Rebecca Schuman of Slate has been taking selfies while flipping off her infant. She converses with Jill Delston of University of Missouri – St. Louis about the moral advisability of this. It strikes me that analysis of how humor works might help here. On Ted Cohen’s (fun) account of humor, one of the ways we find relief in humor is by mocking powers we cannot defeat. That’s why jokes about death work as they do. So, maybe infants and death just go together – both are rather unrelenting.
My initial thought on seeing this was that any distress it provoked (for those who would find such images distressing) would likely arise from gendered social expectations, such that the gentle nurturing expected of mothers is violated here. But I doubt that images of a father doing the same would play better on this score and indeed might awaken worries about the menace and threat such a gesture could suggest. So, while the images would play differently for mothers and fathers, it’s not clear to me that any of us are well free to flip off our babies in the way they so often richly deserve.
6 thoughts on “Whether and when to flip off your baby.”
Louis CK gets away with something quite similar:
I like Rebecca Schuman’s writing a lot and I never interpreted those photographs as flipping off the baby (who is generally asleep in them) but as flipping off the viewer. It’s interesting to learn that’s I’m wrong. They reminded me of something I have noticed in academic profile photos — you almost never see an academic woman using a photograph of herself with her child as her profile photo on a university website. You see it a fair amount with a certain kind of academic man — youngish, hippish, sympatheticish to feminism. They always strike me as “having it all” photos: “that’s right, world, I’m a scholar and I’m comfortable with my nurturing side, too”. They piss me off because I think, yeah, they can be read that way when men post them. Women academics don’t post “me and my bebeh” photos nearly as often because they know their impact would likely to be subtractive from their professional personas, not additive as they are for men academics. Schuman’s brand is “slantwise academic successfully forging her own way” and I always saw her photographs as more directly owning what “academic man with bebeh” photos were doing sort of coyly and faux-humbly.
So we are not free to flip off our babies because some people with warped conceptions of motherhood or the menace of men, would get upset? Hat seems like a bad reason not to do it.
This is way more intellectual consideration than I deserve, and I thank you! I thought that the best part of the article were Jill’s contributions, and I really appreciate you highlighting them here. She’s also regular reader of FP and has a paper under review right now called “why virtue ethicists make bad parents.” I’m sure she would love to talk about it here if you would be interested!
Oh look, a bunch of dudes are pissed off because a woman doesn’t know her place.
We are seriously so predictable.
Hi, Rebecca, I really enjoy your work! I will have to talk to Jill about virtue ethics. That runs quite counter to my intuitions. Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen this, this Onion article explains a lot about babies: http://www.theonion.com/article/area-baby-doesnt-have-any-friends-1839
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