Have you ever reflected on the gifs you use in the social media posts? And what do they tell you? Maybe we should all take a closer look and use that insight to change our choices…
by Josephine Graham
I’m a big fan of using gifs, mainly in my personal social media, but occasionally in work tweets as well.
I love how they convey exactly what you want to say, with humour, emotion and tone, while packing a visual punch vastly exceeding that of emojis, my other favourite social media embellishment.
And while original photos are brilliant for storytelling and carefully curated content, there is nothing better than a quick and dirty gif when you’re in the flow of a Twitter conversation and want to raise a smile or make a point with a little touch of pizazz.
But there’s something about gifs that bugs me.
Put in any search term and what do you notice? From Leonardo di Caprio toasting you with champagne, to Steve Carrell awkwardly cringing, a massive proportion of the gif images we are offered are of men, and by the way they are generally white men.
Yes sure, you’ve got your Oprah and your Tina Fey, your Shirley Temple and your Queen Bey, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
In my somewhat unscientific survey of the 45 most popular gifs offered to me on Twitter on my iPhone, 30 were men (including children and male cartoons such as Spongebob), eight showed animals or were of non-specific gender and just seven were women. That’s less that 16%, in a world where most of us would agree the population is around 50% female.
And while to most people gifs are just a short cut to engagement or a fun way to jazz up your tweets, to me this represents something more.
To me this is about the male dominance which continues to pervade across the world, and I guess as we are talking social media, there is also something here about the specific male dominance in technology.
Bear with me on this one…
Ever heard of unconscious bias? Unconscious bias is when we tend to favour people who are more like us. This does not just apply to gender, but to all kinds of differences, including race, age, social status and political outlook. (There’s an interesting piece about this by writer Fiona Quigley on the Training Journal website.)
According to the website Statista, 65.5% of Twitter users worldwide are men. So it stands to reason, when they choose gifs, if they are following their unconscious bias, they are likely to choose images of men.
And because of the way algorithmic trends work, whatever is most popular gets offered first, thus perpetuating the male dominance in the gif listings.
Here are a few interesting thoughts for you:
Gender bias hurts women’s careers – and continues to hold women back all over the world. The Women in the Workplace 2018 report, which looks internationally, asserts only about one in five senior leaders is a woman, and one in twenty-five is a woman of colour.
Male privilege continues to dominate the workplace and our society. Let’s not get into the murkier symptoms of male privilege here, but keep it career related: while paternity leave is on the increase, women are still far more likely to work part time, which can seriously damage career progression.
According to the PRCA, in the UK, 66% of PR professionals are female. Despite this, there remains a gender pay gap of 21% in the industry, with men earning an average salary of £53,952 while women only earn on average £42,588.
So getting back to the gifs thing, for me, the dominance of white men in our gif usage is a glaring symbol of inequality. But it’s also something I have the power to change.
For the last few months I have been consciously selecting female or gender-neutral images in all the gifs I share.
And now I am inviting you to do the same - even if it’s just for one day!
It is so easy to be more conscious and creative about the gifs we use.
Don’t just settle for the most popular, whether that’s Leo, Steve, Batman, or that actor whose name you don’t know but heck he’s pulling a funny face.
Instead take the time to seek out a gif that presents a little balance. If you’re a woman, why not choose someone who looks a bit more like you, instead of the most popular gif for your sentiment? Or if you’re a guy, why not pick a female character, just to show you care?
If you’re feeling really creative, you can even generate your own gifs. (Although let’s face it, most of us don’t have time to do that.)
This year’s International Women’s Day, on Friday, 8 March 2019, the focus is #BalanceforBetter. The campaign aims to celebrate women's achievement, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality – to forge a more gender-balanced world.
I’m adding my own small contribution to the mix of celebration and activism. A little hashtag - #AllWomanGif.
I’m going to use this whenever I use a female-image gif on International Women’s Day – and I might carry on using it afterwards as well.
If you want to join in, tweet me @iojosy with your #AllWomanGif
It’s one small step for womankind, but it’s my step.
Are you with me?
Josephine Graham is internal comms lead at Bradford Council
image via the National Science and Media Museum