Is Katie Roiphe Necessary?

Sixteen years ago — just a year before Kurt Cobain blew his brains out — Katie Roiphe wrote a book called The Morning After, in which she failed to grasp the basic moral concept that women who are date raped are indeed victims. Two years ago, when I interviewed this decidedly surly specimen, Roiphe still believed this. She had not altered her position one smidgen, and she seemed quite proud of this. It was as if she had gone to Princeton not to earn a Ph.D., but to pick up the complimentary barbeque set that a broken man hands you after you sit through his interminable sales pitch.

But two decades is a long time to coast. And the first question that any reasonable person should ask when reading Rophie’s latest nonsense is whether there even remains any practical use for Katie Roiphe. Why indeed is she even associated with a Web magazine that purports to be written by women for women? (Let’s answer that. Because Double X comprehends Third Wave developments about as well as J.J. Abrams. If you’re under 30 and you’re selfish in an anti-Bitch sort of way, then Double X is for you. The rest of the sad pack — meaning anyone who wears a rumpled suit, has dated hair, or has the effrontery to age — can be run down by the callous locomotive. Who is John Galt?)

This troubling idea that bell hooks and Maxine Hong Kingston don’t exist is reflected in Roiphe’s lede, which raids the three-year-old corpse of Betty Friedan for an argument about three-year-olds that Friedan never really made. Apparently, Facebook has brainwashed young mothers. These mothers have dared to put up profile pictures of their children in lieu of their own. And all this is “a potent symbol for the new century.” Never mind that Facebook, like all social networks, could be gone in about five years. Never mind that the privacy concerns fizzle somewhat with a website’s impermanence. And even if we can accept the viable notion that images of women do affect the cultural landscape, the Facebook mothers probably didn’t have Susan J. Douglas’s Where the Girls Are in mind.

Besides, this is small potatoes. We’re not talking about images on billboards or photos that saturate the mass media. We’re talking about thumbnails seen by strangers who are merely surfing around for friends. Roiphe doesn’t seem to understand that Facebook users can control whether or not other “friends” can see photos. She also doesn’t seem to understand that a substitute image for one’s self does not automatically mean that a Facebook user intends to project a persona. When I had a Facebook account, I once put up an image of Buster Keaton because I figured that it would make others smile. It wasn’t that I wanted to be Buster Keaton, although I admire Keaton very much. It simply projected the comic mood I was in at the time. Just as a parent’s kid’s photo projects that parent’s essence. And this really isn’t all too different from sharing a photo of someone special that you have in your wallet.

Roiphe doesn’t seem to ken that the private has morphed into the public. She also doesn’t seem to be aware that digital cameras have replaced the analog forefathers. The days where mothers would huddle around the table flipping through a photo album have been replaced by afternoons in which they can pass around an iPod Touch, or text these images to each other on their cells. Rather amazingly, it also hasn’t occurred to Roiphe that these mothers might wish to boast about their kids not out of hubris, but because it’s second-nature to who they are. Avoiding the camera may not even be a consideration.

And if these Facebook photos represent child exploitation, then I think the time has come to go after all those picture frame manufacturers who use children in the mockup photos you remove before you insert your own. Let’s make the bastards pay. And I’m wondering if a mother who shares a picture of her child on her laptop should likewise be pilloried because some stranger happens to observe the photo over her shoulder. After all, don’t the bitches have it coming? Much as those date rape victims do?

We tolerate another child’s squeaky sneakers because that’s what being an adult entails. It’s the same impulse that involves losing sleep during a kid’s early years. It’s looking at the world beyond yourself. Permitting children to grow and discover. Not letting your own hangups get in the way. And unless you’re a sad narcissist pining for another fifteen minutes, living is nothing to mourn over.

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8 Comments

  1. Julia Sullivan May 18, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    It seems to me that all the women who are making bank on telling me not to be so feminist aren’t very happy with their lives, particularly because they’re unhappily divorced or don’t get along with their husbands.

    I continue along my merry way being feminist and strident and shrill, and I have a wonderful life with loving friends and family. Oh, and an amazing husband.

    So much for feminism making you a bitter, lonely woman.

  2. Unnecessary is a strong word – however –

    That article disgusts me in a way I haven’t been disgusted since college. Since when did my ideology get in someone else’s facebook picture. I got friends who Obama’d up their photos for the election, but I didn’t because I don’t believe in wearing politics on your sleeve. Did I tell them that they were terrible people for doing so? No.

    I remember being at parties and hearing from people judge others with pseudo-intellectualism, and doing it myself. I can’t bring myself to do the same anymore.

  3. I sort of get what she’s saying about parents overindulging their children but good grief,she seriously needs to get a grip there. With all of the Craigslist sexploitationstuff going on lately(I never heard anything good about that site),she’s freaked out over a mom putting up her kid’s picture on Facebook?

    Like Amy Poehler would say on Weekend UpDate,”Seriously??”

    Also,Roiphe frets about folks putting their kid’s photos on their passports and such towards the end there-apparently she hasn’t seen the latest Capitol One commercial where a mom debates over which cute pic of her son to put on her credit card. Spaghetti Jimmy would be her ultimate nightmare,I guess.

  4. “This generation leaches itself of sexuality by putting the innocent face of a child in the place of an attractive mother.”

    That’s the point, you insipid git: the mothers/fathers who don’t show their pictures *aren’t* attractive, they feel frigging tired and ugly and old and don’t want to broadcast the unflattering evidence to the planet. Meanwhile, of course, the genuine dangers/horrors of Facebook (call it Big Brother on the honor system) go unremarked; here’s a nice pat on the head from the relevantly acronymed agency. Cow.

  5. Steven, what a clever yet facile description of Facebook’s “dangers/horrors.” It sounds kind of right, but completely falls apart if you submit the theory to any kind of real-world analysis… a bit like Roiphe’s nonsense. Anyway, we shouldn’t be getting on her case about this article. Pop sociology pays the bills. Her real damage is done at Slate’s book club, where she competes with her similarly sub-literate colleagues to see who can reach bottom first. She always wins.

  6. “It sounds kind of right, but completely falls apart if you submit the theory to any kind of real-world analysis… a bit like Roiphe’s nonsense.”

    When a “social networking” site asks bizarre-yet-personal questions (“Would Steven Augustine do *anything* to get what he wants?” “Do you think ____ ____ would strip for money?” “Check to see if your friends think you’re ugly or beautiful”) which are obviously a “fun” prelude to more “interesting” questions down the road (whether or not it’s Facebook asking them; the point is to make the Subject comfortable with answering questions of this nature)… or does things like requesting your cellphone number to “verify” your account, waving the silly carrot of bigger upload limits in exchange… you’ve got to be a total stooge/sheep/lemming/idiot not to wonder where this experiment in privacy-abdicating group-think is leading. There’s part of my “real-world” analysis… where’s yours?

  7. I have never answered any of those questions on Facebook. Nor have I given any personal information such as my cell-phone number. However, I don’t spend too much time on it, and I set up my account a while ago, so there may have been some changes. By “Big Brother on the honor system,” I thought that you meant the whole idea of status updates: everyone telling everyone else what they’re doing at any given time. If there’s another nefarious plot afoot at Facebook, then I must have missed it. Honestly, I have no desire or reason to defend the site. I really just came here to make fun of Roiphe, who still deserves it.

  8. Fair enough, Joel! I just remember those rumors, years ago, for example, that the Paris Review was a CIA front; the guys who passed on this rumor (between spliff-gulps, usually) were written off as wackos by most of the polished-shoes types among us… but, sure enough, as it turns out (etc). Ditto Ms. Magazine. And godz know how many other seemingly left-wing, or culturally-neutral, listening posts. Doesn’t hurt to bear this in mind.

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