Empowerment is a crucial element in radical change driven by feminists and women’s liberation groups. This selection of photographs, taken by Donna Ferrato between 1984 and 2017, offers a nuanced exploration of empowerment through the use of scenes from domestic violence shelters, activist rallies, and courtrooms. Each of these photographs is an act of resistance. In the photographs of activist rallies, Ferrato illustrates women fighting back against a patriarchal dominated society with forms of protest that advocate for the elimination of the objectification of women. Ferrato’s scenes from domestic violence shelters are a testament to the power taken back by survivors after leaving harmful situations, which can be extremely difficult to do. This courage leads many to fight against systems of oppression and pursue change. As a final representation of forms of empowerment, these photographs are grouped together in solidarity with one another.
Women’s March on the White House day after inauguration of Pres. Donald Trump. 2017
This photograph was taken on January 21, 2017, after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Known as the Women’s March on Washington, it was one of hundreds of marches across the world protesting women’s rights, as Trump’s presidential campaign was seen as misogynistic and an attack on equality for minorities. The March protested for more than just women’s rights, as the goal was to “send a bold message to our new administration ... and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.” This message was one fighting for the “protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.” —Mika
Feminist and women’s liberation groups have been fighting against the very concept of pageants since their existence in the early 1920s. The effects pageants have on young women are detrimental, reinforcing idealized beauty standards praised in our society such as an unattainable low weight, look, and size. Efforts to diversify the pool of contestants remained unsuccessful in the 1980s as they took pride in presenting wholesome, positive, conservative women. The beauty industry’s further exploitation of contestants relies on these women to sell more products, reinforcing the conception of what beauty is to a public platform.
Miss America Contest, San Diego. 1986
Battered Women’s Shelter. 1986
This photograph was taken in 1991 by Donna Ferrato and appeared in her book, Living With the Enemy,’ which was a series she did focusing on the effects of domestic violence within familial settings. Many of the photographs in this book portray scenes from emergency rooms, domestic violence or sexual assault shelters, activist rallies, courtrooms, batterers’ groups, and women dentention centers. This photograph in particular was taken in a domestic violence shelter in Minneapolis, MN, with a mother and her two children.
The individual in this photograph carries a poster that reads: “MOLD JELL-O NOT WOMEN,” referencing a brand that became synonymous with the domesticity of women and symbolic of the housewife aesthetic. The woman also wears a sash made of Jell-O boxes, a lingerie top that exposes her midriff, and pants stitched with a vulvar pattern. Making the private public, this clothing is both an act of defiance and of body positivity. This protester takes a playful jab at patriarchy and presents a serious demand for the reformation of gender roles, perceptions of femininity, and societal expectations for women.
Mold Jell-O Not Women Protest. 1984
This photograph was taken in 1997 at the New York Supreme Court, during the trial of an attorney who allegedly raped and murdered his adopted daughter. The photograph shows three women (from left to right): Hedda Nussbaum, an American critic who was highly involved with many domestic abuse cases around this time; Betty Levinson, an attorney who specializes in domestic abuse cases; and Gloria Steinum, a famous feminist journalist. The picture of these three feminist icons acts as an incredible image of female empowerment, as they stood in solidarity with one another.