“As far as I’m concerned, being any gender is a drag.” (Patti Smith) by S.Z.

 

On how social networking is changing the gender discourse.

The impact social networking had on gender is similar to other movements on the Internet. Social networking can have an empowering effect and gives us a voice. Both are basic democratic beliefs, but unlike other political movements feminism was often overlooked. If you want to maintain power over something, you better not represent it. In the past, feminists strongly depended on organizations to get their message across. Most of it wasn´t considered important enough to publish and therefore the discourse remained within the academic circle, even though it is crucial to have an outside observer that measures your concern and ways of forcing people to acknowledge it.

“When your brand’s Facebook wall is overtaken by feminist outrage, you can’t just write it off as a few man-hating cranks and continue on as usual.” (Kate Harding)

To give you an example of successful feminist social networking campaigns, let me remind you of a recent case concerning the radio host Rush Limbaugh and the law student Sandra Fluke who testified before a congressional committee about the need for insurance companies to cover birth control costs. Limbaugh called her a “prostitute” and continued slut-shaming her on his radio show which caused an unexpected uproar on the internet followed by a Facebook campaign against Limbaugh that eventually lead to 45 sponsors pulling their advertising. The example demonstrates that women are indeed visible on the Internet and they dominate the social networking sphere.

But why exactly do women spend more time on social networking sites than men?

One theory suggests that western society has assigned women the natural role of “the connectors”. They use language and discussion mainly in order to maintain or develop social relationships while men´s talk is expected to be more formal and goal-oriented. Of course, this social phenomenon is not just “natural behavior“ and ”biological facts” like a lot of clever armchair critics would like you to believe.

Basically all of this is the outcome of what a given society tells women how they should perceive themselves. Classroom research shows that more talk is associated with higher social status or power and boys clearly dominate the talking time. If women talk, it is often perceived as ”showing-off”. Perhaps we share the same fate and you were also one of those stereotyped girls at school that liked to read a lot and loved to take part in discussion but at some point started to attract negative attention. Families strongly believing in traditional gender roles didn´t help either.

I stopped raising my hand in class even worse than that, I didn´t expect to receive any attention. Now a university student, I still struggle to give presentations simply because I never felt comfortable with representing anything at all. Colleagues that are actually paying attention to what you´re saying can be an overwhelming experience for people like us. Schrödinger´s Listener is always lurking.

But then social networking wormed its way into my confidence. The blogosphere provided a mirror that helped defining and accepting my own identity through sharing interests with other people without mentioning my sex or gender because if you´re describing yourself as a “cinephile“ it isn´t relevant if you´re male or female. Taste communities can give you a sense of security. It is the safest way to get your geek on. Your passions count and now companies as well realize that you can´t categorize people using ready-made demographic boxes. How do you place the face of a pansexual guy that writes a feminist analysis of BBC Sherlock´s portrayal of Irene Adler, names Bukowski as his favorite author, has a passion for motorbikes and likes listening to Bon Iver, with simple demographics?

Human beings are more complex than the industry would like them to be.

Gender is deconstructed on thousands of social networking sites worldwide. The interest we all seem to share while talking and discussing all these topics is the interest in humanity itself and we´re all free to embrace this new and exciting development

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