Monday Blog 3: February 20, Gender Sexuality, Race and Social Media

“Gender Sexuality and Social Media” by Marwick, and “Race and Social Media” by Senft and Noble.

Julia Allison Baugher rose to fame as Julia Allison by leveraging Web 2.0 technologies. Baugher shared intimate and personal information on her many social media platforms to project a carefully calculated “celebrity” image, a decidedly “feminine” persona. The narcissistic, flippant and vain persona that Baugher displayed on social media induced endless hatred against her.

Marwick attributes a large part of such hatred to the deeply gendered context of society and the expectation of appropriate behavior on social media. As Marwick elucidated, sex, gender and sexuality are categorically different despite that these terms are considered equivalent in daily language. Sex refers to the biological state that the society regards as binary of “men” and “women,” though the biology of sex is more complicated in nature. Therefore, the conventional concept of sex is conditioned by gender, the social understanding of how sex should be experienced and manifested through preferences, personalities, capabilities, behaviors and so forth. Gender is historical; it is created by media and popular culture; it is educated and reinforced by the various practices by all aspects of society. Gender is a system of class that values that male-gendered things more than the female-gendered things. Sexuality refers to the individual understanding and expression of desire, while it is also projected by society as binary (either heterosexual or homosexual) while in nature, all forms of sexuality exist. Marwick quoted Judith Butler to point out that gender is performative, and the performances adhere to the normative understandings of sex and gender. As Sherry Turkle pointed out, transgressive practices of gender online dramatize our attachment to those gender conventions such practices intend to break.

Marwick brought up the theory of cyberfeminism, arguing that such claims are still based on the essentialist view of gender. For instance, some cyberfeminists held that technologies such as the internet are inherently suited to the female logics, which implies that women are more capable at multitasking and social skills instead of more technical tasks. Marwick suggested that the contemporary gender theorists might offer a more observant reading on how the internet perpetuate the conventional stereotypes of male normativity and female inferiority through encouraging, discouraging, rewarding and punishing certain behaviors. Marwick delved into a more detailed analysis of social media as gendered technology. Shopping sites like Polyvore and Pinterest model their websites in an extremely materialist and consumerist fashion, only because they presume a user model of overtly feminine consumer, who has no interest for topics like politics, sports or activism. Marwick addressed the importance of neither assuming a technology determinist view nor adopting a social constructivist perspective of technology, because technology and the human factor do not necessarily shape one another. The most considerable influence comes from the community that has been reinforcing the technological affordances of a system and the cultural behavior. Marwick put emphasis on a particular note that there are immense contextual differences between different communities of users using the same technology. Marwick emphasized how sexist memes can spread uncontrollably over the internet through user-generated content, such as the “Tits or GTFO” originated from a 4chan message board. Marwick also discussed how gender is experienced differently on and within social media: blogs are understood as more masculine context for more “serious” topics, while even though the technologies are the same, women’s blogs are usually referred to as diaries or journals, implying a more personal and frivolous role. Julia Allison Baugher triggered such vehement rants against her online persona because she shows little consciousness of her use of over-the-top gender markers. The gender image she has been producing does not conform to either the age-appropriate gender expectation or “the ironic feminist reclamation.” She also breaches the line between acceptable information sharing and too much information. Moreover, Baugher’s presentation of herself as a sex object invites devaluation of the public attention she obtained.

While Sex and the City boasts an urban female fantasy marked with a nonstop dating life and a fetishism for luxury, Guo Jingming’s Tiny Times is a desexed version of Sex and the City that specifically suits the Chinese community–specifically, the young female audience group for Guo Jingming’s Tiny Times novels and films. Like Sex and the CityTiny Times glamorizes an urban (NYC / Shanghai) lifestyle of frivolous wealth and eye-candy beaus; yet unlike Sex and the City, Tiny Times carefully leaving the sex life of the characters unmentioned. Since Guo’s films aim at a female teenage demographic, the content is carefully tailored to suit the gender propriety contextualized in the post-millennial China. Guo tactfully generates an image of female adolescence as fantastic in its narrative vacuum as long as the family is rich, recoiling from the political and social environment of contemporary China in reality. Guo made a huge hit at the box office in mainland China. As Marwick illustrated in her essay, the community using the social media technology influences the technical affordances and the cultural behavior involved. Posts of Chinese middle class young women dressed in recognizable luxury brands have appeared on Weibo and Instagram preceding the Tiny Times novels. Guo’s teenage girl melodrama did not create the cultural craze for European luxury brands; in fact, the novels and film adaptions appealed to the middle class appetite for upper class markers. Tiny Times films display an insatiable thirst for European heritage brands such as Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, Dior and the like. Ever since the first Tiny Times film was released, online bulletin forums have been seeking the same accessories and coutures appeared in the film; online shopping sites have been promoting faux luxury items by labelling them as “items used in Tiny Times,” and quite often such labels sell out efficiently. The phenomenon demonstrates that the cultural craze of Tiny Times is intrinsically a fetishism the cultural environment encourages. As the essay has pointed out, gender is performative. The obsessive emphasis on an obnoxiously loud dress code highlights the lacking awareness for women’s role in more “masculine” matters. Beneath the Chinese young female consumer craze for luxury is the absence of true femininity.

Tiny Times poster.


Sex and the City poster.
Frivolous as Sex and the City tv series sometimes can be, the series featuring four middle-age women courageously tackled with social issues including femininity, sexuality, promiscuity, and safe sex.

Senft and Noble’s essay analyzed how the social media mirrors the cultural tension between the White and the colored communities. The primary conclusions states that the new form of racism in American society is one that resides in cultural differences between the Whites and people of color, rather than a heritage of supremacist laws and practices. Senft and Noble indicated that any race is a ideological system socially constructed. Data reflects that in the United States, social network used by people of color is higher than that of the Whites. Black communities have historically been using social network as a powerful way to communicate and organize events. The essay also explores the distinction between the model minority (honorary or approximate Whites) and the underserved minority that often gets neglected when scholars study how the non-white people participate in the digital divide.