Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.

Social Media Is Dominated by Women, So What?

Steampunk_OutfitsThe social media space is dominated by women, and they are driving the social media revolution. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if you take a look around. Grandma’s on Facebook, Mom’s obsessed with Pinterest, and your Sister hasn’t stopped using Twitter since she got her new smartphone. But what does any of this mean?

Gender Issues Aren’t Passe

In a recent article on the Harvard Business Review blog network, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox shares a recent speaking experience she had:

Speaking to a group of very international young business students in Switzerland, the room was a good balance of men and women, with a slight preponderance of women. I asked the men to raise their hands if they expected to have the lead career in their relationship. Almost all of them put their hands up. I then asked the women how many of them would be ready to be the secondary career to their partners. None of them raised their hands.

Even the “enlightened” Gen Y men and women are not seeing eye-to-eye on gender issues. There are more women than men in colleges and in the workplace, but men still expect to have the leading career in the household. If the number of women dominate the education sector, the business sector, and the social media sector, shouldn’t men reconsider their world view? (And if you don’t agree with the Gen Y neanderthals in Switzerland, then props to you.)

I’m not pointing fingers at just the men here. Women are equally responsible and might not be as progressive on gender as they think.

Gen Y women are more prepared and much more specific about how they would manage work versus family when they project 10 years out. They cited strategies such as using choosing workplaces known for good work-life policies, having kids later to be more stable financially, living close to family members, and managing flex-time effectively (longer weekdays with weekends off). Surprisingly, none of the women mentioned a scenario in which their spouse stayed home with the children.

Gender Impacting Social Media

Steampunk_OutfitI’ve become interested how gender is impacting media in the last couple of weeks. As I highlighted in the top half of this post, science fiction and fantasy reviewers and reviewees are dominated by men, not women. I think the reason for this has to do with Sci-Fi vs. Fantasy and the publishing culture of the magazines themselves. The tendency is to associate with people who are similar to you, so gender would be an aspect of the demographics.

Social media is having a huge impact global media, which has direct impact on culture. If social media is dominated by women, then what are some of the likely outcomes from this new dynamic?

Check this out. It’s not very long, only 8.5 minutes total, but the main point of what I’m getting at starts around the 5 minute mark.

What does this mean for social media? Does this mean that we will see a dynamic shift in mass entertainment?  More chick flicks and less action films?

Gender in Video Games

Paper DollVideo games are an easy area to focus on. I don’t discuss this topic with hate and vitriol in my heart; I wish I could stay in my PJ’s and play video games all day too, but the mortgage and the necessity to keep my toddler in diapers are great job motivators.  It is not without a wistful glance in the rearview mirror that I drive to work each day.

99% of guys and 94% of girls under the age of 18 play video games each week. This means that everyone in the next generation will be playing video games, and that’s the reason why I’m focusing on them.

Anita Sarkeesian got slammed when she launched her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games where she was hoping to fund a web series that would enable her to present a portrayal of female characters within gaming.  “This video project will explore, analyze and deconstruct some of the most common tropes and stereotypes of female characters in games.  The series will highlight the larger recurring patterns and conventions used within the gaming industry rather than just focusing on the worst offenders.”  She did receive much more than the original $6000 funding amount, but the amount of scrutiny from the community as she releases her videos will be intense.  Sarkeesian says:

What’s most ironic about the harassment is that it’s in reaction to a project I haven’t even created yet. I haven’t had the chance to articulate any of my arguments about video game characters yet. It’s very telling that there is this much backlash against the mere idea of this series being made.

It also seems shocking to me that video game research groups don’t often conduct focus testing with female players, even though they are a core part of the gaming market. (94% anyone?) Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann had to step in during focus-testing for The Last of Us in order to get the feedback from female gamers he has specifically requested.

A side topic to is the lack of female video game protagonists.  Samus Aran and Lara Croft always get trotted out as examples that there are female leads.  Great.  Out of all the video games of all time, you can recall two characters who were not dudes.  I think that is a strong point in the necessity for more female characters, not a point for ladies be representin’ as some would have you believe.  Over at Games I Made My Girlfriend Play, there was an interesting post recently about Playing Like a Girl, where a demand is made for more variety in general.  Penny Arcade also had an interesting article where they argued that games with exclusively female don’t sell… and not because players don’t want them.  No, it’s because publishers don’t support them.

So What Have You Been Rambling About?

All is not well and good in the genderverse.  Women are the majority in business, but only a very small percentage of Fortune 1000 CEOs.  Women are the majority in social media, but companies are not adjusting their marketing to this shift.   Women in science fiction are still not getting their due share of exposure.  And women in video games make Conan the Barbarian seem enlightened.

Do I know what the solution is?  Hell no!  If I did, don’t you think I’d have waived the magic wand and made it happen already?  I do see a problem that still needs to be solved.

What do you think should be done?  As always, I would really enjoying hearing from you — the good, the bad, and the rousing argument.

15 comments on “Social Media Is Dominated by Women, So What?

  1. John W. Howell
    April 29, 2013

    Sooner or later those with the education and the heart will rise to the top. Don’t know of any way to push faster but if you think about the evolution of the role of women in business, the last twenty years have been like light speed compared to the previous twenty

    • tracycembor
      April 30, 2013

      Thanks for your comment! I really appreciate it.

      While I do agree that the role of women in business is changing, I disagree that “sooner or later those with the education and heart will rise to the top.” That logic means that the reason there are so few women CEOs is because all other women are lacking these qualities, which I believe to be untrue.

      • John W. Howell
        April 30, 2013

        I agree it is untrue but my comment really is not a generalization about female qualities, but a generalization about the position of CEO and company board bias. Just like most men will not become CEOs, most women will not either. I really believe that times are changing and improvements are happening.

  2. Paula Cappa
    April 29, 2013

    I’m hoping that we will come to a time when these gender issues don’t matter and we can stop all this measuring and comparing. I think you said it right in your headline … “So what?” Honor each other for who we are, not our gender or any other status that generalizes us.

    • tracycembor
      April 30, 2013

      Agreed that stereotyping is never a good practice. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      I want to reply that hope isn’t enough to enact the change you desire. The point of my “so what?” was that we might recognize this is a problem, but is anyone going to do anything about it?

  3. Gus Sanchez
    April 29, 2013

    I’m simply hoping that many years from now, my daughter will look back at all this and ask, “What the hell were you people thinking?”

    I don’t know, my dear, I don’t know. All I know is this shouldn’t be an issue. It isn’t for me.

    • tracycembor
      April 30, 2013

      I think there’s many reasons our daughters will ask us what people were thinking. ;)

      It’s not an issue in my personal life, but I still see it in business and in the marketplace, which are reflections of our culture. Even if I just make people aware that there’s work left to be done, I’ve at least done something. I can’t sit on the sidelines.

  4. ericjbaker
    April 29, 2013

    It’s a matter of supply catching up with demand. if there’s a market, someone will supply it. Hopefully women!

    A note on Gen Y “neanderthals” in Switzerland: The framing of questions is critically important in assessing the resulting answers. In this instance, the questions “Should men have the lead career in a relationship?” and “Do you expect to have a lead career in a relationship?” are hardly the same thing. As of 2013 in the western world, men are statistically more likely to have the lead career in a relationship (assuming “relationship” in this case means a man and a woman living together and sharing expenses). So merely having that expectation does not make a man a sexist. It’s a practical answer based on statistical likelihood.

    We’d have to eliminate the variable that some of those men may be gay, and should ask a follow up question, “Would you accept having the secondary career in a relationship?” Is “lead” determined by income? Hours worked? Sense of satisfaction? Amount of schooling invested? Bear in mind there is a great deal more social pressure on men to be the primary breadwinners as well. Whether that is right or wrong is immaterial to its truth.

    Sorry, but as a proud homo sapiens sapiens, I resent the implication that I am homo neanderthalensis. Call me a specieist if you want, but my forehead is much more vertical, and my molars are far less suited for grinding nuts. Truth be told, though, I can’t make a cave painting for s***.


    I also resent myself for implying that I am part of Gen Y. You guys can keep your slacker reputation and your [whatever was popular in the late ’90s/early zeds. I wasn’t paying attention]!

    • tracycembor
      April 30, 2013

      I *might* have used some inflammatory wordage in my post. ;)

      If that is the way the question was asked in Switzerland, I agree that it is leading and should have been rephrased. However, the point that men and women have different expectations regarding careers still stands. Same-sex couples probably have an advantage that it is easier for them to have the “taking the lead” conversation. They don’t have to fight against overt or subconcious gender role assumptions like other households do.

      Agreed that women are also responsible in this scenario. They treat stay-at-home dads like losers instead of equals facing the same challenges that housewives have.

      I would never dare ask anyone his or her age, but if you were born before 1980, you’re probably exhibiting Gen X sensibilities. Some studies say Gen Y starts at 1976, but in the research I did last year, I didn’t get Gen Y responses until interviewing individuals born on/after 1980. Must have been something in the Saturday morning cartoon programming. :P

      • ericjbaker
        April 30, 2013

        Saturday morning TV programming, and maybe TV shows is general, may just be the most brilliant way to identify generational change I’ve heard yet. I’m probably what would be considered very late Gen X, coming of age in the late 1980s. I think flannel shirts and grunge music are the worst things ever.

  5. lukebbtt
    April 30, 2013

    A lot of video games now make you build your character before you start, suggesting that the industry has got a lot more gender neutral recently.

    • tracycembor
      April 30, 2013

      More variety and customization options are great, I agree. I can see your point that video game developers are becoming more gender neutral, but the publishers and marketers are not. That’s what I believe needs to change, both to reach a neglected gamer demographic as well as to make companies more profitable.

  6. Kira Lyn Blue
    April 30, 2013

    I hadn’t really thought about it before, but the lack of female protagonists is probably a large reason I primarily play MMOs, where I can create a female character and go out and kick butt. The social aspect of MMOs is also a large factor, though.

    There are quite a few interesting issues that you could springboard onto from here. Like say, how common it is for guys to play female characters in RPGs but I have yet to see a girl playing a male character. Interesting…

  7. Przemek Kucia
    April 30, 2013

    Oh my, I would really love to discuss that, but I’m afraid this is a political science pandora’s box for me – If I would like to make my comment I should write a whole book of analysis and probable predictions of general or maybe even statistical precision. Otherwise it will be poorly backed opinion open to any kind of misunderstanding and generalization rather than valid argument ;)

    That being said I think that “the shift” won’t come nowhere in the near future – at least until next generation of kids raised by those women from Swiss example in “healthy understanding” of what differs girls and boys. And I think scientific literacy and my beloved intellectual discipline are qualities needed for this “shift” to take place. As we all know it, those are pretty steep conditions.

  8. Janna G. Noelle
    May 1, 2013

    Really good post! I relish the breakdown of conventional media companies and their rigid labels and boxes. Although even when they’re gone, I suspect it will be some time still (as in, a generation or two) before these ideas we’ve been indoctrinated with disappear.

    That group of Swiss students is a prime example: even though women are dominating colleges and the workplace, most of the male students still expect to have the leading career in their relationships (the majority of which would likely be heterosexual relationships). Talk about being out of step with reality, and drawing a totally unlikely conclusion from existing data.

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Monday through Friday I will be posting about writing as business and craft, the science of creativity, all things steampunk, and progress on The Dreamless City.

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About the Author

Tracy Cembor attempts to juggle a preschooler and a baby, a full-time job, random geekery, and the writing life. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a steampunk urban fantasy novel. Come join the adventure.
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