Post 8 – Understanding Gender Equality and Proposing Solutions

Lily Partridge

Up until this point I had tried to be immersed and completely focused on the topic of gender equality and feminism as much as possible without really considering options for a design proposal as a response to the issue. Undertaking this brainstorming task with peers who were equally immersed in the same issue made this a lot more interesting and beneficial to my idea development. In the development of the issue statement to direct the brainstorming, I didn’t have a very succinct or specific explanation of my issue, and as a result of being quite broad, at the time my insights and possible solutions were quite bland.

Developing the problem statement by following the Who, What, When, Where, Why method was a really good way to better understand the issue and lead to some potential outcomes.  Repeating and elaborating on this process individually later though, I began to brainstorm some potential directions for tackling the issue in a more tapered and structured way around the topic of how online communities engage with feminism across social media.

Who Does the Problem Affect?

The issue of Gender Equality affects everyone, however not all in the same way or with the same level of pervasiveness. This can be specified further by considering those frequently engaging with social media and online communities, such as Reddit and Facebook. This audience consists predominantly of late teens to late thirty year olds as a rough estimate. Further still, whilst both sexes are affected by gender inequality, there are sub groups that equally affected but, again, have varying levels of action and engagement. These include men’s rights, anti-feminist movements, pro-feminist groups, LGBTIQ advocates, spiritual adherents, and simply the cultures of behaviour that pervade the different online platforms.

What Are the Boundaries of the Problem?

In the simplest of terms, gender inequality affects both men and women, and whilst traditionally this has been an issue tackled by the feminist movement, we are increasingly assessing the impact of excluding men from this discussion, the perpetuation of many double standards, social expectations and stereotypes that are outdated and sexist, and, attributing Feminism to a single sex.

When Does the Problem Occur? When Does it Need to be Fixed?

Gender inequality has been a element of our history from the very beginning. Actually considering the male role in the feminist movement has only arisen over the last few decades, and actions have been taken in an even shorter time frame. As social media has only existed as a key channel of communication for the last 15 years or so, it is only recently that groups have banded together online to share their views on the topic. Due to the nature of social media and the internet, the information and discussion around the problem has all increased tenfold by being able to interact with someone sharing your perspective who lives on the other side of the world. Communities are strengthened in numbers and accessibility and issues arise when opposing views are not able to respectfully debate the issue and work towards mutually agreeable solutions.

As for a deadline for action, there is not an overnight solution. Like racism and homophobia, it has taken generations before a mentality of respect is deeply and intrinsically ingrained in our society enough to speak out against hate. Ideally this is fixed sooner rather than later so we can begin embracing what different sexes have to offer without elitism or sexism.

Where is the problem occurring?

Specifically for social media, the problem is occurring amongst online communities with very subject mentalities towards the issue, and as the problem occurs across a spectrum that includes the impacts on men and women and the oppositions to both stances, each community’s culture of discourse and action makes collaboration and discussion difficult despite the extremely accessible platform for communication. Although for the purposes of this task I was focusing on online communities, the implications of the actions and worldviews formed by actively participating in these groups shapes wider aspects of our society, such as workplace interactions, legislation, social norms and taboos, and cross-cultural collaboration and discussion.

Why is it important that the problem is fixed? What impact does it have on all stakeholders?

In this case I would disagree with the term “fixed”. The status of our current society is a clear outcome of  developing “successfully” as a result of a patriarchal background. We are at a point now of reflection upon the impact of this history and considering how we need to change in order to function successfully in a future civilisation where no one is discriminated based on their sex and people are free to make personal decisions that are not shaped by expectations of their gender. I would say that the term “evolve” is more appropriate, as each generation is being equipped with a mentality to better adapt to the necessity for respect towards both gender that is becoming increasingly prevalent in society today.

5 Possible Outcomes

From the brainstorming process, these are three potential outcomes to address the problem statement.

1. Comparing Language of Women’s and Men’s Rights cultures
This would be better suited to subreddits with established extremist communities with their own opinions towards the other sex. I find these pro-single sex groups really interest and my proposal would be a generative visualisation map of the tone and language used across these different subreddits. For example, men’s rights groups, even when speaking matter-of-factly about women have a culture of speaking in very derogatory language about them within their posts and comments. It is really interesting to juxtapose these discourses and approaches to emphasise the lack of cohesiveness and promote action and discussion.

2. Map engagement levels across groups on the genre equality spectrum
Similarly to the previous proposal, this would be a more data based visualisation based on generative data. I propose a spectrum of gender equality with the single-sex extremists wings at either and and pure gender equality in the centre, similar to a political spectrum. Along this spectrum would be positioned various groups/pages/subreddits (dependent upon the social media platform) as columns of engagement, based on their stance towards equality. As people subscribe to these different groups or the topics ‘trend’, the columns would be affected, such as becoming higher or brighter to visualise where our weight on the issue, as a society, is actually sitting.

3. Juxtaposing messages of sexism or gender inequality
The goal of this proposal is to represent how ingrained in our society gender inequality is. This would work by matching two tweets, for example, with the same phrase relating to gender inequality, such as “I hate it that women…”, or “Why can’t boys…”. By comparing two separate statements it will ideally create small microcosm of the huge spectrum of areas that this issue encapsulates. Further, it would be really interesting to compare statements that are directly related to genders, to highlight the negative phrasing and language that is used against men and women on the internet.

4. Connect people from across the globe with similar perspectives and online interactions
Using the benefits of easy communication, I propose utilising a bot to track user location and posts by analysing key phrases and subscribed groups and using this data, connect the two people via either an existing or a new platform. This would be a really interesting way for individuals to gain a more informed understanding of the issue from a different cultural perspective.

5. Twitter-bot reply to anti-equality tweets
Using a method of data-scraping and automated posting (e.g. bots), sexist tweets that degrade either males or females would be automatically replied to with a message or link that calls our the sexism. Whilst this would definitely be met with a lot of confrontation I think it would be a really interesting way to help people realise that certain things that are said are in fact sexist or promoting gender inequality.

A Proposal

Hybrid Generative System and Data Visualisation: Juxtaposing Gender-specific Tweets

As contemporary society strives to achieve access to universal gender equality across all areas of life, it must be remembered that both males and females are affected by gender discrimination and movements towards fair outcomes. Gender equality ensures respect, acknowledgement and celebration of individuals and groups without prejudice or criticism.

Achieving equality doesn’t mean simply elevating rights of the oppressed to those of the oppressors, but to provide means for both genders to flourish regardless of sex in an equity-driven culture. Currently, movements towards gender equality are mostly focused upon females having the same rights that males currently uphold, and less focused upon identifying where men’s rights should rise to meet women’s. Due to a history of women’s oppression, as a modern society we are much more accepting of harsh public critique of men, an impact of relatively second-wave feminist propaganda, specifically present in online platforms. Contrastingly, criticism of women is viewed as discrimination and sexism, resulting in resentment and the exclusion of men in the equality discussion. This institutionalised and publicised perpetuation of double standards has lead to feminists gaining a negative stigma and reputation for being hypocritical and male-hating, and men feeling that they can not be open about feeling repressed the way that women are praised for.

The purpose of my proposal is to promote public awareness and reflection of the language and attitudes we frequently employ when discussing the other sex. The final design is a hybrid of a generative system and data visualisation, utilising a Twitter-bot to find, compare and display tweets on a screen-based platform. The process for this bot would be to cycle through a series of phrases directed at both females and males separately and compare them side-by-side, which would continuously update every 5-10 seconds to show a new phrase and tweet pair. By visually juxtaposing tweets that use the same phrasing relating to females and males respectively, the aim is to visualise the spectrum of attitudes and opinions that are expressed on this topic. I anticipate that the most evident display in this system would be the ingrained condemnation and hypo-criticism for one or both sexes, which continues to discourage mutually respectful outcomes.

An example of how this would work is shown in the mock up below (source A). In this case the algorithm has searched for the phrase “I love that women/men…” and have displayed two of the corresponding tweets in juxtaposition. As is evident in this example, the attitude and tone in each tweet are completely different, with the first applauding women for creating empowerment from their over-sexualisation, and the second sarcastically calling out men for sexual assault crimes reflected in a patriarchal judicial system. In this one example we can see how the public opinion on this topic is very disparaging of men whilst simultaneously praising the same actions performed by women.

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Source A: Mock up of how the interface would look utilising the phrase “I love that women/men…” highlighting a double standard we uphold. Sourced from Twitter.

In a second example (source B), using the same process but with the phrase “I love that girls/guys…”, a completely different attitude towards specific genders is represented. It is interesting that these two examples praise actions that subvert traditional gender roles and thus provide an insight into how we are really embracing acts towards mutually beneficial gender equality. Further, by cycling through different words to describe males and females, a greater scope in opinions can be reached, as more colloquial tones tend to be used for praising, whilst formal vernacular is often linked with criticism. In this case referring to females and males as girls and guys creates a much more light-hearted tone and yields vastly different results to the previous example.

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Source B: Utilising the phrase “I love that girls/guys…” showing praise for subverted stereotypes. Sourced from Twitter. 

 

As the twitter-bot would not be able to consistently and accurately identify the tone or angles used in either tweet in the pairing, this would reveal some really interesting comparisons. The table (source C) below highlights the combinations of tweets opinions and the result of the juxtaposition.

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Source C: Table depicting what message is conveyed when juxtaposing tweets with different subjectivity.

The idyllic end goal is that as both individuals and wider society we become more aware of how we speak about the opposite sex, particularly on social media where as many as 50% of the users could be offended by a sexist generalisation that is the result of an ignorant interaction with a minority. This is the first step in extending the hand of respect that will take us one step further to embracing gender equality.