Females and Youtube: An Academic Study

Youtube’s Most Viewed Videos: Where the Girls Aren’t

For an assignment to find and summarize a recent (less than year old) academic article that studied concepts related to the online video sharing service called Youtube, I was surprised to find that there were far fewer such academic articles available than I suspected. Academic research on the medium exists, but the research is largely dated–ranging heavily in the 2005-2009 year range.  Finding a recent article proved to be a bit of a challenge.

I had hoped I could find academic research pertaining to Youtube and my chosen ‘beat blog’ topic of gay men and stereotyping. Although there was some research available in this arena, it was far older than the assignment called for. Then I found the above linked article written by Dr. Mary Tucker-McLaughlin, a professor at East Carolina University.  Although not related to my ‘beat blog’ topic directly, the author endeavored to survey the amount of female representation and female-originated content shared on Youtube.  This type of gender representation study is at least related  to how images of different societal sub-groups are treated or represented in media, and I found the results of the study to be intriguing.

Based on her survey of academic and industry research, Tucker-McLaughlin alluded to established findings that women are less likely to be a part of the technological revolution.  Citing statistics from the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT), the author explains that in 2009, only 25 percent of information technology (IT) positions were held by women. Of that number, only two percent of these female IT professionals were African American.  Further, the author cited research which highlighted less of a tendency for women to be as active in the creation of online digital content. Specifically, Tucker-McLaughlin quoted authors Thornham and McFarlane when they alleged that females “are actively  excluding themselves from (technological) activities using gendered discourses of sociability and incompetence.”

To discern whether these technological trends for females applied to Youtube activity, Tucker-McLaughlin conducted a content analysis of Youtube videos listed in what she called the ‘most-viewed’ listing on the site’s homepage. (The site’s homepage now lists these videos under the title “Popular.”)  The content analysis was conducted over a two-week period in 2010 and analyzed content of 67 videos posted on the site. In her research, the author focused on what gender the videos’ content focused on and the gender of the primary actor(s) in each video.  Her findings summed up three general categories wherein the videos in the content analysis could be grouped:

  • Escapism–content related to favorite pasttimes such as sports, music and non-offensive comedy. This category composed 55% of the total videos surveyed for the research. A full 65% of the videos in this category featured male gender representation, male actors and “male nuances.” Of the remaining videos which were female-gender-oriented, the author found that much of the content pertained to hair and makeup.
  • Male entertainment at the expense of others–content primarily comprised of misogynistic discourse and violence. This category comprised 25% of the total videos analyzed for the study.  Content in these videos was discerned to be obscene and even violent or derogatory toward women, containing allusions to molestation or offensive reference to female genitalia and sexual objectification of females.
  • Information gathering–videos gathered from news sites or which were news-related. These videos largely were gender neutral. This category composed 14% of the total videos surveyed.

Tucker-McLaughlin’s conclusions about her findings in her content analysis of Youtube videos seem to verify that gender plays a role in technology, suggesting that women’s issues are less likely to be a part of what technology solves and that technological advancements are less likely to include what women conceive due to their less-frequent involvement as compared to males. With specific reference to Youtube, her findings suggested that Youtube exposes women to misogynistic content and that women are less likely to produce their own Youtube content.  According to the author, women are under-represented or inappropriately represented in this setting and alternative voices are a lesser part of the Youtube discourse. Her advice for reaction is that if women do not participate more, this misrepresentation and/or lack thereof will only be allowed to continue.

(For my part, this research seems weak and barely in-depth enough to substantially corroborate any prior academic findings. I was actually quite surprised to find this published in an academic journal. Based on my experience with academic research thus far in graduate school and as copy editor at Newspaper Research Journal, it appears that publishable work typically requires more exhaustive research and a more firm and involved literature review.  The unconventional nature of this study is as much what grabbed my attention about it as was its content.)

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4 thoughts on “Females and Youtube: An Academic Study

  1. Carrie Brown says:

    Interesting findings. Tho I would hesitate to accept the author’s contention that you can draw broad conclusions about women and “technology” from a study like this…I think the findings more specifically apply to YouTube and online video, which is, to me, a different context than “technology.” What journal was it in – did I miss that? I might have.

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