Young Women, Narcissism and the Selfie Phenomenon | Mary McGill | TEDxGalway

Translator: Tijana Mihajlović
Reviewer: Mile Živković Whenever I tell people that I am researching
the selfie phenomenon, two things happen. First of all, they’re not impressed. “Why would anyone
research the selfie?” they say. “Surely it’s just a digital cesspool
of narcissism and shallowness, a damning indictment
of the image-obsessed culture in which we now live.” But once I manage to convince them
that this isn’t either case, that I am studying the selfie, and that it is worthy
of academic research, then something changes. People want to talk. Because a lot of us these days
have strong opinions about the selfie, particularly when it comes to those who are seen as the phenomenon’s
most enthusiastic users: young women. This is a screengrab of footage
from a baseball game in the US last year. And you’ll note the young women here, a group of sorority sisters,
in the act of taking selfies. Many, many selfies, it has to be said. Well, the girls’ behavior was picked up
by the stadium’s cameras, which led the two male match commentators to turn their attention away from the game and begin discussing
the young women’s behavior for the best part of two minutes, growing progressively
more bemused and judgmental. And it’s interesting to note
that at no point during those two minutes did the match commentators realize
they could simply look away themselves. The clip subsequently went viral, and many of the comments online echoed those made
by the match commentators, which in turn echoed
the wider public conversation we’ve been having about the selfie since the phenomenon rose
to public prominence just a few short years ago. The inspiration
for the endless think pieces, young women’s engagement with the selfie is regularly dismissed
and derided in mainstream media. “What is wrong with young women today?” seems to be the undertone
to many of these conversations. Conversations, it should be noted, which rarely include the perspectives
of young women themselves. As a researcher working
in the field of cultural studies, I am well aware that when it comes
to representation in our culture, the female subject has rarely had it easy. From soap operas to fashion,
cultural products coded as feminine are generally regarded
as inherently less-than, when compared to their male counterparts. Nobody bats an eyelid
at the sports buttons, for example, that – well, I don’t want to say clog up,
but that feature heavily with every news bulletin
and across programming in the evenings and at the weekends
on radio and television. But can you imagine if, let’s say,
headlines from the fashion world were given the same gravitas? It’s hard to do, isn’t it? And would probably never happen. And yet, we wear clothes every day. Even now in the West,
after three waves of feminism and a possible fourth blossoming
at this point in time, women still struggle for representation in key cultural, political,
and social institutions, still have to fight to find
the spaces and the means to tell their own stories. And all too often, when we do see women
represented in the culture, it’s through what’s known
as “the male gaze.” And this gaze casts women
as a passive, erotic other, denying them the depth and complexity
afforded to male representations. Unsurprisingly, this has
major repercussions for how girls and women
view themselves and the world. So, in light of the cultural context
I’ve just outlined, dismissing young women’s use of the selfie shuts down any attempt
at a deeper analysis, even when all the indicators are that a deeper analysis
is exactly what is required. It stops short of asking
the all-important question, a question that strikes
at the beating heart of research: why? Why, at this particular point in time,
are some young women choosing to self-represent in the selfie? Why do they photograph themselves
in the way that they do? And if their behavior can be construed
as narcissistic and self-objectifying, why is this the case? In many ways, these questions
raise the issue of gender and specifically femininity. Today, traditional notions of gender
are being challenged on many fronts. And by traditional notions,
I mean the heteronormative assumption that every single human being
on the face of this Earth, by virtue of their
biological characteristics, fits neatly into one of two categories,
either male or female. And that consequentially,
throughout their lives, they will then exhibit
either masculine traits or feminine traits, masculinity or femininity. Whether we are aware of it or not, how we are gendered has
major implications for our lives. And perhaps, on an instinctive level, we’re more aware of this
than we would care to admit because we have all,
at one point or another, whether wittingly or unwittingly,
violated the boundaries of gender. Walking into the wrong public bathroom. Never fun. Getting angry if you’re a woman. Scary. Crying if you’re a man. As a researcher, I proceed from the work of the great many theorists,
campaigners, and sociologists who have argued so persuasively that gender, as distinct
from biological sex, is largely socially constructed, and that many of the things
we presume to be innate and natural are, in fact, policed and coerced. To paraphrase
the philosopher Judith Butler, whose ideas have revolutionized what we think about what it means
to be a man or a woman, gender is a phenomenon, not a fact. It creates what it names. So, if we want to gain
a deeper appreciation, then, for why it is young women
are drawn to the selfie, and if we want to get better at unpacking
what it is is going on in these images, an excellent place to start
is with gender, specifically femininity, looking at how we do femininity
in a modern context, keeping in mind that how we do femininity
and how we do masculinity has always varied across race, across class, across culture,
across history. Conveniently enough, this brings us back
to one of those buzzwords so beloved by commentators when it comes to discussing
young women’s engagement with the selfie. And that word is narcissism. (Sighs) This is Time Magazine
cover story from 2012, which some of you may be familiar with because it was the source
of much debate at the time. The title of the story,
in case you can’t make it out, is “The Me, Me, Me Generation.” And there’s text below there
that I’ve enlarged so you can read it. It says, “Millennials are lazy,
entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.” Tell us how you really feel,
Time Magazine. And look at the image they have chosen to illustrate this sweeping
statement with. We’ve got young, white,
likely middle-class woman in the act of taking a selfie. She, or what she embodies, is taken to represent everything
that is wrong with her generation. And although the article goes on to ultimately debunk this idea
that Millennials are without hope, the implication that they make here
nevertheless lingers. Now, I am going to presume
that most of us are in agreement that narcissism is bad, and that there are many aspects
of the modern world, particularly online
and particularly in social media, which seem to exacerbate
and even reward narcissistic behavior. Let’s not forget that in the Greek myth Narcissus became so enamored
with his own image that he lost the will to live. However, young women
are not the only demographic taking and posting selfies, not by a long shot. But articles like this one, in aligning
young women’s selfies with narcissism, are actually evoking
a long-standing charge against women. Namely, that we are obsessed
with image-centered trivialities, like hair, and clothing, and makeup, and that this obsession is somehow
evidence of our inferiority. But what’s missing from that narrative? It’s the all-important question of why. Why is femininity
so aligned with narcissism? To find one possible answer,
I’m going to ask you in joining me in jumping into a time machine
and heading back to France in 1949, for the French philosopher
Simone de Beauvoir published “The Second Sex.” Some of you may be familiar with it. The Second Sex remains one of the most important works
in the feminist Western canon. And de Beauvoir’s famous assertion that one is not born
but rather becomes a woman speaks to this idea that women
are socialized to act a certain way rather than that certain way
being something that occurs naturally. So, given the stature
of The Second Sex, then, it’s not surprising that in the course
of my own research, I cracked it open. And what did I find? Only an entire chapter devoted
to the issue of women and narcissism, entitled “The Narcissist,” funnily enough. De Beauvoir notes that narcissism
is sometimes seen as the fundamental attitude of all women. “The problem with this,” she says,
“is that it makes a charge without taking into account the way
that women, much more so than men, are socialized from birth to turn their attention
towards the self, towards the body.” And although de Beauvoir
was writing in the 1940s, this observation remains
as true today as it was then because we still see this all the time: little girls being praised, not for what they do,
but for how they look; a global beauty industry
that’s set to reach a valuation of almost 300 billion dollars by 2017; high-profile, accomplished, powerful women being reduced to their appearance
again and again in ways in which their male counterparts would rarely, if ever,
have to contend with. De Beauvoir notes that in a world
where a woman’s agency is limited by forces beyond her control, where she must struggle to assert
her individuality and her independence, by turning her attention towards the self, she gains a terrain
where she does have control. De Beauvoir notes what she calls
the solitary pleasure of this arrangement, echoing something I’ve been struck by
in my own research: how often it is that selfies
taken by young women are in spaces like bedrooms and bathrooms? This chimes, too, with the theory
of Bedroom Culture, as developed by Angela McRobbie, which explores the ways young women
are socialized within the home, hanging out in spaces like bedrooms, learning the skills
associated with femininity, while their male peers
brave the public sphere. De Beauvoir’s use of the term “pleasure”
is also very interesting because what the selfie allows us
to see as never before is how women enjoy looking
at themselves and indeed other women, exchanges that have always occurred
but have been rarely articulated and certainly not on the scale
that we see now. In “The Narcissist,” de Beauvoir muses that a woman, so adept at maneuvering
through a man’s world, can, when admiring her reflection,
psychologically split her identification, becoming at once
the active, desiring force, the bearer of the gaze, and the object
or the focus of that gaze, giving rise to a kind
of complicated notion of pleasure. What de Beauvoir shows in “The Narcissist” is although women
are cast into narcissism, they nevertheless managed to find
agency, pleasure, and power within it. The problem, however, is that extreme narcissism
destroys those who it consumes, turning the attention
ever more towards the self and away from the external
source of the problem. De Beauvoir notes that a woman, when admiring, or she puts it:
“when drowning in her image, reigns over space and time,
alone, sovereign; she has total rights over men,
fortune, glory, and sensual pleasure.” Now, what women in her right mind
wouldn’t want that? (Laughter) Could this fleeting,
delicious moment of freedom that de Beauvoir so beautifully describes be at least part of the reason why some young women
are so drawn to the selfie? Because here we have for the first time,
thanks to technology, a way for them to hold on to
and keep their reflection, a way for them to share
that reflection with other people in the hope that those people can see
what it is that they see in themselves. And if that is the case,
isn’t that actually very moving and a strong indicator
of how far we still need to go to build equal societies? Now, while the focus of my talk today
has been narcissism, it would be remiss of me
as a researcher to not point out that when it comes to young women’s
engagement with the selfie, there are many aspects at play,
of which narcissism is just one. These very smiley,
happy pictures are selfies posted by young Turkish women in 2014. And these are four of thousands
that were uploaded to the Internet. “Why?” you ask,
and that’s a great question. They were uploaded in response to remarks
made by the Deputy Turkish Prime Minister, who called on women to be chaste
and not laugh in public. And given the worldwide attention
that this protest received and, indeed, the levels of joyful laughing
and smiling on display, I think it’s fair to say that his remarks
didn’t have a desired effect and that the joke was very much on him. And I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of laughing
as a radical act. And so, dismissing young women’s
engagement with the selfie, then, is not just intellectually lazy; it denies the myriad of ways
that young women have used the phenomenon with political intent,
to speak back to power, to give themselves communities
and role models where there are none, striving for visibility in a world where female representation
remains, unfortunately, very much a work in progress. And this is particularly true
for women in minorities. Even the charge of narcissism
becomes so much more complex when considered in relation to be
what it means to be a woman in this world. So, the next time you see
somebody rolling their eyes or complaining about
young women’s use of the selfie, I sincerely hope that you stop,
that you think, and that you realize: When it comes to young women’s
engagement with the selfie, there is so much more going on
than meets the eye. Thank you. (Applause)

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. Feminism does a lot of unnecessary mental gymnastics to come to conclusions that are wrong. They severely lack intellectual honesty.

  2. That was one of the most uninformative talks I have ever heard on TED. No sources cited , no scientifically objectified data , no analysis of the ‘data’ and drawing on zero comparison eg male selfies. This was nothing short of pseudo science.

  3. Social media companies have engineered a generation of self-obsessed narcissists. All social media platforms are comprised of a mass of individuals competing against each other for followers, likes, retweets, favorites, and whichever other show of approval exists out there rather than any sort of collective goal.

  4. I told my dad I wanted to watch the serie with Queen Elizabeth and he said ''the real queen Elizabeth was even prettier''
    I facepalmed

  5. What would a kid think of selfies, that's just a picture, someone wants to take a picture of themself, just like when you like looking at yourself in the mirror and making faces

  6. Is this really so hard to figure out? In Western culture, men are objectified by their financial net worth. The more money a man has, the more "successful" — and hence more desirable to women — he is. (Does anyone honestly think Anna Nicole Smith would have even looked in J. Howard Marshall's general direction were it not for his eight-figure bank account?) Women, on the other hand, are objectified by their physical beauty. The more hot-looking a chick is, the more desirable she is to men. Think about it. Why are "trophy wives" considered "trophies"? Hint: it ain't because of their "minds" or "personalities." Whether any of that is good or bad is besides the point. The point is that, like it or not, that's the societal reality we live in. Better get used to it, because it's only going to get worse.

  7. She really is looking to deep into this, what the heck is she talking about? They take selfies because they can, and there young and pretty that's what girls do at that age, vanity is a big role, she is digging up her own rabbit hole here.

    How this turn into a gender thing? Is always someone else's fault.

  8. She got it right in her introduction. It's a shallow narcissistic culture. That's it.

    Ironically in trying to justify the self obsession of women this broad breaks her own arm, trying to fingerblast herself over how great women are. Astounding

  9. This talk is right on and these comments are lol. Wow! The male gaze is not blaming men only saying women are taught to consider themselves from this view instead of their own… God help us!

  10. how is this video saying it's all men's fault? And what's wrong with questioning underlying motives of taking selfies and consequences of these attitudes? What's wrong with brief psychological analysis on this theme? What's wrong with attempt to change society in order to raise kinder, healthier less narcissistic people?
    Can these antifeminists here in comments answer, please?

  11. Again one of those who have misunderstood feminism… I have never ever met a selfie obsessed female who would be compassionate – all of them are so egoistic, it hurts.

  12. Leopard skin heel wearing man basher masquerading as a legitimate scholar. Get in line lady, there's plenty who traded science for popular opinion in front of you

  13. why women are drawn to selfies? simple, they all wanna be the most hot, cute & beautiful because eceryone dreams about being famous & having people talk about how pretty they are. it's just narcissism, nothing more. men do need to stop praising this pretentious behaviour, women feed off the attention. the selfietaker has a desperate need for validation, wants to hear how pretty she is. very sad, men are actually doing the same & both women & men throw me off by this behaviour. stay true, stay humble, stay real

  14. Men are not the problem. The lack of a man (is the problem) a father. A father to teach them love and self beauty this as well goes for mothers in this generation because rather than teach them how to carry them selves like women they’re in the downstairs bathroom taking a selfie while the daughters upstairs or a times the ones taking the picture for them. So instead blaming men let’s take a look a the first man who came to her life(or didn’t). It’s so unfortunate…if this what’s going on now what’s this world gonna look like 30 years from now.

  15. Folks always say they value their privacy but then post themselves and family all over social media. Hypocrisy at its highest

  16. She's literally having a book read her mind outwards onto the world. She's possessed by a false ideology, rather than a generator of unique thought.

  17. Love how she some how finds a way to position the woman as the victim while justifying the action.. bahahaha. What a sick joke.

  18. Please stop spreading this … misconception! That's exactly what is wrong with the world – waste of time and afford proving that Earth is flat!

  19. Loved your talk! When I was young, I dressed up and tried to look pretty so I could attract my future husband. I wanted him to fall in love with me at first sight. So of course, I had to always be prepared. Girls are just using selfies to attract their future husbands. It's harmless.

  20. Yet another worthy and fascinating subject is consumed by social justice activism… could have saved so much time by just screaming "PATRIARCHY!".

  21. Look at all the men upset telling women why THEY do what they do. Men always think they can tell women why they act a certain way

  22. It seems that parents get blamed for teens being narcissistic but the media is grooming kids into being huge consumers. When they watch tv, go to school and talk with their peers, when they go to the movies or the malls when they are on social media…..parental shields are being broken down and the media gains access into kids minds and lures them into buying stuff that suppossedly makes them more attractive, more popular etc etc. It was mobile phones that started the whole selfie phenomenon along with fb….they make $$$$ from kids getting their parents to buy them iphones with the latest cameras etc…now it's twitch and live streaming…Parents are as much media victims as are their kids.

  23. The problem I have with these feminists is that I never hear them complaining about the lack of equal representation in occupations like brick layers or street sweepers. However they pick the top of the social-economical hierarchy, where a very small percent of men mainly occupy, and demand equality of outcome. They ignore the fact that the majority of the human beings that are at the bottom are men. Their behavior and so-called “research” on feminism is dividing men and women. This is very vicious.
    Men and women have always struggled and worked together in the tough past. Can we just love each other?

  24. Or maybe I, as a young woman, thought I looked good and wanted to take a picture. Narcissism is a personality disorder and there is so much more to it than just a superficial belief of grandiosity. It's just a picture of yourself, there is nothing to be ashamed of.

  25. Social media does a excellent job of attracting and exposing the countless goy who are full of vanity, narcissism, shallowness and phony drama . It is frightening how many millions of teenager/young goy have been inflicted with these pathetic character traits. The goy are stuck in a hamster wheel of destruction and delusions . This only gets worse because todays pathetic goy parents are raising even more pathetic children that will become parents and raise even dumber offspring.

  26. Just like TALMUD TV was the next big step in dumbing down the goy, social media is now the next bigger step in making the goy, even dumber. Its all working as planned, to the delight of the talmudists.

  27. It's so amazing to me that here we have people devoting their time to researching selfies when there are thousands dying due to a lack of food or access to clean water. A problem that we CAN fix, which is taking many lives, is ignored for looking at selfies… amazing. It's not narcissism we're talking about when it comes to selfies from BOTH genders, it's vanity. Plain and simple.

  28. Pity. It's an important issue – yet her talk is full of fallacies and inconsistencies – just doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Sorry, Mary McGill. Better luck next time 🙂

  29. What you do does not attract a man to procreate. What you look like does. As long as you continue to not take biology into account in your conversation, it will remain one sided and benefit the orphan cat population in this country.

  30. "Depth and complexity afforded to male representations"? What depth and complexity? I need sources for this.

  31. Women are fantasists, they live their lives in the false world of the selfie and selfie sites like Instagram etc.

  32. I'm so glad I bothered to look at the comments,it's pretty unanimous that this talk is horse sh*t 🤣

  33. No need for women to post pics of thier booty and tatas! They are just seeking validation and getting it from online beta males. This in turn makes them no longer need a man as they can get validation online. I would call this narracistic yes very much so.

  34. The title for this got me so excited, and I am by no means a professional in cultural studies, but I found myself disagreeing with this video. I actually think popular culture would have us believe narcissism and men are more aligned. If anything, I would say perhaps women exhibit covert narcissism and men more grandiose. The problem is, almost anything a woman does can be made out to be trivialised.

  35. She has a PHD ?? She just talking from one photo that as she said she went viral and trying to justify why these young girls taking selfies ? Are you kidding me ? Selfies is not a woman thing is men and women. Both sexes became more narcissists from what they are with that selfie fashion that started when front cameras been on phones.

  36. I thought this video would speak of living in the moment free from selfies or how the girls at the baseball game should interact with each other instead of taking selfies or how excessive selfies are not healthy for anyone. It is really in defense of girls who love to take selfies.

  37. From all the girls that I’ve seen they do it only for likes and followers on Instagram nothing more than that

  38. This lecture was bad for 1 simple reason which is Narcissism is a psychiatric disorder that does not discriminate between genders, and Modern Feminism is a women's movement advocating for women's rights and equality. Narcissism, is a psychiatric disorder where the affected individual lacks a coherent sense of self. Narcissism affects both introverts and extroverts equally. In order to compensate during inevitable periods of loneliness and lack of attention during early childhood you develop what is called a self-image. It is an adaptation and coping mechanism created to comfort you during these "alone" periods and make you feel validated from within. This coping mechanism is completely absent in narcissistic individuals. Selfies, while some girls may be genuinely narcissistic, this does not mean all of them are. Vanity, would be a better word to describe someone who is obsessed over their appearance. None of these topics are complicated. They are simply blended together to form an argument that is incoherent.

  39. I feel like most people in the coments didn't even seen the video, or maybe is just sexism, this makes me angry

  40. Women enjoy their youth an beauty because it gets men’s attention, and allows them to assert their role in the female dominance hierarchy. The same thing women have been doing for a myriad of generations, but social media makes it easier. The strange phenomenon is how much men are using similar approaches.

  41. There's a closing down sale at your local nightclub, inside the clubgoers practice the latest dance craze…the Selfie!

  42. Gender is not a social construct, look to Sweeden and Norway. Countries that have actively removed these social factors when raising children. Boys not allowed to play with guns, then play with Barbie and turn her into a warrior and her hair brush into a gun. Look at the amount of men and women in STEM in these countries when given free choice and no judgement more women chose away from STEM and more men choose STEM more than other countries. Why, men are interested in things and women interested in people (on average). Her research and perspective is disported. If she had her own kids 1 male and 1 female she would see her bias.

  43. i am out of here because of the neoFeminism in the video. educate the girls or all 30 genders on values not "equality". i am not making anyone an influencer because she is wearing a bikini with silicon boobs. i never encourage them to spend 100eur monthly on makeup and to wear fancy brands….. fix the world. dont deny that selfies are an epidepic harmful and have repercusion

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  45. Legit, this woman rambles to the affect of a slightly more well spoke Jordan Peterson. Hard to follow and not because it's deep. Normal person playing intellectual and lacking a central point.. I call fake deep.

  46. Women are considered deep – why? Because one can never discover any bottom to them. Women are not even shallow.

    Friedrich Nietzsche

  47. Wow I thought brillant a Ted talk from my home town and then I listened to this drivel well presented {did she just copy other presentations or get media training?} but no real content opinions supported by a particular world view in a way similar to justifing the crusades…. start with a premise that is indisputable or Canon {replace the word of god; bible with feminism and infidels with patriarchy and men}….

  48. Its neither a gender nor a generational issue. We have over the last 40 years almost totally abandoned good spiritual values and replaced them with a shallow delusion of materialism

  49. “Gender is a phenomenon, not a fact”.
    Well this long-haired man on stage must be out of his mind, I must say.

  50. Is this an actual concern for anybody? Who cares about a bunch of teens, and young women (and men) taking selfies? Next! Bigger issues to ponder.

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