Lean In, Gender Representation and Female Empowerment

Gender Mainstreaming in African Armed Forces, September 14, 2012 | © Courtesy of Africa Center/Flickr.
Gender Mainstreaming in African Armed Forces, September 14, 2012 | © Courtesy of Africa Center/Flickr.

On November 20, 2018, Caroline West has published an article entitled “The Lean In Collection: Women, Work, and the Will to Represent” in Open Cultural Studies.

A Blog Post by Pablo Markin.


In her article, Caroline West has inquired into the “the problematic relationship rooted in the partnership between Lean In’s gender empowerment initiative and the role of Getty Images in trafficking aesthetic stereotypes for profit” (430). Through her use of “visual analysis and feminist critique” (430), West has sought to explore how “the photographs idealise a concept of female empowerment that is steeped in the rationale of neoliberal economics, which narrowly circumscribes gender citizenship according to the mandates of market logic” (431).

In this paper, West has questioned the “stated goal of the LeanIn.org and Getty partnership […] to counter the mass media depictions of women that have permeated the cultures of advanced Western societies since the post-war era and that delineate women’s expected roles in the home and the workplace” (433). Among her findings is that, of “the 16,000 photographs in the Collection, […] [there is] only one series (of three images) that visually depicts the struggle to balance work and family” (435).

Based on this research, West contends that “the popularity and accessibility of Lean In resides in the safe space it provides for women to practice their empowerment without disrupting their middle-class social and economic standing” (437). According to this study, “[t]he Lean In Collection can be understood as disarticulating and displacing the mission for female equality and replacing and substituting the struggle for political recognition with capitalist and consumer motivations” (437).

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Gender Mainstreaming in African Armed Forces, September 14, 2012 | © Courtesy of Africa Center/Flickr.

Cite this article as: Pablo Markin, "Lean In, Gender Representation and Female Empowerment," in Open Culture, 17/03/2019, https://oc.hypotheses.org/2123.

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