Battle of the Sexes: Social Media
Last January, the news broke that the gender of contributors to Wikipedia was split 85% to 15% between men and women, respectively. In the article that prompted my blog post, the reporter cited the Op-Ed Project as identifying the site as a “public thought-leadership forum,” comparing it to conversational spaces like the U.S. Congress.
This evokes the all-too-common gender gap narrative of “Males dominate. What else is new?” However, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, there is one area of cyberspace where women dominate: social networks. More specifically, the study describes young women (ages 18 to 29) as “the power users.” According to the study, 89% of that cohort uses social networks – and 69% uses one every day.
Even though my gut reaction is to start printing “power user” bumper-stickers to relish my new status, I wonder: is the discrepancy simply a reflection of business as usual? It seems to reflect the pervasive notion that men should lead when it comes to serious matters, but women have control over social life. Will men continue to dominate the “thought-leadership” that advances our society while women focus more on building and preserving relationships?
It may be that (pseudo-)intellectual spaces like Wikipedia, where the game is delivering the facts (without emotion), seem at first glance to appeal to the stereotypical male. On the other hand, social networks, where users are focused on social interactions and the emotions that come with them, might seem like a place where women will participate more than men. For example, women are more likely to “share” and provide responses to other users’ posts, even though women and men are likely to spend around the same amount of time online, says Media Badger. It seems that Jane is still out-chatting Joe – even online.
If Facebook were middle school, girls would form groups to represent their cliques and create events to invite their classmates to the latest “boy-girl” party, while boys might post status updates with links to an article from The Daily Beast. Is this the future? Will pre-teens now be comparing their Facebook friend counts (or even Klout scores!) to get a sense of their popularity? The many recent cases of online bullying demonstrate that social interactions (the good and the bad) do happen online, as they do in real life. It is interesting to think about whether all social activities will (or could) move online and what gender implications this might have.
We’ll have to wait and see the next study to learn whether the social networking gender gap shifts, but, for now, I’m enjoying my “power user” status.