Last week a friend of mine called my attention to a column in the Sunday newspaper from Miss Manners:
Dear Miss Manners:
My very proper mother taught us that one does not display pictures of oneself in one’s own home. I have always followed this rule and notice that all my relatives do as well, but I cannot find the rule written anywhere. Over my long life, friends have occasionally given me pictures of myself, some in frames. I have never displayed them, but I worry that I have hurt my friends’ feelings. Is my mother’s rule real and current? I actually like the rule, but want to do the right thing by my friends.
The rule is still in effect, but your mother forgot to point out the loopholes. There are enough of those to accommodate your gallery. One is that you can properly display them in rooms that are considered somewhat private—your bedroom, your study, and, by extension, a family room. Another, on which Miss Manners expects to be challenged, is that a painted portrait is traditionally considered acceptable in the more public rooms, but photographs are not. She does not wish to argue against photography as an art, but let us say that photographs of you with the mayor or in your wedding clothes are best shown in the family’s area. Proper mothers are always right; but sometimes they need explaining.
This letter from Miss Manners represents the societal norm that I am committed to changing. What I have witnessed in the over twenty years of photographing people is women’s resistance to even having their portraits taken, let alone hanging them on the walls of their homes for all to see. The complete embarrassment my female clients have expressed in just thinking about hanging up their own images is what made me very sad and has inspired me to try and make a difference.
It seems a patriarchal society has put constraints on women that tell them they are not good enough to be displayed on the walls of their homes alongside their children unless they are in pictures with other people. Who ever decided that an image of a woman alone, being photographed by herself, is a sign of narcissism and selfishness? WOW. This is indicative of a society that places women’s roles as subservient to everyone around them. We can stare all day long at images of women on TV, magazines and billboards, but not at our own image in OUR OWN HOME?
So Miss Manners says to put the portraits in a private space where just you will see them. Doesn’t this sound contradictory? Put your own portrait in the place YOU hang out, but not in a public place where other people may be able to appreciate the artwork. It is a truism that each person has a right to decide what works for her, but I see women buckling under this rule that it is socially unacceptable to show yourself, alone, in a photograph, in your own home. By breaking down this rule we can liberate women to make their own choices. Instead of only seeing images of women who look a certain way, we can begin to see all sorts of women on the walls, and start to reprogram our reference points for what is good. One way to raise up female energy in our world is by displaying all women in prominent places. What are we leaving as lasting legacies for future generations of women to use as inspiration and guidance?