Any time Facebook introduces a new feature or "improved" functionality, user response tends to range from complete indifference to uncontrollable outrage. But, there's one Facebook feature I've rarely seen questioned or criticized — and it also happens to be the one feature on the site that consistently sends me into the type of rage-filled tailspin usually reserved for ignorant comments made by Republicans regarding rape. (Or when my mother calls me before 8 a.m. to ask me to "look up something on the Internet" for her.)
It's called the "Weddings and Celebrations" feature, and it involves the placement of a small announcement on users' Facebook homepages in the same section where birthdays and upcoming events are listed. You've probably noticed this type of notification already; Facebook rolled out the functionality to its users last summer to little fanfare, but indicated that the upgrade would make it easier for Facebookers to remind up-to-date on the "exciting life events" of friends and family.
The move seemed a logical one. After all, the entire purpose of modern-day Facebook is, in fact, to keep individuals connected and involved with people they supposedly care about — and knowing when something significant happens to an acquaintance seems an integral piece of the whole "maintaining relationships" puzzle. So, what's the problem?
"Weddings and Celebrations" implies that all sorts of "life events" generate notifications on Facebook. In reality, the feature puts a whole lot of emphasis on the "wedding" part and absolutely no emphasis on the "celebration" end of things. If you're engaged or married, every single one of your Facebook friends will be forced to read the happy news. But do anything else of significance with your life? You're on your own. (The worst part about this? Users are forced to interact with the wedding or engagement notification; the announcement stays on a user's homepage until the user takes action to dismiss the news.)
Last week, after seeing two separate engagement notifications show up on my news feed in the span of several hours, I took to my profile to share my general frustration and overall disappointment in the way Facebook emphasizes marriage over all other personal achievements. (I don't know why the images are being processed to appear smaller, but click on any image in this piece and it will take you to a full size version.)
Petition for Facebook to stop notifying you when people get engaged or married, and instead notify you when your friends get that job they always wanted, graduate from grad school, finish their dissertation, buy their first home, decide to upend the patriarchy — you know, actual, measurable accomplishments and not simply deciding you like one person a lot.
I usually tend to self-censor myself on Facebook. I'll throw out a seemingly "controversial" opinion out into the void, only to delete it several minutes later for fear of pissing off a more conservatively-minded family member, or to avoid the wrath of antagonistic girls I knew in high school. Surprisingly, the response I received in regards to my engagement/wedding malaise was overwhelmingly positive. (A full screenshot of the post, with names and images obscured to protect the innocent, appears at the end of this piece.)
OK, I lied. The responses were all positive — except for a semi-sarcastic response from a close male friend who, upon personal reflection, has a long history of over-romanticizing the concept of the committed heterosexual relationship.
His comment? "You're such a romantic!"
You're such a romantic? Overwhelmed with anger (and a smidgen of disappointment) I began crafting a response to my friend, as well as a longer explanation of my beef with the 'Weddings and Celebrations' feature. My response was as follows:
Oh, [friend's name]. This has absolutely nothing to do with "romance." As someone in a wonderful relationship with an amazing, awesome guy, I'd be one hell of a hypocrite if I was using this as a way to attack "love" and all things related to it. What is this about, then? I'm going to break it down. Excuse me if this seems a bit all over the place — but it'll all make sense in the end. So, here it goes.
We, as a society, have attached an inexplicable amount of social value on the concepts of "getting engaged" and "getting married." This is often referred to in feminist circles as the "Wedding Industrial Complex.”* What the WIC does, in a sense, is assert that a woman has not reached her full “worth” as a human being until she enters the role of “wife” (and subsequently, “mother.”) No matter her personal accomplishments or professional accolades, the WIC dictates that marriage should be the One Thing every “good” woman strives for. It strips women of their worth and devalues their identities outside the traditional confines of “womanhood.”
If you think this is all feminist theory bullshit, I’ll ask you this: Why are women who remain single until their 30s jokingly labeled as “spinsters” when single men of the same age are often praised for their bachelorhood? Why are women who delay marriage to obtain a Master’s or PhD, to further their career, or to just hang out labeled as “selfish?” Why are women who choose to keep their job while raising children attacked for being “horrible mothers?”
I should also note that the WIC negatively affects men, too. Those bizarre notions that the man in the relationship should be the only one to propose marriage? That an engagement must be a stressful, planned-out affair? That, if one doesn't spend an exorbitant amount of money on an engagement ring, he is not "man" enough? Those all directly stem from the WIC — and the diamond industry, but that’s another post entirely.
The fact that a majority of the people who have “liked” this status are women should clue you in on how this way of thinking causes a deep sense of confusion, anxiety and hurt amongst those who choose not to subscribe to the tenants of the WIC. This is institutionalized sexism at its finest — and even though it’s just something as stupid as an update on a social networking website, it’s worth pointing out and it’s definitely worth discussing out in the open. (I mean, seriously. Engagements and weddings are the only “life events” Facebook highlights — and it’s not just highlighted, it’s put at the top of the main page and remains there until you hover over it and close the notification. Why is this given more weight than a law school acceptance or job promotion?)
By now you’re probably saying, “But Kat! I value you for your whole person!” I know that, dude. We’ve been friends for a long time, and if you were some secret misogynist, I hope I would have figured that out by now. But, I chose to engage you because of your comment — whether or not you intended it to be serious or sarcastic. The sheer fact that women are still expected to be sentimental and gushy about things like “weddings” and “true love” — and any woman who doesn’t subscribe to that line of thought is out of line and worth shaming — shows how deeply sexism is still ingrained in our daily lives in the year 2013. I’m sure you didn’t mean it, but you calling me out on not being “romantic enough” was what prompted me to unleash my feminist rage in the first place.
Finally, I would love to give props to [my boyfriend] for being an all-around wonderful boyfriend. Not only does he understand and support my militant feminist viewpoints, he encourages me to stand by my convictions and speak up when something just ain’t right. He’s swell, and I’m lucky he puts up with my attitude.
* While I am aware that the term 'wedding industrial complex' usually refers to the consumerist aspects of the wedding industry, I tend to apply it to both the commercial implications of marriage and the social/psychological implications of marriage.
Although I later called out my friend to respond to my observations, he never did. Oh well. Either way, it's rad to know other's share my opinions — and it's even more rad when I can turn my Facebook profile into a mini platform for feminist debate.
So, am I the only one who's frustrated by this part of Facebook? What do you all do to update friends and family about your non-wedding related achievements?