So you may not have heard, but us women of the internet have ourselves a new project for 2014. The 365 feminist selfie project is the brainchild of Veronica Arreola, author of the blog Viva La Feminista. She has challenged women everywhere to take a picture of themselves every day and post it via social media onto the internet; the idea being (I think, though it isn’t terribly clear) that through this process of seeing and being seen, we can more fully accept and empower ourselves.
Oooh, I thought. A man coming along to tell women how they’re doing feminism all wrong. It was time to break out the popcorn. Women everywhere were about to get very very angry. I knew this because my initial, unthinking reaction was to be angry too. Just who did this man-troll think he was, throwing his privilege around?
Until I read the article properly and realised – with some small degree of embarrassment – that I agreed with him.
Now the bulk of my selfie experience has, I admit, been acquired through the medium of Facebook; most significantly my teenage sons timeline. It would appear that snapping an (often provocative) selfie, posting it onto the internet, and then inviting every single friend, acquaintance, and friend of a friend you ever had to give it a score of one to ten, is a common – and actively encouraged – passtime amongst his female peers.
And I am not about to start shaming them for that. After all it’s no illogical way to behave when you have been socially conditioned to believe that your burgeoning sexual attractiveness is the only real mark of your worth – the only real power that you possess. Who wouldn’t, under those circumstances, be tempted to seek the reassurance that they were “hot” or “cute” or “gorgeous” and therefore at least counted for something? But never the less it makes me want to cry. I despair of the damage we are doing to our young women. There is such a hollowness in all that pseudo, mocking confidence; in the arched backs and pouting mouths. Please, they seem to say. Come validate my existence, for I am nothing without your gaze of approval.
But not so, apparently, with feminist selfies. Stick a feminist label on a selfie and it automatically becomes something entirely different. A feminist selfie exists to challenge our common cultural notions of beauty, to shift the boundaries of that beauty in order to make room for all women, so that every single one of us can – finally – feel worthy. “The point of feminist selfies are to show — and see — real women” argues Arreola. But wait, my sons classmates are every bit as authentically female as you or I. So are the famous women we see being objectified in magazines. Being older and more ordinary looking does not make you any more “real” or valid than anyone else. “Conquer that fear of seeing yourself every.single.day,” Arreola goes on to urge. “We might look at ourselves to put our contacts in, even make-up on, but taking a selfie and posting it means REALLY looking at yourself”. No. No it doesn’t. It means posting a picture of yourself on the internet and inviting others to look at you. And I fail utterly to see how that in any way furthers the quest for womens equality.
I’m sorry. But I like my feminism a little more radical than that.
Reclaiming the selfie? How about reclaiming our bodies from the male politicians who seek to remove our reproductive rights and force us into continuing with unwanted pregnancies? What about reclaiming our right to safety from a judicial system and rape culture that routinely allows perpetrators of sexual violence to go unpunished? What about equal pay? Or decent, affordable childcare that allows more of us to go out into the world and empower ourselves through financial independence?
What about trying to teach our daughters by example, that a way to develop real self esteem is through rejection of the notion that our worth is in any way dependent on how we appear physically to others.
I mean really. Taking pictures of ourselves and posting them on the internet?
I think we can do better than that.