Wednesday 19 March 2014

A Defence of #NoMakeUpSelfieForCancer

Another good cause. Another charity stunt exploiting social media. If you're unfamiliar with #NoMakeUpSelfieForCancer, it's pretty self-explanatory. Post a "bare" selfie of your face to the social media platform of your choice and make a donation to Cancer Research UK. Theoretically, friends in your timeline/feed will see it, do the same, and so on. As viral campaigns go, it's been a success with the charity reporting a surge in donations. It's very clever and raised a bag of cash. Great stuff, right?

Not a few Twitter celebs have written about the problematic character of the initiative - that women being seen without make up is a special event, that women are somehow compromising their sense of self without cosmetics, that by forsaking product for a day they are upholding hegemonic constructions of femininity. And, of course, there is the assumption all women avail themselves of the latest tones out of New York.

All of this is perfectly true. But also wading into the fray is the narcissistic self. Long exemplified by grasping celebs who "do a lot of work for charidee" (but don't like to talk about it, except on talk shows, in press interviews, or during telethons), the look-at-me nature of social media has similarly taken hold of charity as something that says good things about one's self. Or, rather, those who refuse to participate in orgies of charitable activity must have some deeply unpleasant character flaws. Who wouldn't wear a poppy or grow a moustache for prostate cancer?

Good points, none of which I can disagree with. But let's twiddle with the microscope a bit, and reduce the magnification so the intertwining of social pressure and continual constitution of gender is seen in its lived context, as it's happening at this very moment. In the 15 or so minutes it's taken to write the above, hundreds of pictures of - mainly young - women have tipped into the aforementioned trending topic on Twitter. A cursory glance down my Facebook feed shows dozens of women placing pics, donating and encouraging friends to do so, and occasionally swapping moving stories about loved ones - nanas, mums, aunties, sisters, daughters, friends - lost to cancer.

#NoMakeUpSelfieForCancer can be critiqued for the way it reinforces standard gender tropes, but that's half the story. The flipside is the generation of affective relations between participants, of sharing pain but, most importantly, facilitating a basic, weak tie of solidarity between women in addition to raising money for cancer research.

I find sexism and the oppression of women disgusting. But radical critique has to be careful piling into public manifestations of gender normative behaviour mob-handed, lest it reads like sneery, elitist cynicism. It must be dialectical - the drawbacks are inseparable from the positives and needs to be alive to them. In this case, a popular social media movement has ended up forging new connections between women around common experiences. Isn't that, from a feminist point of view, a good thing? Yes, it is. The job then is not to put distance between criticism and the real movement of women but think of ways of making that message as relevant to them as today's charity stunt has.


Phil said...

My mother only wore makeup when she was going out (i.e. in the evening, not out of the house). My sisters haven't worn makeup since they left school. My wife has never worn makeup in all the time I've known her. So I'm a bit saddened by the implication that "makeup" is the norm and "no makeup" is the exception (although God knows it only confirms what I see in seminar rooms).

The problem, if there is a problem, comes when this position - which is obviously legitimate and valid, what with it being mine - gets refracted through the eternal Well Er Basically of the Left and the currently-ubiquitous How Dare You. But those attitudes can attach themselves to literally anything.

Ken said...

'the eternal Well Er Basically of the Left' wins the internet today.

Gary Elsby said...

So who would you give the job to, the one wearing make-up or the other who isn't?

Not With It said...

I hate the selfie, if the mega rich celebs who started this infantile effing craze gave up more tax dollars we wouldn't need effing charity. I hate the effing social media, effing tweeting and effing facebook.

Well done for Turkey for trying to ban twitter. At last dictatorial regimes begin to look like the better alternative.
Bring back Stalinism all is forgiven!