Less than a decade ago, national attention was focused on problems with our society's "pictures" of girls and women by highly provocative reports sponsored by the American Association of University Women, as well as by books such as Failing at Fairness by Myra and David Sadker and School Girls by Peggy Orenstein.
More recently, attention has been focused on the meaning of gender itself and on the way both girls and boys are subtly — and not so subtly — prodded to shape themselves according to consumer-driven images of femininity or masculinity. The Picturing Women project provides a historical context for the portrayal of only one gender, but its challenge is clear: how do we define ourselves, whether we are women or men, girls or boys?
Since the intent of the Picturing Women project is to raise questions about the nature of gender and representations of all kinds, the images on this site lend themselves to student research and reflection. The themes of Figuring, Fashioning, Portraiting, and Telling are adaptable across the disciplines, and students can use both the images and themes to uncover the relationship between the cultural constraints of time periods and the origins of resistance. Everything from early anatomical drawings of women to high fashion dictates provides areas for critical thinking, particularly at a time when pre-teens and adolescents are bombarded daily with images that attempt to define them and their gender.
Please encourage students to create their own juxtapositions and to engage with the interactives, as it is the cross conversation emerging from people's different experiences that so enriches learning.
Please note: The history of the representation of women is one that often pictures partial and full nudity along with other explicit depictions. Some contemporary artists have chosen to respond to such conventions in similarly explicit ways. This Web site reflects both historical conventions and contemporary responses. These images can be challenging for younger viewers in particular, but each one offers the opportunity for questioning, discussing, and learning.