Social Media’s Positive and Negative Effects on Gender
Today in the U.S., the use of technology and social media is at an all-time high. From Facebook to Instagram, social media users everywhere are consciously and subconsciously digesting hundreds of photos, videos, memes, opinions, graphics and stories daily.
While the use of social media increases, so do social media trends and behaviors. The increasing use of social media has revealed the complex relationship technology has with gender.
On the negative side, social media directly and indirectly impacts the idea of gender roles, reinforces the male gaze and often encourages the social construction of gender. On the positive side, social media provides the space for transgenders to find their own online community and develop a sense of belonging.
“Bitches be like…” memes Reinforce Gender Roles
One of the many ways social media directly reinforces gender roles is by the use and spread of the infamous “Bitches be like…” memes. Despite already being problematic for referring to all women as “bitches,” social media users found it humorous to create memes of stereotypical dialogue or photographed examples of situations where women would fall under stereotypical gender roles.
According to Zuleyka Zevallos, gender is, “a concept that describes how societies determine and manage sex categories; the cultural meanings attached to men and women’s roles; and how individuals understand their identities including, but not limited to, being a man, woman, transgender, intersex, genderqueer and other gender positions.” For example, one of the “Bitches Be Like…” memes has a photo of a woman dressed in full zombie special effects makeup, the caption says, “Bitches be like #nomakeup.”
This meme is problematic because the message insinuates that women can’t post photos without makeup on social media without fear of possible scrutiny. The spread of memes like these could consciously or subconsciously encourage women to not take photos of themselves naturally and instead be obligated to do a full face of makeup so they can look “Instagram-worthy,” and be acceptable according to the male beauty standard.
Another example of a “Bitches Be Like…” meme that reinforces gender roles is one that has a photo of two women. One woman is pouring a bottle of alcohol into the other’s mouth while the other is drinking it. The women appear to be in a nightclub and both have revealing tank tops on showing cleavage. The caption of the photo is, “Bitches be like ‘my kids are my life.” This meme is indirectly saying that women can’t be mothers and party at the same time. They have to be one or the other: a promiscuous bad-behaved party girl or a well-behaved mother who stays at home and attends to her children.
These negative memes are making light of enforcing gender roles based on outdated stereotypes and aren’t accurate depictions of what “bitches” really “be like,” therefore these memes act as setbacks to the forward thinking of today’s society.
Kylie Jenner’s Instagram Through the Eye of the Male Gaze
With nearly 90 million followers on Instagram, 19-year-old Kylie Jenner, reality T.V. personality from Keeping Up with the Kardashians, is being judged, critiqued and approved by millions of social media users daily.
Her Instagram posts, often semi provocative or hypersexual usually involve her posing with her hair and makeup done in a tight-fitted outfit where her breasts, butt or both are the focal point.
Her profile can as a whole be seen through the eye of the male gaze. Male gaze “describes the tendency of works to assume a (straight) male viewpoint even when they do not have a specific narrative point of view, and in particular the tendency of works to present female characters as subjects of implicitly male visual appreciation,” Allen Farber said.
In this case, Jenner acts as the subject of male visual appreciation on her own Instagram profile. The pouty-lipped and arched-backed poses Jenner successfully executes leave male (and female) viewers wanting more. Social media users can’t scroll through more than three photos on Jenner’s timeline without at least seeing her cleavage, butt or body in a bikini. Although she’s a successful woman with her own beauty business, Kylie Jenner Cosmetics, Jenner remains committed to appeasing to the male gaze and continues to objectify herself using mirror selfies and photo shoots, instead of highlighting her own success and accomplishments.
Instagram: Where gender is Performed for likes
As my mom likes to say, Instagram is where people post their highlight reels. It’s a place where people go to post all the photos they look best in and the moments that they’re most proud of. Instagram isn’t like Snapchat where you go to post silly photos making a double chin to make your friends laugh, it’s where women post airbrushed and photoshopped selfies and men post their most hyper-masculine photos, whether it’s them without a shirt or posing near a car.
“Individuals are born sexed but not gendered, and they have to be taught to be masculine or feminine,” Judith Lorber said.
Gender as a whole is a performance and it wasn’t until Instagram that you could perform gender on social media, look attractive doing it and receive societal approval in the form of “likes.” For example, when I “perform” my femininity (what society deems appropriate behavior for women) on Instagram, whether it’s wearing more makeup, wearing my hair down, showing cleavage, accentuating my curves or take a photo with my boyfriend I often get the most likes on my photos.
What impresses me the most is how many likes I get when I post a photo with my boyfriend. The majority of the photos on my profile are fashion, blogging or lifestyle related. I usually like to motivate my female followers by posting empowering photos and captions. When I post a photo of my heterosexual relationship where we’re posed in a way showing our gender roles, my photos receive the most social approval. This reveals how society likes to see women in their “proper” roles as women, housewives and trophy wives.
The Bigger Social Media Becomes, the more Opportunity for Transgender Online Communities
The effect of social media on gender isn’t all bad, however. The results of the increasing amount of social media users has created sub-groups of individuals including transgenders who look to other social media users to form their community. This way, transgenders are able to feel welcome and have a sense of belonging to a community of individuals with similar experiences and lifestyles.
Transgender is where “one’s biological sex does not align with their gender identity,” (Zuleyka Zevallos). With hate crimes against transgenders skyrocketing, it is important for transgender people to feel safe and welcome (at least in their network of friends on social media). For example using “#TransPride” brings Instagram users to a whole community of transgender individuals proudly posting images of themselves making statements against transphobia and promoting self love. Using these hashtags and having the ability to can not only make transgenders feel a sense of belonging but it can also educate and inform the cisgender social media users. Cisgender, “describes people whose biological body they were born into matches their personal gender identity,” (Zuleyka Zevallos).
Whether transgender individuals choose to use social media for personal pleasure or activism, having their voices heard and their faces seen creates a transgender/transgender ally network and potentially an online “safe space” for transgender people everywhere.
Technology and the use of social media have had both negative and positive effects on the progression and understanding of gender. As we as society make steps forward in the understanding of gender and its fluidity, we also make steps backward with the use of gender stereotypical memes and women catering to the male gaze.