Elayne Clift: Viewing the World Through a Gendered Lens

This comment is from Elayne Cliftwho writes about women, politics and social issues from her home in Saxtons River.

As a feminist writer, I often see the world through a “gender lens,” a term that means looking through metaphorical glasses in order to see people and explore events through a special lens.

This filter reveals women’s experiences, needs and perceptions while recognizing men’s realities, needs and perceptions in new ways. Our vision becomes clearer, more refined and acute, and more human when we see things with greater compassion and understanding. By becoming aware of context, we find new meaning in our own experiences and those of others.

For example, looking at the world through the lens of gender allowed Jean Kilbourne to expose the world of advertising in a way no one had before her. She demonstrated through her writing and her classic “Killing Her Softly” video series that women and girls were objectified and sexualized through subliminal advertising that seemed clever until the gender lens revealed the alarming subtext. and violent advertising.

Another type of genre lens with a more literal meaning has given us the work of photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White, Diane Arbus and others. Lange and Bourke-White were social realists whose visionary work revealed what Henry James called an “air of reality”. These groundbreaking photographers valued accurate depictions of the psychological and material realities of life.

Lange, best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration, influenced the development of documentary photography and humanized the aftermath of the Great Depression. She achieved this reality by capturing historically significant events, including the Dust Bowl.

Committed to revealing the hardships suffered by poor migrants, she accorded her subjects dignity and respect. Applying a literal gender lens, she revealed what it was like to be scared, unbearably tired and marginalized. Lange’s images, like the iconic “Migrant Mother” were often conflicting calls to conscience exposing the need to defend against lack of interest or scepticism, especially among policy makers.

Margaret BourkeWhite was the first woman authorized to cover combat zones during World War II. She covered the war like no one else had because she captured human moments in the lives of the powerful and the poor in a body of work that included moving photographs of women and children who still suffer deeply from the war.

As often as possible, they were among the people she photographed to relate the image essays to real lives and individual experiences in a human way.

Diane Arbus, whose work became famous in the 1960s, helped standardize marginalized groups and stressed the importance of representing everyone. She photographed a wide range of subjects, including children, mothers and the elderly, as well as others who were ostracized. She once said, “There are things no one would see if (we) didn’t photograph them.

Fortunately, she and other female photographers have seen their work through a gender lens. Without this objective, we would never have known so much of the world or historical events.

These innovative photographers and journalists like Martha Gelhornand others, paved the way for women writers and photojournalists to address issues of social justice and humanize their subjects.

Marion Palfi, for example, combined his art form with the social research that resulted in his iconic images, including the 1940s photo “Wife of a Lynch Victim”.

Social documentary maker Mary Ellen Mark’s the work explored homelessness, addiction, mental illness, and teen pregnancy, seen from the inside. (In 1976, she spent 36 days in the women’s maximum security section of an Oregon mental institution.)

I can’t help but think now of women like these as we contemplate the suffering that is happening in the world in our time. What could we learn in broader terms of social justice if unyielding photographs of the blank stares and skeletal bones of starving children in Yemen, Afghanistan and parts of Africa were in our minds, or if we knew the stories and see the faces of grieving mothers, themselves hungry and fragile? Would we see the reality of famine differently?

Would we have more empathy for the pain of incarceration, abusive or otherwise, or the endless grief of parents who bury their children because of gun violence? Would we view addiction or mental illness differently? Would we be less critical of those who live in family structures different from ours? Would we understand more deeply what it is to lose everything in a natural disaster or to grow old alone?

If we saw the faces of despair, terror, marginalization, loneliness and deep sadness right now, could we be inspired to go to the polls to vote for change, advocate vehemently, lobby for more humane legislation?

As feminists know, context is everything. When the world is seen through the lens of gender, social change becomes a political imperative. Stories of real people who live punitive lives for various reasons become compelling through visual support that offers powerful testimony to the reality of lives lived outside of our own spheres.

In short, seeing is knowing. And knowing, it becomes impossible to look away.