The love and nurture of your authentic self is a radical thing in a patriarchy, especially for a woman. Patriarchy teaches women to reduce our sense of self, to become small physically and emotionally. We are encouraged to hide ambition in the cubbyhole of marriage, to seek validation of our internal sexuality from an external world that wishes to chew it up and spit it out rather than validate it, and to never listen to our internal voice, the one that says, this is my truth. A girl growing up in our current patriarchy, awash in these messages yet also fed their anecdote if she is fortunate—has a lot to figure out. And she must do so within the context of social media, which I have nicknamed Patriarchy’s Playground—a place where a girl becoming a woman must navigate the line between self and other while still learning, and becoming, who she is. The more she knows about the pitfalls that await her, the better. And the more she learns the radical art of self-love, the less vulnerable she will be to a world that wants to chew her up and spit her out.
I’ve been pondering this lately—helping a girl become a woman who knows, loves, and validates herself—because my daughter is twelve, and had a brief infatuation with Instagram. She had just bought herself an iPod touch, and used it to sign up on Instagram. I watched for a couple of months as she explored this new world and an identity to inhabit it—that of “fangirl,” or a girl who loves to think about the imaginary worlds of sci-fi TV shows. My daughter assured me the world was feminist, and had much to offer—we discussed “ships,” or wished relationships between characters. Ships can be platonic or romantic, same-sex or opposite-sex. We also discussed “fanfic,” which my daughter likes to write, and the ways it can help her explore character and backstory, plot and suspense. So far, so good. And yet. The personality that my daughter had adopted on Instagram—her “fangirl” self—seemed to be entirely about conforming to what patriarchy expects her to be and do. It is natural for a preteen or teen girl to think about boys, but in fangirl world (as in Disney world, and most other imaginary worlds for girls), everything hinges on cute boys and relationships. Where were the adventure stories she used to write, just a few short years ago—the crime-solving sisters who had amazing superpowers and always saved the day? They had been subsumed by a long, scrolling line of beautiful TV people who just HAD to get together. Hmmmm, I thought.
Not long afterwards, I learned that Instagram had banned the hashtag #curvy. Not surprising, I thought. By that time, I’d taken the iPod touch for safekeeping and was pondering the wisdom of shutting down my daughter’s Instagram, which she wanted to use way too often. I knew I couldn’t shut her out of fangirldom, and didn’t really want to, as it is important to her and provides rich ground for exploring both the elements of good storytelling and the elements of adolescence. Apparently, however, one cannot do these things on Instagram and be curvy. The political was getting personal indeed.
Two weeks ago, I saw friends in my feminist universe—my own fangirl world—explode with anger on two fronts. First, Instagram has banned the hashtag #goddess. (The rationale behind banning both #curvy and #goddess was to prevent people posting nude or inappropriate pics—but this rationale doesn’t hold up when you see what Instagram didn’t ban.) Second, a friend of mine had been banned from posting to her page because she’d shared a post from Feminists Against Racism that spoke out against racism and used the tags #whitepeoplemustendracism and #yesallwhitepeople. My friend was banned from posting for three days, and her friend who created the post for Feminists Against Racism was banned for longer, simply for pointing out that white people have a responsibility to confront racism. These battles were a painful reminder that there is no space on social media that is freely feminist—the sexism and racism in the tech industry shapes our online spaces, and when people go online for work or play, they do so within the strict bounds of patriarchy.
As you might guess, my daughter is no longer on Instagram, and we are currently taking a break from the iPod touch. But I know her future holds a great deal of online interaction, in a world in which neither she nor I sets the rules. In the meantime, I plan to give her lessons in self-knowledge and self-love—beginning with this, which a friend sent me this week. Because even in the midst of Patriarchy’s Playground, you can find women who are practicing and teaching self-love. Enjoy: