When the Oxford Dictionary declared “selfie” the 2013 word of the year, it inadvertently kicked off a familiar argument about the relationship between women—or more precisely girls—and culture.
On Slate, Rachel Simmons took the standard third-wave-feminism, girl-culture-is-good line. She argues that selfies are an example of young women promoting themselves and taking control of their own self-presentation: Think of each one, she says, as “a tiny pulse of girl pride—a shout-out to the self.” In response, Erin Gloria Ryan on Jezebel opted for an old-school, second-wave-feminism, culture-is-oppressive argument. Selfies teach girls to obsess over their appearance and judge themselves on the basis of beauty rather than accomplishments, she says: “They’re a reflection of the warped way we teach girls to see themselves as decorative.”
Both perspectives have their strengths and their drawback. What’s interesting, though, is that, beneath Simmons and Ryan’s disagreements lies a broader consensus: that all selfies share an essential selfie-ness. Ryan, for example, acknowledges that a selfie of the first female Marines to finish infantry training (and one who was injured before she could complete the course) is awesome and empowering. But then she brushes it away as irrelevant and not a “typical” selfie. Simmons, meanwhile, says she worries about girls who spend hours editing out the blemishes in their selfies, but concludes by insisting that “The selfie flaunts the restrictions of ‘good girl’ culture.” The selfie may be good or it may be bad, but Simmons and Ryan agree that its essence is all one thing or all the other. Aberrations are to be explained away.
But is there really an essential selfie-ness?
Read more. [Image: AP/Mal Fairclough and Kevin Wolf]