An elite women’s-only co-working and community space is under fire for “promoting bloody violence” in a recent Instagram post featuring Barbie and Ken.
Sure, a toy-centric post sounds innocent enough, but we all know how easy it is to take a Barbie doll’s head off, which is exactly what’s happening in the image. And the victim is Ken. The image was staged and taken by doll photographer Mariel Clayton. In the photo, Ken’s head is on a platter and stuffed with sandwich accouterments. Barbie is holding the platter with a huge smile on her face (as always) in front of the fridge, which is open and holds the rest of Ken’s bloody body. “When he tells you to make him a sandwich,” the caption reads.
The Wing is decidedly feminist-leaning — their shop features products like a nail file that says, “NO-MAN-ICURE,” a T-shirt that says “Boys Beware,” and their magazine is called No Man’s Land. So, the post falls in line with their messaging. But some followers feel the violence depicted in this post is taking it a step too far.
“Not wild about domestic violence imagery, @the.wing,” one follower replied. Another pointed out: “This type of extreme messaging turns off those who would otherwise be sympathetic to the women’s movement. Please find a less violent and more mature way to promote the cause, as this is detrimental to its momentum.” Added a third: “A little extreme? Would it be OK if it were reversed? @the.wing.”
People are pointing out that the post goes against the group’s messaging. “This is as wrong as what is happening to women,” one wrote. “This is not feminist,” commented another.
Another wrote: “@the.wing & @dominomag think domestic violence is ok to joke about. Got it.”
One woman was ready to cancel her membership to the Wing over the post. “Is there a way to cancel my membership? Serious question. I don’t pay $250/month to support an organization that posts this s***, which is no better than Kathy Griffin’s decapitation photo. I get art, I get the ‘humor,’ but this is over the line and it gives men ammo to disparage feminism, which is supposed to be about equality. I’ve been a proud wing woman, but I can’t condone an organization that posts this and when people call them out on it, basically replies with, ‘Lighten up. It’s our prerogative, sorry not sorry.’ Annual commitment my ass, you didn’t post embarrassing and backwards stuff like this when I applied and joined.”
The Wing addressed some of the negative reactions in the comments section but is standing by the post. “Appreciate everyone’s honest feedback,” they wrote. “First we want to state that we in no way condone violence or domestic abuse of any kind. While we understand that not everything we post on this platform is going to be palatable for everyone, we also believe in the freedom to post things that are metaphorical, figurative, exaggerated, dramatized, and veiled in humor in order to speak to a larger truth. The message here, for us at the Wing, is about women no longer feeling like we have to do as we’re told or fulfill historically domestic roles. We can assure you no humans were injured during this taking of this photograph.”
They even responded to the woman who threatened to disconnect from the group. “We really appreciate your honest feedback and we feel badly that this Instagram post has shifted your feelings about The Wing. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to a Community Manager if you are interested in continuing this conversation or if you have questions and concerns about membership. We are here for you.”
While the Wing may not have that member’s support anymore, they have plenty of backup. A few followers have come to the Wing’s defense. “[L]egit if you think this photo is gonna encourage women to kill men, that’s on you,” one supporter wrote. “This is not about women who have healthy relationships. It’s FOR the women who are constantly expected to cook/nurture their partners simply because they are women. Most Americans still and always believed that women should do most of the housework, cause that’s what were good for.”
Added another: “[P]eople need to get a sense of humour.” Gushed a third: “I honestly adore everything you guys are about and am loving that you’re standing in your truth and standing behind your content. Keep doing what you do. Yes, because the Wing is really supporting and promoting real human decapitation.”
The artist Clayton didn’t mean for the photo to be so polarizing. “I don’t think the Wing did it intentionally,” Clayton told Yahoo Lifestyle. “A lot of my work is reliant on the title or caption for it to make a bit more sense in getting the joke. My original caption of that pic was, ‘Oh HI! As you can see, I have special requirements when it comes to my refrigeration needs, that’s why I only trust KillKenMore to take care of the storage of my more delicate perishable items.’ It really doesn’t have anything to do with any kind of ‘feminist’ opinion or some sort of retribution, which is what the other caption seems to imply,” she explained.
Clayton added: “It was just a funny pun on the name of an appliance manufacturer.” If you need further proof that her photo had no activist agenda, just look closer. “In the details, people should note a female hand in the fridge, and what the dog under the table is chewing on (another female hand) — which makes it an equal-opportunity offense, I hope.”
Of course, Clayton isn’t surprised that her work has led to such an impassioned Instagram debate. “Understandably, my work is quite subjective and definitely not interpreted in the same manner by everyone — which is part of why I do it, to see how people react, and where their minds go when seeing the images. It runs from one extreme to the other, always.”
The artist is not offended or concerned about how the Wing interpreted her art. In fact, Clayton thinks the misunderstanding sends an important message. “It’s more how the intent behind something can be changed in nine words, and now there are motives being attributed to the picture that were never there to begin with.”
Clayton does tackle sensitive topics with her dolls sometimes, just not this time. “I would hope that the people who saw my work would be interested in looking at the rest of it, because there are pictures where I have touched on the issues mentioned, domestic violence, rape, etc., that are meant to be a serious commentary portrayed in a different way.”
The Wing might want to note that for next time.
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