Every few months, I’m reading a trend piece about something wacky those silly ladies are doing. Did you know that ladies take selfies, and it’s evidence of how vain and self-involved they are? Or that ‘Instagram husbands‘ scuttle about doing the bidding of their wives, whipped by their spouses into enabling their glamorous social media lifestyle? Or that mothers blog about parenting and sometimes receive goodies from corporations for it? Or that some people post BOOK REVIEWS ON THE INTERNET while being LADIES?
Or…whatever the next trend piece about women and social media will say?
So social media trend pieces get pageviews, because everyone is obsessed with social media and all its complex ramifications. I get that. But there’s a thread that runs through all of these women on social media pieces, and that’s misogyny and sexism. I rarely see pieces about women running businesses or powering initiatives on social media. I don’t see pieces about women spearheading conversations about social issues on social media. These kinds of stories — positive stories about women on social media — tend to show up primarily in publications and settings run for women, by women. Which is fantastic, because we should be talking about the myriad ways people use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but it’s not okay that the mainstream media doesn’t cover women on social media in ways that are really honest or fair.
Instead, most of its features depict women as shallow, vapid, self-absorbed people who use social media for personal gain (goodies, sponsored posts, etc.) or to showcase their own #blessed lifestyles (#basic am I right?). The sexism whirling around selfies is a perfect example, with women being told that they shouldn’t post so many pictures of themselves because it’s unseemly and vain — women are being literally told to hide their faces from society unless they want to be perceived as shallow. I like seeing the faces of women I follow on social media! It adds dimension to them for me, and it shows me what they’re up to, whether it’s friends in their sewing studios or strangers showing off new jewelry or just someone snapping a tired selfie in an airport. They provide a lens into the lives of others and it’s often very raw and authentic.
And yeah, it’s common for people to enlist help taking photos that feature them…I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s really hard to take a picture of yourself. Yes, auto-timing and remote controlled cameras are available, but they require a lot of setup and some are really expensive. Phones can perform similar functions, but again, they require setup and it can be a pain. It’s way easier to just have a friend, partner, kid, stranger, whatever, snap a picture. Why is it okay to ask a stranger to take a picture of you with a friend at the Eiffel Tower, but gross when a woman asks her partner to take a photo of her cooking, or walking down the street, or whatever? It’s a natural extension of the selfie, sharing parts of their lives with the people who choose to follow them — if you don’t like looking at pictures, the unfollow button is easy to find.
Are these pictures posed and sometimes carefully composed? Well, yeah. That’s how photography works when the subject is aware of the camera. Whether consciously or unconsciously, people pose — I pose for people taking pictures of me, even when it’s a documentary photographer hanging out for a few days and trying to be unobtrusive. The lens is an everpresent thing in the background and we’re aware of it. Do we take more than one picture? Uh, yeah, because we want to publish the one with the best light, the best composition. The decision to publish pretty things is pretty reasonable. Like, do you enlarge every single photo on the roll? I think not. The whole benefit of digital cameras is the ability to snap a ton of photos and sift through them later to find the perfect one.
Do women write on the internet and interact with readers through social media? Uh, yeah, why is that weird? Women use social media to talk with other women, and all genders, and they talk about all kinds of things. If you don’t think parenting is interesting, don’t follow mommy bloggers (self identified) or women who blog about parenting. If the idea of sponsored posts makes you uncomfortable, opt for blogs that don’t accept sponsorships but be aware that they may not update as frequently because being a mother is a lot of work and sponsorships can help offset the expense of raising kids — and those who aren’t accepting them may be raising children and interacting with the workplace, too. That’s a lot.
If you don’t like books, don’t read book blogs! If women writing about romance/mystery/fantasy/science fiction/whatever bothers you, don’t read genre blogs! I think you need to ask why these genres are such anathema, but ultimately that’s your business and not mine. The act of following, or not, is still entirely voluntarily and you get to choose how and when to engage.
But don’t trash women who are doing something perfectly reasonable: Engaging with society. When these kinds of trend pieces come out, with opinionators acting aghast that women get freebies or write about their kids or take pictures of things, it sends the very clear message that women should be silent, and these activities are gross and selfish when women do them. The same kind of sneering isn’t heaped upon men doing the exact same thing — the man who takes a selfie a day for a year, runs a travel Instagram, blogs about parenting, discusses books. And people need to talk about why this is, instead of taking the bait of yet another trend piece mocking women for…being human?
Image: Valentine, Graham Crumb, Flickr