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Why Do We Struggle to Respect Women in the Arts?

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We all have heard about cases of sexual harassment or simply disrespectful attitutes towards females in workplaces, which sometimes get buried under the never ending mazes of bureaucracy, some other times they lead to job losses, penalties, warnings, sometimes plain ignorance.

We’ve also seen several cases gain public attention whether through high profile trials in the court that are reported in the media or cases where social media brings them to our attention through hundreds of likes and shares.

Either way, the struggle is real. Harassment and disrespect exists in many industries but one thing that I have noticed is just how hard it is to deal with this in the arts in particular.

As a photographer and a model, I have seen it come from many different directions. So, let’s just take a moment and talk about what female artists are likely to encounter on their way up the arts ladder.

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1. “They’re not serious. It’s just a hobby to feed their ego.”

That’s the first issue I had to deal with when I began my journey into photography, on both sides of the camera. Because the industry is highly visual, vibrant, and fast, it often assumed that the venture into this type of profession is a temporary call for attention.

Yes, we all take the odd selfie, plaster lots of filters on top of it and hope for the best as we hit the share button. But, becoming serious about freelance or contracted modeling and photography should not be treated as a joke. It’s an industry that is incredibly competitive, requires a lot of work behind the scenes, and can easily crush all your dreams if you are not careful. I have heard people say “Yeah, but that’s different. She’s famous”, when referring to Kate Moss as I compare her to amateur models, and yet she was only an amateur herself at the beginning of her journey, too.

Why can’t we support young (and old) women, who are starting a new journey in the arts without being extremely judgmental? Why can’t we lose the negative connotations one often has when thinking about working in front of a camera, and yet have a high respect and admiration for those who have made it ‘big’, and are all over billboards, magazines, TV, and other types of media? They’re all the same, only difference is some of us have not had our big break yet.

It’s not a temporary hobby, it’s a job. It’s a way of life.

Photo by Geoff Powell
Photo by Geoff Powell

2. “She’s just a model / photographer”

I have a degree in History & Criminology, I read non-fiction every week, I write, I learn new things and skills, I try to push myself and my development. I am slowly learning about organizing and leading photography workshops and providing tuition to amateurs. And yet, being on both sides of the camera is something very puzzling for some.

Take this case for example: I cold-emailed a local garden designer/architect and offered my services as a photographer for his website and future projects. We agreed to meet for a chat, which went just fine. Next thing I know I receive a text message saying he has seen my modeling page. What’s the way to respond to that? “Great. I have seen your Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter page. Now, shall we talk about arranging a date for me to shoot your projects?”

The communication slowly fizzled out as I received more personal messages that slowly but surely moved away from the business we initially discussed, especially after I told him my rate for a lifestyle/portrait shoot that he enquired about.

I want to do it all, and yet that’s something I’ll have to suffer for because sometimes things just simply clash. Some men, whilst initially appearing as sensible business men, might start seeing you as an embodiment of sex and light pleasure, and that’s where the objectification begins. They do not see you as a respectable business woman anymore, but as a piece of meat. Something to look at, someone to have coffees with talking about business that’ll never see the light of the day, and they will keep sending you more and more personal messages.

Furthermore, after having gone to several meetings with local business owners, even though my older male colleague and I were introduced as a team, I was often interrupted and I did not get a chance to make any comments or introduce my ideas. Why? Because I am just a young woman, I can wait till men finish ‘doing business’ and perhaps then I’ll get a chance to get a word in.

What’s the solution? Don’t let yourself be a wallflower. Exercise your power and strength at the beginning of the first meeting, otherwise you’ll let things slide out of your hands more and more with every consecutive meeting, until there is no turning back. I’ve been there.

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3. “How much should I pay to sleep with you?”

Probably nothing new, but sexual comments and requests are often made to models in the industry. I personally have been lucky with just a few controversial comments made to me; but, before I go further in depth, let me put this in perspective to you.

Imagine you go to a hair stylist. You know what you will be paying for the service so you come prepared. You meet the hair stylist assigned to you on the day, you two get on well with general chit chat and laughter here and there, overall a great experience. Then, once she is finished you ask her to sit down next to you. You place your hand on her thigh, slowly stroking up and down, and ask her: “How much should I pay on top of your fee for you to sleep with me?”

Surely you’d receive either a slap, an extremely disappointed face, and a “Get out of here!” What do models do? They politely decline the offer, collect their money for the job booked, and pack up as quick as possible never to come back again.

There is nobody to protect freelance artists from sexual harassment on the job or after the job has been completed. There is nobody to punish those who exercise their physical or mental strength over women placed in these types of situations. More often than not, there isn’t even anyone there to protect them from physical harm because majority of photographers do not support bringing a chaperone, because it either “kills the mood and flow of the shoot” or “they get in the way.”

I cannot stress enough just how much of an issue this is but it’s often swept under the rug because there are no witnesses, nobody to enforce the punishment (unless serious harm occurs and the police become involved), and no true chain of support following the incident because the industry is so clustered.

It’s not just the hobbyists and semi-professional photographers who might treat their models in such a way, the same goes for world-renowned professionals. And yet, there isn’t really that much one can do apart from spreading the word to protect others, looking after yourself, and always having a trustee to report to before, during, and after a shoot, letting them know you’re safe and sound.

Photo by Marko De Waal
Photo by Marko De Waal

4. “Fancy a coffee and quick shoot next time?”

Have you ever signed a contract with another individual or company, the business was successful, and for that reason you requested them to charge you 50% less next time or even nothing, but at least you’ll take them out for a fun day and coffee?

Again, some people struggle to understand that modeling or photography is not a hobby (unless it genuinely is a hobby!), we are business people just like anyone else. We have our taxes to do, we have our bills to pay, our marketing to work on, and our deadlines to meet. And yet, time after time there will always be someone that messages you after a successful shoot to try and become more and more friendly, so much so that in the end you have agreed to go see them, pay your own travel, and have a lovely day out shooting and chatting, all for no fee obviously.

I am guilty of this myself because I wrongly thought that’s the way to keep the bookings coming in, but unfortunately, those who receive freebies will abuse them, and they certainly will not treat it with the same respect as actually paying for a service.

We all want to appear friendly, open, positive and engaging; however, as in any other business, we’re not here to make friends, give out discounts and freebies, and we’re not here to be treated of anything less than an equal.

‘Exposure’ is not what will put food in our fridge, and you certainly would not offer ‘exposure’ instead of an actual payment to shop keepers, landlords, window cleaners or teachers. Therefore, offering the world, fame and ‘exposure’ to models and photographers is an extremely insulting thing one can do to an artist.

Unless you truly are in the power of sky-rocketing someone’s career, do not offer an imaginary and often non-existent reward.

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5. “Did you see my message?”

It’s 10PM, you’re thinking of ways of relaxing before bed time but oh, there’s that blinking notification again. “Did you not see my message?” pops up, by someone who thinks that models and photographers can be reached out to at anytime, whether it is a job proposal or yet another personal message totally unrelated to the business.

“What are you up to this weekend?”, “Fancy sending me some of your photos?”, “I like your body”, “You look so sexy in this photo”… the list of inappropriate and badly-timed messages goes on and on.

We’re not here to entertain you when you are bored, especially if there is no true friendship or connection there. I hate to break it to those who always thought otherwise, but we’re not here to provide you with quick pleasure of chatting, exchanging arousing images, and discussing the ins and outs of what we do and how we feel when we work.

Unfortunately, in most industries the work day does not have an official ending and we have become too used to being able to reach people in the matter of seconds. We have become too used to the idea of accessibility, where seeing a person online means that they’re waiting impatiently for you to message them simply because you’re bored and simply because you’re seeing their name next to other ‘active’ members of the chat.

Try to remember that the person you’re trying to reach, whether it is just before the midnight or first thing in the morning, is just as busy as you are—they might be on a location job, and they might simply not want to talk to anyone, including you. Do not treat freelance artists as cushy pillows to crash on when you are bored and looking for light entertainment. Instead, read that book you’ve been putting off for months.

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6. “She just wants to take her clothes off for money”

Last but not least, I do not know how many times I need to repeat this for others to understand but the majority (there’ll always be someone who’s different, so let’s say majority not all) of models do not “take their clothes off for other men and their money.” We genuinely have a work ethic, set boundaries, and are skilled at what we do. We do what we do because we are passionate about it and it is something that keeps us going through life.

I have been told that what I do is nasty, it’s a “freakshow” and “why can’t you just model for portraits?” Designers express themselves through colour and shapes, photographers express themselves through composition and post-processing, singers express themselves through music and inner thoughts, and models express their emotions and their very own being through their body.

A body: it’s the most natural thing in life, and yet the female body has been overly sexualized, whether dressed or undressed.

We use our bodies to bend ourselves in shapes that express our uncertainty, fear, and humility as we are shot within a grand landscape. We use our bodies to create mystery and suggestion, as we shoot erotically expressive work. We use our facial expressions to show the world how we feel, from sadness, grief, anger, and all the way to softness, compassion, and contentment with life.

Photo by Anton Konovalov
Photo by Anton Konovalov

Do not disrespect, mistreat or abuse our way of expressing ourselves, and in return we’ll create work that’ll feed your soul with visual enjoyment.

There probably is something I have failed to mention, but for that reason I’d love to hear comments from others who have experienced anything of the sorts. Let’s share our experiences and make the world a better place.


About the author: Anete Lusina is a wedding, commercial, and fine art photographer, a model, and a free spirit. The opinions in this post are solely those of the author. To see more of Anete’s work, visit her website or give her photography page a follow on Facebook. This article was also published here.

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