Gag Gone Wrong: Why This Family's Christmas Photo Is Causing Outrage

A Christmas photo shoot meant to be a joke has the entire Internet up in arms.

An image from a family's Christmas photo shoot recently went viral after being posted on the Louisianna-based photographer's Facebook page, Hannah Hawkes Photography. The picture of a family of five at a Christmas tree farm shows the two young girls and their mother bound with Christmas lights and their mouths covered in green duct tape, while the father holds a sign that says "Peace on earth" and the young son stands beside them grinning, giving the camera a thumbs up.

The photo quickly went viral, met mostly with harsh criticism. Facebook ultimately removed the photo and the photographer briefly removed her Facebook page after receiving so many angry comments and messages. Many people felt the image was in poor taste, offering an anti-female sentiment, and it's not hard to see why: All the females in the photo have their mouths sealed shut, implying that the women in the family are obnoxious, loud, and/or too much to handle. While the post made many uncomfortable, some maintain that "it's just a joke" and should be viewed as such. But days after the post, the comments keep pouring in.

Hannah Hawkes Photography/Facebook

The photographer announced via Facebook yesterday morning that she snapped the photo at the request of the family, saying the "photo was taken with humor in mind, and was meant as a comical Christmas photo."

While it's clear this particular image was in jest, Hawkes obviously wanted to make clear that it was not her idea and she did not ask the family to pose this way, but as a business woman it is her job to respect the wishes of her clients. I can absolutely see her point. It's a good business practice to listen to your clients and give them what they want and that's what she did. But posting the image on Facebook was probably not the best idea, as she soon found out.

Of course this photo is meant to be playful, but the truth is the subject matter is quite serious and many folks took it that way. Don't get me wrong, I am not against laughing at my own son and daughter's expense. I've joked about their diaper blow-outs and grocery store meltdowns on the Internet dozens of times. And I'd gladly duct tape both their mouths shut just for kicks (kidding...kind of). But making such a huge gender distinction, as we see here, just doesn't strike me as funny. It feels wrong and sad, and definitely not Christmassy. If all the kids had had their mouths duct taped and the parents were smiling and together holding the sign that reads "Peace on earth," it might be a different story.

The message here wasn't that "our kids drive us crazy sometimes," which many parents would've likely related to. It was something quite different. It was clear that the females in the image were being isolated as the ones who, for whatever reason, needed to have their mouths sealed shut. As far as I can tell, most women don't find the dated and demeaning sentiment "put a muzzle on your broad" appealing. However, it seems that's the message here—that women should be quiet so the men can be at peace. Funny? Not exactly.

Even in a joking manner, telling our daughters that because they are women their voices are less important than a man's is a dangerous message, and that's what people are responding to. Because whether we feel it every day or not, we do not live in a society where women are treated equally. These kinds of jokes only perpetuate those inequalities, in pay, respectful attitudes, and otherwise for our future generation. We shouldn't laugh at this or find it amusing. It should make us uncomfortable.

While this image could've remained something for the family and their friends to laugh over (or debate) in private, posting it on social media was bound to cause a stir. The Internet doesn't know this family, their values, or their sense of humor. To the greater public, it appears that they are making a very clear statement about whose voices matter and whose do not. Whether it's a joke or not, it's definitely offensive and the photographer likely knew that, too, after the feedback she received.

Even if it wasn't posted on Facebook, the message it sends to the children in that very family is off-putting. The girls in the picture look old enough to take in this message loud and clear—we should quiet our voices for the comfort of others. Frankly, it's a message young women absorb all too frequently just by existing in the world. It shouldn't be cause for a Christmas giggle.

Sarah Bregel is a Baltimore-based mother, writer, and feminist. She's written for Parents, FitPregnancy, Vox, Scary Mommy, Babble, HuffPost Parents, The Washington Post, and more. Visit her growing Facebook community to keep up with her posts, or follow her on Twitter: @SarahBregel.

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