The XX Factor

Fools’ Names and Fools’ Faces on Facebook

As a woman who has declined to put her picture on Facebook-my profile photo is a drawing of me by my daughter-I respectfully disagree with Katie Roiphe’s assumption that this somehow represents some reprehensible self-effacement on my part as a working woman. I’m admittedly a little late to social networking, and not exactly a devotee. A friend of mine jokes that my status line should read, ”Sara Mosle is now unavailable on Facebook,” as I almost never check it. I joined out of curiosity and don’t dispute its occasional uses: I have happily reconnected with several long-lost and far-flung friends. But generally these days, I’m trying to spend less time-not more-online, so I might actually do the high-powered job that Roiphe wants me to take more pride in and have more actual face time (as opposed to Facebook time) with family and friends.

In one sense, I agree with Roiphe: I don’t like pictures of kids as stand-ins for parents-but not for the reasons she says. I don’t think any child’s photo (especially that of a non-consenting baby or toddler) should be out there for casual public consumption. It’s her face, not mine, after all (and a profile picture can be seen by anyone). Also, plenty of men use pictures of their children (or of their dogs or of Bart Simpson). I don’t think any of these people-male or female-are necessarily hiding behind their kids or canines so much as hiding, period. Not everyone wants to be a public figure (even if their careers occasionally require them to be one)-hence my own use of a drawing. Anonymity has its uses, too-something Elizabeth Edwards might have done well to remember. (There are recent pictures of me and my daughter on my actual page, which friends can see, but, to me, this is different from a profile photo that can be seen by anyone.)

But to take on Roiphe’s point directly: What is it to her if some woman defines herself by her children? I know lots of women-serious, committed career women-who, if they had to choose, would put their children first. Or more accurately, to borrow from Judith Shulevitz’s terrific point , would put their kids first for now -when, at other points in their lives, they have or would put themselves, or their jobs, or a friend, or a partner, or their elderly parents, first. To me, the whole point of feminism is not to dictate to women what their self-definition (which is surely forever changing) should be, but to support the full range of women’s roles throughout their lives. Maybe the problem is that Facebook, invented by men, forces women to choose a single photo for their profile-when any woman, almost by definition, is a collage.