International Women’s Day was on 8th March but I didn’t manage to write a blog post because I was caring for my bedridden, disabled and elderly Mum. 1 in 4 women in the UK in my age group (50-64) has caring responsibilities for elderly or disabled family members (source Carers UK) and it is estimated that worldwide between 57% and 80% of the caring duties are performed by women. Women aged 45-54 are more than twice as likely than men in the UK to have given up work to care and over four times more likely to have reduced working hours due to caring responsibilities – I had to reduce the hours of my part time job 5 years ago to care for my parents, plunging me into deeper poverty as a result. I am one of 4 children, but my 3 brothers all have lives to lead and I apparently do not, so the bulk of the care for our parents for the past 10 years has fallen to me. Just one of the reasons I have had very little free time to pursue photography in the past couple of years, particularly since the start of the pandemic.
How do women fair in the world of photography? It looks on the surface to be a pursuit which is open equally to both sexes, but dig a little deeper and we find inherent obstacles for women. These include the obvious and the not so obvious, such as:
- Lack of ‘free’ time, due to caring duties for children, elderly and disabled family members.
- Lack of ‘free’ time due to household chores. A study conducted in 2019 found that women still do more housework than men in 93% of British households even when both parties are working full time. Unequal division of labour is striking amongst retired couples and retirees still make up the majority of Club photographers. Men, on the whole, give up paid work to concentrate on their hobbies. Women, OTOH, still have to cook every day of their lives, do the bulk of food shopping and laundry, plus the majority of the housework. They generally don’t have the luxury of retiring to spend their days wandering around the countryside with a camera.
- Women around the globe are much more likely to live in poverty, with millions of women having no legal right to financial autonomy. They simply don’t have the money to buy photography equipment or to enter competitions and exhibitions.
- Safety can be an issue for women photographers, as I wrote about in this post, and limit their choices and potential.
- Photography kit is made for men and doesn’t address the differences in female biology, as outlined in this post.
And then we look at women from the other side of the lens:
- The majority of women depicted in photography are under 30, white, slim, long haired and flawless (whether naturally or edited to be so) as discussed in this post and
- nudes are almost exclusively female.
There is yet another debate on nude photography taking place today on the PAGB Club Facebook page, where some women are commenting that they photograph female nudes so it can’t be an issue. However, many women opposed the Suffragette movement and thought the tactics used by Emily Pankhurst et al were abhorrent, and some women still view the word ‘feminism’ with disdain. Women are a heterogeneous population and we have a diverse range of backgrounds and life experiences which shape our world view – it would be strange if it were otherwise.
I personally look forward to the day when there is no need for an International Women’s Day. When men and women are treated as different but equal every day and in all spheres of life, where the male gaze isn’t the dominating view of women in the world, and where both sexes are equally celebrated for the diverse and unique characteristics they bring to the table. But we’re nowhere near that, and until we are the right and fight for women to tread equally and safely in the world cannot be forgotten.