There was a lot of talk in 2017 about the evolution of images portrayed of women in stock photography. Rewind just a couple decades, and most images of women floating around on websites and marketing materials showed them as mothers, wives and even scantily-clad sex symbols. If women were shown at work, it was usually as a teacher or nurse. Rarely were women portrayed outside of these gender norms.
The New York Times published a brilliant piece about the evolution of the representation of women in stock images, and how the growing female empowerment movement made a huge impact on the way women are being portrayed. It points to a pivotal shift in our culture in terms of gender roles, and the expectations that come with images of men vs women in public spaces, especially in the media.
Thankfully there is change happening, as we have seen in quite a few major campaigns which seek to ensure stock photos contain a diverse array of portrayals, being inclusive and less stereotypical. Not only are images of women changing, but what they are portrayed doing as opposed to simply “being”.
On top of women being mothers, wives, teachers and caretakers, the world is beginning to embrace seeing women in a new light. More and more purchasers of stock photography want to see women in charge and in professions that weren’t thought of in the past as “women’s jobs.”
The team at global stock photo industry Dreamstime was excited to see a shift in their user preferences and searches, and compiled some data that illustrates just what their buyers wanted in 2017. They compiled a list of 10 keywords that represent various professions, and then they figured out how many users were searching for men in those positions and how many were searching for women, (for example: how many searches for “female doctor” vs. “male doctor”).
The results represent a cultural shift that is taking place in the U.S. and around the world. For the majority of the professions included, women were in the lead by a landslide. More users wanted to see images of female doctors, CEOs, and police officers than ever before. There were even some unexpected flip-flops – far more users were searching for images of male nurses than female nurses. A couple of the professions had not shown a great shift: more users still want to see female secretaries over male secretaries and male judges over female judges.
Nevertheless, the changes in how we portray women in the public eye are well under way. The question is whether these changes are going to impact real life data in certain professions, or whether they will amount to “tokenism”. We hope it is the former, as visual representations of what is possible can be very powerful. As the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media often touts, “if she can see it, she can be it”.
You can see the data from the Dreamstime research below.