Has Social Media Become Just Another Form of ‘Women’s Work’?

January 2019

Aren’t you tired? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Christ I’m tired.

I’ve never been a curmudgeon about social media, I swear. I’m a Gen-X woman. I know how to navigate the whole mess, without giving my life over to it. I was always big into the idea of Facebook as a personal platform; a way to ‘take control of, and shape our own narrative’. (I’m so old and such a second-wave-feminist geek that I used the word ‘narrative’ before conservative news media co-opted it.) I imagined over time we would find powerful new ways to use our platforms, beyond competing with each other socially. And in some ways, we did … #metoo happened, after all.

The problem is that I just … can’t any more. I’ve taken breaks before, over the years. I’ve done moderate versions of a social media ‘cleanse’. Now though, the breaks are getting longer. I’m slipping off the grid, becoming a digital ghost, wandering the lonely corridors of the Facebook or Instagram feed, liking the occasional photograph or meme, wondering when I’ll get my social media mojo back.

At those times when feels like it’s all just noise, I don’t want to add to it. Is it, as some suggest that passively observing the activities of my wider social group has drained me of my genuine drive to connect? In fact, I believe that it’s my desire to genuinely and authentically connect that has me paralyzed. Because social media is so. much. work.

I mean sure, you can scroll through your Facebook feed in a superficial way; clicking, liking, loving, leaving smiley faces and posting the odd meme. I think that’s what we’re supposed to do for the most part. But if you’re a thoughtful, empathetic person, you probably want to engage with your social group on a more meaningful level. You want to show interest, concern and support. You seek to encourage and uplift, and perhaps seek a little of the same in return. Isn’t that what ‘community’ is all about?

In addition to ‘taking control of and shaping your own narrative’ through photographs, text, uplifting quotes, amusing memes, informational links etc., you’re also attempting to be the emotional support animal for a wide swathe of people you’ve known in almost every different phase of your life. That acquaintance from your old job three years ago just had a baby. She’s struggling with postpartum depression. You leave a kind comment, right? Not because you have to, but because you want to. You’ve been there. You feel what she’s going through.

The question is … is this mostly women’s work? As women, we already do a lot of unpaid labor. The social care component is reciprocal of course, but I wonder … do men feel the same kind of pressure that women do on social media?

And by god, the pressure that we put on ourselves and each other as women to be seen ‘living our best life’ on social media is enormous. For example, how many male Beachbody coaches do you know? How many men do you know trying to make extra money on-line by selling Young Living or Scentsy products? I don’t know any, but a whole bunch of my female friends on-line are currently in #girlgangs.

On top of the regular job, kids and so on, a lot of women are attempting to develop a #secondstream of income. They must therefore present themselves as living inspirational lives, full of preternatural peace and contentment. They’re stronger and slimmer because of this new exercise regime, this delicious protein shake. Or they’re being cured by these high-grade essential oils. There are before and after pics to prove the point. Anyway, even if women aren’t directly touting lifestyle products, there’s always the underlying knowledge that most of us are secretly selling ourselves, “Look at me, I’m eating clean!/I found Jesus!/I tidied up!

I see a lot of vibrant, determined women seeking to make ends meet, pulling themselves up, or preventing themselves falling from the middle class. My #girlgang buddies valiantly support each other through often untenable situations. They talk about #hustle, and how to handle ‘work-life balance’. They also discuss metaphysical solutions such as #energyhealing #chakras and #livingtarot because … what’s meant to be will find a way.

So here we are again as women, re-inventing the wheel only to come full circle. When the words ‘soul-cycle’ do nothing but remind us of the drone of the washing machine. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. As usual, we find ourselves desperately trying to keep our heads above water, attempting to ease/erase/limit the burdens of emotional, social, political and financial inequity all under our own steam. Aligning ourselves and identifying with ‘#witches’ is a pretty overt recognition that our power as women is still that of a disenfranchised underclass.

The noise gets louder and louder and LOUDER until it’s a massive, shrieking crescendo of being advertised and sold to, account-hacked, data-mined, politically manipulated and socially influenced even by people we consider our closest ‘friends’.

I want quiet, goddammit. I want the ‘peace that passeth understanding’. I want my mind to feel like the photograph that accompanies this writing; like the January skies at 7am outside the school where I work. Although I can’t turn to God obviously, because then I’ll fill your Facebook feed with religious platitudes that you don’t believe but have to ‘like’ out of politeness.

I was hoping that by the time I came to the end of writing this post that I would have some kind of solutions. I wanted to unearth some new understanding that could be helpful, true and kind all at once. Quitting Facebook (for a start) should be the obvious answer. This is being touted in several Medium articles lately, as the cure-all for our malaise. But the peace and quiet of a complete social media disconnect comes with a possible price of further social isolation. It’s not an answer for those women who make an income, however small on their social media accounts. Besides, many of us are so overwhelmed with the demands of work and caring for families that our off-line social networks are almost completely atrophied. The horror of it is that many of us need Facebook to feel connected to the larger world.

I’m not quite ready to make a clean break ... yet. There’s the FOMO (yes, Fear of Missing Out for fellow Gen-Xers) and the vague optimism that we as individuals and as a society can find/are finding ways to use social media creatively as a tool to enhance our lives, rather than be used by it. Although the evidence for this is slim at best, and tends to indicate the opposite. So I live in this liminal world. I’m not fully on Facebook, yet no longer willing to do the ‘women’s work’ required to maintain an active presence there.

There is going to be effort involved. There’s no avoiding it. We’re going to have to make a deliberate and conscious choice to swim against the tide; against these powerful forces in our nature and in society that our ‘infinity pool’ Facebook feed caters to so well. We need to find ways to re-establish our social networks in real life and convince others to do the same. Is it possible? Perhaps it will be as difficult as quitting Facebook cold turkey. Perhaps it will be as simple as *gasp* making a phone call to your mum, or actually keeping that commitment to meet a girlfriend for coffee. You’ve been meaning to do it for months. You actually enjoy her company … as far as you remember.

Can we do it? Will we do it? As with global warming, will the better angels of our nature ever be enough to create meaningful change? Can the individual efforts of the committed few combat the entrenched socio-economic, political and corporate mechanisms in place that fight to keep us isolated from, and forever in competition with each other? Will we always be begging whatever scraps are left from the table of the one percent until there’s nothing left to fight for?

That my friends, is women’s work too. No wonder we’re so damn tired.