Facebook Feminism

By the time I discovered feminism, the call to sisterhood and the demand that traditional, female roles and work be taken seriously, had weakened. Growing up in the 1980s, I saw a world in which ‘feminism’ seemed to be about being more like men than the men were. Equal rights meant out to work, with padded shoulders, ruthlessly pushing forward. To my child self, feminism looked too much like Margaret Thatcher, and I wanted none of it. I also encountered plenty of the man-bashing variety, and I didn’t fancy that much either. Years later, at college, I encountered theories of social feminism, of accepting and respecting female roles and history, and all that. I also saw it was a theory, not a practice.

But I was at college in that distant time before Facebook.

Women on Facebook talk about their work, their men, their kids, parents, dogs, dreams and efforts. They post photos of cakes that went well, and cakes that didn’t. Images of things created, rooms decorated, frocks worn. All the traditional things that women have always done, now recorded by digital camera and timeline, and shared, with love. I have one amazing friend called Sharon who is actively reclaiming femininity through the medium of Facebook, and it’s lovely to watch. She’s not the only one, but she’s the most self conscious. It’s femininity on her terms, not anyone else’s. Then, whoever shares, other women and the odd bloke, pile in with observations, congratulations, and friendly noises.

In western culture we equate femininity with emotion, and emotion with irrationality. To show your feelings, to weep, rant, or whoop for joy, is to be emotionally immature. There are some other women who will haul you over the coals for that, even more readily then the men. These would be the women who have donned the suits and attitudes of a still very masculine workplace, and who want to get as far from traditional femininity as they can.

On Facebook, something else is happening. Yesterday, a woman posted ‘I just want to cry all the time. This can’t be normal adult behaviour’ (Or something like that.) Within minutes, other women were there, saying no, I have days like this too. I weep over this as well. Don’t beat yourself up. The anxieties of parenthood, the tears of menstruation, the grief and frustration of the world all sneak out in those few lines of status update. And in the unreal space that is Facebook, we do what many of us would not dare to do in a public, physical space. We say ‘me too.’ We share, and acknowledge and take seriously experiences and emotions that are fundamental to being female.

It’s terrible when you think it’s just you. All the shiny looking women on TV are never spotty, screaming with pre-menstrual tension, covered in baby vomit and holding a cake that failed. All the magazine celebrities shed elegant, solitary tears over betrayals. They don’t howl until their faces are red and snot drips from their noses. At least, not where we can see them.

I have met a lot of men along the way who believe that women are incomprehensible, irrational, unpredictable, unreliable. We’ve all heard the argument that our hormonal cycles make us crazy. I know from doing psychology, that as a culture we view calm rationality (allegedly male traits) as healthy adult behaviour and emotionality as being both female, and neurotic. That’s a hard world to live in, and a bloody unfair one. Rather than fight for the value of emotion, for the power and blessing of being able to express, so many of us have gone along with the pressure to be like men. And you know, I’m not even sure all the biological men are really ‘like men’. I think they’re even more squeezed and restricted by this insane understanding of what being human should mean.

I’m a fine example though. Up until I went through an emotional breakdown last year, I found it almost impossible to cry in front of anyone.

It isn’t easy, to go online and say ‘bad day.’ Just to manage ‘black dog’ or ‘bit gloomy’ is a hard confession to make. But when you do it, and others pile in and remind you that you aren’t alone, aren’t a freak, or incompetent, that’s worth so much. I am very grateful for Facebook. Now all we have to do is figure out how to get that little bit of revolution offline and into the real world.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

4 responses to “Facebook Feminism

  • Jayne

    I actually feel sorry for those men out there who keep a stiff upper lip and dont show their emotions because it just isn’t done! It must be a lonely place to be in!
    For years I was one of those women who didn’t cry in public…I wouldn’t allow anyone to see the side of me that i thought wasn’t in control. I actually realised that it made me a stronger person when I did actually step out of my self and show my emotions. I don’t mean blab all over the place, although I have to admit my bottom lip wobbles anything remotely touching these days.
    I work in Mental Health, with young to middle aged adults and for the most part I do have to put on a brave tough face and talk them through whatever their crisis is at the time, but I do also cry with them…it is genuine and I dont fight it.
    Being in touch with your emotions and not being ashamed or embarrassed to show them isn’t a sign of weakness in any way. I am lucky that I also have a man in my life who is not ashamed to show his feelings..who will cry when the pain of life’s trials get too much. It allows us a closeness and a trust that can not be shared if the shutters are down and emotions are kept under lock and key..

  • Alison Leigh Lilly

    I’ve had a very different experience of Facebook, as a woman who does tend to be rather “masculine” and rational, more interested in communicating about ideas than emotions with others (I have to disagree with you about “masculine” women, there – not all of us are just trying to ape male-machismo culture as an expression of our feminism, some of us just have personalities that are more naturally inclined towards the rational intellect and being emotionally reserved, and one reason I embrace feminism is that it says that that’s okay and being that way doesn’t somehow make me “less of a woman”).

    In my experience on Facebook, it’s almost impossible to have a good conversation about ideas. Appeals for emotional support – especially when it’s support of negative feelings – will pour in, but attempts to have conversations about philosophical or contemplative topics will often be over-run by trolls and accusations of hurt feelings almost immediately. There are actually some studies out that regular time on Facebook makes people feel *less* content about their own lives, and that this effect is especially pronounced among women. (http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2011/01/the_antisocial_network.html)

  • Nimue Brown

    I probably didn’t get that across as well as I would have liked. I consider myself a balance of raitonal and emotional, and that rational debating aspect is just as important to me. I’ve got a fair few facebook friends who are the same – I am tempted to see if I can find you and hook you up with a few people who I think you’d enjoy communicating with.

  • Rational Female « Druid Life

    […] This is an answer to Alison’s feedback on Facebook feminism. […]

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