I don’t get Facebook. Yes, I know I’ve signed up to it, but that’s because of my insistence on holding on to the deluded belief that it’s little more than a global email address directory. If long lost friends want to try to find me on its pages, I have no problem with that at all. But of course, Facebook is so much more than a list of contact details.
By my very nature, I’m someone who’s interested in the power and function of words and also in the distinction between the various contexts in which they’re used. I think there’s a world of difference between spoken utterances and sentiments expressed in writing. Maybe this is why Facebook and I make such uncomfortable bed-fellows: many of the people who use it seem to think that we need draw no dividing line between the things we say to each other in moments of relaxed spontaneity and the things we publish in a lasting, structured medium. I don’t often get drawn into the site’s many avenues of distraction, but whenever I do, feelings of nausea and disgust settle into the pit of my stomach and I can’t wait to click on ‘Logout’.
Who knows, maybe I’m just offended by bad grammar and poor punctuation, both of which are in plentiful supply on people’s Walls. Maybe my imagination is somewhat underdeveloped and I can’t get myself into the frame of mind that would allow me to appreciate the funny side of someone asking me to complete the line: “I would like to ___ you,” with one of the following options: 1. kiss; 2. fuck; 3. suck; 4. grope etc etc. Or maybe I think the whole site is another way of fooling The People into believing that what is actually fragmentation is the building of a community, that devaluation is liberation and that standardisation is originality.
All this ties in with a recent Radio 4 report bemoaning the current state of gender equality issues. A few young-ish women were asked if Girl Power – as represented by the Spice Girls – is their personal definition of feminism.
“Feminism? What’s that?” one of them asked. “Is that that woman who jumped in front of a horse?”
Chortling away, the women then proceeded to explain that it doesn’t really matter what feminism is as long as “it makes you feel good” and “sexy” and “gives you a confidence boost.”
There we are then, Ms Pankhurst: decades of struggle reduced to trendy self-help therapy and a fashion statement.
Unfortunately, the report didn’t quite spell out the crucial difference between ‘feminism’ now and in the 70s. Back then it was a unifying force, designed to pull people together and drag them out of a position of inferiority. To a large extent, it shared a common language and it understood the importance of words and their ability to influence the world. Now it’s an individualistic drive, more concerned with reducing discomfort and ‘stress’ than with tackling more far-reaching injustices. It doesn’t insist on linguistic precision, because its followers aren’t as articulate as they once were. It’s about personal competitiveness and the right to join a pole-dancing class “if, like, that’s what I really, really wanna do, ’cause it, like, gives me control of my own sexuality.”
Feminism has given itself up to the short-sighted forces of individualism and Facebook feeds into those forces too. They could both be strong, important entities, but they seem content to muck about in inconsequentality. Wouldn’t it be great if someone decided to whip up the fervour of a few decades ago by setting up a network called ‘Fembook’… but you know that just ain’t gonna happen, because fervour is just, like, way too stressful for people too busy poking each other through cyberspace.
P.S. This’ll probably be the last diary entry of 2007, so as we approach Christmas – a time which, in many ways, marks the moment when one individual came to create true commune-ism – may I wish all of you who celebrate this feast the wisdom to be able to find the balance between serving the needs of yourself and of the rest of the world. To those of you who don’t celebrate Christmas (ie most of the people on the planet) may I wish the very same thing.