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.
© 2009, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.