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The Selfie

There are currently a staggering 109million photos hash-tagged #selfie on Instagram. And with the recent announcement of ‘selfie’ as Oxford English Dictionary’s word of 2013, the nature of the selfie allowing us to interact with our favourite celebrities in ways like never before and an increased use of selfies in marketing, online campaigns and advertising like this one and this one, it is fair to say that #selfieculture, a term coined by psychologists to highlight the ubiquity of selfies, shows the selfie as undeniably cementing itself as a hallmark of modern pop culture.

‘Selfie’ is the name given to a photo which has been taken on our smartphone’s reverse camera with the intention of it being uploaded to our social media platform of choice to serve as a visual communication of where we are, what we are doing, how we are looking or who we are with.

The Chainsmokers got down on the selfie trend by taking advantage of its pervasiveness which would then lead to the overwhelming success of their debut single.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdemFfbS5H0

The music video includes a sarcastic dialogue to ridicule the stereotypical selfie-goer and also features a montage of everyday people who had hash-tagged their pictures ‘#selfie’ amongst selfies of celebrities such as Snoop Dogg, Kim Kardashian and David Hasslehoff. The song mocks selfie culture by highlighting how self-obsessed we are as we take selfies at the most uninteresting and inopportune of  times, such as working out at the gym or mourning at a funeral (yeah, people seriously do that). The iconic lyric of the song, “but first, let me take a selfie” and other hash-tags such as ‘#selfiesunday’ or ‘#selfienation’ are often used to caption selfies to take the shame out of posting a selfie by acknowledging one’s blatant self-indulgence. Sure, selfies are emblematic of our collective cultural decay in a world over-saturated by social media but, are they really that narcissistic and something to be embarrassed about?

I don’t think so, and here are three reasons why:

  1. Selfies as normalising and redefining beauty: For years we have been comparing ourselves to “perfect” women in the media, to an unrealistic and unattainable expectation of beauty. As Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D. faculty director of the media psychology program at the Massachusetts school of Professional Psychology says, “”the cult of the selfie celebrates regular people. [Because of the selfie] there are many more photos of ‘real’ people than idealised images by thousands.” With the emergence of the selfie, we are able to redefine beauty as we see it in ourselves and the people we know around us. By embracing our own beauty we are challenging social norms. Rather than be represented by an unrealistic ideal of beauty, we are representing the beauty of ‘real’ women ourselves.
  2. The ‘ugly’ selfie: (Queue Ricky Gervais’s infamous bath selfie) The ‘ugly’ emerged in a response to criticism about narcissism in regular selfies. ‘Ugly’ is loosely defined in this context, but whether it be a deliberate duck-face piss take or a quadruple chin selfie sent to your best friend on Snap Chat, we all take them and every time we’re challenging the egotistical stigma attached to a conventional selfie. They also serve as a reminder not to take life too seriously – there’s nothing like chuckling at a blatant ‘ugly’ when scrolling through your Instagram feed of otherwise flawless, filtered faces to brighten your day! In response to the ‘ugly’, Sarah, a Victoria University Student says the ‘ugly’ puts her personality back into self-documentation, “it makes taking selfies fun and a bit of a laugh. I think it’s healthy to be able to take the piss out of ourselves and laugh at ourselves. I think other people respect and enjoy it, too.”
  3. Selfies and self-esteem: Although many people believe the selfie is rooted in narcissism and conceit, psychologists say that in moderation selfies are a feel-good and creative way to chronicle our lives and express our personalities; that in which, people who post selfies assert they are in control of they want to feel. When we post a selfie and we receive likes or compliments we feel a boost in our esteem and perceived value of self-worth, it’s like, “I look good and I know it”, but you telling me I look good is going to make me feel even better. As Rutledge says, “it is innately human to seek acknowledgement, approval and acceptance, we are social beings, driven by the need for connection and social validation.” In simpler terms, there’s nothing wrong with a few compliments to boost the old self-esteem!

However, such as everything with life you need to find the balance. So to all the selfie-goers who abuse the selfie, moderation is key because when you post too many you contribute the ridicule and stigma of the selfie phenomenon and you give every other normal selfie-taker a bad rep! We’re not all conceited and self-obsessed, we aren’t all crying out in a desperate plea for validation and attention, nor do we all take selfies stuck in traffic like “haha #stuckintraffic”, to which case you just need told to #keepyoureyesonthedamnroad.

For me, selfies are a fun way to share your experiences with others. Be it lounging around home in trackies or out getting coffee, they are a way to positively capture and upload how good we are feeling in that moment. In this way, the selfie creates an accepting community of people all over the world, sharing the good vibes and promoting self-love. But as it’s now starting to sound more like a hippie cult than an online affinity, I’ll end it here.

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Women and Rape Culture – How To Make A Difference

tumblr_mturjcwsrX1qfsoqdo1_500Coined by feminists in the 1970′s, “rape culture” is a term used to refer to the concept which links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, and in which existing attitudes normalise, excuse, tolerate and even condone rape. Rape culture is the naturalisation of rape and sexual violence wherein rather than being taught not to rape, people are taught how not to get raped.

Rape culture has also led to this concept of a rape legacy. That although not every woman gets raped, rape affects every woman. With the rape of one woman comes degradation, terror and limitation to all women. It strips women of their freedom and instils a life lived out of fear and precaution. Men, in general, do not fear rape and that’s how rape functions as a powerful means by which women are held in a subordinate position to men and that is largely why the cycle continues.

So, what are the main attributions of rape culture?

  1. Rape as preventative and the victims fault - many arguments around rape focus on preventative behaviour, like telling women what not to do or wear. The issue with this is that it doesn’t place any responsibility on the rapists. Rather, it asks women to be responsible for preventing their own rape (logic!?) Rape culture tells women to be careful about what you wear and how you wear it, where you walk and when you walk, what you drink and how much you drink, etcetera, etcetera. That you should always pay attention, always be aware of your surroundings, always watch your back and never let your guard down lest you be sexually assaulted. And if you are and weren’t following the rules, it’s your fault. Not the perpetrators.
  2. Sexualisation and objectification of women in the media – (queue Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ music video) With the undeniable and ever-present dehumanisation and marginalization of women in the media, men are led to see women as something they can just acquire. Perceiving women as possessions takes away their voice, rights and emotions. Rather, women become seen as something to be used and disposed of at a man’s convenience.
  3. Rape Jokes - slang, phrases and euphemisms desensitise the inexcusable nature of rape and sexual violence. The website Force: Upsetting Rape Culture explains how jokes, slang and the like perpetuate and validate rape as they make “violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing rape as a problem to be changed, people… think about about the persistence of rape as ‘just the way things are’”.
  4. Slut shamingslut shaming attacks women for their right to say ‘yes’. It is the act of making a woman feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviours or desires that defy traditional gender ‘norms’ and expectations. To ‘slut shame’ a woman is to suggest that she is behaving in a socially unacceptable way. Society then labels that woman as easy, cheap, trashy, tarnished, and even immoral. But, when a man has the same sexual behaviours it is okay, it is acceptable, it is ‘normal’? Emphasising the degradation of a woman’s promiscuity over a man’s makes it seem as though yet again, it is the woman who is wrong, who by having sex is asking to be called a slut and shamed for it.
  5. Loosely understood and subjective definitions of “consent” – the idea of the  “chase” is overly romanticised and well on its way out. To be chased is to be pursued against your will. Rather than pursue someone who expresses disinterest, acknowledge their decision and respect their personal space. As Jessica Valenti writes in The Nation, “lose the ‘no’-means-no model for understanding sexual assault and only focus on the “only ‘yes’ means yes” instead”.

Now that rape culture has been defined and its leading attributors established the question remains, how can we make a difference, if at all?

It’s simple. Help the cause by doing your bit to raise awareness. It’s not to say you can stop rape from happening or to put a complete end to it, but if it’s something you want to help change, raise your voice.

Almost every day, there is a new video or article that shows up on my Facebook or Tumblr feed that addresses rape culture in some way. If it’s not a group of young and inspiring poets,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Wu7Ax78hXo

it’s a celebrity campaign,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLdElcv5qqc

or a short film that shows one instance of how rape can occur, and how you can step in.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hE9FFvIYPg8

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All it takes is the click of a button. When you see something similar, like it, share it, tell your teacher about it, tell me about it, whatever! Like the page it came from and sign up to an organisation to help put the cause higher on the public agenda.

To raise awareness is to address the core issues and break down old ways of thinking about rape. It is to challenge the “it’s her fault” mindset and to force responsibility and punishment on those who are actually at fault.

Jessica, a University of Auckland student thinks to raise awareness is to “help people feel less isolated. If it [rape] happened to them, it will help them speak up and feel less victimised.” The more rape victims who share their stories and report them to authorities, the more incarceration is imposed on the criminals that rapists are.

Emilie Buchwald, author of Transforming a Rape Culture sums it up nicely by saying that “in a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable… However, much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.”

If you’re still not sure you want to help make a difference towards a better world, here are some harrowing statistics I pulled from RAINN.org which show the extent of rape culture in the United States. Let’s change some stats and work towards building a society that respects women’s rights to get drunk without being taken advantage of, to go walking at night without being cat-called, to have sex however she chooses and not be slut-shamed for it, and to wear whatever she wants without being objectified and demoralised!

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