Online or not. Gender still matters.

“Up for a romp? I want to hump your ladylumps, and have my pump stomp your plump dumper.”

“You got elegant skin, How are you?”

“I am desperate for sex and have something interesting to say about your choice of shoes.”

The following comments were sent by men to women on OK Cupid, a popular dating website. These messages range from humors to offensive, but all in hopes of pursuing a romantic relationship. While they’re mostly absurd and easy to dismiss, these messages highlight the gender issues surrounding social networking sites.  They’re reminders of the objectification women face online despite the great hopes that Web 2.0 would usher in equality. On the contrary, “the Internet is riddled with the same inequalities and gender relations as the real world” ( http://bit.ly/b3NuZ) ).

Gender is an issue even on websites geared toward professional relationships and development. This recent article in Forbes suggests that sexual harassment has become the norm on LinkedIn: (http://onforb.es/WtFQ32 ). A number of women have complained about sexually explicit messages. For better or worse, gender roles online mirror those offline.

Some feminist in the 90’s predicted an end to gender disparities online, but the example above proves that isn’t the case. Many social networking sites require users to specify their sex. And often times, there’s no option other than male or female.  Again, does equality online trail real life or does the web influence life offline? Chicken or Egg?

As of this writing, men make up the majority of Internet users. However, most statistics on social networking sites say something different. Women are dominant making up close to 55% of all users. They are also more active. They also use social media differently than men. An article in International Business Times says, “Women tend to use the sites to compare themselves with others online, whereas men tend to use the sites to look at profiles and search for more friends, concluded a study” (http://bit.ly/YaGZGI). Women make up 72% of total users on Pinterest. Conversely, 74% of Reddit users are male. Interestingly, Pintrest ask users to identify their sex, giving them the options of Male, Female and Unspecified, whereas Reddit does not require gender at all. Why are certain social media sites are dominated by a particular sex?

ChicksRule_JPEG_2

It might also be useful to study how people of different genders interact with each other online. For example, the White middle-class vacated Myspace for Facebook when it became popular with minorities and the less educated. Perhaps, men are drawn to websites that women frequent? And where do those outside of heteronormativty go? It seems that Gay men, for example, have their own social networking sites: http://www.downelink.com/ and http://www.gethornet.com/ .

Some would argue that in certain spaces online, like multiplayer online roleplaying games, gender is irrelevant. Ideally, in World of Warcraft, nobody knows your sex unless you tell them. In my opinion, the need for such spaces only reminds us of gender relations offline.  If gender matters in the real world, it matters on the web.

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