Friday, March 21, 2014

Image Dysfunction

I was bored one afternoon and decided to use Google Images to see what came up for my name. If you haven't googled yourself you should do that regularly to see what others see when they look for you. But this time I didn't use my whole name, just my first name (Catherine). And the results that came up were interesting. Did you know that there is an erotic video game out there called Catherine? Neither did I, until now. Most of the images that came up for my name were scantily clad women (and Catherine Zeta Jones who was sometimes scantily clad).

So then I typed in a different women's name, just to see what would come up in Google Images. The results were a little less scantily clad but I didn't have to scroll very far to find a mostly naked woman. And then another. And then another. So I tried a different woman's name. Same results. I went through friend's first names and family first names and always came up with similar results. There were some names that had fewer scantily clad images but ALL the women's names I typed in brought up at least a couple nearly nude images. ALL of them. Every single one.

So I played the same game with men's first names. And that's when I got disturbed. There were almost no scantily clad images of men on Google Images. There were a few shirtless pictures but that was it. No matter how far I scrolled down on each one I could only find one or so nude image or less. And I started thinking about what this says about society. For the record I don't think this is an issue with Google Images. I don't think that this is an algorithm gone bad. I think this is reflection of what type of images get posted online. And I worry about what that says about what society feels a woman offers in worth.

I would say that a majority of the images for men's first names were headshots, often in business or professional attire. While there were plenty of images of actors and models, almost all of them were dressed. And the images tended to focus on their shoulders and above. In contrast, most of the women's images were full body shots. Often in less clothes than more. The ones that were fully dressed were often showing good amounts of cleavage. But it was the full body portion that bothered me. Apparently we aren't all that interested in what women have above the shoulders.

Now I should say that I have no issue with women (or men) showing off their bodies. I like erotic images and porn as much as the next person. What got me thinking about this post was wondering what statement this says to the younger generations about how we portray women. If they go to look up their first name and all they find are images of scantily clad women, what lesson does that teach? Do they see that they can be a doctor, or a writer, or a soldier. Or do they see that women who take off their clothes get attention.

Perhaps I'm thinking too much about this. But it made me angry. I want to see women who are valued for their intelligence and creativity and professionalism. I want to see women who show grace and kindness and drive. And at work I see these people. Out in society I see these people. But when I look online, all I see are scantily clad women. No matter how innocent the search.

If you try this experiment let me know what you find. Go to Google Images and type any women's first name in and scroll down to see what type of images you get. Do the same with men's first names. Let me know what you find. I hope my searches aren't indicative of anything. I hope I'm wrong. But I tried a lot of names. And I can see patterns. It's a bit disturbing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Memories of TV Shows Past

I woke up on Sunday with an image in my head. A cartoonist and her colorist sit at drafting tables across from each other. I knew it was from a TV show. One I had loved many years ago but that was all I could remember of it. Oh and I know the actress was named Lea or Leah. In this modern age of Google and IMDB it didn't take me long to figure out which show I was thinking of. The actress was Lea Thompson, and the show was Caroline in the City.

The show aired from 1995-1999 and I think I watched every episode. I was enamored with the lifestyle of Caroline Duffy, Lea Thompson's character. To me she lived a perfect life, drawing comics during the day while wisecracking with her hilarious next door neighbor Annie, her colorist Richard, and her on-again, off-again boyfriend Del. I loved her apartment, an impossibly spacious place for New York City. And I quickly developed a crush on Malcolm Gets, who played Richard, the angst-ridden and sarcastic but cultured colorist who underneath had a heart of gold. Richard was just about the perfect man for the person I was at that time.

And apparently still is. I watched a couple of episodes over the last two days and I quickly found myself back in the world. Not only did I remember the characters, I remembered the episodes. Almost 15 years after the show ended, I can still remember the episodes. I must have watched the show over and over. And I'm still in love with Richard. There's just something about his dry wit, his slightly patronizing tone, his angst, and of course that soft heart, that still speaks to me. Add in the fact that he's an artist, and I'm done for.

But the whole show reminded me of who I was at the time. I had dreams of being a writer, living in the big city, trading barbs and sweet jabs with neighbors and coworkers while getting paid to write books. I wanted that spacious apartment. I can see clearly why the show appealed to me. And still does appeal to me. It may be a blast from the past but it stirs up hopes and dreams that still haven't gone away. All from one TV show. Now back to binge watching episodes.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Defense of Eating Meat...from a Vegetarian

Now at last I can look at you in peace; I don't eat you any more. 
--Franz Kafka while admiring the fish in an aquarium. 

In November 2007 I became a vegetarian. I do research for an economic development firm and the more research I did into meat production, the less I could stomach the idea of eating meat. After weeks of feeling guilty I just stopped all meat consumption. For a month or two I was pescatarian (eat fish) but shortly into 2008 I stopped doing that as well. And a great weight lifted off my back. I didn't feel guilty anymore.

Now I was never a big meat eater to begin with. I'm not a fan of the textures of most meat. So giving it up wasn't a real problem. Except when it came to Jeff and I cooking. Jeff's a carnivore. I often describe him as a meatatarian. Meat and potatoes and not a lot of vegetables in his diet. So we don't cook well together anymore. But I made him a promise when I became vegetarian that I would never try to convert him. And he made a promise that he would never push meat on me. And that works for us. I think it should work for people in general.

I read an article today about the pig production industry. Pork and bacon are not something I could ever go back to, even if I went back to meat. I was reading the comments on the article and there was a lot of vitriol from both vegetarians and meat eaters. There were many names called and there were several "I hope you die" statements. It was vicious and mean. And it was disgusting. I read only a couple comments before I closed the page. We fight about a lot of terrible things.

And I got to thinking about my vegetarianism. I don't eat meat as a choice. I think that's the right choice for me. I don't want to deal with the guilt I feel is associated with meat consumption (see Kafka above). And while I'd love to see more people eat less meat (or the industry become more humane) I'm not going to lash out at people who do eat meat. I don't eat meat, that's my choice. You do eat meat, that's your choice. Nothing I say is going to change your mind and nothing you say is going to change mine. If we're each comfortable with our decision than we can leave each other alone. I'm going to save my energy for the fights that need fighting (like changing the industry) and leave the individuals, who just want to eat what they want, in peace.