The National Archives Doctored Photos of the 2017 Women’s March
When former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin began carrying out his deadly purges of political enemies, one of his most powerful weapons didn’t come in the form of a gun or artillery, it was a willingness to alter photographs and dissolve the presence of his political enemies, living or dead, in the process. Stalin removed the people he didn’t like, quite literally, from pictures that were taken, even pictures taken years prior. The famous photos of the founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, and of the Fall of Berlin at the end of World War II would both be later altered under Stalin’s regime. Altering history is something we tend to associate with dictatorships, yet, it’s now happening right here in our very own, red-white-and-blue, apple-pie-American backyard. We here in the States have now been caught with our pants down as we find ourselves scrambling to answer the question, “How insane are things going to get this decade?”
Maybe it’s just because Trump is petty. Maybe it’s because the deed was carried out under the watch of the administration of a total narcissist. Or, maybe, it’s because we have certain elements of our society who have a serious distaste for women and would love nothing more than to erase women’s political power from our public record. I say that because that’s exactly what happened.
In a press release that was issued by the National Archives on January 18th of 2020, the Archives issued an official apology for altering a photo — the one that sits atop this article — and removing the anti-Trump sentiment from the signs of the protesting women. The photo is from the Women’s March of 2017, and as you can see from this unaltered photo, there are some signs which criticize President Trump rather plainly. They pull no punches and don’t pussyfoot around the fact that the protest was more than justified after a man who’s been accused of sexually assaulting twenty-something women (haven’t you lost count, yet?) had been catapulted to the highest office of the land. They had every right to be outraged when Mr. Grab-Em-By-The-Pussy had sat in the Oval Office for an entire year when that should have been the end of it.
“Grab ’em by the pussy,” should have been the end of Trump or any other nominee’s chance at the presidency, but, that would have only been the case in a sane world, in a sane country, and the sanity train departed from this station on November 8th, 2016. “Grab ’em by the pussy,” was ironically also what those at the Women’s March were protesting.
The thing is, while Trump doesn’t strictly enjoy support from misogynists, Trump overwhelmingly enjoys support from misogynists. There is a very real undercurrent of vehemence against women that served as the lifeblood of the President’s core constituencies, a hybrid blend of religious extremism, aggressive and outright hostile masculinity, and those who believe they have the right to tell women what they should do with their own bodies, up to and including charing them with murder for making medical decisions in regards to their own bodies with their doctors. What universe is this?
The male-dominated one, that’s which one. The peak of the irony comes in the fact that most of the very misogynistic Trump supporters and most of the misogynistic men out there simply deny that we live under a male-dominated political structure. Well, what is a group of people deciding to edit a historical photograph so as to not offend the most powerful accused sex offender in the land? What else can we call a society that affords an accused sex offender such power and privilege so as to not only silence his accusers but to silence those who stand up for his accusers?
Look, a spade is a spade and inequalities of power are inequalities of power, and when the voices of millions of women are altered or silence for the comfort of one man and his movement of supporters, what else can we call that? The Washington D.C. March alone, where the photo was taken with the dome of the Capitol Building perking up in the backdrop, drew a whopping 470,000 people. The photo was taken to preserve a snapshot of that day, encasing into history the moment of the time, the day after Trump’s inauguration, the very event that the women were in protest of. Little in this world says patriarchy like having the image of one man become more important than the voices of millions of people.
The statement issued by the archives reads:
We made a mistake.
As the National Archives of the United States, we are and have always been completely committed to preserving our archival holdings, without alteration.
In an elevator lobby promotional display for our current exhibit on the 19th Amendment, we obscured some words on protest signs in a photo of the 2017 Women’s March. This photo is not an archival record held by the National Archives, but one we licensed to use as a promotional graphic. Nonetheless, we were wrong to alter the image.
We have removed the current display and will replace it as soon as possible with one that uses the unaltered image.
We apologize, and will immediately start a thorough review of our exhibit policies and procedures so that this does not happen again.
To me, this is unacceptable, and it sure is evidence that women’s voices are still taken semi-seriously as if our politics reflect the minds of misogynistic men who prefer just to “shut women up” and get them to “stop complaining” so that the men may “live in peace.” It’s dismissal, it’s disgusting, and it’s flat-out dehumanization, a stripping of the voices of those who attended the march (both men and women, might I add) for protesting Women’s issues.
There is no such thing as equality of power so long as voices can be so callously silenced, as if to be done by the flick of a hand, casually and effortlessly, for nothing more than simply speaking the truth.