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.

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