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  • Writer's picturesarahhawley

Challenging Traditional Gender Stereotypes

Updated: Apr 10, 2021


This project was intended to create imagery that challenges traditional gender stereotypes found in Western Society. I chose to use a common theme that links both my images. I focused on the hands of a man and a woman and shot both images from above in a scene with props that would commonly be seen with or used by the opposite gender. These images were also edited in a gender specific way to further enhance that. Both images are inspired by real situations.

One image is a spa or salon with a pair of large hands of a man getting a manicure. There are soft white towels on the table with tools that would be used for a manicure. Some of the tools around the hands are pink and peach colours, often associated as feminine, and the manicure bowl is not quite the right size to comfortably fit the larger hands. The lighting is bright to indicate the fresh, relaxing spa-like atmosphere, but the lighting is softer with some shadows that are not too harsh.

This image was inspired by a man who is a head mechanic that gets manicures regularly to care for his hands. His hands are important for him to do his job and he also has Eczema on them, so caring for his hands is very important. As the head mechanic, he is the alpha male in a male dominated occupation. The other men at his work often tease him and say he is “getting soft” because he goes for manicures. Taking care of your body and seeing a professional to have a service like a manicure, should not be seen as gender specific. Is he supposed to suffer and let his hands deteriorate just because he is a guy? Men need to care for their bodies too and there is nothing wrong with that.

The second image is also taken from above and it shows a messy workbench commonly found in a garage or woodshop. The rough working hands of a woman are shown pulling nails out of a piece of wood. On the wooden bench surface is sandpaper, scattered nails, a rusty hammer, tape measure and a number of other tools that were carefully selected to build the scene, avoiding a colour palette that suggests femininity. The woman’s hands are older, dirty and dry with sores on the fingers and back of the hands. The messy scene is lit with harsh lighting that casts dark shadows on the bench.

This image was inspired by my own personal experience. I have had several jobs that were male dominated, including working on construction sites as well as in art handling and exhibition installation. I used many of the tools in this image on a daily basis and there is no reason in the world why a woman can’t do this type of work. It is not always easy, but it is not impossible.

The editing for these images was approached in different ways. The woman’s hands were enhanced with texture and clarity to bring out the roughness and sores, while the man’s hands were softened and retouched any flaws or blemishes that were present.

As a result, some people couldn’t tell which pair of hands belonged to the male or female. I reshot both images and made a few changes to correct this issue. I reshot the manicure scene with lighting that has darker shadows and is not as flat or dull but still bright. I did not soften the man’s hands in the editing process, in fact I made them a bit rougher. I made the white towels brighter and I added a man’s watch beside the man as if he had to take it off to get his manicure done. For the work bench scene, I had the female model put on pink nail polish and rings with matching pink stones. In the editing process I added texture to the surfaces in the scene but not on the hands of the woman. I also removed some of the nails on the table and moved the placement of the sandpaper, so it was a bit less distracting. This should avoid any further confusion.

The top images are the before and the bottom images are the final edits.



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