Selfie: A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website (Oxford Dictionary). The “selfie”, dubbed 2013’s word of the year, has taken society by storm. Countless young adults, mostly girls, have become accustomed to posing for selfies on a regular basis. And for better or for worse, it has caused a lot of controversy.
Recently, Rachel Simmons from Slate wrote an article in praise of the sweeping new trend. She boasted that selfies are good for girls, and are an avenue for them to promote themselves (a behaviour often lacking in young women). She writes that posting selfies displays confidence and puts the power in the hands of the women taking their own photo, perhaps even redefining today’s beauty standards.
In response, Jezebel writer Erin Gloria Ryan exclaimed that selfies aren't empowering, but rather a cry for help. She noted our current paradigm perpetually tells us that our most valuable asset is our looks, and selfies only help to reinforce that notion. Ryan wrote that these photos are just girls waiting for the public to give them affirmation.
So where on the spectrum of wonderful to worrisome do selfies lie?
All these writers, those who claim selfies are the homecoming of empowerment or those who believe it is the downfall of feminism, are missing something.
Since when has feminism made generalizations? When did the belief that every perspective is equal and valid disappear? How has this fundamental building block of feminist theory gotten tossed to the wayside?
It seems as though no one has taken the time to understand that every woman who takes a selfie is doing so for a different reason.
We need to remember that generalizing gets us nowhere.
Yes, Simmons is correct in saying that selfies can empower females and promote confidence, but Ryan also makes a valid point that selfies can perpetuate the patriarchal view that attractiveness is a woman’s most important asset.
For every female that posts a selfie to share her accomplishments or show off a new hair doo, there is a female vying for attention and approval.
It is important to consider from which context these women and girls come. If a female is posing with her new business card, it may capture a confident woman not crippled by the punishing paradigm. If a young girl is pouting her lips in front of her phone, there could be systemic factors at work impelling her to seek affirmation.
The greatest insight we have had on the inner workings of this phenomenon was the highly animated response from the cyber community. Thousands of men and women on Twitter raced to take photos of themselves with the hashtag #feministselfie, most accompanied with a cheeky message for Jezebel.
These people, with great gusto, took offense to the dig on selfies. Their actions are fully justified, as no one should use feminism as a way to shame other women. (Did we learn nothing from Miley Cyrus?!)
What we need to take away from this debate is a reminder.
In our skeptical world, feminists often get so caught up defending their beliefs that they come on strong and don’t apologize. They make their point and stick to it. A firm stance is important, but so is perspective.
Feminism is a discussion. No answer is 100% correct, and no two feminists will agree on everything. It is only through conversation and the acceptance of our differences that will allow for and promote progress.
Let’s not forget our roots, get along, and take a gall-darn feminist selfie.