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What Does Feminism Look Like?

2011 March 7

Image is important. Sad but true. And it is widely held that feminism has an image problem. I thought I’d do some of my famous research into what the internet says feminism looks like.

This is an exciting web 3.0 INTERACTIVE post, rather than one that’s full of pictures, because of copyright licensing laws. When you hear this noise – *ping!* – click the link and hopefully the search results will open in a new window for you to enjoy.

Google Images


Google provide personalized search results of course, so what you see when you Google images of feminism is probably different from what I’m seeing. But what I got is for the most part old favourites, and mostly images created by or appropriated by the feminist movement. I love these pictures. But they are getting kind of old:

Female symbol with fist


  • Rosie the Riveter (what are we going to do when the 1940s aren’t fashionable anymore?)
  • “If I had a hammer… I’d SMASH patriarchy” graphic (a proto-Feminist Hulk? SMASH!)
  • The female symbol with fist – actually a little alarming when you think about why that symbol represents the female.  Punching wombs for equality!
  • Various classic slogans on t-shirts, badges and banners
  • Pictures of Women’s Liberation marches
  • The ‘Look, kitten’ cartoon
  • A painting by Artemisia Gentileschi. It’s ‘Judith beheading Holofernes’, in fact. Bet she was a feminist too – we can’t get enough of violence against men, apparently (more on which later)

In amongst these are the anti-feminist blogger’s illustration of choice, the demotivational poster.



These days, some people pretend to be dorky to be cool. I’m the real deal. My major love-in with clipart was at secondary school when I decided to make a school newsletter. No one would do it with me, so I wrote and laid it out and printed it and distributed it in all the classrooms by myself. There was no second issue.

Anyway. Clipart offerings for feminism were pretty thin on the ground, and included:

Those women in red are just the tip of the iceberg in representations of feminism as women fighting / besting / attacking / murdering men, it turns out…

Stock Photos

Famously bizarre friend of the low budget publication producer, there is nothing quite like browsing cheap stock photography websites. There’s even a tumblr dedicated to some of the more outlandish findings.

Let’s start with iStockPhoto.


Yes, that’s right. The first image to come up under ‘feminism’ is a woman holding a gun to her sleeping partner’s head. See also:

Silhouette of a man kneeling down, chained to a giant pink highheeled shoe with a lipsticked, presumably "female" mouth on the side of the shoe's heel. The other end of the chain is held by the shoe-mouth.

This startling picture came up under 'feminism' on free stock photo site


I find this simultaneously worrying, revealing and hilarious. There we were, slogging away, trying to get recognised as a valid and powerful political movement and to assert our credibility as a critical paradigm, and it turns out all the people creating and using these images are afraid that we’re going to come and BEAT THEM UP.

Other things come up too, but the women-attacking-men theme is pretty striking. One notable exception is this unbelieveable piece of tastelessness: “Sexy woman wearing a Burkha”.

On to Shutterstock, a much friendlier and sexier place, it turns out.


There’s really too great a variety of bizarre representations of feminism here for me to summarise, but highlights include:

The violence against men is present, but it’s more symbolic – women are cutting or stamping on their ties – or implied: the boxing gloves are back, and this enterprising young lady has an assault rifle.

There are also a lot of pictures of attractive models looking like they can’t wait to advertise your new cleanser.

Not that I could ever afford to buy pictures from Getty, but I checked them too.


Popular themes seem to be men and women glaring at each other in offices, arm wrestling and tugs-of-war (also in offices) and another disturbing guns-in-bed picture.

Last stop:

Creative Commons

Firstly: I love Creative Commons; it basically makes my job possible (producing decent communications materials for charities). Y’all should donate to support them.


Flickr is the main place I use for CC pics, and what comes up under ‘feminism’ is on the whole just pictures of the day-to-day business of it. Panel debates, speakers, meetings, marches, placards, some cool graffiti…

Not especially glamorous, but less weird and less violent than what stock photography sites seem to think goes on.  For example, I couldn’t find a single picture of a sexy bride in boxing gloves punching a businessman’s head off.


11 Responses leave one →
  1. Stephen B permalink
    March 7, 2011

    I cannot believe the womb-punch. It’s… I just don’t…

    I can totally believe the “gun to head” awfulness of the intarwebs, though. I love flickr like a tasty thing, nice to see that’s not as bad.

    • Sarah J permalink*
      March 7, 2011

      I know! I’d never really thought about it before but now I’ve seen it I can’t unsee it, like that duck/rabbit optical illusion.

      Yeah, I think Flickr is better because it’s mostly still about people sharing pictures of their experiences rather than struggling to represent a concept, hence the scarcity of Attack Feminists and the large numbers of people giving presentations. Revolution by Powerpoint! :-)

  2. March 7, 2011

    I don’t think that a lot of people get that the central theme of feminism is to raise women up to equal status rather than pull men down. I think a lot of men fear that the only way we will get equal status is to somehow destroy their status and then they get scared of feminism. These images are just appalling in their wrongness.

    • Stephen B permalink
      March 7, 2011

      I’m seeing a lot of the attitude which was around the Alpha Male posts we made a while back ( ), where men (usually white American men) retaliated with extreme bile if a woman displayed ANY power over them at all. In that mindset, women talking about equality = forcing men at gunpoint.

      I don’t know, the over-reaction looks a bit psychotic to me. It’s an unpleasant reminder of how far we have to go, even Europe/the US.

    • Sarah J permalink*
      March 7, 2011

      You’re quite right – I guess equality would mean the end of privilege, so the aims of feminism are a threat to masculine power. But there are plenty of men who would benefit from gender equality too, though that’s pretty rarely voiced.

      But yeah, these pictures make it look like the GOAL of feminism is to humiliate and attack men. I can’t tell whether that’s what people really think or if that’s just a convenient way to portray it, probably a bit of both. Either way, when these violent pictures stack up it starts looking a wee bit hysterical!

      • Pet Jeffery permalink
        March 8, 2011

        I agree that plenty of men (the majority of men, I think) would benefit from reducing sexual inequality. But there are winners and losers with any change, and when it comes to reducing inequality (of any kind) those with most to lose are rich and powerful. It’s unsurprising if corporate-controlled websites present feminism in ways with which we feel uncomfortable.

        I’d prefer to talk of reducing inequality rather that achieving equality. I’m not sure that issues around sexual inequality can be confronted separately from the wider inequalities in society… they are all functions of the same patriarchy. Under Blair and Brown, Britain became an increasingly unequal place… and Cameron’s Britain seems to me an unpromising place to seek equality. We live in a society where some men (and I imagine that they are all men) receive bonuses several times the amount of money that will pass through my hands in my entire lifetime.

  3. Miranda permalink*
    March 8, 2011

    I cannot get over that image with the shoe, and the lips, and the silhouette dude-in-chains. Every time I look at this post my brain goes WHAT IS GOING ON. WHAT. WHAT IS THAT. I DON’T EVEN.


    … yeah. I know it’s disturbing but it renders me insensible with laughter just looking at it. There’s so much going ON in it! It looks like someone’s GCSE Design & Technology coursework!

    It wins the prize for “weirdest alt-text description we have yet had to figure out”.

  4. Pet Jeffery permalink
    March 8, 2011

    I may be an old cynic, but what I’d have predicted for these images would’ve been misrepresentation, trivialisation and stereotyping. To be honest, I’m surprised that the results weren’t a lot worse.

    One disappointing thing, though, is that I didn’t notice a single anti-rape image. Rape is not only an extremely serious issue, but one that might unite all women (and all men of good will) in recognising that something needs to be done to address the power imbalance between the sexes.

  5. March 11, 2011

    The womb punch is quite popular amongst feminists! I’ve seen it used a lot. Just goes to show that we need some better images I guess. Great post.

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