Enforcing Gender Roles in 140 Characters or Less

Gender roles within our society are often emphasized and exploited by companies and advertisements in order to compartmentalize consumerism and make it easier for audiences to know what products they should be buying and how they should be consuming those products. In class we’ve specifically looked at gendered products and how they reflect our society’s views and beliefs on gender roles, relationships, and sexuality. However, I went to social media, a place where words can be separated from a face, so that I can see how exactly hegemonic ideologies about gender were perpetuated by regular people who express their views through their Twitter accounts, and more specifically how they directly talk to their audience and contextually interpellate to their audience based on their audience’s assumed gender and sexuality.

Interpellation is the construction of subjects within ideology of a social and political institution that shapes the nature of an individual’s identity by “hailing” them in social interactions. As somebody who visits Twitter every day and has scrolled through hundreds, maybe even thousands, of tweets a day for over four years now, I always recognized the relationship “advice” and relationship “theories” that would popularly circulate my Twitter feed and I could always recognize, even without identifying the name or picture of the person who tweeted it, whether it was 1) advice or words for a male or female audience, 2) whether these ideas are being relayed by a male or female, and 3) that most of these tweets, whether directed at males or females, generally assumed that the audience was heterosexual. Some of the tweets I use aren’t cherry picked examples, they’re a dime a dozen on Twitter. And they’re not just ideas from random people, but from the retweets and favorites, these thoughts are generally shared by the Twitter community.


The first two tweets I’ve selected are directed at boys about how they should respond and appreciate certain aspects and qualities that their girlfriends may possess. The first thing that these two ideas each do is that they establish a certain “normalcy” and standardization of how a girl is supposed to act and behave within a relationship with a man. In the first tweet, the author claims that any girl who isn’t annoying to the man who is committed to her isn’t doing the role of being a girlfriend correctly. Messner describes the “bitch” as “Wives, girlfriends, or other women to whom men are emotionally committed…when they do appear, it is primarily as emotional or sexual blackmailers who threaten to undermine individual men’s freedom” which is perpetuated by this tweet where the author buys into this gender role and believes in order for a woman to be doing her role as a girlfriend correctly she must be annoying and a “bitch” (Messner, 1887). The second tweet has a similar sentiment, where the author believes that the proper behavior of a girlfriend is to sometimes be maternal. Maternal, not so much in the sense of being nurturing and supportive, but rather as somebody who oversees everything the boyfriend does and has to approve of all decisions made by the boyfriend. This line of thinking is similar to that of the “bitch” that Messner describes who exists to undermine the man’s sexual freedom. These two tweets address me, as a straight male, and tell me what kind of qualities I should value when committing to a relationship, but even though they are directed at males, they suggest to women how they should behave in a gender norm conforming relationship.


The first two tweets I discussed were about how women should behave according to hegemonic femininity, however these two tweets address how men should behave within the context of a relationship with women. The first tweet is a joke, however its construction proves a few points about what people, specifically this author who is a woman, have accepted about male roles in relationships and how they are allowed to treat their girlfriends. The author suggests that the reason men don’t respond to their girlfriend, which can be traced back to Messner’s theory of the girlfriend being a “bitch” for bothering her boyfriend, is because they are busy playing the video game NBA 2K17. The author puts the spin on it that she should be this video game for Halloween because, like the video game, she will be the reason that the reader’s boyfriend would be too preoccupied to answer his phone. This interpellates and hails any straight girl because even though the reader knows that this author won’t actually have sex with her boyfriend, this interaction makes the reader feel like she is on the receiving end of this threat. What this statement also does is accept that males are allowed to be negligent of their girlfriends and that men would rather be playing video games and be unfaithful than respond to the woman they’re committed to.

The other tweet reads “when your homies see you talking to your ex” and a captioned screen-cap from the television show The Boondock Saints is attached that reads “What woman, sir? This is a ho.” This kind of commentary, which is directed at men, tells its audience a few things about masculinity. Firstly, it hails me as a guy who has other guy friends who are looking out for each other’s best interests. Secondly, it establishes the normalcy of this kind of comradery which exists for men to protect each other from the “ho” which is the former girlfriend. The author suggests that any woman who is for whatever reason no longer affiliated with her ex-boyfriend is a villain and is a “ho”, otherwise a whore, for no longer being in the life of the male and instead by being single she is now the whore, or the object of other men’s sexual desires. This analysis comes from Messner’s theory about the bitch-whore dichotomy of beer commercials which states “men remain distrustful of women, seeing them either as bitches who are trying to ensnare them and take away their freedom or as whores with whom they can party and have sex with no emotional commitment attached” and this sums up how the male’s friends construct his ex-girlfriend, they vilify her to look like the “whore” who used to be the “bitch”.

The way we interact with social media as audience members is indicative of just how gendered our society really is and how subtle and nuanced the triggers are that can expose how we compartmentalize gender roles. This is because within most institutions, gender constructs are enforced by hegemonic structures that generally come from a position of power. However, on social media, we as the masses simultaneously and actively perpetuate and consume those gender norms on a daily and even hourly basis so much over the course of our lives that it shapes how our society views gender, and specifically in this case it shapes how society views the respective roles of men and women within a relationship.


Sources Cited:

Messner, M. and Montez de Oca, J. (2005).The Male Consumer as Loser: Beer and Liquor Ads in Mega Sports Media Events. Web. Journal of Women in Culture and Society.


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