He who does not name

Dear President Biden,

I’m not quite done with the alumni magazine photo spread I brought up the other day. I neglected to tell you that all of the photos are credited and the apparent genders of the photographers add another layer to the Anonymous is Still a Woman story.

Again, I am only focusing on the 19 pictures that depict one to three people who are close enough to be recognizable. Of these 19 pictures, 9 were taken by people with traditional female names and 10 were taken by people with traditional male names (I had to google one of the students to see what gender they likely are as I couldn’t tell from the name at first – she appears to be female). So, the numbers shake out to show there’s no disparity in terms of how frequently female and male photographers were represented. What’s interesting, though, is that six of the nine pictures taken by women include the subjects’ names (though one of them is that pesky picture of the male brass quintet players that gives the un-pictured female professor’s name) while only three of the ten pictures taken by men include the subjects’ names.

With regard to naming or not naming the four (of nine) female appearing subjects in the photos, two were by women and two were by men photographers. What this boils down to is that the women photographers were especially likely to include the names of the male-appearing subjects of their pictures while the men photographers where especially unlikely to name anyone, regardless of gender. Except for authority figures…. Both women and men photographers were likely to name those in authority – professors, in this situation – whether they were in the frame or not (there’s an additional picture of a charcoal drawing from a live model class where the male professor is named but not pictured).

It’s a very small sample of photographers and images from one university so it doesn’t make sense to get too carried away with imbuing these tallies with tons of meaning. I offer them though, because they fit with the larger cultural tendencies for women to both go unnamed far more often than men go unnamed and for women to more often than men to be the ones to name others, including naming those who aren’t in positions of power.

This needs to change.

It’s clearly possible to get people’s names, even when one is snapping casual pics – most of the time the women clearly pulled this off, so surely the men can too. It’s not rocket science. But, it’s important. We all need to be real, named beings to one another whenever possible. Not only is it dehumanizing for those who go unnamed, but to have certain among us consistently go unnamed and to have certain among us consistently be the ones who fail to name, impoverishes us all. It also feeds dangerous, generally unexamined, beliefs about who counts and who doesn’t count as well as who gets to make those calls.

May we all be safe to be seen and named.
May we all be willing to go the extra step and say “hey, what’s your name?”
May we see that we’ll all be stronger and healthier if we all do this.
May we accept that some of us need to take “Seeing and Naming Each Other 101.”

Tracy Simpson

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