I wanted to post about a talk happening at York on Nov. 23rd.  But then someone showed me the poster for the event.  Have a look:

So now I want to talk about visual images, gender, and how we work on drawing people in.    I think good graphic design is important, and often that means mixing pictures, text and other design elements – I’m always hunting around for a picture that will work.  But sometimes, this is really difficult, because random images of women are really not something you want to be casually strewing around your feminist blog.  Unless I’m trying to get people going in the comments.

The question of advertising ideas with images – trying to draw people into discussion of “feminist” topics through posters/flyers/webpages – has recently come up a number of times.

(1) The IFLS is hosting an event on the Bedford case (striking down laws criminalising aspects of sex work) and regulation of sex work on November 24 (more on this later this week).   I did the first mock up of a poster, and when I mentioned on a conference call that I had done a poster, one of the sex worker activists we’re working with immediately said,

“What’s on the poster?”.

I had decided to subtitle the event ‘Off the Streets?’, so I’d found -thank you google! – a picture of an empty street.

I said, “It’s an empty street”.

“No women’s bodies?” she asked

Nope, no people.

“No body parts?” she persisted.

Nothing! Nobody!  I promise!

Then she told us about being invited to give a talk at another university where the poster included letters which dripped blood and body parts (I didn’t confirm whether she meant pieces, or rather a picture of a woman that showed only part of her body and no face).  So hey, putting women on posters is really, really tricky and apparently some people don’t get that.

(2) See my earlier post (this issue is in the last paragraph) about how to illustrate stories about legal engagement over the veil/niqab/burqa (here’s a link to all the stories so you can see the pics I chose).  In a nutshell, it is so tired and problematic to illustrate with stock pictures of veiled women.

(3) I agonized over whether I could really put a picture of sleeping beauty in as the illustration for the 8 Nov.  post about J.A. – in the end, I decided that I could since the picture was, I hope!, clearly ironic in light of the facts of the case, and was meant to highlight the gap between everyone’s favourite hypo, the sleeping kiss, and the reality of J.A. and other cases in this zone.  Some posts (the abortion one) just don’t have pictures at all – not necessarily because I couldn’t think of anything, but rather because sometimes I’m tired and the appropriate pictures aren’t readily available.  I wish that I could draw.

(4) There was a slide show at LEAF’s persons day event which went on behind one of the performances.  And it included slides of Lady Diana, a pink convertible, and Oprah.  In fact almost all of it looked like stock images, the kind you can buy from commercial agencies, rather than photos of actual women involved in LEAF or issues that LEAF is working on.  It was odd, because images DO provoke thinking.  And these provoked me to think, “Huh?”.   Don’t get me wrong, I actually really like Oprah and will forgive any number of imperfect acts on her part.  And the slide show included a very diverse group of women (like I said, Lady Di and Oprah, but also ordinary women of many colours and sizes etc).  But still.  “Huh?”.

(5)  Starting a new organization or venture?  Thinking about a logo? Have a look at this image essay, a collection of logos for women`s organizations.  Listen, maybe these squiggly ribbons and dancing female bodies are just fine – but if you`re doing a logo now, I think you have to accept that they now constitute a (highly plagiarized) cliché. Click here for the image essay,entitled Squiggles, Trees, Ribbons and Spirals: My Collection of Women’s Health, Beauty and Support Group Logos as the Stages of Life in Semi-Particular Order from Shana Moulton on ArtFagCity.com.

So: the poster for next Monday’s talk is bothering me.   Who comes up with this? This poster looks pretty official (for IFLS events, I usually make them myself, as you may have guessed) so possibly an artist otherwise unconnected to the event made it.  What are they trying to do? What’s with the lipstick? Is that a woman wiping off a kiss, or actually being assaulted, or screaming, or what?  Is this poster homophobic, or just stupid? Sometimes you want a provocative poster, right, I know. But really, I think this one represents someone’s rather serious error in judgment.   I’d love to know what others think (here is reason for putting up offensive pictures – in the hope that it will encourage your lurking readers, assuming there are any, to write in the comments).

The details of the talk are below – and if you can’t make it, the subject matter is part of feminist legal historian Dr. Constance Backhouse’s Carnal Crimes: Sexual Assault Law in Canada, 1900-1975 , published by Irwin Law in 2009.

The 2010 Avie Bennett Historica Dominion Institute Public Lecture in Canadian History by Dr Constance Backhouse

Canada’s First Capital ‘L’ Lesbian Sexual Assault Trial, Yellowknife, 1955

Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Robert R. McEwen Auditorium, Schulich School of Business, York University (Keele Campus)

Willimae Moore was charged with “indecent assault on a female” in the winter of 1955, when she attempted to kiss a fellow stenographer working in Yellowknife.  It was a romantic overture that was unreciprocated, and resulted in what appears to be Canada’s first prosecution of a woman for sexually assaulting another woman.  What forces came together in the NWT in the 1950s to make this possible?  How did the police, the courts, and the community respond?  How did this case differ from the usual prosecution for sexual assault historically?

Dr. Backhouse is a Distinguished University Professor and University Research Chair at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa. She is internationally known for her feminist research and publications on sex discrimination and the legal history of gender and race in Canada. Her recent research profiles the ways in which women and racialized communities have struggled to obtain justice within the legal system.

For more information, please visit her Web site.

The lecture will be followed by a Q&A and reception.