Sexism and school photos: Boy poses and girl poses

Lately it’s been bothering me and Irene that Mallory would come back from photo day with tales of how kids were being posed by gender.

I have a bunch of ancient photos of me, taken by portrait photographers hired by my grade school to take class and individual shots of all the students. And I value them — however cringeworthy — especially the class photos as they’re a record of my past. And my mom’s questionable taste in clothing.

So I was pleased when the news came back amid the homework, the notices for milk orders and what not that they still did this sort of thing. But lately it’s been bothering me and Irene that Mallory would come back with tales of how kids were being posed by gender.

Girls were posed with knees together, hands crossed, all demure and retiring. Boys were posed legs spread, leaning forward, elbows on knee. Almost like the Marlboro man. They never did that with us when I was a kid. I remember ‘sit up straight, smile’ but nothing else.

It bothers me because we are forever teaching girl children to take up less space, get out of the way and defer to the boys. Boys meanwhile are taught that the world is their oyster and to take as much space as they want. And here is an authority figure, present in the school and at the behest of the administration, reinforcing that message. With tape marks on the floor no less.

So Irene and I figured we would check in with the school administration about this. The tl;dr? Hopewell is awesome.

I phoned to talk to the principal. She wasn’t available but the admin staff suggested an email. So I composed what I thought was a non-bellligerent yet clear email about my concerns:

  • enforcing gender binary stereotypes that put females in subordinate roles and
  • making no allowances for kids who don’t fit the moulds.

I asked that the kids just be allowed to pose however they want. Within a couple of hours, the acting Vice-Principal was on the phone to me, expressing agreement on my concerns and assuring me they’d be contacting the photographer.

Meanwhile Irene had also called and got the photography company’s name.

Hopewell’s administration were on-side

The next day, the Vice-Principal was on the phone. She cited board policy and affirmed “We don’t have a pose for boys and a pose for girls at Hopewell.” She expressed her intent to ensure that didn’t happen in the future. She said she’d talked to the photographer and that he was either amenable to change or working with new staff who didn’t know the drill or was needing to be efficient. Basically in “say anything just keep the contract” mode.

Which was fine with me. I too talked to the photographer. It’s a small, local business, and despite how easy it is to get your back up about these things, the owner was very willing to talk about the issue and very amenable to change. He’s got some learning to do — as have all us men. But he did point out that he’s seen far worse poses: girls with arched backs, head tilted back, hand behind the neck, etc etc. He also faces different expectations from parents.

I have confidence, though, that next year there won’t be tape marks on the floor, marked ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ and that the kids will be posed comfortably, as they are. Those are always the best shots, anyway.


  1. I stumbled across your website while browsing OSCA’s site. This is very interesting and eyebrow raising. I will have to take more notice when my children’s photos are done next year. So far I have only a boy in school but my daughter starts next year. What I also like is that you didn’t go crazy on the Principal or the photographer. I think you opened the photographer’s eyes and brought the situation to attention to the school. I thank you for that!

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