Checking Facebook frequently leads to reinforcement of gender ideals
By Michelle Ngo on 01/12/2012 | Read more from Michelle Ngo
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The prevalence of social networking sites, such as Facebook, Myspace, and Google+, is taking prominence in our technologically driven lives. For many people, interaction with these forms of social media may occur more often than with traditional forms of media, such as television, movies, and magazines. Some people check their profiles dozens to hundreds of time per day. Because of this regularity in checking personal social media sites (one’s own and friends’), perception of gender expectations is influenced more frequently and subconsciously. Traditional forms of media have been criticized for orchestrating how people should look, what they should wear, and so on. Social media is not very different. At this time in our lives, we need to focus more on the influences of social media. I argue that Facebook profiles, specifically pictures, can reinforce gender expectations and ideals. My focus is on Facebook because as a college student, I find that Facebook usage among the college demographic is very high.
Sociologists take interest in the process by which people attempt to present themselves in gendered ways. This “impression management” can be seen in how people choose to construct themselves in their Facebook profile. Sharing personal information such as one’s interests, favorite books, television shows, and quotes are a great way of digitizing one’s personality and presenting the self. Hubspot examined hundreds of Facebook profiles and found that women tend to have more descriptions of themselves in their information section. Women also have 55% more posts on their walls than men. This could be attributed to the idea that women are more socially minded than men; communication and expressing oneself is more common and acceptable for women. This raises questions about whether there are gendered differences in how people use and portray themselves in social networking sites.
In my own project, I looked at 50 (25 males and 25 females) of my friends’ Facebook profile pictures to evaluate gender differences. I found that females are more likely to post more attractive photos of themselves (over 80% in my project), such as ones where they are getting ready to go out, or using certain angles to emphasize the face. I do not claim that males are more likely to put up “bad” photos of themselves; instead, they are more willing to put up “silly” pictures, like making a funny face or doing some kind of activity where the focus isn’t on their face, such as fishing or talking to someone else (about 50%). This finding suggests that women may feel more pressure than men to display great photos of themselves because there has always been a huge focus on female appearances. Some women may even base their identity and self-esteem on their looks because of the emphasis that media places on appearances. On the other hand, men may not be so pre-occupied with using their looks to try to attract people.
Earlier this year, a University of Buffalo study found that females who base their self-worth on appearances are more likely to share more pictures online. These results are congruent with my finding that sharing photos are a great way to depict a self, especially for those who value appearances. The abundance of photos that women take and share indicate that visual images are important to them. Because of how pervasive social media is, seeing other people’s Facebook profiles and pictures can influence one’s own conception of gender. Facebook is an opportunity to recreate and present a self that you want to represent to the world. The fact that profiles are mutable shows that the construction of gender and identity is created over and over again.
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