|Photo Copyright White House|
Thursday, 26 May 2011
I hate this photograph...
Very few can have failed to notice the Obama circus travelling through Europe. I’m not a fantastic Obama fan. Yes it is nice that someone with partial non-white ancestry was elected. It was nice that a woman became Prime Minister here, except that sadly it was Margaret Thatcher. I still feel that Hilary Clinton would have been more able, efficient and less glib. Still at least he is not a Republican.. Politics aside though a particular photograph has been annoying me to bits.
Why on earth are the wives pictured sitting on a sofa in front of a kitchen? Michelle Obama is a Harvard educated lawyer, Samantha Cameron the daughter of a Baronet and an executive for a high end fashion accessory company. Both are married to their nation’s political leaders. So why are these women sat in front of pots and pans? How about showing the men standing in front of a lawn mower with a shed in the background? or in front of a garage, tools on the wall and the bonnet of a Volvo open? Because it would be frankly ridiculous and actually this photograph of Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron is also ridiculous, the only reason for this being less blatant is simply sexism.
I’m not denigrating women who are housewives or raise children, nor am I having a pop at gardeners or mechanics. It is true that both women are mothers and I imagine they can run up an omelette. Possibly the men are both handy with a black and decker drill and can change a nappy. I accept that the women are in the limelight because of their spouses rather than their own merits. But that is just it, they are in the limelight. And no matter how shiny the pans, or artfully middle middle class that room is the fact remains that they are pictured in the natural casually assumed realm of women: the kitchen, the domestic, the constrained. This is just the environment women have fought to have the choice to distance themselves from and these two women have chosen to identify themselves with it. Mind you it may be a result of the Cameron’s continuing doomed efforts to hide their silver spoons and here, literally and metaphorically, replace them with ordinary pots and pans. The Obama’s may not have designed these photo opportunities. Certainly when I saw Michelle Obama with the London schoolgirls at Oxford her entirely admirable admonishments to achieve and declaration of her ambition for her own girls sat ill with this mimsy photo-opportunity.
Bright women like Michelle go to University to avoid being identified with the kitchen. An education, profession and independence give women the opportunity to choose when and with whom to procreate, to be able to pay for childcare and to be able to see the kitchen and domesticity as a pastime or something actively chosen. The poor and ill-educated woman often ends up chained to the sink, baby hanging from the boob and facing a life of domestic boredom. The women’s realm is not the kitchen, unless that woman is a professional chef or cook or it is an interest/hobby. Nor are we are not brood mares to be kept in little domestic cells no matter how streamlined or gadget filled.
I loathe this neo-conservative put on a Cath Kidston pinny and fantasise about domesticity thing that is burbling away culturally. There was that bloody awful John Lewis advert, this obsession with putting older women down and an obsession with frivolity and girlishness. The medias ideal woman today is part seven year old, part Katy Price and part deliriously happy help mate. It is a lie. Children, kitchens and housework are toil, necessary but basically physical labour. The people that can make the home a decorous fantasy hobby have Olga doing all the real work, a cleaner, a highly paid job and a good education. Hardly any of them bother with the full time business of homemaking and child raising. Why should they? I admire women who achieve in fields outside domesticity, because to be blunt, domesticity requires labour, common sense and determination. I can cook, am very efficient at cleaning and can manage a home, not through choice but because of my gender and background. It does not require imagination, verve or education* and it is these qualities I want to see being reflected in photo opportunities, this environment simply makes these two women look vapid, dull and unimportant. It also makes them look like liars, as this is simply, not the kind of life they lead or have led as women.
This is my personal opinion, have any pictures/ads/images annoyed your feminist soul recently?
* I'm not saying women with these qualities may not choose domesticity because babies or the home are their thing, although they seem rare. Nor am I ignoring the frankly huge number or women with these qualities who are trapped due to low expectations and poor educational opportunities.