WHAT A REAL DAD LOOKS LIKE

Just in time for Father’s Day, Getty’s new stock photos challenge masculinity stereotypes

This Father’s Day, it will be easier than ever to find an image of a progressively masculine man.

In June, Getty Images, in partnership with LeanIn.org, rolled out the search term “Lean In Together,” which connects users to almost 800 images of hetero, homosexual, and transgender men depicted as caring, affectionate, and equal partners in the household and at work. While visual content providers are not responsible for defining masculinity, major media rely heavily on stock photos—so their inventories do influence how we visualize concepts like masculinity and fatherhood.

"Father and daughter canoeing in lake."
“Father and daughter canoeing in lake.” (Hero Images/Getty Images)

Men have defined their masculinity by affection and caring for years, of course, but the media have been slow to catch up. According to the 2014 Dove Men+Care “Care Makes a Man Stronger” study, conducted by progressive masculinity expert Dr. Michael Kimmel, 91% of men feel it is more important to possess emotional strength, as opposed to wealth or physical strength, yet only 7% of men relate to the depictions of masculinity seen in society today. Getty noticed the change in their demand for images of men (and particularly dads) over the last few years and piggybacked off an already successful partnership with LeanIn.org to update their inventory of male photos.

“It is important to reflect on all different facets of what masculinity means,” Pam Grossman, the Director of Visual Trends at Getty Images, told Quartz over the phone. This includes depicting men working with or in roles beneath female coworkers, as well as caring for their children. The photos show men who don’t feel constrained by gender norms and are also more accepting of a fluid male identity.

"Transgender dad plays with daughters in living room."
“Transgender dad plays with daughters in living room.” (Patryce Bak/Getty Images)

Perhaps the most progressive part of the collection includes several photos of a transgender father in an interracial relationship playing with his kids. In a country where presidential candidates are still utterly dismissive of the transgender identity, it’s undeniably a step forward to find those photos under the search terms “father” and “family,” on equal footing with more heteronormative images of those concepts.

The energy of the photos depicting dads has also changed a lot with the new selection. “There is a much more calm, nurturing type of vibe, a gentler kind of love,” said Grossman. This is clearly illustrated in the juxtaposition of Getty’s best selling dad photos from 2007 and 2015: a dad playing football with his son, versus a dad reading to his daughter. While there is nothing wrong with activities stereotypically associated with fatherhood—playing sports or working in the garage—access to such archetypal images does nothing to advance the cultural narrative surrounding modern masculinity.

dads rough 1
The best selling dad photos from 2015 and 2007, respectively. (William King and Zak Kendall/Getty Images)

While Getty’s initiative is progressive, it is not solely driven by a concern for social justice. “Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also been a great financial success for Getty Images… it’s something that we are continuing to invest in very seriously, because people are buying those images,” said Grossman. She also noted that in the last three years, searches for “dad changing diaper” have increased 7 times over and sales of images with the keywords “modern dad” and “stay at home dad” are up 450%. In other words, in this case, being progressive is profitable.

As a leader in the stock images space, it is important to see Getty Images making a concerted effort to change their inventory to match the realities of contemporary fatherhood. Changing stock images is particularly significant for the media, because they reflect and reinforce generalizations that are then broadcast across the internet. As these images are updated, healthy depictions of masculinity will become more and more accessible, helping us combat toxic stereotypes and literally see progressive depictions of men on a regular basis.

Follow Jack on Twitter at @JackFichl. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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