Sometimes a cute picture is just a f***ing cute picture

My friend Ilana posted a link on Facebook today to an article at called Get Your Kid Off Your Facebook Page. Katie Roiphe feels that the "trend of women using photographs of their children instead of themselves" as profile pictures may be a "potent symbol for the new century", and questions what this phenomenon might be saying about "the construction of women's identity" today.

Roiphe goes on to lament the fact that women who work, belong to book clubs, wrote their thesis on Proust and stayed out drinking until five in the morning in college now go to dinner parties and talk about nothing but their children, boring their friends to death and raising worrisome questions about whether they are able to use their words to converse about anything beyond diaper rash and the politics of toddler-stomping and plastic vegetable distribution at playgroup. She goes on to posit that the world is too child-centred and women are letting their children erase their own identities -- Facebook, after all, is supposed to show the world "who you are" -- and finishes up by breathlessly forecasting that soon we mothers will substitute our children's pictures for ours on driver's licenses and passports. She laments for poor Betty Friedan lying unquiet in her grave.

I don't know if Katie Roiphe is really truly worried about this, or if she just thought it would make a good article, which, in all fairness, it does. At any rate, here's why I think it's mainly bunk.

To address the Facebook question: my profile picture on Facebook tends to reflect whatever's going on in my life at the time. Often it is a picture of me -- with a new haircut, in a costume, whatever. Sometimes it's a picture of me and my husband. Sometimes it's a picture of something I just planted. What's going on in my life right now is two kids playing baseball -- one in minor where he pitches for the first time, one in rookie for the first time ever. This is both exciting and time-consuming. Four games a week in total, every week. They look freaking adorable in their uniforms, dare you to say they don't. Therefore -- profile pic of two kids in baseball uniforms. It doesn't mean I think my only identity is that of a baseball-playing child.

Which brings me to my next point. The people Roiphe is complaining about are those who post pictures of babies and toddlers. People don't tend to use pictures of their teen-agers or young adult children, because those kids now have their own Facebook pages. Also, they're simply not around as much. However much you are determined that kids won't take over your life forever, when they are babies and toddlers? Face it -- pretty much taking over your life. I am careful not to talk about nothing but my children when I'm out with people who aren't close friends. When they are childless people, I rarely talk about my kids at all unless I'm specifically asked. I love my kids but I'm not an idiot; I'm perfectly aware that most childless people find that stories about other people's offspring induce a mind-numbing, soul-killing boredom. At this point, I'm perfectly happy to discuss a book or a film or a news story. When my kids were under three years old? Asking me to form a coherent thought about gender politics or visual lyricism or the post-modern use of narrative fragmentation would have been unrealistic, unrewarding, and just plain mean.

I don't have a full-time job outside the home right now because my daughter is still home most of the day and my husband frequently jets off to Europe and Asia and at this point going back to work would be much more trouble than it's worth. I do belong to a book club and I read a lot of books. Should I have a picture of a book as my profile picture? Should I have a picture of myself reading? I started blogging a few months ago. I blog about books and my life, which at this point largely consists of funny stories about my children and boring whiny rants about my morbid insecurity. I tend to think the stories about my kids are more fun to read, but what do I know? When I started reading blogs, I was mainly reading books solely dedicated to book reviews. Guess what? Blogs that only review books get boring sometimes. I look forward to the ones where people talk about their lives -- and their children -- more often.

Yesterday there were four of us at my friend's house, having lunch before we took our daughters to gymnastics. We discussed the movie The Reader while the kids played upstairs. We discussed the GM situation. Then we talked about the kindergarten collection fair. Eve is collecting pens. Rachel is collecting broken things. I think Rachel's is cooler.

I don't know if Ms. Roiphe has children. If she still wants to talk to her friends about their Proust thesis and how great going out drinking until five in the morning is, I suspect, indeed hope, not. One of the benefits of having children is that it doesn't let you take yourself too seriously. Several times a day my children highlight the general absurdity of things. But who knows? Maybe if you're exceptionally determined you can have children and still maintain your self-satisfied humourlessness.

When I picked Eve up off the school bus at the end of the street today it was pouring rain, and when we got home her pants were soaked, so she was running around in underwear and a t-shirt. She came and jumped on me before I started making lunch and I squished her and then patted her on the rump and said "I love this little bum". She said "yeah, but you love my tummy more, right? Because you always want to kiss my tummy, and you don't usually kiss my butt." For right now, I find this type of thing wholly delightful and fulfilling. If Ms. Roiphe thinks this means I'm giving up my identity, she can kiss my tummy.


Allison, this rebuttal is so hilarious & smart & warm & clever--perhaps post it on doubleex, if they take that kind of thing?
Anonymous said…
"Maybe if you're exceptionally determined you can have children and still maintain your self-satisfied humourlessness."

That made me laugh out loud.

I went to engineering school, so no one ever wanted to hear about my thesis in the first place. A few people claimed they did, but I could tell by the way their eyes glazed over that they would have preferred stories about my 2-year-old and the cute stuff she was doing. So now I lead with the kid's stuff. Plus mine are so young I'm still solidly in the 'incoherent' stage a lot of the time.
JEC said…
two words my friend: blog envy. you are writing the kinds of things i'm thinking only more cleverly. i know that must be a word but it sounds weird. see what i mean?
Anonymous said…
i've actually been working on a piece about the nature of my feminism right now. i have been thinking a lot about these issues.

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