Choking and Couture? Vogue Fetishizes Gender Violence

TRIGGER WARNING: post discusses topic of sexual abuse.

Looks like choking women is in vogue now.

Or at least it was in Vogue in their latest Hommes Internationale issue.

The cover, which depicts model Stephanie Seymour being choked from behind by fellow model Marlon Teixeira, is causing a considerable stir. The image was taken by provocative-for-the-sake-of-being-provocative photographer Terry Richardson, and has inspired the ire of domestic violence and women’s rights organizations. The leaders of five of these groups, Sanctuary for Families, Safe Horizon, NOW-NYC, Equality Now and New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault  penned a letter to Condé Nast chairman Si Newhouse, which included the following excerpt:

As a matter of corporate responsibility, thought leaders like Vogue should not normalize violence against women by using violent images to sell magazines.

Citing the alarming statistic that 43 percent of women who were killed by their partners experienced a previous episode of strangulation, the letter ends by urging Condé Nast “to be a leader in fostering respect and safety for women as well as beauty.”

This type of photography is meant to push the envelope, but such a distasteful example makes light of the three million women in the U.S. who are physically abused by their husbands or boyfriends each year. The photograph is edgy to the point of insensitivity, sending the message that choking women is passionate instead of violent.

The photographer is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year, he took photos of ever-spiraling Lindsay Lohan holding a gun to her head, and two years ago female models he worked with accused him of sexual harassment. Then, just a few months ago, he posted a slow-motion, boob-jiggling video of swimsuit model Kate Upton that was temporarily banned from YouTube and then became one of the most circulated GIFs on the Internet.

Women have long been debased and humiliated in fashion for the glory of “pushing boundaries.” This particular photo is drawing special attention because the photographer has already forged a certain degree of notoriety for being behind one of the more prominent camera lenses of the male gaze. And it’s in the influential Vogue.

Detractors may think the offended organizations are having knee-jerk reactions to a photo that is just meant to be seductive. But then they should probably ask themselves why they find the mixture of violence and sex so alluring.

By associating abuse with eroticism, Vogue propagates the disturbing idea that women enjoy being subjugated. Strangling is a frequent habit of batterers, and this shouldn’t be used as a tawdry gimmick for selling magazines. Violence is never fashionable.

Sanctuary for Families is running an online petition to have the current issue of Vogue Hommes Internationale pulled from the newsstands. You can sign the petition here or write a letter to Delphine Droyant ( or Olivier LaLanne ( at Condé Nast International.


  1. I guess I am not surprised since violence against women has been part of the media for so long.

  2. I am a dyke activist, and someone who’s had some experience with violence, and this sort of outcry drives me batty. It doesn’t at all look like he’s choking her; rather he looks like her lover reaching for her face preparatory to a consensual kiss.

  3. Thank you, Jane… I absolutely agree.

  4. I agree with Jane and Sharon as well. I don’t see any signs of violence in this photo. I don’t even see it as particularly edgy. If I had seen this magazine on the stands, it would not have occurred to me that there was any possibility of choking involved. She looks she is reaching back with her right hand to caress him – it just looks like consensual, erotic foreplay to me.

    I abhor violence against women and I have seen edgy fashion photography that has scared and offended me but this photo doesn’t strike me that way at all.

  5. As the commenters have noted above, it’s a tricky one because a) the image is subjective and b) there are plenty of people, men and women, who do enjoy the ‘rough play’ of being grabbed around the neck as part of consensual sex. I wrote an article on how rough sexual behaviour is shown by the mainstream media, and it was notable how several commenters said that rough sex was fine in the bedroom, but seemed to become misogynistic as soon as it was depicted in the media.

    (extract)”Admitting that you don’t want nice, gentle, doves-singing sex is a confession fraught with danger for women, lest that confession be hijacked by rape apologists who are looking for any excuse to say that women enjoy or invite real violence.”

    I’m not thrilled to see this Vogue cover precisely because I’m sure it was made with absolutely no feminist input and is merely intended to be ‘edgy’, possibly even relying on the fact it was going to piss women off to see themselves yet again portrayed as the passive partner in sex games. I’ll know something’s truly changed the day it’s a woman with her hands around the guy’s neck on a magazine cover.

    But whether we should censor every action because it has also been used against women in some terrible way? I’m not sure that would leave us with much. I agree with Jane that this looks more like a sensual caress than anything close to echoing the terrible violence committed on women by abusers. Still, I understand why this is troubling for both feminists and VAW survivors.

  6. Robin Monson says:

    This picture is absolutely disgusting it is not sexy! I will never buy another vogue issue again . I mean really so people just not get that Women are not objects We as women need to take a look and make a change. Vogue you ought to be ashamed

  7. Completely agree with Jane!! Thank you! The picture looks seductive , not violent!

    Fifty shades of grey is much more violent and I didn’t read any outcry.

    Also I believe that ms. Seymour is a survivor of domestic violence so I would imagine she wouldn’t pose in a ” violent” photo

  8. I am not comfortable with seeing this especially thinking of who the photographer is. It angers me and I dont think its ok. Looks like violence to me thats not what happens when I kiss someone I love or they kiss me. Neck holding in a mainstream magazine really cannot be read as anything but offensive…

  9. This image is distastefully reminiscent of a sexual assault I experienced. Although I respect that some people believe this photograph is simply portraying an embrace, to me it is extremely insulting. Vogue should have considered that some of their audience would have seen it this way, regardless of how it was intended by the photographer. Considering that this is a cover, it seems extremely insensitive or inconsiderate to use a photo that could be associated with violence. I find it a little sickening that a trigger warning is accompanying an image used to sell products to women.

  10. He’s apparently sexually assaulted several women since the last accusations a few years ago as well! Richardson must be stopped, and finally I saw this petition to do just that:

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