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Thursday, 6 September 2018

Photography Fratboys!

I interviewed Andrew Moisey this week about his fascinating The American Fraternity project. It's very much about toxic masculinity and the way fraternities are part of the hegomonic masculinity industry. You can read all about it in next month's BJP.

I've only seen the pdf, but it looks like being a great, and much-needed book. It comes with lots of things, but I especially love the undergraduate anthropology essay by a fraternity member that is slipped into the book as an insert. I've marked lots of bad essays in my time, but never one that has the so-bad-it's-good-no-actually-it's-fucking-terrible-ness of this one. It got a B- by the way. The sentiment is that the TA who marked it couldn't be bothered with the paperwork of failing it.

Here are a couple of excerpts.

'I've Iearned that the stereotypes that exist about "frat-boys." are not true... It is not about womanising, being intoxicated, and being masculine or prioritising parties over academics. There is more to this life that most people do not realize. Fraternities are the essence of what is to be a man. 

Everything we do is in the hope that it will make us more masculine and thus a bigger person. All the activities such as excessive drinking, hazing and womanizing can all be seen as trying to make ourselves a more masculine man.'

(from How to be a Man Amongst Brothers – Anthropology 3 essay)

Womanizing next to drinking is the most popular activity. You can often hear comments about having sex with women in almost every conversation. At parties the only concern is what girl will you get with during the party. There are some girls that are always at the house. These girls are often treated in the most sexist fashion. They are called by derogatory names and are often the center of jokes. There are numerous occasions when at a party you can see a brother picking up a girl and throwing her over his shoulder and bringing her to his room. These acts toward woman are done in order to achieve this high masculine status. 

(from How to be a Man Amongst Brothers – Anthropology 3 essay – graded at B-)

Any photography student who's done an essay on masculinity will know the idea of hegomonic masculinity. Hegomonic masculinity is the idea that a misogynistic masculinity in which women are reduced to sex objects is perpetuated by organisations(?) such as fraternity houses, legal, political and cultural institutions, each layer creating and reinforcing a distorted heterosexual form of masculinity that is diminishing to everyone.

It's been interesting to follow Kristen Chick's special report on sexual harassment  because it might be that the relative lack of outrage (and photography does outrage very well - as long as it comes at no personal effort beyond that of being outraged) and, more importantly, action that met her report is indicative of deeper structural faultlines within some parts of photography.

This is from the original article by Chick:.

Women interviewed by CJR say two well-known photographers—Antonin Kratochvil and Christian Rodriguez—engaged in serial harassment and that VII, a prestigious collective, and the Eddie Adams Workshop ignored complaints of harassment.

Many women in the industry say the behavior is so common that they have long considered it simply one of the realities of working as a woman in the profession. They say the problem is rooted in a number of factors: The field has historically been male-dominated with a culture that glorifies macho, hyper-masculine behavior; there is an increasing reliance on freelancers, which affects accountability; workshops and other events for young photographers are often exploited by older, established photojournalists.


The complicity of men who witness harassment or abuse and simply look away or laugh is one of the most disheartening facets of the issue for Taylor-Lind. “As a woman in this industry, the thing that is most challenging for me is not having my vagina touched in a work environment, but it’s knowing that I exist in a community where my sense of self, and where my permission for touching my body, is not respected by my colleagues,” she says. “That’s what hurts the most, is the silence and the complicity of, not men who behave like this, but of all the ones who allow it to happen.”


The effects of sexual harassment are wide-ranging, pushing some women out of the field and causing others to stop attending photo festivals, workshops, or networking events. Some women say they stopped seeking out mentors because they experienced so much harassment when they did, even as they described a dearth of female mentors in the field. Others say they’re disgusted by the hypocrisy of working in a field that claims to shine a light on abuses or wrongdoing in the world, while protecting predators in their own industry.

To join the dots, photography (and photojournalism in particular), is part of hegemonic masculinity. It's not too different from a big fraternity in other words, with young women photojournalists, interns assistants and workshop participants being the sorority fodder for the fratboy photographers to prey on! It has its secrets, it serves an aggressive heterosexual agenda, it is accepted that there are excesses but it's best not to talk about them for all the reasons Chick mentions. There are defensive structures in place that will excuse the abuses of fraternity members and it's best not to challenge them. The worrying thing is you still get the feeling that is the case despite Chick's article.

There have been some strong responses from some agencies to this, but it's not always enough. VII allowed Krachovil to resign and made no statement which is a statement in itself. I know of at least one organisation that hasn't implemented a harassment policy because it they're so nice and cool they'd never employ somebody who harasses people.  This despite the fact that they most definitely have employed people who harass people. There's the idea that harassment happens in other places and when it happens here it's because of something else like misunderstandings or high jinks or generational miscommunication. Which of course is exactly the way that hegemonic masculinity works. You think like that, you're not just part of the problem, you are the problem.

You get the feeling some of the responses are based on the need to be seen to be doing something, that these complaints are an inconvenience and wouldn't it be better if things could just get back to normal Again, that's just a feeling and I might be wrong. But you get the feeling.

Yes, we live in the #metoo generation but in a couple of years #metoo will be so last year and the deeper-seated institutional misogyny will rise again. It's absolutely guaranteed that some the photographic equivalent of frat boys will start popping up and saying how it's all just gone too far and actually, some women like being greeted with a hand between their legs. They used to like it that way back in the old days. Oh wait, too late, I've seen that one already.

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