You have definitely noticed that your social media is constantly exploding with selfies—the self-portrait photograph. Others, like the Oxford Dictionary, who selected “selfie” as the word of the year in 2013, noticed, too. Since then, there’s been an online debate about the selfie and how it does or does not empower women. I’ll leave that conversation to others for the moment because about a month ago, the shelfie appeared on my social media scene. Yes, that’s right, the shelfie.
The shelfie is, quite simply, a photograph of what’s on display on your bookshelf; it’s also a wonderful and hilariously awesome play on the ever-popular selfie. Rather than a focus on outward appearance and physical attractiveness, the shelfie emphasizes what you read and therefore places value on learning and knowledge. I see it as empowerment tool for women and girls, showing them that they can show off their intelligence and love of reading. Frankly, I couldn’t wait to take part!
Surprisingly, the experience of preparing to shoot my own shelfie invoked memories of my experience growing up as a “smart girl” in a northern Michigan community. Raised in a single parent household by a strong, independent mother, I learned early on that my pathway to success in the world had to come from pursuing further education. So, naturally, that’s where I placed all of my focus and energy.
Yet, not unlike many students then or today, I was teased quite frequently growing up. One hundred percent of the time, teasing was directed by the male population; it always regarded the topic of how well I did in school. There was the “Did you read the dictionary this weekend?” and other silly remarks. Probably the most ridiculous (and now laughable) was when a neighborhood boy, after hearing about my grades and college plans, told me my destiny was to be a lonely, single woman with 100 cats. Ummm… how does that relate to my GPA? Call it what you will; to me, it seemed like boys couldn’t handle smart girls without putting them down or making them feel less than.
Education was my way of fighting back and therefore, my means of empowerment. Motivated by my vision of success, I made it to college and then eventually a highly ranked graduate program. My identity as a feminist formed as I learned more about women from all backgrounds and their struggles and triumphs. By reading about and keenly listening to other women’s experiences, as well as examining my own, I felt a strong sense of connectedness to women all over the world. It’s amazing what the forms of discrimination and microaggressions against women exist, but we don’t see, because we (both men and women) are trained that it is normal behavior.
Education remains my means of empowerment. As such, a simple picture of bookshelves allows a space for me and other women to promote ourselves as something beyond our appearance—we’re educated and intelligent beings. The shelfie fits right into a smart girl revolution. When women post their shelfies, let the comment boxes fill with thoughtful discussions, book reviews, and recommendations as we celebrate women and their smarts!
Christie Schichtel is a community engagement professional, collaborator, and planner at heart. She is a proud AmeriCorps Alum living in the Lansing area and is already conspiring new year’s goals of learning to be artsy!