Pop Goes Newsweek: Sexual Harassment Cover Gone Wrong

by Judy Walgren

This week’s Newsweek cover employs a cartoonish approach to illustrate an incredibly serious and painful scenario playing out around the country. A huge (of course it’s huge), orange, inflated balloon, twisted to resemble an erect penis (and scrotum — can’t forget the balls), is threatened by a (white) woman’s disembodied hand sporting “arrest me red” (of course) shellacked fingernails. Her fingers are daintily posed as they ever-so-lightly direct a straight pin toward the center of the enormous shaft. A comic book-style “POP” is above and to the left of the shaft.

When I first saw the cover on Twitter, I sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes — just to make sure I was seeing clearly. I looked again. And then I actually saw it. And to be perfectly honest, I am still forming coherent thoughts around why it evokes so much rage.

For starters, it perfectly illustrates the juvenile, adolescent male snickerings that have endlessly floated around locker rooms, golf courses and topless bars for years. In no way can this illustration articulate the overwhelming, seething rage that so many women have pushed deep down in order to pursue careers in fields we consider our life’s work, a calling. Many have been violently beaten down and humiliated — so much so that quietly leaving was the only option. And those who remain — we are the the ball-busters, the cold-hearted bitches who make lives a living hell.

But, back to the cover.

Our collective trauma and rage cannot be depicted as a thin, hatpin and anyone with any integrity knows this to be true. Where are the sharp teeth closing around that shaft? Where is the fire licking away on the scrotum? Where is the hammer crushing the head into the ground?

I am of a certain age to remember a time when Newsweek was an award-winning outlet for powerful news photography. Some ask, why we should care about what Newsweek puts out as they are not relevant anymore? Let’s just say that with 3.3 million followers on Twitter — that is not irrelevant….

Oh and by the way — this is not merely a white woman’s rage — this rage comes in all sizes, weights, ages, cultures and colors. One more thing not reflected here.

Judy Walgren, the former director of photography for the San Francisco Chronicle, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, photo editor and educator based in San Francisco.

Originally published by Reading The Pictures, the only site dedicated to the daily review of news and documentary photography. Sign up for the Reading The Pictures Week in Re-View email. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.