Monday, February 28, 2011

Your pets are stealing your identity.

There's this trend around the feminist blogosphere where people get writer's block and attempt curing it by writing about how everything from marriage to mousepads are tools (or remnants) of patriarchy.  Amanda Marcotte dug up an older one of these gems today from Slate's Double X: the kid-as-Mom's-Facebook-picture trend.  Says Katie Roiphe of these women
Many of these women work. Many of them are in book clubs. Many of them are involved in causes. But this is how they choose to represent themselves. The choice may seem trivial, but the whole idea behind Facebook is to create a social persona, an image of who you are projected into hundreds of bedrooms and cafes and offices across the country. Why would that image be of someone else, however closely bound they are to your life, genetically and otherwise? The choice seems to constitute a retreat to an older form of identity, to a time when women were called Mrs. John Smith, to a time when fresh scrubbed Vassar girls were losing their minds amidst vacuum cleaners and sandboxes. Which is not to say that I don’t understand the temptation to put a photograph of your beautiful child on Facebook, because I do. After all, it frees you of the burden of looking halfway decent for a picture, and of the whole excruciating business of being yourself. Your 3-year-old likes being in front of the camera. But still.
As a non-parent, it is difficult for me to weigh in on this trend and its perceived causes.  I also find it annoying when avowed child-free people write about the intricacies of parenthood and "what's wrong with mothers these days," but clearly, that trend isn't going anywhere anytime soon.  I know plenty of mothers who use their kids' picture as their Facebook profile picture, and I assure you, they all manage to remain fully independent, unique people-- they're just the kind of fully independent, unique people who are obsessed with how perfect and amazing their kids are.  Annoying?  To some people, sure.  Patriarchal and sexist?  Uhh... no.  Not really.  And especially not when compared to the shockingly still-ever-present practice of calling individual married women Mrs. His Name
Just as in the past and to an extent today, women are expected to show their love for their male partners by erasing their own identities and replacing them with his---going from Ms. My Name to Mrs. His Name---now there seems to be increasing pressure for women to “prove” they love their children through self-abasement. 
As a feminist married woman, I'm tempted to throw heavy, sharp objects at anyone who dares to refer to me as Mrs Husband's Full Name rather than Ms My Own Fucking Name.  I get upset.  I already get upset when people simply call me Mrs. His Original Last Name, because we are both Mr and Ms Our Hyphenated Last Names, dammit.  But your baby's picture?  As your main Facebook image?  As a reminder of sexist, patriarchal traditions?  Come on now.  That's a little... reaching, don't you think?  I mean, sure; for some women, their kids are their entire identities, and that's pretty depressing.  But is it really evidence of a trend?  And such a gendered and damaging one, at that?  I don't think so.  

As far as dangerous and threatening Facebook profile picture trends are concerned, I'm much more interested in the trend of using pictures of one's pets to represent them.  Just look at these friends of mine, all of whom were once completely intelligent, unique, independent men and women, before they got those attention- and identity-stealing dogs and cats.  Apparently, they have all thrown away years of education and experience by using these photos to represent who they are.
Our mom and dad used to be smart,
fun people... till we came along and
stole their identities!

I'm Delores, and I'm more important
than my dads.

Hi, this photo's prominent
 placement invalidates
my mom's math degree
You may have thought my mom was
a good photographer with a passion
for rescuing animals and
making me clothes, but UR RONG,
this picture renders her invisible!
I'm not sure what my dad does,
but it doesn't matter anymore,
because I'm his profile pic!
Curious, I looked through my Facebook friends' profile pics to see just how many of them actually did choose to put up picture of their children instead of themselves.  Of all 234 people, I came up with four.  Two of them are men.  Where are the articles about them losing their identities to their children's?  There are more pictures of my friends' domesticated animals in my Facebook news feed than there are of their children.  And I'm friends with a lot of parents.  A lot of parents with pets, even.  And I'm also friends with a lot of their actual pets, since they are all the type to create Facebook pages for their pets.

What represents a person on sites with avatars and user pics is clearly not only pictures of the person themselves.  It's pictures of them with their friends, family, dog, significant other, or other person, and it's also frequently other things, like cartoon images, a phrase or slogan, a baby, a dog, a cat, a building, a hamburger, or any number of other things.  If it's a part of someone's life, it can be used to represent them.  This complaint is really just snarky, more than it is insightful.