The Femininity Of Social Media

by Jason Falls |

saraCathy Colliver, the marketing manager for Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, and I are participants in an executive program on converging media hosted by Bellarmine University. I don’t know Cathy well, but she said something at the first meeting of our course a few weeks ago that struck me as interesting. She said blogging was an inherently feminine activity.

As a follow up, she emailed this:

Concept Linking
I know the link itself is so common now that people don’t even think about it, and that linking keywords or references within articles and blog posts to other blogs/sites is nearly old hat, too. However, the whole process of linking concepts together, and sharing those related ideas with people through the links strikes me as very much in tune with a feminine mode of thought that is traditionally associative. In college I remember talking to a professor about this associative thought process and she likened it to nested folders on computers. I’d go further and say that the way concept links work in blogs is more like vines, sometimes really messy, and sometimes kept pruned back, but each one leads you in a different direction.

Social Networking
Stereotypical though it may be, women do tend to be more social and they like to talk not just to say something, but to share something important or interesting (ideas, dreams, and to be stereotypical again, where they got those shoes.) Although there are many critics of blogging who chalk it up to ego driven dribbles, the best blogs are helmed not by pontificators, but by people who want to talk to other people about interesting ideas. So bloggers are the new culture mavens.

Verbal Modes
And it doesn’t hurt in all of this that women tend to ace verbal exams (and do well in school overall), so they’re very good at parsing ideas. Probably some interesting stats on that, I’m sure.

As you can tell, I’m not the smartest person in our class.

E. E. Maccoby and C.N. Jacklin’s “The Psychology of Sex Differences” (1974) confirms through statistical analysis that boys outperform girls in overall spatial and quantitative abilities, while the later outperform the former in overall verbal ability. Does that ladder up to adulthood and apply 34 years later? I’d bet so.

Yet, the first blogs were run by men. Most of the top blogs in Technorati‘s list are run by men. Nearly 2/3 of the bloggers attending Blogger Social were men and professional blogging tends to be male-dominated. Are the liberal gender roles of the 21st century allowing men to embrace roles not traditionally given to masculinity?

While I believe gender roles to be overly stereotyped in many cultures, including our own, reviewing the entry for femininity in Wikipedia, you’ll see this (Note: Biological references omitted and indicated by elipses. They are unneccessary for the sake of this post.):

The feminine is most often associated with nurturing, life-giving qualities, creativity and an openness to those around. To categorize human characteristics and behaviors into “feminine” or “masculine” is to rely on the current dominant culture of any society, as well as to rely on the essentialist notions of the binary woman/man. Traits that are traditionally considered feminine may be categorized into … psychological and behavioral differences (such as a concern for relationships, empathy, sympathy, better verbal skills) … It is also important to note that femininity is closely related to virtuous or lady-like behavior.

My initial reaction is to say that it’s not just blogging that is feminine in nature, but social media as a whole. Many a social media expert will say boiling social media behavior down to one simple rule would be the Golden one. Doing unto others as you would have done to you is intrinsically aligned with nuturing, life-giving qualities — ones that show concern for relationships, empathy and sympathy. For us to act and react appropriately in social media settings, be it as individuals or brands, the softer approach, one that fosters dialog, community, understanding and openness, is required.

Looking at Janet Saltzman Chafetz’s personal characteristics of masculinity1 – success-oriented, ambitious, aggressive, proud, egotistical; moral, trustworthy; decisive, competitive, uninhibited, adventurous – a striking notion comes into play. Are most of these not similar to terms we would use to describe the behavior of brands and companies violating the community trust by pushing traditional marketing tactics in social media venues? (I resisted removing “moral” and “trustworthy” for effect.)

While generalizations beget ambiguity, if not inaccuracy, is it then not fair to say that appropriate social media behavior is to act with feminine characteristics and that behaving as masculine could spell failure? With apologies to the notion that masculinity can certainly be inclusive of qualities of honor, integrity, honesty and humility, I would think so.

As such, the difference between success and failure in social media is the difference in being virtuous and immoral; empathetic and abrasive; humble and boastful; inclusive and exclusive; flexible and stubborn and of listening and dictating.

Are you a blogger? A social media participant? Do you see these feminine qualities in your approach? Do males in social media have to come to terms with their feminine side to be successful here? Or do gender roles cease to apply in the general openness of the social media model?

Questions abound. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

NOTE: A study entitled, “The Effects of Age and Gender on Blogging,” by Jonathan Schler (Bar-Ilan University), Moshe Koppel and Shlomo Argamon (Illinois Institute of Technology) and James Pennebaker (University of Texas, Austin) was published in 2005 by the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. In it, a sampling of all the bloggers registered on Blogger.com during one day in August of 2004 yielded a demographic profile consisting of 52.2 percent male bloggers and 47.8 percent female (over 71,000 bloggers counted).

1 – Cited on Wikipedia page for “masculinity”; From “Masculine/Feminine Or Human” F. E. Peacock Publishers (1974).

IMAGE:Sara” by lenifuzhed on Flickr.


About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).