Saturday, 16 May 2009

When women hide behind their children on Facebook

A friend (who, yes, is smart and has a picture of her son as the main picture on her Facebook page) drew my attention to this article written by US feminist Katie Roiphe.

You click on a friend's name and what comes into focus is not a photograph of her face, but a sleeping blond four-year-old, or a sun-hatted baby running on the beach. Here, harmlessly embedded in one of our favorite methods of procrastination, is a potent symbol for the new century. Where have all of these women gone? What, some future historian may very well ask, do all of these babies on our Facebook pages say about the construction of women’s identity at this particular moment in time?

Many of these women work. Many of them are in book clubs. Many of them are involved in causes. But this is how they choose to represent themselves. The choice may seem trivial, but the whole idea behind Facebook is to create a social persona, an image of who you are projected into hundreds of bedrooms and cafes and offices across the country. Why would that image be of someone else, however closely bound they are to your life, genetically and otherwise? The choice seems to constitute a retreat to an older form of identity, to a time when women were called Mrs. John Smith, to a time when fresh scrubbed Vassar girls were losing their minds amidst vacuum cleaners and sandboxes. Which is not to say that I don’t understand the temptation to put a photograph of your beautiful child on Facebook, because I do. After all, it frees you of the burden of looking halfway decent for a picture, and of the
whole excruciating business of being yourself. Your 3-year-old likes being in front of the camera. But still.

The mystery here is that the woman with the baby on her Facebook page has surely read The Feminine Mystique in college, and The Second Sex, and The Beauty Myth. She is no stranger to the smart talk of whatever wave of feminism we are on, and yet this style of effacement, this voluntary loss of self, comes naturally to her. Here is my pretty family, she seems to be saying, I don’t matter anymore.
Elsewhere in the article Roiphe argues that this is an issue most pertinent to women, that men retain their separate selves whereas amazing, smart women lose their identity in being a mother. Does this really represent a loss of self? Is it an indication that we are still stuck in the same situation as our ancestors? Is parenting really something boring that we should avoid discussing in favour of books and movies?

34 comments:

Anna said...

Hmmmm. I've had my kids as my FB profile pic recently, and this did cross my mind.

But I did it because quite frankly I think my kids are rad and I want the whole world to know it. It's not self-effacement - it's showing off!

I think this is actually a bit denigrating of stay at home mums too - it's like Roiphe is saying that working and book clubs etc are inherently better than being a SAHM, and women who do these things don't need to 'lower' themselves to being preoccupied with their kids.

Anonymous said...

Personally I find talking about kids very boring. But each to their own.

hungrymama said...

I'm the family photographer there are about 300 photos of my kids to every one of me and about 3000 to every actually flattering one of me so the odds say that sometimes my kids are going to land up as my profile pic.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a phenomenon beyond photos of kids. The number of women who I haven't seen since high school (and barely talked with then) who present themselves as a wedding photo or photo with boyfriend amazes me. It is as though a function of facebook has become proving your heteronormativity.

Anna said...

Interesting point, Anon - but I don't think that's just a FB phenomenon. I saw on Stuff the other day photos from a Bride of the Year competition - I didn't think such things existed anymore!

Giovanni said...

In my limited experience, guys are just as likely to indulge in that particular pecadillo as gals. Creeps the crap out of me, but to each their own (plus my FB photo is one of me as a child, so obviously I have issues of my own to worry about).

Make Tea Not War said...

Well--I think Roiphe is over thinking here. I've had a picture of my cat as my Facebook profile picture. IMO it had nothing to do with self effacement and everything to do with the trivial unimportance of Facebook "identity". I don't affix my cat's pawprint to documents I produce in the course of my job.

T said...

Well I must be the most pathetic woman ever because I have a photo of me with my nephew as my profile picture lol

miss abc said...

After reading this latest post on the hand mirror it has made me realise how hierarchical and judgement woman are about themselves and their "self worth".

Why do we compare working mums, with a stay at home mum, with a woman who choses not to have children or a woman who chooses to show her children on facebook instead of herself.

It feels like we are constantly trying to validate ourselves. my question is why why why!!!!!!!!

We inherently have value regardless of what we do and how we do it.

I feel the comparison trap is a way to disempower feminism and women generally.

I feel if we adhere to the principal we are all equally valuable regardless of circumstance, sex, gender etc we will actually be far happier as a gender.

If we value ourselves as women rather then argue the imbalances in the system -the changes we need will intrinsically take place.

I feel gender mistreatment can happen to a certain extent because we seek it out on a subconcious level because we believe we are lesser then.

If we accept we are different but equal too other gender constructs-the fragmentation of feminism and the negativity against the feminist label would lessen.

And therefore my main point if a women finds her value in her children, good for her!!!! Well done. Who are we to devalue that because of some construct about us having to be everything to everyone and finding ourselves devalued or lesser then in everything we do in order to be a proper feminist.

T said...

Fuckin' aye Miss ABC!! Hear hear!

stargazer said...

If we value ourselves as women rather then argue the imbalances in the system -the changes we need will intrinsically take place.ah, if only those who wasted their time campaigning for women to have the right to vote had known that. they could have achieved the same results by staying at home and valuing themselves as a sex. yup, if we had agreed that women are different but equal, we would have been allowed to open bank accounts without our husband's signature. absolutely no activism was required, the banks would have changed that policy all by themselves, after seeing how happy we all were. all the time women wasted lobbying for equal pay which resulted in an act of parliament. why couldn't they have just been intrinsically happy, and it would have happened without any effort on their part. and of course the fact that only 5% of rape trials result in a conviction is just because we aren't intrinsically happy, nothing to do with the system at all! and if we all stop worrying about it, it will go away. there will be no more sexual violence, no more domestic violence because of course it's our fault when these things happen to us. the perpetrator is fault free, and so we should repeal all domestic violence laws. it's our fault for getting beaten, because we believe we're lessen than men. how foolish we are to seek justice, we should voluntarily put ourselves in jail instead.

thank you miss abc for making everything so clear and solving all the problems in the world.

ps you may have noticed that katy didn't express agreement with the article she quoted, and many of the commentors before you didn't agree with it either. i guess you just missed that part, cos you just didn't bother to read and think before hitting the "publish" button.

Giovanni said...

Not only change doesn't come 'intrinsically', but often we have to keep fighting to defend the victories of decades ago. Workers' rights would be one of them, abortion in some countries another.

Giovanni said...

PS - workaround for the annoying disappearance of the carriage return after the italics; put a full stop after the closed tag.

miss abc said...

Stargazer...to clarify I did not say at any point we should do nothing I apologise if I was not clear on that point.

Being proactive is essential but i feel we should be proactive from a place of embracing our self worth rather then victimhood.

i feel that some feminists on a subconscious level value themselves as lesser then and are therefore so angry - which is counter productive and buys into the stereotypical image of the angry feminist.

I did not comment on anyone else's perspective on the article as I realised they did not agree with the main premise of the article.

Rather i was commenting on what the article brought up for me as a reader of this blog.



And I do realise that issues around how the construct of gender and sex and feminism itself take work to change.

At no point was i devaluing the work of past feminists or their struggle but that was then.
This is now.

I strongly believe that actively searching out negative things and criticsing others within one own's gender is counter productive.

I also feel that the time for angry feminism has past. We made some major achievements as a movement embracing our rightgeous anger when we needed too.
Yes there certainly are issues to be addressed but constructive dialogue is far more likely to lead to a positive outcome.

I feel the moment we fall into the angry woman as victim trap we lose our power.

We are of equal worth and we should interact that way.

Thank you for you perspective Stargazer. Hopefully this comment will clarify things for you.

katy said...

"It is as though a function of facebook has become proving your heteronormativity."

lol, and very apt! An article in the Economist a few months ago used the phrase, "broadcasting your life to an outer-tier of acquaintances" to summarise the main activity that seemed to be going on when researchers looked more closely at Facebook. I am definitely aware that the image I would present to close friends is very different to those colleagues and relatives that make up my Facebook friends.

And back to the original topic, I think that Roiphe's argument is interesting, which is why I posted it, and I was really interested to know what Hand Mirror readers would have to say so thanks for the comments. I agree that it isn't cool to denigrate people who parent, whatever arrangements they favour. But, I have to admit that as a non-parent I have on occasion been somewhat terrified at the possibility of losing myself to husband/children so these comments are also very valuable in terms of providing an alternative view.

miss abc said...

your comment about losing yourself in your children is interesting.I don't have children yet either but could you please clarify what you mean a bit further? thanks in advance :)

stargazer said...

miss abc, i think one of the basic beliefs of feminists is that women are of equal value. to imply otherwise as you have done twice now is a little strange.

regarding the "victim" thing, i've only just read this post on the topic and would recommend it to you. in particular, this bit:

These people tend not to be feminists. Because feminists - whether or not they have been victims of crimes - are engaged in continual acts of strength. To be a feminist is to be, on one level or another, an activist: actively engaged in confronting the problems of the world and seeking to change them. They confront injustices. They speak up. They refuse to shut up. They cause trouble. They take responsibility, not just for their own happiness, but for the betterment of the world around them. They also (especially if they are lady feminists) continually make the point that they are not weak, they are not passive, and they are not incapable of independence or self-determination. They are, in short, about as far from being victims as possible..

there's also plenty of writing about not being angry, and if i get time, i'll find something for you.

katy, my apologies for derailing! back to the topic: i don't have any photos on facebook. in fact as little personal information as possible, which is from paranoia more than anything else. which is strange because i blog and am not an anonymous blogger. but even with blogging, i feel really uncomfortable about sharing personal things, and so tend to avoid that.

i think my main motivation for being that way is because of some nasty attacks i've seen on others, and particularly on women, on the basis of personal information available on the internet.

miss abc said...

More information on any of the topics discussed will be gratefully received.
I also do not disagree with anything in the quote you posted Stargazer but I believe strongly that coming from a place of anger is counter productive and can lead to the focus being placed on the anger rather then the issue that is being addressed.
This is not to say anger has no place in today's feminism but rather that it should not be the mainstay of how we interact to create positive change around gender issues. I do realise that this is all rather "grey" sounding.
I do feel though that some feminists come across as very angry and I find it hard to focus on the issue in contention as the anger tends to steal the limelight. And to be honest I tend to switch off. I feel it is better to act in a proactive positive way - rather then to react from a place of anger.

stargazer said...

apologies to katy again, but miss abc, i just found the post i was thinking of about anger. here is the crucial bit:

...you'll be glad for that anger, because you know that the opposite of anger, for a progressive, is complacence—and there can be no progress if everyone is perfectly complacent with the way things are.

Progress is dependent on people who get angry, because anger — productive anger, motivating anger, directed anger, rational anger — is the root of all progress.

Feminists/womanists and their allies know that change comes by virtue of anger.

miss abc said...

Ahh thank you for that stargazer. I can see your perspective . Can we agree to disagree? We me conceding that at sometimes there is a place for anger though i personally believe it is counter productive?

katy said...

stargazer, don't apologise, I love the derailing!

We need to feel angry in order to mobilise ourselves to take action. Of course women aren't supposed to feel angry though, it is something that only the powerful have the right to feel.

katy said...

cross-post :)

miss abc said...

to quote myself - " This is not to say anger has no place in today's feminism but rather that it should not be the mainstay of how we interact to create positive change around gender issues."

I really enjoy that we can have a positive discussion and forum to discuss issues around feminism regardless on wether we agree or not. As a movement it makes us powerful!!!

stargazer said...

agree miss abc, after a rather rough few days (resulting mostly from the matthew johns post i think, and resulting in some rather nasty people finding their way here), it is nice to have a reasonable discussion!

see the problem i have with your thinking around anger is twofold. first, it fails to recognise that when we try to make the point in a nice, polite rational way, we just aren't heard. when we argue our case and use logic, we're ignored. when we try to be reasonable and friendly, we get brushed off. often, it is only when we get angry that anyone bothers to listen at all. complaining about feminists being angry is usually a smokescreen from people who didn't bother listening when we weren't angry, and still aren't interested in listening.

the second issue is that denying us our anger again forces women into that meek, submissive stereotype. nice girls don't make noise, they keep quiet and do what they're told. anger is a way to say that we refuse to conform to any such stereotypes.

and besides all of that, anger is often the only rational reaction to some of the crap that's out there.

miss abc said...

I totally hear what you are saying!!!! For me though it is a personal decision on how i interact with the world. I guess i would rather act then react which is not to say that action does not come from initially getting pissed off about something.I feel the divisive stuff though when women attack one another for not agreeing to the same definition of feminism is limiting. And ultimately dis -empowering. I feel as a movement the role of anger has sometimes been a hindrance rather then helpful and there are some many other tools we can use to get the change we need.

Anna said...

I'm finding this a fascinating discussion. I don't agree about the victim status stuff - I think it's possible to be both a victim and be strong. Victimhood is the corollary of injustice, and you can acknowledge it without wallowing in it. As was mentioned, accusations of victimhood are often a tactic for for taking the legitimacy away from feminist claims - if you say 'stop being victims' to, for example, women who experience pay discrimination, you're effectively saying a) pay discrimination doesn't exist or doesn't matter, or b) individual women can overcome what is actually a systemic problem.

Miss ABC, I do have some sympathy with what you're saying about anger. There are many, many things which feminists are right to be angry about. Anger will take you so far, but there are other things you need if you want to find a solution to a social problem too - the willingness to listen and to build solidarity with others, to reflect and to plan. I think the angry feminist stereotype tends to be promoted by those without any sympathy for feminism, but I also think it's a problem feminists have to engage with (without depoliticising our movement). So anger is good, but in its place!

And thanks for your comments, Miss ABC - although I don't agree with them all, I found them really thought-provoking, and it's really valuable for feminists to have a forum in which we can discuss this stuff. :-)

Mikhela said...

This thread has gone into a few different directions since it started, but I was drawn to the title because as a new member of parenting websites I get annoyed by women who have as their signature "TaylorsMum" or whatever. However the comments have made me think about my assumptions from a more generous perspective...it still grates on me though.

miss abc said...

I found this on the Guardian about feminism and to blogs Jezabel vs Double XX . I feel it speaks to some of the complex issues we face as feminists.
I am shocked at some of the aspects in this story regarding rape and one "feminist" blogger saying she didn't report her rape as she wanted to go drink instead...ekk!


Anyway here's the link.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/may/17/feminism-america-sex-promiscuity-drinking

Joanna said...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/may/17/feminism-america-sex-promiscuity-drinkingMiss ABC, I think you need to read Jezebel a bit more before you decide to put their feminism in quotation marks. The interview that they were referring to was pretty much an ambush - it was supposed to be a comedy night, not a serious debate, and believe me, Moe and Tracy talk at much greater length about their sexual assaults across the site, as do other writers, who talk about their very negative experiences in reporting their assaults. Jezebel writes with attitude, yes, but that doesn't mean it's not feminist. Also, see this

miss abc said...

i posted the article referring to the interesting debate it raised about feminism. I don't believe i made any comment on the value or a preference for either perspective.
And if rape is a "joke" or comedy why is it funny? If men did a joke about rape there would be a huge out cry. I am personally not comfortable with the hypocrisy i see if that is the case.

ms poinsettia said...

I dunno about defending Jezebel. I used to read Jezebel and was increasingly uncomfortable as a feminist with some of their posts. The turning point was a post suggesting that the 13 yr old girl raped by the 40-something yr old Roman Polanski might have wanted to have sex with him since 13 year olds can have sexual agency. Never gone back.

Random Lurker said...

Do men hide behind their cars?

Anyway, my only thoughts are that it probably violates the child's privacy, even though it's the parent's right to do so. Perhaps the child once grown up will come to value privacy on the internet and would not appreciate Facebook owning (they own the rights to anything uploaded to their site, last time I checked) pictures of his or her image as a child.

Violet said...

I don't do FAcebook but I'd imagine that I would rather post up a photo of my little daughter than one of myself because she's way cute and I'm way not.

hendo said...

"It is as though a function of facebook has become proving your heteronormativity."

Thankyou for expressing so perfectly what I have thought, Anonymous. I understand that on a simple level, people post pictures of themselves with their partner (guys do this too), esp. wedding pics, and their kids, because they look good in their pics, they were happy, they love those people, and / or their kids always look cute.

However, as someone who's just had a rather nasty and unexpected end to a relationship I thought was heading towards marriage and kids, though... I honestly just find Facebook a kind of constant reminder that says 'hey, I have a partner and / or kids and you don't!' I feel kind of out of it as a newly single person.

This phenomenon also reminds me of when I started at a big work induction day 5 years ago, in a group of 40, and I was the only person in the group (no, really) who introduced myself *without* referencing my family or partner. It was really weird.