Tonight sees the launch event for a new photo book edited by Fiona Rogers and Max Houghton entitled Firecrackers: Female Photographers Now, a showcase of work by more than thirty of the world’s leading contemporary female practictioners. This kind of gender based compilation shouldn't even be a thing, of course. In an ideal world it wouldn't be necessary. But as we all know, and as the blurb states, "the photographic industry - its exhibitions, galleries, publications and auctions - employs thousands of women, but champions mostly men." So projects such as this are merely attempting to redress the imbalance within - let's face it - a patriachal, male-dominated business.
Feminism is not a political issue is it? “I think it’s right that men should have an inherent advantage in life and earn more for doing the same job as women because, er… on average, they're better at pull-ups.” Said nobody ever. Gender inequality is actually the elephant in the living room of human rights issues. And, as Caitlin Moran pointed out in one of her columns, the battle can only be won if us men get on board. And we must. Not because, as the cliché would have it, we have mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends and daughters, but because women - and get ready for this doozy of a statistic - are, like, half the people. If you’re a reasonable, thinking man who is neither an unreconstructed sexist twat or a flat out misogynist (Hello, Mr. President) it's a no-brainer, isn’t it? We men have a moral obligation to step up and support women in the struggle for equality, regardless of whether it will or will not benefit us. That’s the whole point of abiding by a principle. And we need to call out the men who are happy to support and enforce the status quo because they stand to gain from it staying in place. It’s a truism that some blokes, very often the so-called alpha males among us, are often 'threatened' by strong, confident women. I’ve always been baffled by that. (I find those qualities in a woman sexy as hell!) How ‘alpha’ is it to have such a fragile sense of your own masculinity that your confidence is challenged by the presence or professional superiority of a strong woman?! How much of a wuss do you have to be to find that a threat? Men who feel that way deserve to be roundly vilified. Especially by other men.
When I decided to start doing a photography podcast, I made a conscious 'note to self' to include plenty of female voices, partly because I was so aware of the gender imbalance among photographers and the perception of photography as a bit of a boys club. Also, between you and me, I frickin' love women. Always have. So I like talking to them and I enjoy their company. But my decidely modest aim was only ever to more or less reflect the ratio of men to women photographers in the industry. The ratio on the podcast is roughly 2:1, so I have easily overshot that goal without having to make the slightest effort. But I’m now wondering whether that's good enough. I used to think photography, like plumbing or carpentry, was simply a job that attracted more men than women. But as Daniella Zalcman, founder of womenphotograph.org, a directory of female documentary and editorial photographers, pointed out in our podcast interview, the breakdown of men and women on photography courses is roughly 50/50. Yet that percentage doesn’t come close to carrying over into the profession. So why is that? A longstanding institutionalised sexism within the industry peut-être?
Before I go congratulating myself on being such a right-on feminist, I should point out the need for vigilance. One of my female podcast listeners called me out recently for my tendency to sometimes interrupt or talk over my guests. I’m aware that I do this and I'm trying to be mindful not to, but what took me aback and put me on the defensive was her suggestion that I do it mainly to women. I was appalled by the thought. I was pretty sure I'm an equal opportunities interrupter! (Yes, I know that's not a word). But could there be some deeply ingrained subconscious sexism at work? She did acknowledge that she might be applying a kind of cognitive bias here. That as a woman photographer who has witnessed this sort of thing a million times over many years, her finely tuned antennae might be hyper sensitive to hearing it happen to women, but not so much to men. I sincerely hope that explains it, but to be honest I can't be sure. Somebody would have to test the hypothesis by listening to all the interviews and counting my interruptions for men and women alike to establish whether a pattern exists. (Good luck with that project). But hell, maybe she’s right? So we men need to watch ourselves. We need to hold ourselves to account and try to meet the high standards we absolutely ought to aspire to. Because it's a no-brainer.
I’ll do my best. I'll keep featuring awesome, talented women on A Small Voice podcast. Perhaps more of them than ever. And if you happen to be one yourself, all I can say about organisations and resources such as womenphotograph.org, Women In Photography and firecracker.org, the platform founded by Fiona Rogers that inspired the book's title, is that you must be aware of them; you must make use of them when possible and you must get involved with them on as many levels as you can, because they deserve your support (our support) and will very likely make you feel part of something important. Other than that, burn bright, firecrackers. ...And do NOT let the bastards grind you down.