Does Your Selfie Addiction Make You A Feminist?

Natalia Grosner
What brought Kim Kardashian, Hillary Clinton, and Kanye West together in the same, light-flooded frame? The remarkable selfie, of course. From current presidential nominees to aspiring candidates (Kanye 2020!) and everyone in-between, the selfie reigns supreme as social media’s most ubiquitous mode of personal representation. On this week’s episode of Strong Opinions Loosely Held, Elisa Kreisinger enlists a team of cultural commentators to help untangle our complicated feelings about how women capture these images, and what their snaps say about feminism’s ever-evolving presence online.
Critics of the selfie have dismissed it as raw narcissism. Yet researcher Mary McGill of the National University of Ireland, Galway, reads the selfie as a tool with which women wrest the gaze back from male audiences and transform into both the creator and subject of their own images — a subversive object of aesthetic pleasure crafted for themselves and for other female viewers. Throw in a little Simone de Beauvoir and you’ve got quite a theory.
Can the humble selfie embody McGill’s rebellious reclaiming of autonomy? Or, is it yet another unsatisfying way that women lean on their appearances as a source of personal knowledge and validation? Listen to Kreisinger puzzle it out, along with some guidance from psychotherapist Amy Jones and, as always, Girls.
After researching for this episode, do you feel like you have a clearer sense of why the selfie has become such a divisive form of personal expression?
"Women live in a world of mixed signals. We are supposed to care deeply about our appearance, but then are called narcissistic for doing so. The game is rigged against us. The selfie represents woman documenting their existence in public space, and that has historically been frowned upon."
In her TED Talk, Mary McGill comments that the limitations of the selfie are a “strong indicator” of the inequality still faced by women and their modes of self-representation. Do you believe that the selfie is a flexible enough tool to challenge patriarchal structures?
"I don't think selfies alone have the power to challenge patriarchal structures. However, if selfies help women gain meaning and understanding of themselves and the world around them, then yes, they can become an unlikely tool that helps dismantle power structures. But it's not just on women. Men need to stop expressing their disdain for women taking up space in public." Tally Schifrin (played by Jenny Slate) on Girls describes her addiction to social media as “the only way that [she] can see [herself].” Even if the selfie is empowering, does it still encourage women to do much of their introspection online, instead of engaging with the exterior “real” world as a source of knowledge and confidence?
"Social media is a microcosm of 'the real world.' That feedback loop is fascinating, because we hope others see us as we see ourselves. But we're uncertain about who we actually are. When we look to the comments section or ask our friends to help us define ourselves and our worth, we often walk away more confused. You can't ultimately find yourself on social media or through selfies or in the real world. I think a person's self-knowledge and confidence comes from spending copious amounts of time alone, not texting or scrolling, but writing, reflecting, and taking inventory of your past and present, so you can make better decisions in the future."
How is the selfie complicated when men take them? Do you think their selfies are treated differently?
"Young women are not the only demographic taking selfies, but I don't see the male selfie as gendered. Men have historically been photographed and pictured, so the practice isn't viewed as narcissistic. Calling young women's use of selfies narcissistic echoes the claims that we are obsessed with ourselves and our image, indulging in frivolous hobbies involving hair and makeup. Using that against us as evidence of our inferiority illustrates the double standards that women are held to: Your worth comes from what you look like, but don't be too obsessed with how you look."
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