Whilst researching normative attitudes to women, either expressed through or in relation to photography, I also see a lot of material which seeks to define women’s use of social media. This user-generated meme, below, demonstrates both the simplicity and complexity of the discourse on women’s social media use. First of all is the contrast with men, who are not just apparently absent from social media, but are also off doing much more important things such as landing on the moon and freeing slaves. Secondly, women’s achievements are comically limited, both in terms of context (just the social media environment) and content (they get ‘likes’, but that’s it). Thirdly, the contrast between the achievements themselves is naturalised in terms of fitting gender stereotypes, where men are presented as violent, self-sacrificing innovators, and women as trivial narcissists.
Another example again features the moon landing contrasted with selfies. What this seems to miss out is that anyone would look like they’re not doing much of note, when compared with astronauts… But of course the main point is that the woman is presented as having taken seven times more images than Armstrong, despite them ‘just’ being of her – indicative of her wastefulness and vanity.
This opposition works to reify the binary of man / woman as also global / individual; historically important / temporarily important; active / passive and so on. But to me, these images also capture the contradictory nature of discourses about women’s social media use. Here, women’s online participation is trivialised by being set against the ‘proper’ achievements of men, despite the fields of such achievements (engineering, politics, space exploration) being areas which have been consistently difficult for women to enter. By reinforcing the sense in which such activities are ‘for men’, this image is both chastising women for their non-participation, whilst presenting this as ‘how things are’.
As I found consistently within my research on discourses of involuntary pornography (which I shall put up here at some point…) was this prevalent sense of chastising victims, whilst at the same time asserting that their punishment was justified. This Catch-22 of ‘you did something wrong’ and yet ‘this is the natural state of things’ is a contradiction that acts to both punish and naturalise punishment, and obstructs the possibility of progress. The logic of this image ultimately reminds me of being a child in the playground, when some larger kid would come up and start slapping my face with my own hand, whilst laughing that I should “stop hitting myself”…