“never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down”

i totally got rick-rolled by my friend gavin as i was writing this little post and now the song is firmly stuck in my head.

Big News! Facebook is hurting feminism!

I actually remember thinking this shortly after I joined facebook and I noticed that the targeted ads on my homepage. Since I am in my mid-twenties and the proud owner of my very own vagina, facebook decided I mush be desperately in need of losing weight. And shoes! Right now my profile features an ad for a bracelet, an opportunity to send an “Inaugural Toast” via the tubes and some “weight loss foods.” Boy, do you have me pegged, facebook.

As irritating as this is, it’s not unique to facebook. Every single marketing firm everywhere wants to take advantage of my rampant young adult insecurities by selling me things. I’ve been aware of this since I was eighteen, and while I’m not immune (you should see the super cute new jeans I bought this weekend) I don’t feel as vulnerable as I did before I learned to think critically about them.

But I digress. Because the topic of this post is actually this article from AlterNet.

If you’ve ever been on the facebook, you’ve probably notice the many opportunities to overshare details about your life, including your relationship status. When you update your status to In a Relationship or Engaged, facebook displays a helpful little heart icon to illustrate your good fortune. When you “downgrade” to single or remove your relationship status all together, the little icon is a broken heart. Awww. This has bothered more than one of my friends, who’ve pointed out that not everyone is heartbroken at the end of a relationship, and even if you are, you don’t necessarily want it announced in icon form on 200 people’s facebook feeds. Plus, there’s not an icon for everything. If I change my job status to “unemployed” facebook doesn’t offer a little sad face or a dollar sign with a line through it.

Anyway, the author of “Is Facebook Hurting Feminism?” recently taught at an all girls’ school and talked to the students about technology and relationships. Her concern is that with the wide range of communication alternatives available to teenagers, we are producing a generation that is afraid of and ill-equipped for intimacy and direct communication in relationships:

“Remember when you actually had to call someone on the phone or knock on their door and meet their parents before picking them up for a date?”

I am inclined to disagree with her assumption that the “good old days” were better for girls or women – often this model of calling and knocking on the door was very, very gendered. Girls were waiting on the other end of the phone and the other side of the door for boys to take them out on dates. Perhaps the advent of new technology like instant messaging and texts means that we have more options for communication, less risk of in person rejection and more opportunities for girls and young women to decide how and when they communicate with the objects of their desire.

I also know from experience that meeting one’s parents does not guarantee that your date (or boyfriend for that matter) will treat you with respect or not eventually break your heart. My parents were very impressed when they met my first college boyfriend – the same guy whom friends in the know still refer to as “the douchebag.”

The facebook relationship status finds its way into the dialogue when the girls admit that they and their friends want to be able to check the In a Relationship box and link to the profile of the person that they are dating. And the author believes that this means that we are backsliding into a world where young women seek to be defined by their relationships:

“How is it possible that we still believe that our worth (or popularity) is dependent upon being ‘the girlfriend/wife/partner of so-and-so’”?

Well…these girls are teenagers. And, having grown up well before the advent of facebook, my friends and I had plenty of ways of demonstrating coupledness. Do kids still bring those obnoxious balloon bouquets for birthdays or send candygrams to each other in class on Valentine’s Day? If I had answered honestly at fifteen, I probably would have admitted that I was a little jealous of the girls walking around with roses at school. Not because I particularly like roses but because they represent an important part of being a teenager.

This hasn’t changed in several generations of teenagers, and I’m not sure it needs to. When sex and relationships are brand new things on your horizon, it makes sense that you’re a little obsessed. These girls probably felt the same way about Pokemon trading cards or Bratz dolls. In a few years it will be college sweatshirts from the campuses they’ve visited with their parents.

Of course it’s juvenile; facebook was created by college students, for college students. And college students are definitely interested in each other’s relationship status. Wouldn’t we rather that college Freshwomen are empowered to find out that the cute boy from their Chem class has a long distance girlfriend in New York before they make out with him at a party?

It’s also important to note that the relationships on facebook are two-way. It’s not that only females can be the girlfriend/wife/partner of so-and-so. Generally, people who are dating or engaged announce this on both partners’ profiles.

Facebook is a social networking tool and it’s used by different people for different reasons. When I’m catching up with old friends, it’s interesting to see who’s married and who’s dating someone we went to school with. If I was the dating type, I might be curious about who was single, too. And if you meet someone interesting at a bar or a party – whether you’re thirty, forty or sixty-five – you probably surreptitiously look at their left hand to see if they are advertising their relationship status.


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