Is the selfie anti-feminist?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

#feministselfie in the classroom!

Earlier today when I was supposed to be grading tests on American Romanticism I decided to procrastinate for a few minutes and log on to Twitter. I noticed the hashtag #feministselfie was trending and, of course, I had to figure out why. 

Jezebel writer Erin Gloria Ryan posted an article this afternoon called "Selfies Aren't Empowering. They're a Cry for Help." In the piece Ryan argues that selfless are just "a high tech reflection" of the way society teaches women and girls that their physical attractiveness is their most important quality. Ryan briefly mentions an article by Rachel Simmons at Slate that seeks to defend the selfie. 

Simmons writes: 

The selfie is a tiny pulse of girl pride—a shout-out to the self. Earlier this week, the first four women to complete Marine infantry combat training posted a jubilant selfie. (Nancy Pelosi tweeted it as "selfie of the year.") If you write off the endless stream of posts as image-conscious narcissism, you'll miss the chance to watch girls practice promoting themselves—a skill that boys are otherwise given more permission to develop, and which serves them later on when they negotiate for raises and promotions.

But Ryan quickly dismisses this idea saying, "I absolutely don't disagree that the three Marines who passed infantry combat training kick ass, and that photo they took was inspiring... And if selfies were typically jubilant post-achievement photos snapped by women proud of what they'd accomplished, then Simmons' assertion that selfies are 'tiny pulse(s) of girl pride' would be apt."

But most selfless, Ryan says, are the digital equivalent of  "walking up to a stranger, tilting your head downward at a 45-degree angle, duckfacing, pushing your tits together, and screaming 'DO YOU THINK I'M PRETTY!'"

Ryan's article quickly enraged feminists who responded by taking selfies and posting them with the hashtag #feministselfie. Two of my favorites are below: 

taking time out of my day to admire myself in the midst of constant antiblack misogynist degradation.

In my selfie, I am barefoot in the kitchen. STILL A FEMINIST! @Jezebel!!

And so I quickly snapped a #feministselfie of my own. 

Even though I hardly ever take selfies, Ryan's article didn't sit well with me either. It seemed too similar to arguments against wearing makeup or cute clothes. There's always an assumption that if a woman does either of these she's doing them not for herself but for male approval. And that's simply not true. 

I love eyeshadow because I love blending cooper and bronze tones on my eyelids every morning. I wear pencil skirts because they make me happy. 

While I see Ryan's point and while I do believe there are some girls out there are snapping selfies because they want the Interwebz to tell them they're sexy, I can't get on board with the idea of completing writing off the selfie as anti-feminist or evidence that we're all suffering under the male gaze.  

Maybe it's because my friends don't take pictures of their tits pushed together. Or maybe it's because I'm a writer. 

I love looking at the self-portraits of my female friends in my Instagram feed and I see a story -- a valid and valuable story -- in every photo, whether that story is about a major accomplishment or just the story of a woman who loves the way she looks today. The selfie is simply a memento of both special occasions and everyday life. 

Do I believe the selfie is the ultimate tool of self-empowerment? No. But it's not the ultimate tool of misogyny and patriarchy either. 

And why can't a woman just take a freaking picture of herself without needing to justify why she did it?!

When I look through my Instagram and Facebook feeds and I see fierce female faces staring back at me I can't help but smile. No, not every photo is in celebration of a job promotion or college graduation, but nearly every photo -- to me at least -- is a celebration of women. 

I believe feminist writer Feminista Jones said it best: 

The way my feminism works @jezebel is that we celebrate the beauty of all women, in as many ways as possible.


  1. I saw the hashtag but didn't have time to investigate it. I saw one tweet from a young woman in wheelchair who said she takes selfies because that's the only way to see positive images of women in wheelchairs.

    We talked about Jezebel as a site and business on Monday in my feminism history class. People were talking about how it's gotten considerably less feminist and more pro-celebrity gossip since being purchased by Gawker. I think we can expect more debate about what Jezebel puts out there.

    1. A lot of people in the comments of the post and in the comments of other articles responding to the Jezebel piece were discussing how Jezeble is becoming less feminist.

      I also saw comments from women of color saying that selfies are one of the few ways of seeing positive images of women who look like them and I can relate. One of the reasons I love looking through my feeds for selfies is because I enjoy seeing pictures of other women with natural hair.

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