By Julie Rohr
I’m a photographer. This means I get to record special times in someone’s life. Generally joyous occasions; weddings, new babies, time with family. This gives me an interesting perspective on people’s perceptions of themselves. Most times I am photographing a woman- in any context- she will begin by telling me she is "not photogenic” and go on to point out her flaws. This is my good side, she’ll say. Can you photoshop that part, she’ll ask.
I’m also a woman.
This means I know what it feels like to be on "display.” At some point in adolescence, a female becomes aware that she may be viewed not simply as a human being, but as an object. It starts to become confusing and can be uncomfortable when we realize we’re being "observed.” When simply walking down the street or getting groceries can lead to unwelcomed stares or lewd comments. Taken to the extreme, this type of objectification is what leads to the attitude that someone’s body is a commodity for someone else to purchase or simply take for their own desires.
Last May, I started a project called The Women. I collaborated with seven other Alberta photographers, and we invited women to donate $50 to have their portrait taken. All funds went to IJM Canada and CEASE Edmonton, two organizations that support women who have been sexually exploited or trafficked. It was a call to women to stand together and show our support for women globally. To say it is NOT OKAY that there are women around the world – and in our own cities- living in a daily reality of sexual slavery, objectification, living in fear and oppression. This project brought together 400 women of all ages, races, and life journeys and raised over $20,000 for the organizations involved. The portraits are currently on display at the Alberta Art Gallery until March 22 – if you’re in Edmonton, stop in and have a look.
What does equality for women mean to me? It means that one day, we could live in a world where women don’t feel objectified based on their anatomy. Picture it! That there would no longer be women (or anyone of any age or gender) around the world whose bodies are sold or purchased as commodities against their will.
Men are an important part of the equation. Let’s celebrate the men who walk alongside us, who champion us as human beings. Those who honour and respect the women around them. Let’s recognize those who are working towards justice and equal rights and encourage their efforts.
How can we, as a culture, promote empowerment for women? I believe it’s a chain reaction, starting with self-acceptance. Practice changing your own perception of yourself. For the rest of March, when you look in the mirror, stop fretting over wrinkles, love handles, or moles. Start looking yourself in the eyes and speaking kindly to yourself. To show solidarity this week leading up to International Women’s Day, encourage the women in your life to do the same. And then – go beyond yourself, and get involved with women’s issues around the world. Each of us can play a part in promoting gender equity.