The First Wives Club

Date: January 1, 1970
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This photo, taken at the 2009 G20 Summit in London, shows the wives of 13 of G20 leaders

This image may be used to:
  • Illustrate images that reinforce blatant stereotypes;
  • Show that blatant stereotypes continue to inform the media.
  •  Promote debate and discussion around how images shape our beliefs;
  •  Discuss gender-parity in politics and its affects.
 Trainers’ notes:
This photo, captioned “First Wives Club,” reinforces blatant stereotypes about women’s roles, emphasising their roles as the wives of leaders and negating women’s roles as leaders themselves.  Despite the fact that many of the spouses pictured are themselves highly accomplished, they are still seen in relation to their husbands – re-enforcing notions that women should assume more domestic roles as opposed to men’s more public roles.
At the summit, two female heads of state were present – Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Both Kirchner and Merkel are married to men and it is interesting to note that neither leaders’ spouse was pictured alongside the “first ladies.”  (It is also interesting to note that Kirchner’s husband is actually the former president of Argentina.) If the men were excluded from the exercise or chose not to participate in the photo shoot – either scenario can be taken as a gendered commentary on the exercise. If the men were excluded, it then becomes a very specifically gendered shoot – a parade of  “the wives” in their pretty dresses. If the men chose not to participate, one must wonder the majority of wives felt the need to be present at the shoot but not the husbands? If they feel a difference in expectations between them and their female counterparts, we are again reminded of the subtle power of images.
Finally, the image reinforces the lack of gender parity in politics, demonstrating that men head 13 of the countries and international bodies represented at the conference. The G20 was formed in 1999, in part, to facilitate emerging-market countries’ participation in global economic discussions and governance. The global economy remains a heavily gendered one – evidence from around the world points to the fact that women continue to earn less than men:

 Meanwhile, women continue to bear the brunt of poverty and HIV – not only infections but also financially costly care giving. If women are the best communicators of women’s issues then are two women amongst 30 summit delegates really expected to effectively communicate women’s issues?
Discussion questions
  • What influences our notions about “a woman’s place?” Is this dynamic mirrored in home life, in your opinion?
  •  We often hear women’s issues discussed as part of the social development agenda, a fact that may speak to how internalised roles about women’s domesticity are. Are women apart of countries’ economic agendas? If so, how and is it meaningfully reflected in policy?
  • What role do men play in gender parity – whether that is in the public or private sector?
 Training exercises
  • This image could be argued to reinforce subtle stereotypes about the female image, investigate how. Find other images in magazines, newspapers or adverts that show the same stereotypes.
  • Are there glass ceilings preventing women from becoming leaders in government or business? Conduct research about gender parity in government as well as the major corporations operating in country. Does it exist? If not, discuss why not?
  • Do we speak differently about female leaders than we do males? Do a copy taste. Choose two prominent politicians or world leaders, one female one male, and use the Internet to compile a selection of the most recent reports/articles/mentions of them in the press. Compare the language and content of the articles, do they display any gender-bias?

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