The Null Device

You are not your children

A website named Double X, which seems to be a broadly feminist publication run by the Newsweek people, has a piece examining the phenomenon of women using photographs of their children as their Facebook profile photos, and what it says about their identity and social position:
These Facebook photos signal a larger and more ominous self-effacement, a narrowing of our worlds. Think of a dinner party you just attended, and your friend, who wrote her senior thesis in college on Proust, who used to stay out drinking till five in the morning in her twenties, a brilliant and accomplished woman. Think about how throughout the entire dinner party, from olives to chocolate mousse, she talks about nothing but her kids. You waited, and because you love this woman, you want her to talk about…what?…a book? A movie? A news story? True, her talk about her children is very detailed, very impressive in the rigor and analytical depth she brings to the subject; she could, you couldn’t help but think, be writing an entire dissertation on the precise effect of a certain teacher’s pedagogical style on her 4-year-old. But still. You notice at another, livelier corner of the table that the men are not talking about models of strollers. This could in fact be a 19th-century novel where the men have retired to a different room to drink brandy and talk about news and politics. You turn back to the conversation and the woman is talking about what she packs for lunch for her child. Are we all sometimes that woman? A little kid talk is fine, of course, but wasn’t there a time when we were interested, also, in something else?
Facebook, of course, traffics in exhibitionism: It is a way of presenting your life, at least those sides of it you cherry pick for the outside world, for show. One’s children are of course an important achievement, and arguably one’s most important achievement, but that doesn’t mean that they are who you are. It could, of course, be argued that the vanity of a younger generation, with their status postings on what kind of tea they are drinking, is a worse kind of narcissism. But this particular form of narcissism, these cherubs trotted out to create a picture of self is to me more disturbing for the truth it tells. The subliminal equation is clear: I am my children. And perhaps for their health and yours and ours, you should be other things as well.

There are 3 comments on "You are not your children":

Posted by: Peter Sun May 17 03:47:47 2009

I guess my only comment to her is "You only just noticed?" When people become parents, this is what happens. To both parents, but more to the mother, because being a parent is basically an all-consuming activity for years. I get annoyed at hearing nothing but kidstuff when I go out with my new-parent friends, but for a while this is how it goes.

Nevertheless, the phenomenon of women becoming mothers to the extent of turning into something different - a mother above all else - is definitely sad. Luckily a goodly proportion of the mothers I know are still actively pursuing their own lives as well.

Posted by: Greg Sun May 17 09:38:16 2009

This article was ripped to shreds by XX reader comments so I will only add a few here. First, parenting is less important than dinner-parties? We could just stop there. 2) Child-obsession happens to all parents: these examples are not representative. 3) Parents tend to present themselves differently in different (parental vs non-parental) contexts. They may even be using FB to network with other parents at their child's school. 4) Looking at a different data set, of all the parents in my FB friends-list, the only one using their child for their mug-shot is male. 5) No-one writes their name as 'Anne's mum' - that has been faked. 6) Though the author compares genders, this article is really about class. Her 'victims of parenting-obsession' are Proust-analysers with brilliant careers whose kids take art lessons. Would the author be as horrified if she chanced upon boring parents from the working class? .. In summary, it is fortunate that self-obsession on this scale is selected against.

Posted by: Derek R Sun May 17 15:07:06 2009

Personally, I think it's a lame myth that parents discuss only their kids.

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