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Friday, September 21, 2007

This is related to my September parents letter.


Women on Facebook think provocative is empowering

As I was scrolling through some profiles of my friends on Facebook, I came across a slightly surprising sight. An acquaintance of mine had uploaded photos of herself and girlfriends scantily clad and in positions simulating the most risqué sex acts possible. Subsequent pictures showed her and her friends licking salt off each other's breasts and pelvic bones, or holding bottles of alcohol next to their heads and making pouty smiles.

The beauty of this situation is that none of my female acquaintances can be angry at me for putting this into writing, because at least 50 of them have photos of themselves online doing the same thing. The ugly part of this situation is that there might be photos of me out there, too.

Although I am not one for body shots, there probably are photos out there of me drinking and smothering my friends' cheeks in kisses. If I hadn't already ruled it out for myself, my shot at being elected president is, well, shot. And if prospective employers saw these photos of me, they might think twice about what a level-headed job candidate I am.

Which raises an important question: Why do teens love taking pictures of themselves doing illicit things and posting it on the Web?

Teen rebellion to authority — especially when it comes to alcohol, drugs and sex — is not new, but the ways of expressing that defiance are, thanks to the Internet.

Like Paris Hilton or Britney Spears, you, too, can appear online in photos or videos doing provocative or naughty things. In a generation that worships privilege and fame, many teens seem to feel that if they photograph themselves drinking and posing provocatively the way celebrities do, the glamour might translate into their lives.

But how glamorous is it when your grandmother can easily stumble upon photos of you and your friends in a drunken pose that puts the Kama Sutra to shame?

Should there be limits on how far is too far? According to a Facebook spokesperson, users "may not post or share content that … is obscene, pornographic, or sexually explicit." But the fact that so many photos of disrobed young women adorn users' photo albums suggests that "obscene" and "sexually explicit" cover only the truly extreme, if that. Or maybe Facebook needs more babysitters trolling what its users are up to.

My generation has a faulty concept of privacy. Instead of journaling in marble composition notebooks, we do it on blogs for anyone to read. When we see other teens getting attention from their silly (and often confessional) YouTube videos, we learn that keeping one's life an open book is a ticket to fame. We find that when it comes to Vanity Fair, Nicole Richie concealing the private details of her public fight with Paris Hilton cost her a spot on the cover, which Teri Hatcher "earned" upon disclosing that she had been sexually abused as a child.

Many of us Generation Y-ers learn in social studies classes that our government has the power to violate citizens' privacy with the USA Patriot Act. We learn both in de facto and de jure ways that privacy just isn't a priority today.

And as the continuing reports about photos of beauty queens in compromising situations (most recently involving Miss New Jersey) suggest, this phenomenon mainly applies to young women. Although young men are often photographed with cans of beer, they don't pose for countless pictures with their buddies doing illegal things. Young women act as though they derive some kind of power from the act.

Perhaps young women of my generation truly need to reconsider what power is and what empowerment means to them. Does publicly flaunting raunchy photos really boost one's status? Definitely not.

And if embarrassing photos of oneself surface during a job hunt or a campaign for elected office, pursuing faux power could get in the way of acquiring real power.

Liz Funk is a freelance writer based in New York and a junior at Stony Brook University.

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