Casual sexism and social media

The standardisation of social media as a tool for young people to communicate and share their experiences has faced a lot of criticism. We want teenagers off their smart-phones and romanticise simpler childhoods spent playing outdoors. Yet social media can be a great source for good. It allows people to connect long distance and to find people with similar interests. Mostly it allows us to share our experiences and interests, good or bad. The bad tending to be expressions of prejudice.

I'm not a feminist I shave my legs

I’m not a feminist I shave my legs’, original illustration by author 

Society is doing a great job of eliminating sexism and whilst we’ve still got a long way to go we currently have a better gender balance than ever before. Social media is a great tool for political engagement, particularly with teenagers and young people. It is way to share positive messages and inspiring stories that educate. Feminist content from Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post receive thousands of likes and shares from people of all generations, nationalities and genders. However on the other side there is still sexist content going viral.

The focus of social media as an outlet tool for young people is at once freeing and a little horrifying. With 71% of teens aged 13 to 17 on Facebook and 52% on Instagram, it is clear that we are all likely to be heavily influenced by our interactions on them. Social media, particularly for young people comes down to sharing. Sharing your experiences within your own network in a controlled manner. By simply liking or sharing a post you can show your political views to the world, your world of followers that is. Whilst popular news sites and viral sites such as Buzzfeed and Upworthy that post mostly amusing or politically positive content have great shareability, so do some uglier messages.

UNILAD and The Lad Bible, websites that are based around the idea of ‘Lad culture’ are hugely popular, with each Facebook page having six and ten million likes respectively. Originally containing content that included scantily dressed women for sexual gratification, they have recently tried to overhaul their image to something a little more ‘respectable’. In a recent article, Buzzfeed reported that The Lad Bible is now ‘trying to shake off its image as a boobs and banter site, full of sexist jokes and soft porn’. And whilst the pages main posts consist of amusing viral content, its previous laddish connotations have seemed to infect the comment culture surrounding them.

Lad culture is something that has come to light in the past year. Whilst always having existed in some form or another, the current trend is for a grand show of traditional masculinity, influenced by American fraternities. At it’s most extreme a source of homophobia and misogyny, at it’s mildest a representation of ‘brotherhood’ trying to hold on to traditional macho ideals through so-called ‘banter’. Dapper Laugh’s fall from grace began with a petition to stop him speaking at Cardiff university and ended with the removal of his show from ITV. The comedian shot to fame making Vines of pranks and ‘pick-up artistry’ but caused concern over his promotion of rape culture. Last October there was also a huge controversy surrounding the LSE Rugby society after a pamphlet was circulated that contained misogynistic and homophobic content. It is a clear sign of how the general public, particularly the student body are no longer standing for sexist humour. 

Britain First are also masters shareability, engaging beguiled animal lovers to share animal rights posts from the infamously nationalist group, without thinking of their political agenda. In fact, a lot of the most disturbing viral posts are often a mix of Islamaphobia and sexism. An American post suggesting, supposedly in humour, that Muslim women should go naked to show that they were not suicide bombers went viral on Facebook last year. Though this one of the most despicable examples, images objectifying women with a humorous slant are often shared. One of the most recent examples that popped up on my feed was an image showing a woman dressed in underwear making breakfast comparing her to the stimulation of caffeine. With these examples and many more like them, it is clear that young people on social media are regularly exposed to sexism. It only takes one person with an ignorant sense of humour to share content with a harmful message.

The internet provides anonymity, and whilst your Facebook profile may have your name and face plastered all over it there is still a sense of security that comes with voicing your opinion from a screen. Whilst social media doesn’t perpetuate casual sexism, it does provide and outlet on which there seem to be fewer consequences for your actions. Due to the immediate nature of online, there isn’t much thought that goes into the click of the ‘share button’.

The rise of the Meninist movement is also a recent social media based phenomenon. Calling ‘down with feminism’, the moment focuses on gaining rights for men whom they believe have been repressed by feminist ideals. Claiming to seek equality, the movement started with relatively comedic tweets and memes but has gone so far as to mimic anti-rape posters and tweet abuse at feminists. The Meninist Twitter account has over 929k followers and tweets sexist comments such as ‘all the girls with a cups need to stop wasting money on bras and just buy some tank tops like the rest of us.’ Recently they released their own t-shirts with many women sending in pictures of themselves wearing the top featuring ‘#Meninist’.

However, it is not all negative. More and more young people are attempting to combat sexism and feel comfortable calling themselves feminists. Earlier this year Emma Watson’s He For She speech quickly went viral with people of all genders sharing the video, related articles and memes. The speech was also backed by many male celebrities. The endorsement of celebrities often capture the attention of a wider audience and make for stronger response in our fame obsessed society. These contributions seem to help de-stigmatise feminism, particularly in the eyes of young people.

The worrying issue of causal sexism on social media is the way in which it normalises misogyny. By no means the only distressing issue on the Internet, the displays of sexism masquerading as humour and lad culture may seem rather harmless. Yet when young people are convinced that these views are ok, there is a risk that they will carry them over to their daily lives.

To add some voices to the issue I had some sixteen and eighteen year old girls discuss the issues surrounding sexism and social media.

What Is Feminism?

‘I don’t think it’s just for women, it’s a movement to abolish inequality, it’s for everyone.’

‘Everybody interprets feminism differently and there are so many different classifications of feminism now.’

‘I think people also stereotype feminists, they think of radical feminists and have negative associations.’

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

‘I don’t know enough about the movement to consider myself a feminist, I think it would be insulting to other feminists to call myself one’

‘I think if you believe in equal rights between men and women than you are a feminist, why not identify yourself as one? I don’t think you have to be active, to join a club or protest, it is more to with mind-set, it’s an ideology.’

‘The word feminist has been so tainted over the years that people may judge you for saying that you are one.’

What are some of the negative connotations that come to mind when you think of the word feminism?

‘I think of angry women telling me not to have sex or wear short skirts.’

‘With social media people can easily express their views and those with an extreme view seem more likely to share it. For instance you have feminists on Tumblr who just bad mouth men and seem to give feminism a bad name.’

‘You’re always going to have groups that give an ideology a bad name and they tend to be the loudest.’

‘You don’t hear much positivity about feminism in the media, the only thing I’ve seen is the Emma Watson He for She speech’

‘I think the word feminism has too much negative history, it is difficult to change people’s perceptions of that word. Maybe they should come up with a new label.’

In your opinion what view do your peers hold on feminism?

‘My friends feel like they’re feminists, they feel strongly about it yet we don’t discuss our views on it often.’

‘In my Psychology class we were asked who considered themselves a feminist and only four people put their hands up. However, when asked who believed in equal rights for men and women, everyone put their hands up. There were so many people who didn’t want define themselves as feminists as they didn’t want to be seen as extreme. I just think that there’s no education on it.’

How Important is feminism?

‘I think it’s very important, if we didn’t have feminism where would be now? We have come so far because of feminism and I think we will always need it to challenge inequalities.’

‘I think we are lucky because our society is quite forward thinking and has developed and I think we can pass this on to other cultures to help them achieve equality.’

What do you think of groups such as The Lad Bible and UNILAD?

‘I love The Lad Bible, I think they’re hilarious. They take the piss out of things and share funny videos.’

‘It started out being about men being laddish but now it’s reclaimed the term as something that can be applied to men and women as a commendation for being funny.’

‘Though they have moved on, there is still content that is misogynistic, like Dapper Laughs. He started out funny but then became overly sexual and started making rape jokes, it’s just not ok.’

‘Men seem to think you should be complimented by cat-calls, but they’re so aggressive about it. The first time we went clubbing we walked in and instantly felt men look at us and it made me fell so uncomfortable that there was nothing I could do about it.’

‘I think that’s the problem with (lad culture inspired) pages and Dapper Laughs, it can make that sort of abuse funny, it normalises it. Men see this and they copy it because they think it’s ok.’

Do your friends on social media ever share anything that you find offensive or sexist?

‘There are girls who will share posts that are so derogatory to women and I can’t believe they share it as it can’t be what they really think.’

‘People often share sexist posts about what women should be doing in bed and how men should behave in a relationship and it sets a double standard. Like women should be in the kitchen, guys should pay on a date, it’s so old fashioned’

‘I think when girls see these sexist posts and feel pressured to share them, they’re learning and accepting those values.’

‘There’s so much slut shaming on social media. I think as girls we do that a lot, we do it to each other more than men. We enable men to talk to women this way by doing it to each other. We call other girls who have slept with lots of people ‘sluts’ but don’t criticise men for doing the same.’

Do you use social media to make your political views known?

‘I think it’s hard to share your views on Facebook, if there’s something I felt passionate about I would, but I mainly use it for talking to friends. There’s so much going on, on Facebook I feel as though it would get lost and no one would pay attention to my views.’

‘I like sharing my views, even if my granddad’s the only who will look at it and comment on the posts. I feel validated by sharing things that I find and interesting and that I think matter.’

How important do you think social media is in achieving equality?

‘I think it’s really important because it is the way young people communicate and is one of the only ways we learn about issues such as the feminist cause.’

‘I don’t watch TV, something like the Emma Watson video, I would have never seen had someone not shared it in my social network. The ability of videos and posts to go viral is how we find out about them.’

‘The way I hear about political issues is by watching something such as Russell Brand’s The Trews. And if something sparks my interest I then might look it up but I don’t watch or read the news to get information.’

‘I think one of the problems is people think that social media is not the place to share your political views. I’d be scared to share certain views considered extreme, and when I see feminist posts I agree with I don’t feel the need to share it.’

In a society that is ever-progressing when it comes to fighting in equality, it seems that casual sexism on social media goes unnoticed. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow us to choose our own social network and therefore create our own news feeds. If we are offended by, or dislike content posted we have the option to unfollow accounts and even report the post. But doing so is an active process. As a teenager today with a vast amount of your social interactions occurring online, you are unlikely to want to delete a friend just for sharing something you don’t agree with. When your social status depends on how many likes and followers you have it is a natural instinct to not want to risk alienation. Maybe it is time we start teaching young people more about their right to equality and support them in navigating the vast exposure that comes with social media and living in an online world.


Do you think there is a problem with casual sexism online? Let me know in the comments of @DarcieTF.


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