Social Media Reinforces Gender Stereotypes



It seems delicate femininity and mighty masculinity still pervades our social consciousness.

A recent study that a group of University of Pennsylvania researchers published found that in the context of Facebook, males and females live up to their stereotypes 92 percent of the time.

The scientists compared personality questionnaires with the language participants used in Facebook statuses. They found that, on average, females are more likely to use emotion or relationship words, and males are more likely to use formal and informational words.

On a more basic level, this implies that women talk about their boyfriends on Facebook, while men talk about politics. Men were also more likely to swear and to use aggressive language, while women were more likely to use “emoticons.”

Essentially, women project an emotional image and men project a strong one  through their behavior on Facebook.

An astute article about the study published on Time website makes a valid point regarding the issue that researchers seem to have completely overlooked.

Facebook “isn’t about expression, it’s about performance,” Charlotte Alter said.

It is called social media, she claims, for the reason that it is an easy forum for non-professional interactions we might otherwise have in real life.

This is a fundamental issue with this study.

This study, furthermore, shows that females and males are having similar interactions on Facebook as they might have at a party.

Females and males, in both situations, project images themselves that they may want people to notice — and to “like.”

The website that collected the data, MyPersonality, admits that using Facebook might be problematic because people might be encouraged to be less serious, “but, they are also in their natural environment.” Whether this affected the outcome cannot be known.

Not only is Facebook a social forum, but it also encourages people to rely on the more superficial aspects of their personalities. This is necessarily different from a real life encounter, in which we can evaluate people more accurately than a list of likes and dislikes and a few status updates.

On the contrary, it is not difficult to find this study grounded in the college experience, especially at Fordham.

I rarely hear my male friends talk about their inner feelings, while I often hear my female friends sharing their feelings in social situations.

However, the question remains: are concepts of stereotypical femininity and masculinity due to our fundamental nature or are they products of our environments and the society in which we live? In other words, do women and men often act in these stereotypical manners because of the way society is shaped and because we think that it is what is expected of us?

In my own experience, there is really little difference based on gender in the desire to share feelings or act aggressively.  By looking closely, it is easy to tell that social pressures, expectations or habits based on environment shape how comfortable a person is sharing his or her real feelings.

Rather than simply being a part of our natures, it is far more likely that pressure to act in accordance with gender norms and personality shapes how we balance emotion and aggression.

In the end, it is difficult to definitively measure how much our online behavior resembles human nature. However, questions regarding our online behavior’s connection to the distinction between our human nature and societal expectations remain up in the air.

Claire Connacher, FCRH ’15, is a history major from Alameda, Calif.


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