SocProf, from The Global Sociology Blog, has an interesting post about gender in the public sphere. Here is a photo (from Echidne of the Snakes) of the “first spouses” of the G20 nations (that is, the spouses of the political leaders of the G20):


Except…someone’s missing. Two of the G20 countries (Germany and Argentina) have heterosexual, married female leaders, and their husbands aren’t in the photo. I don’t know why–were they not invited to the event? Did they choose not to come? SocProf asks, “Would the husbands have looked out of place here? Would this have been embarrassing to them?”

But SocProf points out that a different disappearing act recently occurred in Israel:

…look what happened in reverse in a group photo of the newly-formed Israeli cabinet. On top is the traditional cabinet group photo, at the bottom is the “touched-up” version that appeared in [the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman]… notice the difference?


Indeed, the two female Cabinet members have been photoshopped out.

SocProf says,

[In the G20 photo]…the men are not visibly absent. It is their presence that would be noticeable. And also note the setting in which the women pose, the soft colors, pink carpet and sofa with pastel background. It looks like a somewhat formal yet a little domestic setting.

The bottom photo is formal, no pink or pastel there! Icy grey with flags and orderly pose…It is a perfect illustration of the gendered domains: where men belong and where women belong.

Taken together, the three images, though taken for different purposes in different places, provide a great illustration of how we often make people who don’t fit cultural gender norms invisible…sometimes very literally.

Also see our post on an ultra-Orthodox newspaper that airbrushed girls out of a photo of children.

UPDATE: Commenter Liz says,

I object to the use of the word ‘airbrushing’, because that’s not what happened: those photos were edited, manipulated, or fabricated, but airbrushing is a specific photoshop tool for minor modification. You can’t completely change the reality of a photograph with an airbrush, unless someone would like to tell me that those two male stand-ins are actually just drawings made with photoshop.

If you use the same word (airbrushing) for taking out a model’s cellulite as well as removing heads of state from photographs, you trivialise what’s been done. Digital editing is only going to become more and more common, and it’s important to find the right words to explain how a photo has been altered.

Good point–thanks for pointing the language issue out. I didn’t know what airbrushing referred to, exactly, and had just heard it used to describe altering an image in general.