Computer showing Media Complaints Tool

Purposeful Repurposing

by Lori Boland

Sexualization of women and the corresponding hypermasculinization of men are overwhelmingly visual issues. In all areas of society, it’s virtually impossible to escape images that reinforce harmful gender stereotypes.

Considering the visual nature of the issues it is challenging to find imagery that is representative, while not repurposing or recreating the same images the YWCA is working to combat.

After careful consideration and consultation with the Culture Shift Advisory Council, frontline staff and volunteers, we selected the image below, which portrays both sexualization and hypermasculinization, to be used on the YWCA Media Complaints Toolkit webpage.

We chose this image for the toolkit because of its effectiveness in presenting how sexualization and hypermasculinization show up in media.  At the same time, we recognize that this image is problematic for the following reasons. 

  1. The female model has a vacant, disassociated look on her face, she appears to be held down by four stoic and dominant men and it’s difficult to comprehend if this is consensual. 
  2. The positioning of the male models conveys key components of hypermasculinity: dominance, power and control over women. Their faces are shadowed and they are positioned to face away from the camera in a way that makes their identity unimportant; their masculinity is a prop. 
  3. Compared to the men, the female model is posed in a submissive position; she looks vacant and disengaged yet made up; an object for their use or desire with no agency, or capacity to act independently and make her own free choices.

As many of you know, YWCA Metro Vancouver has a long history of supporting women who are experiencing and or have experienced violence. And so, it was important to draw on this experience and understanding when coming up with imagery for this initiative. Visually portraying the issues at hand while not simultaneously triggering or offending someone who has experienced violence was a difficult task.  During the process, we continued to return to the visual nature of the issues and our need to have an image that educates the public, shifts culture and propels people into action. 

The Culture Shift Media Complaints Toolkit was created for two reasons: to raise awareness on the connection between sexualization and hypermasculinization and gender inequality, and to encourage people to take action on these issues.  These issues harm us all.  Add your voice; make a change; report sexualized images.

Culture Shift is a Status of Women Canada-funded project focused on shifting environments that contribute to sexualization and hypermasculinization. To submit a complaint about the Canadian media, click here.