I am not just ‘pretty’. I’m not just here as a pretty face and I am not just useful primarily because of the way I look.
As December 6th approaches (National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women in Canada), PSA’s increase on social networking, my political science classes tend to lean towards the topic, and I find myself increasingly thinking about what it means to be an undergraduate women in the photography/digital workforce – or a woman in general really.
Not too long ago I had an encounter during one of my photography gigs that I really wish didn’t happen and consequently something that has (partly) been the driving force behind this post. I had just taken a photograph and someone told me it was a great one and then told me something to the extend of “Let me give you a kiss”or “I’m gonna kiss you” so naturally I gave a dirty look and stepped to walk away. Within seconds I feel hands on my face and the disgusting sensation of being pulled to a stranger (even after I am resisting) to result in their kissing near my ear on the side of my head. I was in shock. I have never been in a situation where I felt I did not have control. I never thought someone would just grab me and violate me like that because I’ve always been able to say something and pull away – in that moment I didn’t have any words. I had my ability to grab my backpack and go home so that’s what I did.
I eventually told my supervisor for that gig and the situation was dealt with but it wasn’t something I intended on doing. I planned to forget about it but the following week the situation still bothered me and when asked what was wrong, I explained the situation. I said not to do anything or worry about it because I didn’t want to be viewed as over reacting. I didn’t want this person to be penalized because I believed they were intoxicated and I was in an environment where things like this happened. Can you believe that? I thought I was in the wrong and was making up excuses. I didn’t realize until a week later that me feeling that way was ridiculous. I’ve had so many people tell me that I’m “good-looking and unfortunately work at places where these things are expected to happen”. A bar? A corporate event? A community event? I’m supposed to just let things slide because as a woman these things are expected to happen? Are you kidding me? There is never an excuse for harassment and that’s what my supervisor told me. He was on my side and he made me realize that my environment, alcohol, anything of the sort is not an excuse. This was part one of my recent experiences that fuelled this post. Part two has to do with a similar issue only it’s not just being a woman that is a problem today – it’s being seen as an attractive women which subjects you to just being an “attractive woman” and nothing else.
“You have it easy because you’re good-looking – what do you have to complain about?” Good question. Maybe I can complain about the fact that you think I have it easy in life just because you see me as a girl with a pretty face. Is it easy being reduced to the good-looking girl opposed to being thought about in terms of what I can do? Sure you may see my marks and work ethic sometimes and think I’m smart but do you think I am hearing about that when I get told “She’s good-looking and can take a photo” or “that hot photographer at the bar”. Why are my looks associated with the degree in which I can do my job? Why can’t I be the photographer that takes good photographs? If you think people who are viewed as good-looking always have it easy let me set the record straight. I’ll be the first to admit there is a sort of privilege. Just like being white, or being male – you have an inherent privilege that advances you in society in some way. Physical appeal may mean you skip the line at the bar or your boss offers you a promotion or you get picked for the brand ambassador gig. I know this – I realize this. But on the days when I feel like that’s all I’m good for and my work can’t be congratulated without commenting on my appearance (and this happens very often), I don’t feel any sort of privilege. I feel sexualized, I feel stupid and I feel naive for believing that I could be seen as anything more than a pretty face.
You know what royally sucks about all of that? It ruined my day. I gave these people the power to make my feel insignificant and to shut down my want and will to be happy. So keep it in mind next time you want to associate someone’s accomplishments with the way they look, “Hot girls get tips” isn’t something that needs to be said and saying “You’re gonna have to get used to that if you want to work at a club” just means you are justifying the treatment of a woman. I’m not attacking anyone for this so if you’ve done it don’t get angry or hate yourself for it- but now that you are aware, don’t do it again.