You’re probably wondering who I am. I’m a Year 12 student studying the influences of language on gender in my Extension English class. I never really considered the different aspects of gender until studying the topic, and, honestly, my perspective of the world has had a dramatic change.
It’s no secret that the strange pressure-cooker of mass media has an effect on the way that gender roles and norms are shaped. After all, media has been informing our understanding of ourselves for as long as there has been a media to inform in the first place. From Vogue to the Virgin Mary, mass culture has things to say about the appropriate way to look and act.
Similar expressions of gender exist on social media, too. Crank up Instagram, and a quick minute stalking multiple accounts, all who are owned by young adults of the world, demonstrate the truth of my statement. If Instagram is to be believed, all teenage girls are long legged, tanned, thigh-gapped, bikini-bridged vegans, while teenage boys are blessed with buns and beards that make your legs tremble. I’m definitely not saying that these looks are bad, but the fact that these images have now been labelled as a ‘typical’ teenager has made me concerned.
But is this important, if the norms in social media are the same as those in mass media more broadly? I think so, if only because there is something special about social media. Although gender norms are a negative, if unavoidable, aspect of mass culture, it has always been imposed by organisations; it is Vogue telling us how to look. But with social media it is different, because it is no longer someone else telling us how to look; instead, we are telling us how to look. For the first time, we have the freedom to express our own standards of beauty, and yet we’re just playing the same old tune!
Why are eating chocolate and meat considered sins? When did not having a beard make you a inadequate man? I may be a teenager immersed in this culture, but I certainly believe that teenagers shouldn’t feel pressured to turn into these stereotypes so their Instagram accounts get a trillion followers. I believe you should be whomever you want to be, not restricted by the gender expectations imposed by social media.