Have you ever heard about the famous Bechdel test? The test is about finding two female named characters in a film, who talk to each other about other things than men. The purpose of the test is to analyze films from a gender perspective. More or less the same perspective can be used when looking at all types of communication. We can interpret expressions and body language in images – we don't need to hear what the characters in the image are saying to understand the connection, context or emotion. When an image says more than a thousand words, it represents more than the sender´s intentions, the image becomes a manifestation on cultural norms and human values.
The Me Too movement has demonstrated that coordination leads to change. And with deeper insights into what it means to be a woman, it may be wise to look closely at your imagery and see what you convey. According to semiotician Hanna Stolpe, the concept of sisterhood has not had a fair representative treatment in popular culture and media over the past few decades – or earlier for that matter. For this reason, Hanna likes to share insights in how to communicate with norm creativity in images with female representations. And how to avoid slipping into cliché storytelling.
Courage and strength
Do you want to show an image that signals power, courage and strength in sisterhood? Select images with clearly individualistic characters that reinforce each other. Remember that body language, expressions and compositions need to have an unapologetic presence. Avoid the cliché of angry women with crossed arms and instead convey power and strength through dynamic forms and contrasts, such as in irregular compositions, bold lightning, forward leaning shapes and vigorously cropped images.
Historically, women have been represented through narratives of romance and pleasure. Would you rather represent leadership, entrepreneurship and power? Emphasis on individual characteristics is important here as well, where the strength of sisterhood is conveyed in balanced symmetrical compositions with grounded weight for sophisticated, consciousness, tenacity and independence. Allow distance between the characters and the observer to create the independent core.
The power of sisterhood can also be expressed through inclusive and spontaneous values rather than surface and prestige. A more inviting image of the concept of sisterhood can create a sense of being part of the context. Authenticity and presence are created through the genuine, unpolished moment. Create an inclusive expression with open forms and let the viewers come closer to the characters so they can "get to know them".
We can also use contexts and environments to communicate more clearly. Codes and colors from natural, organic environments give a harmonious, secure feel. Nevertheless, it is a frequently used genre in popular culture settings and commercials to portray women and female relations with the mystiques of nature. However, a sense of security and calmness can be uttered with integrity and distance, by choosing an image that tells the story from the character's perspective instead of trying to catch the viewers' attention. Moreover, avoid the cliché by considering the character's activities rather than appearance.
To find your tone of voice in the concept of sisterhood, try to see the cliché and challenge it – women in groups do not need to look angry or giggly. These simple tools will hopefully guide you in choosing images and provide the world with new norm-creative perspectives through the concept of sisterhood.
Thanks to semiotician Hanna Stolpe at Kantar Sifo in Sweden for the collaboration with this article.