Indiana Daily Student

Letter: James Benedict's photo & Erica Gibson's story re. Slut Walk, 'Feminism Matters'

While I commend IDS staff for a provocatively impactful front page layout for the April 22 issue of the print edition of the Indiana Daily Student, I have observed the problematic juxtaposition of James Benedict’s photograph with its accompanying caption for Erica Gibson’s story “Feminism Matters: Slut Walk protests rape culture and promotes changing the perception of consent.”

Specifically, the caption beginning, “Students gather in Dunn Meadow to listen to Lisa Kwong before marching on Kirkwood Avenue during the Slut Walk on Thursday,” would normally call for a photograph featuring Lisa Kwong, an adjunct professor at the IU-Bloomington Department of English.

Contrary to reader expectation, however, the image of Professor Kwong in the Benedict photograph is out-of-focus and barely perceptible behind the large all-caps lettering that reads ‘Feminism Matters.’ At the same time, the major in-focus image is that of an unidentified white woman whose back recalls a whiteboard on which is inscribed “Consent is Sexy Mandatory.”

While a semantic equivalence based on identify politics can be constructed between the two women in the photograph, both the photograph and the caption are nevertheless problematic due to their inherent threat of reinscribing stereotypes concerning Asian-American invisibility and marginality.

Furthermore, the photograph and caption jointly devalue the discursive authority of Asian-American faculty while giving feminism a white face. Thus while it is commendable to say “No” to rape by giving it powerfully provocative front page coverage, it is also urgent to reconsider the ways in which journalistic photography and caption writing can be inadvertently complicit with the prevailing cultural practices that limit the visibility of Asian Americans in mainstream media, and that interrogate the actual extent of their discursive power within our society at large.

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