Sex, gender, and hashtags

2 Jun

Is it easier to be a man or a woman on Twitter? I’m sure that question is impossible to answer, since “ease” can mean a whole lot of different things, and most all of us have some sort of gender bias. But I do think the social effect of gender identity on Twitter is different than it is in the world at large. I’ve noticed this specifically when it comes to talking about—or, I guess, tweeting about—sex. In short, it’s a lot more complicated than the classic misogynist dichotomy of “virgins and whores.”

Obviously I can’t speak for every woman on Twitter, but I can reflect on trends I have noticed. I have seen some accounts where women tweet primarily about sex, often in explicit terms. I’ve seen avatars that are cropped to focus just on cleavage. And I’ve seen people complain that these tweeters are shamelessly pandering to horny straight male followers. On some level, maybe that’s true. But then, I know plenty of women who don’t include their vagina in every (or even any!) tweet, and it’s not like they’re immune to undesired male attention.

I’ll be honest: I don’t follow many accounts with primarily sex-based humor, male or female. (If there were a gay dude tweeting about his sex life who was also funny, that might be a different story.) I don’t think there’s anything wrong with tweeting about your desire to get fucked, even if that’s all you want to tweet about, but I’m not that interested unless I’m also laughing. What’s more fascinating to me is the position this forces less sexually explicit female tweeters into. Suddenly, a single tweet about sex or boobs or vagina can get you pigeonholed. It creates this forced second-guessing—am I going to be lumped in with the rest? And being attractive—or, more accurately, using an attractive picture of yourself as your avatar—can become a liability. Perhaps people are questioning how you earned your followers: “Would she have as many if she weren’t so pretty?”

There’s a lose-lose quality to it, which is really frustrating. I feel like Twitter (or, more accurately, one’s followers) can at times force a female tweeter to make a choice she shouldn’t be required to make—are you going to be one of those women? And either way, the passing mention of sex can be misconstrued, with sexual liberation recast as “slutty for attention.”

Not that men on Twitter have it easy all the time either. I don’t think the problem is quite as pronounced—there are, objectively, still a whole lot of cultural benefits to being born with a penis. But I’ve also paid attention to the way male tweeters talk about sex, and it’s almost always in a tone of self-mockery. How many men on Twitter (and I’m referring more to the actual humorists than the Tucker Maxes) boast about their sex lives? How many jokes do they write about having a penis that’s too big? I get that this reflects a popular trend of self-deprecation in comedy, but I think it also has to do with the way male sexuality is perceived online.

Men on the internet are pervy bonermachines. Scratch that—men in general are pervy bonermachines. But the internet brought on a new age of lechery, and with that, the perception that guys go online to get off. We’ve come a long way since the early days (porn has gotten better, too!) but being a dude and talking about sex too much will still get you labeled a creeper. Sometimes I think that’s fair, especially when I see the kind of @-replies my female friends get. Except I know, rationally, it’s still a broad and largely damaging stereotype. A guy who tweets too often about wanting to get laid is desperate, pathetic, and, well, icky. It’s both expected and frowned-upon. So when women do it, it’s for attention, and when men do it, it’s because they’re walking dicks?

There’s a lot of bullshit on either side, and I guess what it comes down to is that it’s not always easy to talk about sex on Twitter. I mean, it’s simple in the sense that most everyone can and does do it, but there are always repercussions in terms of how your friends and followers identify you. If I have a point in all of this, perhaps it’s that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge, but a) duh, and b) one blog post isn’t going to have any effect on human nature. In the meantime, I’ll do my part to be more aware of the labels I apply to other people, and maybe a little less concerned about the labels applied to me. Free to be… you and me. Free to have frank, open sexual discourse, or to just make yuk-yuks about blowjays, because—why not?

Which is to say nothing of how sexual identity plays out on Twitter. I’ll save that for another (hopefully less convoluted) post. I see you shiver with anticipation.

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