Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
November 12, 2017

Pop Goes Newsweek: Sexual Harassment Cover Gone Wrong

Newsweek sexual harassment penis cover. November 17, 2017

Let’s face it – most of us have seen this week’s Newsweek cover that employs a cartoonish approach to illustrate an incredibly serious and painful scenario playing out around the country. And I am of a certain age to remember a time when Newsweek was an award-winning outlet for powerful news photography. Over the past decade, we have all been forced to bear witness to the slow and painful decline and demise of print publications in the United States. I won’t go into my personal history regarding this trend, but let’s say that it has not been pleasant.

But, back to the cover.

A huge (of course it’s huge), orange, inflated balloon, twisted to resemble an erect penis (and scrotum – can’t forget the balls), is threatened by a (white) woman’s disembodied hand sporting “arrest me red” (of course) shellacked fingernails. Her fingers are daintily posed as they ever-so-lightly direct a straight pin toward the center of the enormous shaft. The word “POP” designed in comic book-style text sits to the left of the subject.

When I first saw the cover on Twitter, I sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes – just to make sure I was seeing clearly. I looked again. And again. And then I actually saw it. And to be perfectly honest, I am still forming coherent thoughts around why it evokes so much rage. For starters, it perfectly illustrates the juvenile, adolescent male snickerings that have endlessly floated around locker rooms, golf courses and topless bars for years. And in no way does this illustration articulate the overwhelming, seething rage that so many women have pushed deep down in order to pursue careers in fields we consider our life’s work, a calling. Many have been violently beaten down and humiliated – so much so that quietly leaving was the only option. And those who remain – we are the the ball-busters, the cold-hearted bitches who make lives a living hell.

But, back to the cover.

Our collective trauma and rage cannot be depicted as a thin, hatpin and anyone with any integrity knows this to be true. Where are the sharp teeth closing around that shaft? Where is the fire licking away on the scrotum? Where is the hammer crushing the head into the ground? Some ask, why we should care about what Newsweek puts out as they are not relevant anymore? Let’s just say that with 3.3 million followers on Twitter – that is not irrelevant….

Oh and by the way – this is not merely a white woman’s rage – this rage comes in all sizes, weights, ages, cultures and colors. One more thing not reflected here.

-Judy Walgren

Judy Walgren, the former director of photography for the San Francisco Chronicle, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, photo editor and educator based in San Francisco.

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