Lessons About Women Gleaned from Stock Photography

Maybe we need more female photographers to contribute to stock photo sites.

I’m putting on my feminist hat (okay, it’s a crown) for this post, so be forewarned.

I was looking for pictures for the cover of my next book yesterday and I noticed that you can really draw a lot of inferences about our culture just by looking at the way women are portrayed in stock photography.

To give you context, I was looking for a middle-aged woman with a sword for the final installment of my trilogy. The original mock up my designer and I came up with has been bugging me for months and I finally figured out why: the model we used is too young for where Guinevere is in life in this story. So I’m looking for an older one.

You would think there are stock photos out there of queens, right? Yeah not so much, unless you want one who is maybe 18 or you can pay thousands of dollars to a photographer period images. I can’t, so I used Adobe Stock and ThinkStock, which produced some rather…interesting results. What I found was pretty consistent on both. I realize that this likely has more to do with the specific searches I was doing than the diversity of images overall on those sites, but my results were still pretty telling:

  1. Keywords: Woman with sword. Many of the women with swords were very young and most were scantily clothed. Some were licking the swords in what I guess was supposed to be a seductive manner. (Eww…) This clearly comes from some sort of male fetish and is obviously meant to cater to the male gaze. I guess this shouldn’t surprise me, given the lack of strong female historical role models, but you would think with all the fantasy novels out there, there would be more images that were appropriate for books that aren’t anime-like or erotica.
  2. Keywords: Dark haired woman. Finding pictures of middle-aged women is very hard. I can find young models and elderly woman in spades, but like with Hollywood rolls, women in middle age are ignored. This makes me feel like our society wants to hide the period of life when women are no longer traditionally desirable, yet aren’t the crones we like to trot out at Halloween and ignore for the rest of the year. As someone approaching 40, I find the lack of representation of women near my age very troubling. I know I no longer look like I did when I was 18 so I don’t want a child representing me or subconsciously conveying I should still look like her. No. I earned every one of my wrinkles and age spots. I want my characters to be able to show the beauty of aging, too.
  3. Keywords: Middle aged woman. When you do find middle-aged women in pictures they are smiling. In and of itself, this isn’t a bad thing, but when you’re trying to find one in which the woman looks like she wants to be taken seriously, this is a problem. I began to think about the types of products these happy images might accompany and most of them were intended to solve some sort of “female” problem: child-rearing, cleaning, eating healthy so they can look young (see above). Then I remembered the old idea that women should always be bright and happy for their men; looks like that is still alive and well. God forbid we show a woman who could go toe to toe with a man! We’d rather have vapid, smiling Barbie dolls.
  4. Keywords: Middle aged woman serious. If you ask for serious faces, most of the images you get are women who aren’t wearing makeup. Um…what am I supposed to do with that? Does that mean that photographers think serious women are ugly or plain? Or that a woman can’t be desirable and serious at the same time? Are the only ways to be serious and female to be sick, tired or depressed? Because that’s what these search results look like.
  5. Keywords: Fierce woman. Fierce women apparently like to bite things: chains, whips, pens, hot peppers (don’t ask, I don’t know either, but it was there). And they like to exercise and yell. That’s seriously (no pun intended) all you get in this type of search. Where are the businesswomen, pissed off mothers, and women thinking deep thoughts? Where are the warriors, military women, doctors, police women, etc.? The message this sends to me is that I can only be considered fierce if I’m a dominatrix or I’m working out, both of which end up feeding into ideals put in place by men for how women are supposed to be. And that is bullshit. I’m fierce every single day, even when I stay in my pajamas!

As a feminist, I find these results deeply concerning. If women ever want to be taken seriously we need to break through the stereotypes that run rampant in these images.

Right now I really wish I was a photographer so I could start consciously integrating more positive and diverse female images into my work. But I am a writer, which means I’m going to have to keep writing strong female characters who demand a different image on their book covers. Write enough of those and the pictures will change. Or at least that is my hope.

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Whose Turn Is It?

I have been trapped in my office for the last week, finishing the line and content edits of my twentieth novel. Yup, 20th. I’ve been so consumed with it that I’ve lost track of days and hours and, for a minute, I was ready to email the Scribes to see who had dropped the ball on posting this week.

Well. Guess what?

It’s me.

Yup. This week is my turn to post and this is what happens when you use up all your words in the final stages of a book. You have no more space in your head for other things. It even took me fifteen minutes to write a four line email to my editor because I had to keep correcting it again and again. At the end I said, “I have no idea if any of this makes sense because I’m out of words.”

But, this morning, I finished the edits. It is done. The final draft is ready.

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All I have left to do is write the acknowledgements and format it so it’s all pretty and polished for ebooks and print editions and it’s done.

When I finished the first draft of Hexed and I realized it was my 20th completed novel I couldn’t help but do the math. Not counting some of the novellas I’ve written, just these 20 books, I’ve written somewhere in the ballpark of 1.75 million words in the last six years. If I include the novellas and short stories, I think I’m pushing 2 million.

That’s a lot of words, guys. I’m kinda tired, to be honest.

It’s strange too, because when I’m not writing, when I’m between books/projects, I feel guilty for not writing. I’m actually working on book 21 as we speak as a flash-fiction series for my Patreons right now. Seriously. And there’s nothing to feel guilty about! That’s a career’s worth of books in 6 years for Pete’s sake!

I think it has a lot to do with the shift we’ve seen in the publication market in the last 3-5 years. Readers don’t want to wait 12-18 months for sequels and writers really feel the pressure. I know I do. Of course, this is my full time job right now so I feel the pressure to write write write even more. But… I need a break.

I’ve said that before and allowed myself some time off, but not enough, honestly. I’ll give myself a couple of weeks and then I’m right back at it. But I think this time, I need some real, substantial time off. I’ll keep working with my Patreon posts because I need to, but my husband and I are taking our first real vacation in ten years exactly one month from today. So I’m going to take this month to try to decompress. I want to be rested for the vacation so I can enjoy it and not be exhausted. When we get back, it’ll be the start of October, and you guys know how much I love that time of year. I think I’ll be ready to write something new, something spooky, something fun.

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The Young Podawans Ep. 49 – Doctor Who S10

Check out Scribes Kristin and Brian’s podcast for your very geeky needs! This week, they’re talking Doctor Who!

The Young Podawans

With the announcement of the New Doctor, we decided to step back into the TARDIS and catch up on the Doctor’s most recent adventures. In short – we liked Bill a lot, but it was still a very Moffaty season for the most part. Still – we have MANY THOUGHTS. Aside from the Who-Talk, we have also an update on our reading challenge and on our watermelon beer preferences.

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Social Media: One Perk of Being an Author…or Being Human

Yesterday I was faffing about on Facebook – as you do – and stumbled over this…

One household staple sums up why Americans and Brits will never see the world the same way.

The article makes a couple of basic assumptions, primarily that London flats with in-home laundry are likely to have combination washer/dryers. More importantly, those dryers don’t work, and people end up draping soggy clothing all over their flats to get things dry.

They author argues that it’s in the British national character to accept an appliance with less-then-optimal functioning, while Americans would treat it as a challenge to find a way to make the things work better.

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Which is interesting, but not really the point of this blog post. What I did with the article is.

I posted the link on a group Facebook page, mainly because many of my friends there are from the UK, NZ, Canada, and Oz (Australia). As I expected, the link got lots of conversation. (It helped that I started off with a comment about microwaving water for tea, which never fails to stir things up. Apparently some consider this American convenience a travesty.)

Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Some people – especially Americans who are living/have lived in London – hate drying their undercrackers on the radiator.
  • Others who live there think having a separate dryer would be a waste of space and electricity. Also:
    • An “airing cupboard” works just as well.
    • “Panties” are for children.
    • “Knickers” are for adults.
    • Radiators are for drying socks.
    • Microwaving water for tea is a travesty.
  • One British friend who lives north of London does have a “real” dryer.
  • A friend from New Zealand said the cure for line-dried, sandpaper towels is a fabric softener you put in the wash rather than the dryer sheets.
  • Another friend from Oz would never use a dryer because of economic and environmental concerns.
    • Electricity is too expensive and too hard to generate to waste.
    • The sun dries things perfectly well, and is a natural stain remover.
  • Microwaving water for tea is a travesty.

All of that from one random article!

Maybe this post says as much about me as it does about the state of household maintenance. I don’t travel much. It’s just…never been a priority. Part of the reason is that when I travel, I’m always conscious of being a visitor, an outsider, not part of the fabric of life. In the space of five or seven or ten days, I never get deep enough. I always leave wanting more.

My fantasy European vacation would take at least six months, and would involve a castle in the south of France and a cottage near Brighton.

While I’m plotting and scheming for the perfect vacation, meeting people on-line helps me learn about life in other places without ever leaving my living room. And not just the picture-postcard-tourist stuff. I’m learning about airing cupboards and fabric softener and tea. The details! The things only locals know!

The good stuff!

So what does all that have to do with being an author? Well, my progression as a writer evolved in tandem with the world wide web. I published my first book in 2012 and took a blogging class to learn how to promote it.

The class’s teacher – Kristen Lamb – required us to start Twitter accounts and created a class Facebook page. This was my first experience with making internet friends, and I still keep in touch with some of them. It might sound a little over-dramatic, but that class changed my life.

No joke. It lead to me becoming part of the Spellbound Scribes!

As an author, I need to be savvy about social media, because the various outlets can be very effective tools for promotion. But really, I hang out on Facebook and Twitter because that’s where my friends are, and because it’s fun.

And because I very much believe that every connection I make shrinks the size of this big blue world, and realizing how much we have in common is the only thing that’ll keep us from riding our divisions into catastrophe.

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