Face It: the Impact of Gender on Social Media Images

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Communication Quarterly Vol. 60, No. 5, November–December 2012, pp. 588–607

Face it: The Impact of Gender on Social Media Images
Jessica Rose, Susan Mackey-Kallis, Len Shyles, Kelly Barry, Danielle Biagini, Colleen Hart, & Lauren Jack

Social websites like Facebook enable users to upload self-created digital images; it is therefore of interest to see how gender is performed in this domain. A panel used a literature review of pictorial features associated with gender traits, and a sample of Facebook pictures to assess gender stereotypes present in Facebook images. Traits emerging in greater prominence in pictures of males included active, dominant, and independent. Those prominent with female users included attractive and dependent. These findings generally conform to gender stereotypes found in prior research and extend the research regarding stereotypical gender traits displayed in professional media depictions to self-selected social media displays. They also extend the research on gender differences in impression management generally, in both interpersonal communication and social media, to include gender-specific traits that are part of young mens and women’s impression management. Keywords: Facebook; Gender Display; Impression Management; Role Theory; Social Media

Jessica Rose (B.A., Villanova University, 2011) is a marketing and communications professional in the Greater Philadelphia Area. Susan Mackey-Kallis (Ph.D., Penn State University, 1986) is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Villanova University. Len Shyles (Ph.D., Ohio State University, 1981) is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Villanova University. Kelly Barry (B.A., Villanova University, 2011) is a marketing and communications professional in the Greater New York area. Danielle Biagini (B.A., Villanova University, 2011) is a marketing and communications professional in the Greater San Diego area. Colleen Hart (B.A., Villanova University, 2011) is a student at the University of North Carolina School of Law. Lauren Jack (B.A., Villanova University, 2011) is a marketing and communications professional in the Greater New York area. The authors would like to thank Dr. Jesse Frey of the Mathematics Department of Villanova University for his help in creating the tables presented in this article. Correspondence: Susan Mackey-Kallis, Department of Communication, 800 E. Lancaster Avenue, Villanova, PA 19085; E-mail: susan.mackey-kallis@villanova.edu ISSN 0146-3373 print/1746-4102 online # 2012 Eastern Communication Association DOI: 10.1080/01463373.2012.725005

Communication Quarterly

589

The centrality of gender embodiment has animated recent debates in media studies about the relationship among gender representations in media, gendered bodies in virtual space, and gender as performance. With the emergence of social media websites, such as Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace, users have an online platform that allows them to communicate widely, to virtually manage others’ impressions of them, and to even express gendered identities in cyberspace. With over 500 million active users as of 2011 (http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics), Facebook dominates the social media market. Offering a highly interactive platform, Facebook users can leave comments on their friends’ walls, provide status updates and photos, and can even access one another wirelessly through Facebook Mobile. As of 2010, users spent over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/ press/info.php?statistics), often updating their Facebook profiles to add relationships to their friends lists. One well-known feature of Facebook is the user’s profile picture, displayed in the upper left-hand corner of each user’s homepage. Intended to be the first thing seen, it is arguably one of the most important features of the user’s Facebook page. The profile picture offers friends, acquaintances and even potential...
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