Our story begins as so many of these do: with a Facebook image, heedlessly posted, that strikes a chord and goes viral. Photographer Hannah Hawkes posted a holiday photo she had taken of a family of five - a husband, wife, with their young two daughters and son. The mother and two daughters have green duct tape covering their mouths and their wrists are bound with strung Christmas lights. The father holds a sign that says, "Peace on Earth," as the son gives a smiling thumbs-up.
There are so many things wrong with this that I can't believe I have to explain it, but apparently I do because the photographer has defended herself by claiming it was "meant as a comical Christmas photo" and an image showing women and girls rendered helpless by being bound and gagged was "in no way meant to promote abuse."
Judging from the comments on the Facebook post, many people agree with her (here's a charming one: "This photo is hilarious! Women really do need to shut up, just look at all the squawking from women on this post alone").
Feminists, long painted as humorless scolds, are used to having their concerns dismissed with comments like this. Here, an explainer on why I won't "shut up" about it.
Why is this holiday card horrendously offensive and in appalling bad taste?
1. Because it implies that female speech is annoying, unpleasant, or otherwise un-peaceful.
We live in a society where the default to most things is white and male. For whatever reason ("whatever" being the patriarchy) ideas and commentary delivered by men are preferred by men. When women speak, they are described as "shrill" or "nagging" or scolded for uptalking or decried for their vocal fry. The message this photo sends is that whatever sounds these females may be making—speaking, laughing, singing, weeping, yelling, whispering, humming—are all grating, unpleasant sounds better left unuttered and unheard.
2. Because it implies that male speech is more important than female speech
The women are gagged. The men are not. The man is holding a message. The boy is expressing clear joy. The woman and girls have been literally subdued. Who in this photograph is worth listening to? Who in this photograph is being validated? Who in this photo is has anything worth listening to, from basic expressions of their own lived experience ("Ow! This Christmas wire around my wrists is hurting me!" to contributions to the larger discourse ("Women really do need to shut up, just look at all the squawking from women on this post alone!"). Just look at the composition of cable news pundits (74% men) or, you know, the U.S. Senate (80% men) and it's clear what voices are valued. This gross photo reinforces that.
3. Because it gives men all the agency and women none
Oh, so women and girls are yours to tie up and gag at your whim and convenience? Okay then. Totally what Jesus intended. Merry Christmas!
4. Because it represents a completely frightening image of women and girls being abused, with terrifying associations
This, for me, was the worst part. Yes you numbskull, I can take a joke about your nagging wife or whatever. To the moon, Alice! Poor sad Kevin James! We get it. But the reality is that women and girls are subject to terrifying violence at the hands of men all the time, across the world. They are gagged so they won't scream. They are bound so they won't fight back. Just this week The Marshall Project and Pro Publica released a longform story of a serial (male) rapist, who pointedly used both tactics on his (female) victims.
Violence against women and girls isn't a joke. Domestic violence against women and girls isn't a joke. Binding and gagging women and girls to render them helpless isn't a joke. It's a terrifying reality, possibly for someone reading this (one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime) "Peace on Earth" should actually be, you know, peaceful.
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