Johanna Blakley: Social media and the end of gender
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Johanna Blakley: Social media and the end of gender


I’m going to make an argument today that may seem a little bit crazy: social media and the end of gender. Let me connect the dots. I’m going to argue today that the social media applications that we all know and love, or love to hate, are actually going to help free us from some of the absurd assumptions that we have as a society about gender. I think that social media is actually going to help us dismantle some of the silly and demeaning stereotypes that we see in media and advertising about gender. If you hadn’t noticed, our media climate generally provides a very distorted mirror of our lives and of our gender, and I think that’s going to change. Now most media companies — television, radio, publishing, games, you name it — they use very rigid segmentation methods in order to understand their audiences. It’s old-school demographics. They come up with these very restrictive labels to define us. Now the crazy thing is that media companies believe that if you fall within a certain demographic category then you are predictable in certain ways — you have certain taste, that you like certain things. And so the bizarre result of this is that most of our popular culture is actually based on these presumptions about our demographics. Age demographics: the 18 to 49 demo has had a huge impact on all mass media programming in this country since the 1960s, when the baby boomers were still young. Now they’ve aged out of that demographic, but it’s still the case that powerful ratings companies like Nielson don’t even take into account viewers of television shows over age 54. In our media environment, it’s as if they don’t even exist. Now, if you watch “Mad Men,” like I do — it’s a popular TV show in the States — Dr. Faye Miller does something called psychographics, which first came about in the 1960s, where you create these complex psychological profiles of consumers. But psychographics really haven’t had a huge impact on the media business. It’s really just been basic demographics. So I’m at the Norman Lear Center at USC, and we’ve done a lot of research over the last seven, eight years on demographics and how they affect media and entertainment in this country and abroad. And in the last three years, we’ve been looking specifically at social media to see what has changed, and we’ve discovered some very interesting things. All the people who participate in social media networks belong to the same old demographic categories that media companies and advertisers have used in order to understand them. But those categories mean even less now than they did before, because with online networking tools, it’s much easier for us to escape some of our demographic boxes. We’re able to connect with people quite freely and to redefine ourselves online. And we can lie about our age online, too, pretty easily. We can also connect with people based on our very specific interests. We don’t need a media company to help do this for us. So the traditional media companies, of course, are paying very close attention to these online communities. They know this is the mass audience of the future; they need to figure it out. But they’re having a hard time doing it because they’re still trying to use demographics in order to understand them, because that’s how ad rates are still determined. When they’re monitoring your clickstream — and you know they are — they have a really hard time figuring out your age, your gender and your income. They can make some educated guesses. But they get a lot more information about what you do online, what you like, what interests you. That’s easier for them to find out than who you are. And even though that’s still sort of creepy, there is an upside to having your taste monitored. Suddenly our taste is being respected in a way that it hasn’t been before. It had been presumed before. So when you look online at the way people aggregate, they don’t aggregate around age, gender and income. They aggregate around the things they love, the things that they like, and if you think about it, shared interests and values are a far more powerful aggregator of human beings than demographic categories. I’d much rather know whether you like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” rather than how old you are. That would tell me something more substantial about you. Now there’s something else that we’ve discovered about social media that’s actually quite surprising. It turns out that women are really driving the social media revolution. If you look at the statistics — these are worldwide statistics — in every single age category, women actually outnumber men in their use of social networking technologies. And then if you look at the amount of time that they spend on these sites, they truly dominate the social media space, which is a space that’s having a huge impact on old media. The question is: what sort of impact is this going to have on our culture, and what’s it going to mean for women? If the case is that social media is dominating old media and women are dominating social media, then does that mean that women are going to take over global media? Are we suddenly going to see a lot more female characters in cartoons and in games and on TV shows? Will the next big-budget blockbuster movies actually be chick flicks? Could this be possible, that suddenly our media landscape will become a feminist landscape? Well, I actually don’t think that’s going to be the case. I think that media companies are going to hire a lot more women, because they realize this is important for their business, and I think that women are also going to continue to dominate the social media sphere. But I think women are actually going to be — ironically enough — responsible for driving a stake through the heart of cheesy genre categories like the “chick flick” and all these other genre categories that presume that certain demographic groups like certain things — that Hispanics like certain things, that young people like certain things. This is far too simplistic. The future entertainment media that we’re going to see is going to be very data-driven, and it’s going to be based on the information that we ascertain from taste communities online, where women are really driving the action. So you may be asking, well why is it important that I know what entertains people? Why should I know this? Of course, old media companies and advertisers need to know this. But my argument is that, if you want to understand the global village, it’s probably a good idea that you figure out what they’re passionate about, what amuses them, what they choose to do in their free time. This is a very important thing to know about people. I’ve spent most of my professional life researching media and entertainment and its impact on people’s lives. And I do it not just because it’s fun — though actually, it is really fun — but also because our research has shown over and over again that entertainment and play have a huge impact on people’s lives — for instance, on their political beliefs and on their health. And so, if you have any interest in understanding the world, looking at how people amuse themselves is a really good way to start. So imagine a media atmosphere that isn’t dominated by lame stereotypes about gender and other demographic characteristics. Can you even imagine what that looks like? I can’t wait to find out what it looks like. Thank you so much. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Johanna Blakley: Social media and the end of gender

  1. @smokeyjon2000 What I mean is there are extremists in any group, and extremist feminists are just as bad as any other kind of extremism (well maybe not the terrorist kind :)) but that doesn't mean there aren't differences in the rights & opportunities of men and women. We have it good here in the so called west/civilized countries but that's not the case everywhere. So the fight for equality is not an unrealistic thing and not a bad thing. Treating women like people is not extremism.

  2. @anikinippon What bollocks, what makes you think gender should be ended in the first place? You clearly don't know what a feminist even is.

  3. @Guest655321 No, all feminism is saying is that women are the EQUALS of men. Not the same, not superior, EQUAL. You misrepresent.

  4. @Bumblybee256 I understand that is the premise and it is often positively asserted. All I'm actually saying is that if that is the case, people like Blakely are the ones doing the misrepresenting.

  5. interesting how many people didn't like this and went on a rant about feminism. it seems she's just noting the effect new ways of collecting demographic data will effect media. nothing too radical here yall. it's not even feminism… just "hey more girls are the customer so maybe more girls will be in the business".

    women are responsible for the vast majority of what is sold in a mall so i'm sure this is already true in fashion. she's just applying it to movies and such…

  6. I feel sorry for her. She was simply stating facts (interesting facts, actually– demographics are now obsolete because of social media. The game has changed to segregating the market based on people's likes/dislikes). I guess if you didn't get the gem of info she shared, you'd only see it as 'being Feminist.' You go, woman!

  7. @Bumblybee256 By introducing the argument claiming it seeks to ignore race/age/gender categories and then quickly moving on to talking about the critically important role of women (one of those catogories) over and above any others, and certainly not ignoring categorization as they aim to do.

  8. @Guest655321 No, she's saying that social media is helping to dismantle stereotypes. I don't remember exactly what 'important roles' she was talking about regarding women but if it was to do with breaking down these stereotypes then it could be factual that women do having an important role to play, being a group that has historically been (and still is in many ways) oppressed.

  9. @GameDevMonkey Pleadians don't have anything to do with it, the Mayan elders do though. It's the laws of physics. It's duality. Time is cyclical, that's how they know. And it truly sounds like you need some peace brother. Chill out. Truly.

  10. @marjorielard Actually that was a joke. Although I'd suggest you do a search for " /watch?v=3zBqRLK_ESs " on youtube in regard to the Mayan thing. It's got more to do with fingers and toes than ancient civilizations having an indepth knowledge of "cyclical time". Which is not really a scientific theory. Also why would I chill out when life is so much damned fun?

  11. @Bumblybee256 She aims to break down the stereotypes, yes, but she immediately begins building them back up by ascribing certain functions to women and not just people who are perfectly capaable of having similar, if not identical, effects (which is actually a point that she seems to start making before veering off).

  12. @GameDevMonkey notice Blakley doesn't give any credit to the sophistication of the Mayans about our cyclical path around the galactic system or their extremely high accuracy of the astrological predictions far into the future. He wants to dumb down and dismiss them not because of his inflated ego so much as out of pure fear. Fear that he in all his education has been on a "seek and do not find" goose chase, which is the ego's mantra. Eventually, the ego loses. It will laugh until it dies.

  13. @marjorielard I've never quite gotten this 2012/New Age enlightenment defensive statement that anyone who disagrees with them is doing so out of fear. It gets trotted out every time you start getting into an interesting debate with someone who's into it and just shuts down the debate. "You won't listen because you're just afraid!" Perhaps it's because there isn't much evidence? Perhaps you're afraid to have your positions questioned.

    Anywho, Blakely is cool but this talk isn't great.

  14. Respond to this video… Sorry your last comment got marked spam :S He never claimed the the LHC had any cosmic significance. The problem with studying "MIND", is its largely unverifiable. In this theory anyone can make up anything and say they are just transcending our limited reality view and we've no way of testing their claims. None of them have ever presented any information that can be directly attributed to having come from an expanded or elevated reality view.

  15. @marjorielard I've read Holographic Universe, it has some interesting claims but it's light on evidence. In fact the book mentions several experts who were not convinced by the theory. On the other hand I am pretty convinced of the worlds existence. We can test it, measure it, observe it. Thats more than we can do for the HU theory, or Mr Ickes claims that humans function as some sort of reality generating entities. Please don't take these comments as an offense, if I'm wrong I want to know.

  16. @GameDevMonkey No offense taken 🙂 To be honest I haven't even watched the video above. I know all I need to know from the title and the comments. My ego just had to get in here and say something haha, I'm still working on dismantling it. Like Icke, everyone is on different levels of the path back home. Each new discovery brings you closer to the truth. I respect where each of my brothers are in their journey. I'm not here to claim someone's wrong thus making me right. But I would like to say…

  17. @GameDevMonkey please keep an open mind and watch this fun little video /watch?v=DfPeprQ7oGc and know that some things have to be revealed to you rather than proved by science. Einstein said "the separation between past, present and future is an illusion albeit a very convincing one". Time/Space is not reality unless you're identifying with your body-mind. Suspend judgment and be open to new possibilities. Think outside the box with me and read, "Disappearance of the Universe" by Gary Renard.

  18. @marjorielard I'm well aware of the double slit experiment and the mind bending implications. The observer though is an electronic observer not anything conscious. Beyond that just because quantum physics does WEIRD things doesn't mean we can just jump to conclusions about the nature of the universe. Your assertion that we must study "MIND" is almost useless, we have no way of verifying any findings of "those on the path to enlightenment" it's a load of sudo scientific claims with out any proof

  19. Respond to this video… Your proposed method of expanding our understanding of the universe is flawed. We are incapable of quantifying any findings, corroborating anything we discover with someone else. Even if you're right and you discover the ultimate nature of the universe, it's useless to me and vice versa. You can't test it, measure it or observe it so how could I possibly tell if you're telling me the truth or are simply delusional? You're asking for blind faith.

  20. Respond to this video… You might respond that I should try meditation etc. Except again you can't trust anything you experience in that state. I've done years of Qui Gong and meditation from various different schools of thought and had a fair few weird experiences while doing so. I couldn't reasonably conclude that those experiences were anything other than my imagination unless I could test them against observable reality. I couldn't. I've yet to come across a single person who can can.

  21. Respond to this video…Having an open mind is all well and good. In fact I'm totally open to the ideas that challeneg conventional thought, but there has to be some testable evidence. I suppose if crazy stuff happens at the end of 2012 we could probably consider that evidence, however I'd be looking for something specific that can substantiate peoples claims. Like Nibiru showing up. That'd do quite nicely. But even something small, that couldn't have been known at any other way.

  22. @GameDevMonkey If matter is a meaningless projection of mind then trying to understand the universe with material things is a useless endeavor. You're trying to prove or disprove with the very thing you are studying. That's what the ego wants you to do. Consciousness does not arise from matter. It creates it. So what if the observing tool to focus in on an electron is made of metal and wires or blood and bone. It's all frozen light. Mind is not a product of the body, it's just the opposite.

  23. @GameDevMonkey I dare you to read "Disappearance of the Universe" and try to come away with an unaltered view of "reality". It explains what science is incapable of explaining. You'll never be able to chop up matter in enough ways to understand it. Physicality is an outward projection of an inward condition. Give it a try. It's a fun read. It'll make you laugh and think. And it could change the course of your entire existence. …

  24. @GameDevMonkey …or you can keep chasing reasonable conclusions and dismiss the power of your imagination. Einstein said "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Not because he wanted the rest of us to feel better about our mediocre IQs, but because he knew the role it plays in creation. That's why he said he wanted to "Know the Mind of God." What a funny thing for a human to say who is supposedly so brilliant.

  25. @GameDevMonkey 2012 should be the least of our worries. Debating "reality" for the next 100,000 life times is cause for further inquiry into the mind. Please just read the book will ya? Then get back with me and let me know what you think about it. I think you sir are on the precipice of a major breakthrough in your evolution. Else you wouldn't have dreamed me up. You love to read anyway, what harm could it do? Take the ole leprechaun leap of faith.

  26. @marjorielard I'll happily read the book. I'll happily read any book. Anyway, please consider some methodology for testing your claims. If you happen to come up with one, I suspect it'll be more convincing than a dozen books.

  27. It's funny because social media has only confirmed some stereotypes of the genders as statistically true. I don't really see how that is going to change anything quite honestly.

  28. lol, I bet the prime female demographic who use social media are middle aged mothers who use facebook to stalk their children after they move out of their house.

  29. @anikinippon The masculine status-quo does more harm than feminists.

    If you go out into society
    and find people who are trying to end gender
    you'll see that they ARE feminists.

  30. @roidroid

    You and I are molecular machines. Carbon based molecular machines, which is what 'organic' means (carbon based life forms). You cant get away from the fact that everything you do is defined by the extreme expression of molecules and their relationship with one another, all the way up to the sociological level that influences gender.

  31. @phnixp0t are you sure the desperation isn't on your side – trying as hard as you can to conform to a masculine stereotype?

    there are men who think it's stupid.

  32. @heeh2 So because of hard materialism…. mental gender is entirely standardised with no variation, and women should know their place?

    Your argument would have more merit if we actually had a robust sufficiently sophisticated predictive biochemical model of how the brain works. We don't, and you're taking large logical leaps which are contradicted by the huge variations between people that exist in reality and can't be denied.
    Just read the "gender identity" article.

  33. @roidroid

    "The brain works" is all I need to make the point. A woman's place isn't something we DO know, but that's the entire point. All of these talks concentrate on what we should do, and how it should be, and make the same mistake you claim I'm making. I think you might need to have a look at the "gender identity" article, good sir.

  34. @heeh2 So your point now is that we should be asking ourselves what we actually DO want (which could be influenced by our biology), instead of telling ourselves what we SHOULD want (influenced by contemporary ivory tower ideals etc). Yes?

    I'm still trying to see where the "If you want to have a penis, see a doctor" statement fits in; it seems that you're saying that society's limited gender roles are correct & absolute, and anyone who questions them has a medical condition.

  35. @roidroid

    I have to ask why you say "could be" influenced by our biology…But I think you're starting to catch on.

    I cant believe I'm being treated like the bad guy lmfao….."sex and gender identity are two separate things, quit policing peoples identities"…that one was a gem.

    I'm not policing anyone…..the "gender confused" are policing themselves.

  36. @heeh2 Mental gender is fluid, people give too much weight to the binary, and ultimately we can't even define universal mental differences between genders.

    i said "could be" because of biochemical variation, and in some people mental gender is imperceptible (androgenous) or nonstandard (everything else becides cisgender).

    After ample opportunity you're still yet to explain your point clearly.

  37. I think that she circles around a subject but doesn't even begin to scratch the surface, the whole topic should be about the labels that are put on things/people/art etc. , and this is perpetuated by the defenders of personal taste, for example: the ones who think that "it's their taste" to NOT like anything other than pop culture even though they've never really tried anything else. & the internet maybe somewhat free because it's not exactly controlled but still it's mostly governed by money.

  38. This talk isn't even about gender stereotypes….the main topic here is how social networks are changing how the media will have to try and aim their products without relying on gender or other demographics…..DUH…that's the main theme, not feminism

  39. @parachucha she says the reason why the media is demolishing gender assumptions is because that they cant be so easily tracked online.

  40. @violet101 certainly you're right – she says that; i.e. she points why social media MIGHT help in decreasing gender stereotypes. But then she does not show/say anything significant to prove it. 🙂

  41. @M0US3P0T4TO I guess you're saying that you are a mindless consumer, unless you're saying that you are somehow utterly unique in a world of 6.9999999 billion other mindless consumers. Then again, maybe you're a thinking person who feels unsatisfied by what the media currently offers to you, despite their vast attempts to "mold you". I guess that makes you part of a group that represents an untapped market or a market that is changing. Maybe that's what she's referring to.

  42. @SalviaSeatBelt perhaps you're right. As for the negative response, I somehow doubt that the 289 thumb downers actually listened to the entire 8 minutes… I mean what is there to thumb down here? She is giving a very general perspective of something that she sees going on right now. If you don't agree, do your own research and come up with a rebuttal, or move along.

  43. I thought this was suppose to be about the end of gender… Not how women are going to take over the social media market. What a fail title.

  44. @M0US3P0T4TO I totally agree, advertising firms are way further into analyzing people and habits than most of the well funded socialogical studies. The only difference is that they aren't sharing it, and they are using it to more or less control us. Its statistics – they have the data, they know what works… and they will ALWAYS use it to their advantage.

  45. Great point! Data about shared interest and values can really power media. In my view it can also provide opportunities for other sectors also like politics and governance.

  46. *Facepalm*
    This had nothing to do with gender roles changing, only about entertaining the genders and not even focused on that. It's not that bad a talk aside from the misleading title.

  47. She made some good points but, in her rush to support her agenda (which I also support btw) she glossed over the fact that many demographic stereotypes still have economic relevance. Many women do like 'chick flicks' for example. The dumbed down macho-minded mush generally shown on Spike TV is gleefully swallowed by many men around the country. And my gay friends LOVE Glee, stereotypical or not. I think the 'taste aggregation' model will work alongside the demographic model for years yet.

  48. She sounds like an employee of the Facebook marketing division. I truly hate it when people try to make out that social media is more than what it is, or that it is going to change our lives. If she honestly believes that we are looking at the end of Gender she is kidding herself. If I tried to submit that theory at university I would have been shot down in flames, there is very little evidence to support this theory. Who let her in?

  49. Look for the documentary "the century of the self" for an insight in the mass psychology of advertisement and the consumer society

  50. You can't do any of that without knowing who you are talking to. You are kinda right, but not really. They have to mind what demographic you fit into to have a general idea of who they are talking to, you can't persuade everyone with the same argument.

  51. I think you're missing the point entirely. One of the primary rules of sales is to gather all the information about what your consumer is looking for before you make a suggestion. For example, if you walk into FutureShop wanting to buy a TV, it wouldn't make sense for me to try and sell you a laptop.It's a waste of resources.Likewise it's a waste of resources to advertise based on outdated demographics.Also, "the content is the viewer".Always remember people created ads, not the other way around

  52. Women (or woman Identifying people) LIKE A LOT MORE THAN CHEESY CHICK FLICK BULLSHIT. Yes, some love that, but people are SO MUCH MORE DIVERSE THAN THAAAAAAAAT

  53. "I think that women are actually going to be, ironically enough, responsible for driving a stake through the heart of cheesy sort of genre categories like the chick flick."
    -Johanna Blakley

    Yes because we have seen that before with other media that women the majority consumers like music and television, right? Maybe someone should make this woman read and then watch the 'Twilight Series'

  54. I paused Amon Amarth for this? You won't end "gender," because you won't end people making assumptions about one another, whether asinine or not. Are gender roles strict, to be enforced at all times? No. Are they immutable? No. But, you can't dismantle a fundamental part of the human fucking mind thru Facebook. Go ask someone with GID if they think gender will be phased out by social media. Watch how long they laugh at you before saying "no."

  55. Im confused….what pissed people off so much about this talk? Makes pretty good sense to me. It's all about breaking down demographic assumptions. What on earth am I missing?

  56. I like the idea. So true. Being male doesn't mean I want to watch sports all the time. The one thing I do find a bit silly is the surprise that mostly women use social media and drive the market. Women don't work as much as men and have more time to use it. TV and shopping have been mostly women driven markets for years as well.
    Also, they're using more, but not creating the platforms as much. It will a great day for men when gender ends. Not holding my breath.

  57. i have read through all of the titles of the ted talks vids and clicked on the ones that sound good and 90% of them are just like this one, extremely misleading title

  58. This talk is lacking a psychological and social academic background. Really now, age doesn't matter? Of course it does, we go through certain phases in life that tell us a lot more about a person then what tv series they like. Same is true for gender. I'm missing some actual examples of how attitudes changed.

  59. End of gender? Well, for one, my SEX is the same as it always was. As is my gender. Two different things that as of late has been blurred to be the same. They're not. Uneducated people know no difference and so an agenda rules the words.
    End of gender. Hey ladies we are taking over. Thank the government for passing all those laws that got us to where we are. Now just keep grinding all the males into the ground. If they can't be good slaves, sperm donors and ATM's we don't need them.

  60. More female-driven media = More bitchy/catty Housewives of ________ reality shows. Not everything about feminine taste in entertainment is healthy.

  61. Alright. I'm annoyed. My nephew resides on the floor above me. I'm displeased because he just got outstanding at picking up ladies. He found the Master Attraction website by Jake Ayres (Search in Google). All he's doing now is banging women. He's continually having the ladies back. I can't help but hear it, which is nasty. If only he never found that site. My friend just signed up and got a blowjob a week later. I am jealous!

  62. You know that depressing situation when your best friend (who’s been a loser forever, by the way) gets a beautiful girl to fall for him in a couple of weeks? Yeah, that just happened. I’m aware I should be pleased for him nevertheless I would prefer if it was me. He explained he learned from the Cupid Love System (Search for it in Google). I want to hide in a cave at the moment.

  63. It's the end of gender, but women dominate? xD Fucking contradictory. Stop using the term "demographic" so much and stop fidgeting. It could have been so much better.

  64. she is some what correct in that gender stereotyping is slowly coming to an end and it is all starting with the younger generation in that women have much more power online and this is a good thing in that they are able to have a say in thing and in more resent game women are portrait in a more positive format there are now respected game with female protagonist and female characters in general are now less sexualised the only problem being that to get rid of gender stereotyping the focus need to be on teaching the younger generation that this is incorrect not to try and not to force the media to change because if we star with teaching the younger generation they will adventaly go into the job and bring change from within and not by force.

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