead me to heated arguments.

Yet I am just as guilty of using sex in my imagery in order to get more traction. Hey, I am a photographer that loves skin and curves. Sexualizing has become an industry standard to the point where I am anesthetized. When I see those billboard ads that are accused of objectifying women, they do not shock me, or even worse, they do not get me thinking of all the possible implications that they could have. In that sense, I might be more of a photographer than a woman. 

What does that say about the standards we commonly accept in our industry and keep reproducing without even being aware of them? As image makers, don't we have a responsibility in the way we portray the world, even if it is for a commercial purpose?

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Charles Lynn's picture

People are so oversensitive these days, and so easily offended by everything and anything.

Alex Cooke's picture

You're reducing literally centuries of gender inequality and objectification down to the question of what people are subjectively offended by in the present. This has nothing to do with that. It's a question of whether the female body is degraded to the status of being an object of sexual gratification or desire without regards to the human form, intricacies, and nuances that give rise to the person that inhabits that body. And frankly, the answer to that question is quite objectively "yes." It's a huge issue that continues to be accepted without question by modern society, and dismissing it under the generalized umbrella of "everyone is too easily offended" only perpetuates the entitled and apathetic attitude of those who are not affected by it and continues to marginalize those who are.

Sorry, but I have to agree....everyone is so overly sensitive and offended, we are breeding a nation of overly PC Puss-bags....enough already! Don't we have bigger things to worry about like our safety and that our freedom is being constantly destroyed by these overly sensitive posts?
Plus I don't see an inequality towards women happening here....I know a ton of women that are heads of Corps and CEOs...and even Models making a shit-ton-O- please...knock it off! ......and yes, last time I checked, women are there for the satisfaction of a man and man is there for the satisfaction of a woman....otherwise our race would cease to be...You fema-nazi morons!

Alex Cooke's picture

How is your freedom being destroyed by people vocalizing disapproval of a behavior? Isn't that exercising the most fundamental freedom of all in this nation, the freedom of speech? "Freedom" does not mean freedom to do as you please without consequence or, at the very least, discussion.

Seriously?....that's all you got from my post?...I mentioned a plethora of thoughts, and that's the only thing that stuck out?....See, that is exactly the problem....people zero in on one thing and one thing only ...beat it to death, and NEVER look at the bigger picture....Unfortunately because of this ADD type of behavior, this argument is no longer valid, until it can be discuss from a multi faceted point of view.

Alex Cooke's picture

You edited your post to add all that extra content after I replied, and then, acted as if I hadn't responded to you, when in fact, I had. If you're going to resort to such games in addition to calling names, I'm not going to engage with you.

TJ Jackson's picture

His point was lost after "PC Pussbags" ... And moving on ...

Anna Dabrowska's picture

What is PC by the way?

"Personal Computer." He's referring to how the current generation is cloistered in their rooms on smartphones and computers, getting their information from media sites rather than actual experience.

Or "Politically Correct". I like my version better though, more original. ;)

Thanks for continuing to add to this discussion, by the way. Glad to see you contributing your thoughts throughout and not leaving the comment section to fester.

Tim Foster's picture

I also think people tend towards over-sensitivity at the moment, but your response smacks of it at least as much as the post does. You're whining about your freedom being destroyed by a viewpoint that isn't politically correct to YOUR sentiment. Get over it and appreciate the fact that we are all constitutionally guaranteed the right to be as offensive as we want to be, Puss-bag.

"Get over it and appreciate the fact that we are all constitutionally guaranteed the right to be as offensive as we want to be, Puss-bag."

Still missing the point....I dont care about being offense...I'm actually stating the opposite you single celled organism....I'm saying people like Alex up there, are too sensitive and PC..I'm not the one who's saying "this isn't right or that isn't right"

Tim Foster's picture

I never said you cared about offending others, genius. You took the time take issue with the article and I'm calling you out on the fact that YOU were clearly offended by its content and what you see as some general trend away from your personal ideals, which makes you both girly and a hypocrite.

Michael Sneeringer Jr's picture

There is one simple word in the English language that is available to these female models, "no."

Anna Dabrowska's picture

Mr Sneeringer, you mean to say it's the model that bears all the responsibility for the way women are portrayed in a society? Wow!

Michael Sneeringer Jr's picture

I mean that if the model does not like how she may appear in the photoshoot, she can turn down that particular job. Everyone has free-will and can choose not to degrade themselves. It's called self-respect.

Anna Dabrowska's picture

But it's not just about the way the models in those ads feel. It is about the way millions of women seeing the ads feel.

Michael Sneeringer Jr's picture

Now you are bringing up self-confidence and that is an entirely different subject. That to me, is a personal issue.

Anna Dabrowska's picture

HUH? What does self-confidence have anything to do with this? If you prefer not to acknowledge the power of imagery on society we have no common ground for a discussion here.

There are many women who love to be in front of the camera. There are billions who hate it. One camp sometimes doesn't understand another. But it doesn't mean that the first camp needs protection just because the second thinks that they are discriminated.

Michael Sneeringer Jr's picture

I did not say imagery has no effect on society. If that were the case, what would be the point of photography or art for that matter? You brought up the point of how it makes someone feel and I believe that is a personal issue. I don't disagree with you about the power of imagery. However, I do feel that individuals have a responsibility for their own actions and that includes artist, photographer's and model's.

Anna Dabrowska's picture

Wait I'm lost, You acknowledge that a photographer has responsibility for their actions (aka what and how they shoot it - meaning the message behind it) but that a viewers emotion to it is just their own problem? Definition of responsibility: the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone

Michael Sneeringer Jr's picture

If you want to put it that way, then yes. I thought your article was about the responsibility of the photographer.

Anna Dabrowska's picture

It is...with a big question mark. What is the extent of that responsibility in this matter? I don't have an answer and was curious to know what other people thought. Sadly the majority of the comments don't answer that they just dismiss that there is a controversy, thus dismissing the idea of responsibility all together. So I am not more adavanced in my opinion...

Ugh, this comment box is thin...

Anyways, I agree that the commentary has gotten quite off topic. Which is a shame, because the issue of the photographer's role seems much simpler. They do what they're hired to do, or they don't eat. ;)

Michael Sneeringer Jr's picture

As I always told my kids, trust your gut. It will always tell you right from wrong.

They're just working with what they've got. There is demand for their beauty, but that demand is generated by the system we're living in.

Of course they're going to use it to their advantage to earn money with it if they can get (obviously) rich with it.

Alex, it's easy to tell from some of the comments which posters are single, without children.

I'm proud that my daughter has chosen to dress modestly, which is not an easy choice for a 16 year old, when her cousins wear outfits that are far too revealing.

Elias Hardt's picture

Let's let math solve this one. In your comment, you used 14 words. The comment against you, pro-feminism, used 145 words. Going by characters, you used 90, while the other comment used 889. An average ratio of 1:10 words or characters. Using this ratio, we can tell that feminists would love all to much if that same ratio was used in man:woman format, and that their current reaction force uses the same methodology; one like on a bikini photoshoot leads to ten feminists' downvote. I agree with you, Charles (and even more with Leon Bokhove below me, managing to fight an impressive uphill battle). A shame we are out numbered.

Leon Bokhove's picture

Yes, girls have certain physical attributes that men like.
Yes, sex sells and therefore many images take advantage of the above statement/exploit it in a plethora of ways.
No, I will have none of your feminism/pc culture gripes.

This comes from a "white privileged 28 year old male" from The Netherlands, so all you safe space and trigger warning idiots can take my comment with a grain of salt, or obsess over it.
I hope this mental disease and intellectual dishonesty never reaches our mainlands...

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