‘Tis the season for a funny holiday photo, but one photographer’s efforts kind of missed the mark. Louisiana-based Hannah Hawkes’ Photography shared some holiday portraits on Facebook earlier this week and became the subject of viral backlash for a photo that some are saying is misogynistic and condones violence against women.
In the photo, three women — a mom and her two daughters — are bound with Christmas lights and have their mouths duct-taped shut. Behind them, the mom’s son gives a thumbs up and a smiling dad holds a sign that reads “Peace on earth.” Get it?! Because women talk so much and they’re so obnoxious you have to tie them up to get any peace and quiet! Yeah, not funny.
The first few comments on the photo were pretty benign, with a few people even laughing at the lazy attempt at humor. Within hours, though, the photo had spread around Facebook and the photographer’s page was slammed with comments from people who felt the photo perpetuated stereotypes, reinforced damaging gender roles, and condoned violence against women. Wrote one, “Women and girls see enough images and hear enough commentary that their voices should not be heard. Don’t add to it, please.”
Some of the commenters were level-headed and expressed their opinions respectfully, but others were downright hateful, criticizing the photographer’s skill and saying she had no talent. Things got so crazy, Facebook ended up removing the photo entirely. This morning, the photographer defended herself with a message saying the picture was intended as a joke and was taken at the request of the family.
Anyone hurling hateful personal attacks at this photographer or the family is obviously out of line, but that doesn’t mean people expressing genuine concern over the subject matter are wrong. Everyone who saw the photo understood that the family was trying to be funny. It’s just that their attempt at humor was lazy and misogynistic, and it promoted ideas about girls and women that are decidedly unfunny.
The thing about sexism is that it’s quiet. It’s not perpetuated by overt displays, but by small acts that promote stereotypes of women and girls and depict them as less worthy of respect than men. In taking this photo, both the parents and the photographer sent these kids a not-so-subtle message that women should be seen and not heard, that they should be silenced, and that it’s somehow entertaining or funny to treat women as annoyances rather than as human beings with thoughts and opinions.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women will be a victim of abuse by a partner in their lifetime. That’s one woman every nine seconds. I grew up watching that abuse in my own home. Sexist jokes and “silly” quips about the degradation of women make light of a very real issue that affects millions of families, and they are not funny — especially when impressionable kids are involved. If you think misogyny is so hilarious that you want it on your holiday card, go for it. Just don’t be surprised when people point out that you made a shitty joke.