It’s the Little Things…

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 4.09.22 PMThat Tertullian, he’s a wily one.

To be clear, that’s kind of a new phenomenon. He hasn’t always been this sneaky. After all, what Tertullian actually wrote about women is anything but subtle. In case you need a refresher:

“You are the Devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that tree; you are the first foresaker of the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not brave enough to approach; you so lightly crushed the image of God, the man Adam.”

Pretty in your face, I’d say.

These days, Tertullian’s influence is far more subversive. As I’ve said before, male privilege, the legacy of thinkers and writers such as Tertullian, basically “lurks in the culture.” It’s like air. You can’t always see it, you aren’t always aware of it, but you sure live in it.

Here’s an example, from, of all things, the world of graphic design and iconography.

This article tells the story of Facebook Design Manager Caitlin Winner’s redesign of the site’s ubiquitous friends icon. The original version (and, for some reason, the one that’s still currently on display on my Facebook page) has two figures, a man and a woman, with the man positioned slightly in front of and larger than the woman. Here’s Winner’s experience of the icon:

“Next, I was moved to do something about the size and order of the female silhouette in the ‘friends icon’. As a woman, educated at a women’s college, it was hard not to read into the symbolism of the current icon; the woman was quite literally in the shadow of the man, she was not in a position to lean in.”

The message? Even seemingly innocuous design elements can communicate our cultural bent toward male privilege. Is it subtle? Yes. Is it unintentional? I think so. But does it perpetuate the problem of male privilege?

I say yes.

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