Why is Photography still a Male Dominated Profession?

I’m going to pre-curse this entire rambling mess of a blog by saying that i don’t know the answer, and it’s more of a rhetorical question.

It’s 2020. Women are still on average paid less than men for doing the same job, enough so that we were able to “celebrate” November 19th 2019 as the day that women effectively stopped being paid that year in relation to their male counterparts. In 2017 Nikon picked 32 celebrated Photographers to be ambassadors for their newly unveiled D850 and NOT ONE of them was female. Equal Lens reports that Women still make up less than 2 percent of photographers working with major commercial agencies, despite 75% of all photography graduates being female.

In, what should be, the age of equality how are these ridiculous industry standards keeping afloat the Photography Boys Club still perpetuating?

Gender Bias

I could tell you about the time that I was booked for a Golf photoshoot but I was replaced last minute by a male because the Golf Location was “males only”, or about how many times I have had people assume the my male assistant was the photographer, or about the innumerable times men have and will address the other men in any given situation rather than the female, how several times men in professional situations have made overt comments about my body or my sexual inclinations, or how many times when I was an in-house Studio Manager that men have thought I was a receptionist or secretary or how many people made thinly veiled comments that I had become manager because I had slept my way there rather than worked my really hard. And how, whilst these kinds of circumstances happen, women are expected to smile and laugh it off or being accused of having no sense of humour, or being a killjoy. 

In a 2003 study by Columbia Business School professor Frank Flynn and New York University professor Cameron Anderson. 

The pair gave half the students in an MBA class the resume of Heidi Roizen, a successful venture capitalist. The other half of the class were given the same resume, but ‘Heidi’ had been renamed ‘Howard’. The students rated Howard and Heidi as being equally competent, but with Howard being seen as likeable and a team player, and Heidi being deemed arrogant and selfish. 

It is important to remember how these unconscious biases can effect societal thinking and the language that surrounds the genders. Males are described as confident, assertive and passionate, whereas women are described as arrogant, bossy and emotional. 

Lets get Physical

Perhaps it is the notion that women are weaker that perpetuates the idea that we will not be good photographers. Photography can be a physically demanding job, involving a lot of heavy lifting, physical activity and often brute force. Reports surface of women not being hired as photography assistants due to their perceived lack of strength. I have been doing this 10 years and I have never had a problem lifting/ carrying or seeing out a physically demanding day. Unfortunately stereotypes persevere, and yes women are technically not able to reach the same level of strength as men on a competing platform, this doesn’t mean that a strong woman is not equal to, or stronger than, a weak or average male. Also, just to clarify – carrying and lifting is a small portion of this job role, which also can include, organisation, driving, lighting setups, retouching etc… none of which are perceived as gendered (apart from perhaps driving… but that is also a misconception, with statistics showing that men have more collisions than women. With reports of female photographers being pushed, elbowed and boxed out of the way at fashion weeks. Perhaps men simply do have a physical advantage in an industry built around bullies.


In the #METOO era, with the Harvey Weinsteins and Bill Cosbys being held accountable, will the physical bullying stop? I doubt it. There is much speculation that all the Harvey Weinstein accusations only finally made it to light because he was no longer making the studios money. Had he still been bringing in the big bucks and been in a position of power then would it simply have been hushed away like it had for so many years. It is undoubtedly no coincidence that these predatory men are always older, no longer as much in the public eye, often in the winter of their career. You think there aren’t young powerful and unbelievably powerful creeps out there? Of course, they are just powerful enough, connected enough, and making everyone enough money to look the other way. 

Somehow, big names in the industry are still working with Terry Richardson, who is inconceivably A.) not in jail, and B.) not a complete pariah. On his Instagram page, which has amassed a following of 1 million, he documents his recent works with celebrities and publications, including recent work for GQ. This man has had multiple accusations of sexual assault, using models desires to be successful to coerce them into shooting pornographic images with him. If these allegations are true, which i might add, there is photographic evidence and multiple witness accounts, then this man is the ABSOLUTE WORST… he is the worst of men, let alone photographers. Yet, he continues to be booked. He is the bottom % of male photographers, and should only be booked if the rest of all photographers died in a freak accident. If he was the only photographer left alive on this planet then maybe, MAYBE book him. Are you honestly telling me that there isn’t a woman, or even a non-rapey male that could have shot your Cover GQ?

I urge you to take a look at this incredible video by the teams at Cosmopolitan and directed by David Schwimmer. 

It has been made no secret that the events depicted here are based on real events, and there have been many people questioning whether the photographer in question is Terry Richardson, though unconfirmed. 

With a walking embodiment of the Dunning Kruger Effect sitting in the White House…. and to be honest, sitting in Downing St too. Perhaps it is just pure belief that keeps the boys club going. To quote Writer, Sarah Hagi, “God, Give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.”

I can’t remember the comedian now, but I remember seeing a sketch by a stand up about how airplanes are kept in flight purely by the will of passengers, and I do wonder if this is the same as men in power being kept in power purely by their own confidence. The cocksurety of knowing that you have, not only, the basic human right of being safe, but all the opportunities that this earth can offer, automatic respect from your peers, and a clean run at the career ladder unhindered by your genitalia, skin colour, sexual orientation or disability. This feeds into an innate confidence, which women do not have. Women question their own abilities, suffer from terrible imposter syndrome and worry about their demeanour.

A screenshot of a cell phone

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Women globally are talked over, Mansplained to (not to be confused with ACTUAL explaining – please see the chart above created by the wonderful Kim Goodwin), Hepeated, ignored, harassed, belittled and treated with prejudice. Women put up with all this, getting the job done ALL whilst bleeding from their lady parts 25% of the time. 

And are still paid an average of 17.3% less than men. 

But 17.3% is the overall average. When you only look at creative fields, the number hikes up to 32%,  (according to Payscale, a data analytics company). This is a huge disparity, and given the nature of independent working, is difficult to identify a solid reasoning why this is the case. Perhaps it boils down to confidence. A recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that analysed data from over 985,000 men and women across 48 countries and found that regardless of culture or country, men have higher self-esteem than women.

So, Women…. We’ve been banging on about this for years now, so what can we actually do to change things? 

Speak Up

Talk, say your piece, speak your mind. Set boundaries and stick them. Have the confidence in your abilities and knowledge to say what you think and stand by it. But also, speak up if you see gender bias happening. 

Chin Up

Have the confidence to “behave like a man”. Ask for what you want, price your services accurately and be prepared for people to think you are “bossy”. Show up and show off. 

Level Up

Level up your knowledge base, skill set and experience. Put yourself in a positions where you have the right to be confident, the right to request higher payment, and the ability to “walk the walk”. 

Lift Up

Lift up other women. Grow your female network, support other freelancers and use positive language with your female friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. As women, we do not need the added distraction of battling amongst ourselves – so support your female network! And lastly, a note for men in business. Look around you. In your office, or on a shoot  – wherever you may be in a business setting. What’s the percentage gender split in your worklife? If it’s not even close to 50/50 (or the women are predominantly in low paid, admin roles and the men are in higher paid executive roles ) then the likelihood is that you are unknowingly a part of “the boys club” and you should aim to change that slowly over the course of time. Lift women up, let them finish their sentences, give them credit when credit is due, and treat your female colleagues with respect. 

One thought on “Why is Photography still a Male Dominated Profession?

  1. Well said. We need more hard working women photographers to tell it like it is. And thanks for posting the David Schwimmer video. It is so creepy and unfortunately also so believable. David C.


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