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.

                                                                            Photo Copyright  White House

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.


Straight Talking Mama! said...

Fabulous fabulous post! I agree entirely! I could rant and rant about this but I won't, you have said everything beautifully, ok I started to rant but I deleted it ;o)

Gemma said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gemma said...

... Also, note Sam Cam's cheeky flash of thigh. It was the first thing I noticed in the photo. The skirt of her dress looks intentionally placed to flash some flesh... objectification of Sam Cam per chance?

Cassie said...


Good blog post - have to agree that this photo is horrendously outdated in its composition, and I just hope that it was chance rather than design to have them sat looking like a couple of housewives. Not that there's anything wrong with being a housewife of course, when that's your choice ... but I have to say though I was surprised to read this attack on domesticity. Please take this as I intend it to be - a genuinely curious inquiry - but how do these sentiments fit in with your own self-styling as a 'vintage chappette'? Styling youself on an era of female subserviance to 'chaps', wearing uncomfortable clothes that reinforce the female stereotype, hair that must take an age to do ... don't get me wrong, I think you look fab, I just am genuinely interested in how this all squares with a feminist attitude. (And forgive me, I've not read a lot of your blog before, so perhaps all this would be clearer if I had have done!)

superheidi said...

The first time I saw Katy Perry's video (California Gurls) I got really pissed. Though annoying, it wasn't the adolescent candy porn fantasy and the similar lyrics, nor the horrid music and tasteless decor that infuriated me. But it was this utter utter utter dumbness that really made me scream.
Is Mrs. Obama sitting in front of a stove worse than shaking your but in zipped down hot pants and cupcake boobs. I wonder what girls pick up from such an image? Go girl power? yeah right...
But hey, I may be the old feminist tart here.

Mrs. Exeter said...

What an interesting post. This photo gave me pause for different reasons, mainly as you said the 'hiding of the silver spoons' - the resolutely unintellectual more-DVDs-than-books, the modern furniture 'no priceless antiques from great grandma's estate for us' - seems so contrived and designed for a photo op. The pic looks fake, whether you're analysing gender roles or interiors! :)

Actuarius said...

Madness, utter madness! A sofa and books in the kitchen. The world's going to Hell in a handcart.

RedlegsinSoho said...

Thank you for your comments ladies.
Cassie I see your point, but the vintage inspiration is largely stylistic. My heroines from the period are women like Amelia Earhart,Coco Chanel and Lee Miller all of whom looked good and were their own women.
The styles of those eras were defined by the growth in consumer/political and social power of women, the adoption of trousers, suits for the office, sports wear and short hair. For me the style of the 1920's, 30's and 40's largely reflects advances in womens social position.
Vintage enthusiasm is largely for the style, creativity and pzazz of the past. I have no interest in the sexism, classism of the past or indeed being bombed and rationed.
Interestingly post feminists claim we have got equality, yet currently we dress in a highly objectified way when young and chase after youth as we age. All of which reflects an idea of women as young fit procreators rather than thinkers or indeed just people (I blame the 60's!).
Funnily enough a modern young woman going out on the town spends a lot more time getting ready than some of us vintage types. Self tanning, body waxing, false eyelash applying, hair-straightening, low lights and highlights and the application of a modern natural make up look is far more time consuming. My night out in Soho this evening will involve tidying my pony tail, red lips a lick of eyeliner and I'm off! Thanks again for commenting and I'd love to hear from you again. Redlegs x

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to make a quick point, in all seriousness, black American women have not fought to escape the (somewhat privileged) position of domestic living. In the US, we have never been associated with that, unless in the role of maid or servant. I agree with your post in that the sexism in that photo sets my teeth on edge. But a small part of me is intrigued by the recent press of Michelle as this domestic goddess because until Barack was elected, she was vilified in an extraordinarily nasty way using the old racist tirades of 'angry, dark, militant black' woman. So it's darkly humorous for me to see her shoehorned into this sort of sexist narrative considering the intersection of racism and sexism I've witnessed in the States. I think I'm just coming at it in a different way because a few generations ago, the idea of being a housewife didn't exist for the majority of black women, it was considered the realm of the white and middle class.

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