On Perception and the Sinister Side of Selfiedom
I’m a little late to this party. This blog post has been forwarded around social media the past couple of days. It’s a simple statement by a mother informing her sons’ female friends of what types of content will get them blocked from the sons’ social media profiles.
I’m in my 30’s these days. So, I am not a teenage girl, and am not the intended recipient of this mother’s warning. I also do not contest her right to monitor her children’s social media interactions and determine who among the teeming throngs of teenage girls flocking to her sons’ Facebook pages is worthy to stay, and who must be banished for her improprieties.
That said, the post is pretty much exactly what I expect in a culture in which millions are outraged by the sexualized antics of a former Disney starlet, while only a fraction of those point out the sleazy roles of the male performers involved in the same set. “Boys will be boys, but girls, you should know better.”
What made me want to respond to the post, however, was the following excerpts:
Please know that we genuinely like staying connected with you this way! We enjoy seeing things through your unique and colorful lens – you are insightful, and often very, very funny.
Which is what makes your latest self-portrait so extremely unfortunate.
That post doesn’t reflect who you are at all! We think you are lovely and interesting, and usually very smart. But, we had to cringe and wonder what you were trying to do? Who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to say?
And now – big bummer – we have to block your posts…
Followed by the following except:
Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t quickly un-see it? You don’t want our boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?
Neither do we. We’re all more than that.
First, I think it should be pointed out that we are talking about girls taking selfies in their pajamas, not full-frontal nudes.
Second, to the author’s credit, when readers pointed out that it was probably poor judgement to include photos of her shirtless sons flexing their muscles on the beach in a post chiding these naughty young ladies for arching their backs too much, she agreed and changed the photos.
However, what I really want to talk about is not just the double-standard here, but the contradiction. She knows these girls are insightful and funny with their own unique perspectives on the world. She knows that we are all more than just sexual beings. Yet, whether intentionally or not, she implies that once one is observed in even the mildest of sexual contexts, that it trumps all else. “I know that’s not who you are! But it’s what you look like, so buh-bye!”
It’s not that I think there are no useful conversations to be had about posting constant photos of oneself online. I think the one about focusing on the importance one’s own physical attributes to the exclusion of all others is a good one. Young people, and girls in particular, should be reminded often that they are more than the sum of their body parts. That doesn’t mean they should not also have a positive body image and feel good about posting a picture of themselves in that really cute tank top they’re wearing.
I wouldn’t try to pretend that there isn’t truth to the idea that teenagers have a hard time not thinking about sex. In my experience, that’s not gender-specific either (though certainly girls and boys are culturally taught to look at sex very differently; young men are expected to want sex, young women are supposed to resist it), but this bit really seems like a giant underestimation of teenage boys, including her own sons. Perhaps this is just me being pedantic, but it doesn’t help that this was the only spot in which she drops the references to adolescents and simply states that “males” cannot un-see a female “in a state of undress”.
First of all, that’s just a ridiculous thing to say. Of course they can’t “un-see” it. You can’t un-see anything you’ve seen unless you’re suffering from a condition which prevents the formation of long-term memory. The first cat I ever saw in person was a gray tabby, and I’m unlikely to forget what one looks like no matter how many lions and snow leopards I see at the zoo.
This is what I take issue with: If you see another person’s body – whether scantily-clad or outright naked – and afterwards can only see that person as a physical body, then you are the problem. I base this partly on personal experience. The number of men who have seen me “in a state of undress” (by my own definition that is, because seriously, I used to attend class at IUP in my pajamas all the time) is very small. I am still in contact with those mean on a regular, fully-clothed basis. As much as some vain part of me would like to think that somewhere in the back of their minds they are still enraptured by what a spectacular goddess of womanly parts I am, they are all able to interact with me without pounding their chests and roaring “GRRAAAAHRR BOOBS PLEASE!” No person is Only One Thing™. If any man sees a woman in sexual context – not limited to but especially a woman they know in other contexts – and then cannot see her as anything other than a sexual object, it is because somewhere along the line he has been taught that women are not real, multi-faceted humans (and has ignored all available evidence to the contrary).
Simply hiding images of female bodies and sexuality won’t teach young men how to see women as intellectual instead of sexual. It teaches them that women can only be one of those two things, and that is a problem.