in case you thought sexism was dead

Or, if you needed any further evidence that I’ve become a humourless feminist…

This morning I noticed A Photo Editor’s Daily Edit featured a sexualized woman on all fours to illustrate an article entitled, “Crazy In Love” in Men’s Health magazine. At first I was taken aback because love is generally experienced between two people, not by looking at a sexualized woman. Then I read the intro paragraph and discovered it was actually about (male) jealousy and how “whether it leads to ruin or redemption, scientists say, depends on [the man experiencing jealousy] and the woman he loves.” (Um, HOW, pray tell, can jealousy lead to redemption???)

The Daily Edit copy

Quite apart from the quality of the article and the fact that it is just replaying the old Women Bring on Men’s Violence Trope (aka Rape Culture) but with so-called scientific backing, I decided to reply to the fact that a picture of a sexualized woman on all fours with a decidedly come hither look on her face was illustrating an article about (men’s) jealousy. Given that A Photo Editor is clearly capable of critical thinking, I thought it was just one of those oversights that needed some consciousness-raising.

I’ve had blind spots pointed out to me recently, and afterwards it was like I had new eyes. For example, just the other day someone pointed out to me how fat is often used in children’s books as code for lazy, stupid, and/or generally unpleasant. Even my beloved Harry Potter series does this. And how could I have missed it???

Similarly, Katherine Don’s series Bringing Up Baby on Bitch Magazine has shown me the light about how birth, parenting and mothers are represented on tv. Again or still, I’ve been wondering, How did I not notice this before??? Now I can’t stop noticing…

So it was with this sort of spirit that I commented. And pretty quickly, men leapt to defend the work.

The Daily Edit – comment 2copy
First up, the old You’re Just Not Getting It Because You’re Not Part of Our Inner (magazine-publishing and reading) Circle Defence.

The Daily Edit comment1 copy
Next, Infantalizing The Complainer, a variation on the You’re Just Not Getting It Defence, by mentioning Teen Beat. Because clearly my objections are juvenile. If I were just a little more grown-up, I’d get it.

The Daily Edit – comment3copy
Oh look! It’s the You’re Just A Humourless Man-Hating Feminist Defence! I honestly think the last time I heard this I was in high school. Clearly I live in a magical bubble full of wonderful, thoughtful, intelligent men who are not threatened by having sexism pointed out to them. And I don’t even mean only my husband and close relations – I mean acquaintances, both real-life and online. Thank you A Photo Editor for showing me how awesome the men in my life are. (Don’t get me wrong – I’ve seen lots of it online, it’s just been a long time since I’ve experienced it personally.)

You know what? I don’t read print magazines, men’s or otherwise. Probably for this very reason.

The Daily Edit –comment4 copy
Ooh – the If A Woman Was Involved In The Decision-Making It Can’t Be Sexist Defence, along with a slightly more poisonous variation of the Humourless Man-Hating Feminist Defence. If this kind of comment is a cliche, it’s for the same reason that feminist texts from 30 and 40 years ago are still shockingly contemporary. Because women and men are equally socialized by the patriarchal system and both internalize its bullshit. Because nothing is changing.

I know it’s juvenile for me to retreat to my own safe(ish) space to rehash this. But there’s no point in my commenting further over there. It won’t achieve anything or change anyone’s mind. I’m truly shocked that a smart man can have such a horrid view of women. Especially since A Photo Editor has a self-identified feminist man contributing to it.

on connections

I’ve been thinking a lot about connections lately, and how you can’t always perceive the connections between things. For example, if someone holds a long string in the middle, the ends will hang down. If you just look at (or photograph) the bottom of the strings, they look like two separate strings. If you are able to hold the whole picture in your view (by moving back or using a wider angle lens), only then can you see than the strings are actually connected. I often feel like that about some of the photographs I make. I believe they are connected but I can’t see how or where yet. I was actually going to mention this the other day in my things I’ve been thinking about post, but I forgot.

Three days after I mentally composed a paragraph something like the above but forgot to write it down, my five-year-old asked me to help him tie his front-end loader onto his fire truck so it could be transported to the garage (apparently it’s broken down). He told me he had two strings and he held them up to me in such a way that I only saw one string, held in the middle by his thumb and forefinger.

I said, “No you only have one string.”

And then he showed me two.


I got chills. Maybe some things AREN’T connected after all.

kids’ tv

About a year ago, my son got hooked on Disney Jr. At the time, I thought it was ok. It didn’t have commercials (oh, I was so naive) and the shows weren’t awful. We got into a really bad habit when I was pregnant and exhausted for 10 months straight, of him watching tv while I slept on the couch. We’re still trying to wean him off so much tv, with varying degrees of success.

But back to the Disney channel. Now I have a different opinion about it. For one thing, there may not be commercials, per se, but it most certainly has advertising. And it’s all for Disney. As far as I can tell they have built this whole channel just to create a rapt audience to sell their products to. My son has started to say, “Can we go to Disney World? It’s where dreams come alive.” When I stopped gagging and gasping, we talked about how sneaky advertising can be. He was already familiar with commercials, from our watching the Food Network, but the Disney ads aren’t identifiable as commercials. And with all the movie and toy tie-ins, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish between content and advertising. (Of course, with all the product placement, the Food Network is almost as bad, but it has other benefits, which I’ll get to later.)

And what about the content? I’m just beginning to notice the lack of girls. I haven’t done painstaking research, but that’s my general impression. There is Handy Manny where the female character owns the Hardware Store that supplies the star, Handy Manny (a step in the right direction at least?). There is Jake and the Neverland Pirates, which I confess I haven’t actually watched much of. I think one of Jake’s band of friends is a girl. There is Special Agent Oso, who’s a pretty dumb bear who wouldn’t be a quarter as successful at solving problems without his Palm Pilot, who I think is kind of female. I think my son even recently said something about girls not being heroes. It was good he said it, because it meant we could talk about it.

The channel has just started a new show called Tinkerbell, which I confess I haven’t watched, and they play the new Strawberry Shortcake, which is all about managing feelings and making people feel good while carrying on a gendered business like a hair salon, dance studio, clothing boutique, cafe or general store. The only non-gendered business, run by Blueberry Muffin, is a bookstore. There are no boys there, as far as I can tell, except maybe for a Berrykin? (Also, when did Strawberry Shortcake stop farming and move to Berry Bitty City to open a cafe??? Strawberry Shortcake when I was a kid, was awesome, with boys AND girls AND villains, all with brilliant colours and names. It may have been created to sell toys but at least it had good stories and characters. Now it’s all watered down and every episode has a MESSAGE. But that’s another issue. Ok, but before I move on… Seriously, check out the difference between the 80s Strawberry Shortcake and the current one:


New (and improved???)

The original one looks like a chubby, fun-spirited girl with a cat. The new one is a teenager who lost the pantaloons and baby fat and got some salon-styled hair. And check out her dainty, manicured hands. You do the math. But now back to what this post was REALLY supposed to be about.)

My son is most fond of the Imagination Movers at the  moment. I thought this was great. They solve problems with imagination and music. They have a song about brainstorming. Surely this is good stuff. But last week it struck me: the Imagination Movers are all (white) men. There is only one regular woman on the show. Nina is their neighbour and she’s apparently a photographer for the local paper. Although I think she helps them brainstorm ideas and solve problems, she doesn’t get to wear coveralls like the men. No, she wears only pink or red skirts. I really want to like them, especially after reading this background, but why can’t they have a woman wearing coveralls? My son tells me it’s because she’s not part of their company. But why not? It’s a glaring oversight.

Yesterday, one of my twitter friends linked to this video. (Let’s hope it plays here.)

This is a great video. Except for one thing: it points out how only skinny girls (and women for that matter – except for Molly, on Mike and Molly, both of whom are currently on diets I think) are allowed on tv, but the video itself shows only slim girls. So we still don’t see any chubby girls. (And while I’m on the topic, I really hate the term overweight, because it’s relative. I prefer to try to reappropriate the word ‘fat’ as a value-neutral, descriptive adjective rather than a moralizing, often seen as self-hating word. But I’ll live with chubby, big or ‘of size’ over overweight any day. But I guess that’s another post too.)

My son and I often sometimes watch the Food Network together. It’s always been the only thing I like watching that seems innocuous enough to have my child in the room at the same time and then he started getting into it. We tend to watch more of the cooking competitions now (Chopped, Top Chef, Next Iron Chef) although we also adore Pitchin’ In with Lynn Crawford and enjoy Glutton for Punishment with Bob Blumer. Because there are so many commercials, we started talking about why they’re made and how they try to make us want to buy things. We’ve started to ask what we’re being sold.

But I’m realizing the programming isn’t just vapid, lazy-me time. What’s interesting to me, now, is that women may not always be represented in the same numbers as men on the shows, but the people on the shows always talk about that subject. When Chef Lynn is on a shrimp-fishing boat for a few days with a group of men, she likens the experience to proving herself in the man’s world of professional kitchens. (Also, what is UP with that? A woman’s stereotypical place is in the kitchen — as long as it’s unpaid work for her family. But as soon as it becomes paid work, it’s a man’s world?) The female contestants on Top Chef talk about how there are only three women in the show, or they’re the last woman left. When one of the contestants on Top Chef Just Desserts insulted another contestant by calling him a girl (which they didn’t bleep out, strangely), I talked to my son about it , and we wondered why it might be an insult to be called a girl when there’s nothing wrong with being a girl.

There are also fat people on the Food Network, and it’s rarely a topic for discussion. They’re just there, doing what they’re passionate about. That’s kind of revolutionary, isn’t it? I’m starting to wonder if the Food Network is the most feminist, most fat-positive tv I can expose my son to.

So what about you? What (if any) tv shows do you let your ids watch? What (of any) conversations do you have about the shows? Do you care or notice or talk about how narrow the apparent options are for boys and girls?

more of my Critical Mass Top 20

I think it’s high time I continued with my favourite 20 photographers from Critical Mass. First up, let’s talk about Susan Worsham. I’ve loved her work for a couple of years now, since she won an award in Blurb’s Photography Book Now competition. She submitted new work to CM, By the Grace of God, which looks promising, but I think she still has some work to do (editing at least for sure – she has 73 images on her site alone in that body of work.). Some Fox Trails in Virginia, her other body of work is just so beautiful… the colours, the light, and all that fruit. (These are images from By the Grace of God.)



I love her work so much that I even made homage to her image, “Fruit.” I was really hoping she would win the CM book award so I would get a book of her work, but sadly the finalists were just announced and she’s not one of them. I’ll say it again: sometimes democracy really sucks. Go look at all her beautiful beautiful pictures. And then you can read this lovely interview with her from last week.

I love the way Beth Lilly plays with our ideas of mental illness, memory, veracity and dreams. She opens with this image.

(You probably can’t read the text at this size, but it says, “My earliest memory is finding my cousin’s birthday presents hidden in a closet. Later, I asked my mom why she’d wrapped them in black paper. She said it had never happened – that it must have been a dream. Maybe, but she has schizophrenia so I’m not sure I can believe her.”

To me, this opens up a whole can of worms about truth and whether we can ever know it or whether photographs can ever show it. The fact that she’s photographed the very thing that may or may not have ever existed tells us we can’t trust anything about her or this project. And I love that. The rest of the series recreates dreams and memories in a super compelling way.




See? It kind of gives me chills. Her Oracle series is equally compelling. She takes phone calls from strangers asking important questions. When the phone rings, she takes three photos very quickly, then finds out the question she just answered. (I hope I have that right.) Check it out.

While I’m on the memory theme, I should probably mention Yelena Zhavoronkova. It was this orange in the blue mesh bag that first caught my eye. It was like a puzzle and I couldn’t stop looking at it, trying to figure out what it was about, what was going on. There is a clear reverence for the objects, with the careful lighting, that I know something important is happening. But what?


Memories in Red is a series of still lifes incorporating Zhavoronkova’s red school tie from growing up in Russia and other objects from her family. When I went to her website, the photos are accompanied by text, sometimes lots of biographical information about her family and the significance of the objects and photographs. I have to say, I think the images are stronger on their own or with just a sentence to give an opening. When they have all kinds of information, the image is reduced to an illustration. Plus, if I already know everything about the stuff in the photograph, then I’m not going to look at it for long. I mean, if I made the photographs and it was about my parents who were gone, I would want to savour and share every detail about them. But still… I guess I’m just glad my first experience of this work was without the captions.


things people have said to me

in the last 24 hours.

“I don’t know what it is about that Y chromosome that just has to be around wheels!”

“I met a boy last week, about three, who had the most beautiful dark eyes and blonde hair and the most finely sculpted face. His sister isn’t at all like that and I thought, ‘Genetics are cruel.’”

“Well it’s a good thing you didn’t have to come to work on the days after the hard, sleepless nights. THAT would be HARD.” (Yes of course being alone at home with little, demanding, emotionally needy people is SO much easier than going to work with grown-ups.)

“My pants are falling down and that’s a good thing.”

“You have two boys? Well, that’s… fine. It’s fine. I had three boys and a girl and the boys were much better behaved than the girl.”

My Critical Mass Top 20

Last week I got my Critical Mass All Entrants CD. Last week was also the week they announced the Top 50. I didn’t make it. I was actually way more bummed than I expected. When I entered, Top 50 seemed way too far for me. I was just hoping to be one of the 200 finalists (which I was). But between being named a finalist and the announcement of the Top 50, somehow it didn’t seem so far away. I started thinking why not me? After all, 50 people need to be named, why couldn’t I be one of them? So I was pretty disappointed when I didn’t make it. But I was only bummed for a few days.

When I realized how many great photographers didn’t make the Top 50 or sometimes even the top 200, I felt a lot better. From this juror’s post, it sounds like each juror chooses their favourite 20 photographers. To be chosen among 20 seems a lot harder to me than being chosen among 50, which was what I first thought.

I went through every single one of the 700 or so photographers on the cd. I didn’t click on all or even most of the individual images, but I looked at all the thumbnails. I had a bit of an ulterior motive: this post had mentioned roller derby people as one of the subgroups entrants were exploring. So I wanted to see how other people were photographing derby girls. (Side note: it seems she was talking about me! Because I didn’t see any other derby girls on the cd. Another side note: I kind of love how uncomfortable people are with using the word girls to describe grown women. I had the same discomfort when I started the project, but it really does seem to be an acceptable term.)

Having gone through the entire cd, I’ve decided to choose my own favourite 20 photographers. Ultimately, this is a pretty arbitrary list. I had moments when I got exhausted and probably didn’t give the photographers I was looking at a fair view. Or if there were several slightly similar photographers in a row, I probably didn’t give them a fair view. I suspect that if I went through them all again, I’d pick a different 20 photographers. If I were a real juror, I’d probably spend more time trying to choose the 20 best photographers but instead I chose 20 whose work I most connected with somehow. I was going to just post a list of the 20 with links, but instead I think I’ll take my time over a series of posts and challenge myself to write about why I like this work.

I actually found I was drawn to work that is quite different from mine or work that I’ve enjoyed in the past. Well, except maybe for Alix Smith’s States of Union and Meg Birnbaum’s person/persona. Not that it matters, but neither of them made the Top 50. Sometimes democracy really sucks.

I’d actually seen and loved Alix Smith’s States of Unions before. In fact, I recently went hunting for it a couple of times but I couldn’t remember the photographer’s name so I had no luck finding it. (YOU try googling ‘State of the Union’ photography and see what YOU come up with. Apparently I also had the title wrong.) States of the Union shows queer couples and families in their homes or outdoor settings. These images are meticulously lit, directed and photographed. They play with historical images of The Family and also with stereotypes of queerness. Some of the subjects in the photographs may conform to stereotypes while others subvert them. In short, they are beautiful. They make me keep looking and thinking.




The CM cd was my first time seeing Meg Birnbaum’s person/persona. It is a series of diptychs portraying people who have developed costumed personas or alter egos. I love this work. What I like is that, to me, the diptychs are often not a simple duality: ‘real’ person vs their alter ego. The ‘person’ side seems as much a performance or construction as the persona side. (Apologies for the small image size. I can’t seem to get them to a size that is more visible without cutting off the image. Anyways, you can click on an image to see them correctly on her website.)




I’ll cover my other 18 favourite photographers from Critical Mass another day.

*Edited to add: sorry… just realized the images aren’t working as links. I can’t seem to make that work. Instead, check out Alix Smith and Meg Birnbaum from here.

things I’ve been thinking about

I find myself reacting a bit when people describe my derby series as being about a subgroup. To me, it’s not so much about roller derby as it is about gender and identity as performance, and how real women construct and reveal their identities. The roller derby part is because the sport toys with sexuality, aggression, our expectations of femininity and performance within the context of a physically demanding sport. Then again, my statement starts with a description of roller derby, so maybe I need to change that.

* * *
I wonder if the silence around early pregnancy – maintained by the fear of miscarriage – is really a vestige (or continued evidence?) of the belief that woman’s only value is in childbearing. If a woman’s only value is in bearing children, then losing a baby becomes a source of shame. As much as I support any woman’s right to privacy, I don’t believe that this silence does any favours for real, grieving women and the people who love her and who (would if they knew) love her baby.

* * *

I wonder if institutions seek to cover up stories of their male staff or volunteers molesting boys rather than calling the police because of the homosexual aspect to it. That rape is something that’s supposed to happen only to girls. Men and boys should be impenetrable. That the idea of a boy being raped is so abhorrent, people prefer to stuff it under the rug than to call the police. If a coach were raping a young girl in a shower room, would a witness be more likely to call the police?

* * *
I’ve been thinking a lot about how many messages we send to young girls (and women of all ages, really) that the most important thing about them is their appearance and being pretty. I mentioned this to my mom this weekend and she asked me if I thought that receiving comments on my appearance had affected me. I was about to answer no, somewhat disappointedly since it seemed to be contradicting my belief. But then I remembered the times I wept to my mother that I was ugly. She remembered one time I was mad at my boyfriend when I was 17 because I’d asked him if he would still like me if I was fat and he’d said he didn’t know. (Or at least that was the story I told my mom. The real story was that I was thinking of going on The Pill, and the potential side effect I was most worried about was gaining five pounds. So I asked my boyfriend if he would still be attracted to me if I gained five pounds from The Pill and he said he didn’t know. THAT’s why I was mad. Also, how messed up is that???) But that wasn’t the time I was remembering. I remember crying in the bathroom about my supposed ugliness when I was somewhere between 8 and 10 years old. I also remember being surprised by an episode of Three’s Company, when Jack was excited at the prospect of dating a redhead. I was younger than eight, and I didn’t think it was possible for a redhead to be pretty. I wonder where I got those ideas from?

* * *
Now that the leaves are mostly gone, I keep noticing all the birds’ nests that were hidden all summer, and I want to steal them. I was all disappointed with how high up they all are but today I noticed two nests in the shrubs in front of our house. Is it bad to steal birds’ nests in the winter? Will they come back in the spring and expect them to be intact?

calling all derby girls

I’m looking for more derby girls to photograph for my project, Yes these bones shall live. Especially women who live in the tri-city area and who are available during weekdays. Also especially queer families and women of size. If you’re interested in participating, even if you don’t fall into one of those categories, please send me an email at kate (at) peripheralvision (dot) ca. I can work in Guelph, Kitchener, Cambridge, Hamilton, Toronto, Oshawa or Peterborough, so even if you don’t live near me, if you’re interested drop me a line. Even if you’re farther away, email me, because I’m thinking of travelling to photograph more women.

Now here is a picture of my son on Halloween.

I hope to hear from some interested people soon.