Susan Storm isn’t the only invisible woman. You may have seen this photo of the White House Situation Room as President Obama and his national security team were receiving updates on the mission against Osama Bin Laden.
But readers of the New York Hasidic paper Di Tzeitung saw this photo instead.
Notice anything missing? In case you didn’t find it, here’s another photo from a second New York Hasidic publication, De Voch.
Yes, in both cases, the women — United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason, Director of Counterterrorism for the National Security Council — have been photoshopped out of the picture. For some sects of Orthodox Jews, modesty laws prohibit the publication of photographs of women. In a public statement on their website, Di Tzeitung defended their decision by citing the modesty laws and saying, “Women should be appreciated for who they are and what they do, not for what they look like, and the Jewish laws of modesty are an expression of respect for women, not the opposite.”
Yet for many critics of the photoshopping, the idea that women are sexually suggestive simply by being women is a reduction of their personhood. Orthodox Judaism is far from the only group to have this belief in modesty laws (see also: burkas), but those who believe women should have the same rights as men often find such laws incompatible with a modern equality. (Feminist critics have also argued that if men go wild simply by looking at a woman, it is the men we should be trying to fix.)
Regardless of how one views the modesty issue, the photoshopping brings in a whole extra level of problems. By presenting this iconic photograph — minus Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason — as the historic truth, women aren’t just being removed from the photo. They’re being removed from history. A headscarf, or even a burka, may cover a woman’s hair or face, but anyone interacting with her must still acknowledge her presence. To photoshop women out of a photo entirely removes them from the realm of existence, presenting a world in which only men are in the seats of power, making decisions.
But while photoshopping this particular photo may have been technically illegal (due to White House fine print), a newspaper generally has the right to print the photos they want.
(Editor’s note: Di Tzeitung apologized Monday for altering the photo in this statement on its website).
Late-breaking coda from the author: Check out a photoshopped photo by cartoonist and generally clever guy Dan Carroll, showing the opposite perspective!
So what do you think?
*Is it okay for newspapers to edit photos to remove women in accordance with modesty laws?
*If rather than deceiving with photoshop, the pictures had simply had censor bars placed over all visible skin of the women, would that have been better?
*If a paper didn’t alter photos at all, but simply kept a policy of never publishing photographs that included women, no matter how newsworthy, would that be okay?
Let us know your comments below.
Seth Brown is a freelance writer, humorist, and poet. He is the author of four books, most recently “From God To Verse“, a line-by-line rendition of the entire Torah in rhyming couplets. His website is RisingPun.com.