Exercise 4.1 – The selfie, the advertisement and the Mexican beer.


This post by Dawn Woolley is about how the ‘selfie’ may “disrupt gender and ideal-body stereotypes as well as reinforce them”

I take it from the outset that reinforcing gender stereotypes=bad and disrupting same=good.  that gender stereotypes are wrong and undesirable and that to disrupt them is good..  This is probably a separate argument so I will go with the position assumed by Ms Woolley.

Firstly I’m thinking about what the selfie actually is and how it may differ from what we normally see as a portrait.  The obvious difference is that in the former the picture-taker is also the subject whereas in the latter a second party influences the result.  The decision making process prior to the exposure is in each case similar but for the selfie, the subject themself decides that they are worth recording.  Not only worth recording but worth displaying on social media, mostly.  It may form part of a selfie trait where the activities of the subject are shared regularly in a sort of selfie diary.  In my experience (Facebook) few people relish posting information which renders them in a less than favorable light.  The majority are self-congratulatory and self-consciously extroverted.  They serve to inform “friends” of the richness and pleasure their chosen lifestyle rewards them with.

Woolley cites a Mexican beer commercial in which she perceives the overt message that for a man to take selfies is narcissistic, reinforcing the gender stereotypes ascribed to masculinity.  Narcissism in a male is ‘unmanly’ because that’s what women do, look at themselves all the time.

Woolley then hacks off a chunk of Freudian psychoanalysis to prop up some rather shaky assertions about the origins of gender traits in the infant.  Superficially, such references appear to add a lot of ballast to an argument as long as you just skip over them saying “Ah yes, Freud – everyone agrees with that” but even the most cursory probing will show that for any Freudian view you conscript to support your proposition, several others are available to contradict it.

The post considers selfies in a very specific context, that of a television advertisement made for transmission in Mexico. Unfortunately the link to the Youtube clip is dead so I wasn’t able to view it, but it may say more about the preoccupations of Mexican adverting agencies than selfies as a whole.  I note, though, that Woolley is commenting on a presentation at a conference which looked at this particular instance of the depiction of selfie takers.

I have some thoughts about this myself.  I do have two Facebook accounts, one for photography related matters and one for family and friend connections.  The latter was started so that we could better stay in touch with family whilst we were abroad and at the same time receive crumbs of information about the lives of our offspring.  This worked rather well until we became aware of the ill-disguised competition among some people (other cruising sailors) to show what a fantastic time they were having in charming unspoiled anchorages they’d happened upon, whilst being irritatingly vague about the precise location.  They had invariably enjoyed ‘perfect sailing conditions’ and arrived in fine spirits having covered upwards of fifty miles without ever using the engine.  We, on the other hand, had probably spent the previous night wide awake in case the anchor dragged in the 40kt winds, so the less said about that the better.  Then the offspring began using Instagram and Whatsapp and now I barely visit the old FB pages.

Does the selfie tend to emasculate?  Not any more, I feel.  My son and his pals are perfectly at ease with it, but the pictures do tend to be of groups.  Among our gay friends the single male selfie is certainly more common – I mention this as a matter of fact only, which may offer scope for further enquiry but not here and now.  Selfies taken by young women of only themselves seem to be much more common, which may have led the Mexican agency to rely on an invalid categorical syllogism, or more likely they were just taking the line they always take.

At the end of the post Woolley wonders whether selfies could disrupt gender stereotypes.  I’d say yes but with fewer opportunities to do so as gender stereotyping recedes into the previous century.