From Stereotypes to Narratypes: What The New LeanIn Stock Photos Leave Out

From Stereotypes to Narratypes: What The New LeanIn Stock Photos Leave Out

LeanIn.org partnered with Getty Images to produce a cache of “images of female leadership in contemporary work and life.” The partnership came following complaints made about TIME’s recent cover featuring Hillary Clinton’s leg and pump. Some women didn’t like the high-heel-grinding, power-climbing, baby-on-hip stereotypes in Getty’s collection. They wanted new stereotypes. LeanIn.org, by definition a stand-up, get-the-job-done group of women, contacted Getty to create a new bank of stock photos consistent with the LeanIn narrative. Getty released The LeanIn Collection on Thursday morning.

The collection is an improvement, at least, when it comes to accurate style. It has a Pinterest meets Instagram feel that is honest to the age. But it is still a collection of stock images, which are inherently generic. These photos are simply LeanIn’s aspirations of generic. That’s what makes them interesting.

There are many tattooed moms, dads with baby carriers, loving lesbian couples, and women at work. I found a bunch of women weightlifter images that will please the single weightlifting woman I know. I bet that the tightrope images will get the most use, as walking the tightrope seems to be the new popular life-balancing metaphor.

Since these are pictures LeanIn wants to see, their narratypes if you will, then no one should be surprised that housewives, by far a larger segment of professional age women than moms with full sleeves or with women partners, don’t appear in domestic roles outside of children or as wives. Getty shows old women in traditional women’s roles or in a romantic embrace with a man. For younger women, I found a shot of a mom using a sewing machine, acceptable because she is teaching her son, not her daughter, how to sew. I saw only a few images of women who aren’t professional chefs cooking.  And those are really just women standing in the kitchen. I got the sense from the three generations in the kitchen shot that none of the models or the photographers had any idea what a family cooking in a kitchen looks like.

I expected the many men-with-babies photos because one of the core tenants of leaning in calls for men to do more childcare. I did not expect the LeanIn Collection to so completely lack marital affection. Excepting a few senior romance shots, men appear as coworkers or in relation to the children.

Only four pictures attempt a show of affection between a young heterosexual couple. Two are couples arm in arm after completing a marathon or mud run. Another shows a wife on a computer while her husband holds the baby and has a supportive hand on her back. The last shows a posed couple in a barn set. (Why a barn? I don’t know.) One of the other shots with the barn backdrop has a kid with the dad’s arms around him and the mom leaning away from them with her arms behind her back. The two shots of weddings are show the bride with her mother or father, not the groom. Of the 9 pictures tagged “Falling in Love,” three show golden-aged couples, one teenager, two stiff couples in the aforementioned barn, and one has the woman bathed in the hip Instagram yellow sunlight with the man all but cropped out.

The leading woman narrative coming of the LeanIn Collection does not accommodate men outside of work or childcare.

I noticed one final, and telling, missing image. LeanIn culture is supported by, or really is dependent upon, nannies. In a collection billed as, “a library of images devoted to the powerful depiction of women, girls and the people who support them,” there’s not a nanny picture in the lot.

Leslie Loftis is a lawyer turned writer via motherhood. In addition to writing for The Federalist, Leslie edits Iron Ladies, a collection of conservative women’s voices, and is a contributing editor of Liberator, a print quarterly on family law. She is also president of Leading Women For Shared Parenting. She and her husband, James, currently live in Houston with their four children (and three dogs).
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