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Bikini selfies and suggestive lip dubs: Examining queer women’s performances of sexual desire in digital media

  1. Bikini selfies and suggestive lip dubs: Examining queer women’s performances of sexual desire in digital media Stefanie Duguay, PhD Candidate @Dugstef Professor Jean Burgess @jeanburgess Professor Ben Light @doggyb Digital Intimate Publics Symposium 19-20 November 2015 University of Queensland Digital Media Research Centre
  2. Let’s talk about sex Focus: • Images of sexual desire that shape the digital intimate publics of same-sex attracted women on social media platforms • What content is attached to same-sex attracted women’s hashtags (e.g. #lesbian, #gaygirl) on Instagram and Vine?
  3. Technology-facilitated LGBTQ publics • Early tech – phones, videotext, Usenet • Same-sex attracted men’s digital publics • Sex, relationships, and friendship • What about women? • BBS, chat rooms Digital Media Research Centre Image from Doug’
  4. LGBTQ+ networked publics • Networked public = • networked tech • imagined audiences • platformization • Imagined audiences & communities • Trans people’s vlogs; • ‘Coming out’ videos; • Tumblr’s asexual counterpublic Digital Media Research Centre
  5. Networked tech & Platformization • Social Shaping of Technology & Actor Network Theory • Platform affordances and constraints • Shaped by politics and economies • Embedded and enrolled in platform design, software, and algorithms Digital Media Research Centre Image via Facebook
  6. Digital Media Research Centre Mediated performances of female sexual desire • Same-sex attracted women as an intimate public - addressing performances of sexual desire to an imagined audience? • Radical feminism & gendered power relations • Contradictions of post- feminism • Queer possibilities Image from Lost Girl via Bilerico
  7. • Owned by Twitter • 6.5 second videos Digital Media Research Centre
  8. • Owned by Facebook • Photos & 15-second video • Emerging research: • User content • Platform features • User interactions with the platform Digital Media Research Centre
  9. Method I: Walkthrough • Interdisciplinary (ANT, HCI, political economy) and vernacular step-by-step ‘how to’ procedures (Burgess, Light & Duguay, 2015) • User interface • Functions and features • Textual content and tone • Aesthetics and symbolism • Identifying mediators of performances of sexual desire Digital Media Research Centre
  10. Method II: User-generated content analysis 1 Instagram Scraper 3 days of collection 22 diverse hashtags 20(ish) images per scrape 422 Instagram images Digital Media Research Centre 0 automated Vine tools 3 widely-used hashtags 10 Vines collected per # 50 collected previously 80 Vines Telling people about my day job? Priceless! +
  11. a) Porn and sexual services • Businesses • Mainstream hashtags • Male audience, heterosexy tropes Digital Media Research Centre Sexual desire on Instagram #lesbian #les #girlswholikegirls
  12. Sexual desire on Instagram b) Memes, animations and popular media • Mostly teen accounts • Cross-posted from Tumblr • Addressed to fan and youth audiences Digital Media Research Centre #lgbt #loveislove #hellagay #lesbiancouple
  13. c) Images of idealised lesbians • Teenagers and pseudonymous accounts • Lesbian stereotypes & fashion • Feminine, resembling mainstream media • Addressed to oneself? Digital Media Research Centre #lesbiancouple, #lesbianlove Sexual desire on Instagram Image from MTV
  14. d) Personal selfies and sexy photos • Full spectrum of sexual performance, from seductive gaze to underwear shot • Broader range of body types, gender presentation, race, and age • Addressed to other women Digital Media Research Centre #lezzigram #inkedlesbians #lipsticklesbian #dykesofinstagram Sexual desire on Instagram Image from Autostraddle
  15. Sexual desire on Vine • Fandom + popular media + idealised lesbians Digital Media Research Centre
  16. Sexual desire on Vine • E.g. • Gazing at the camera, lip syncing, and dancing • Produced by individual women; • Focused on the camera; • Rap and hip hop; • Addressed to? Women and/or Vine communities relating to platform practices, musical taste, possibly race and location Digital Media Research Centre Co-hashtags: #ttsquad, #grindonme, #teamuntamed Image from Glamour
  17. Digital Media Research Centre Mediators of sexual performances • Instagram • Filters, photoshopping, delayed censorship • Vine • Music, content channels, rapidly spreading trends • Shared • Captions, emojis, manipulation of brightness and camera angles, hashtags (but used differently across platforms), 3rd party apps (collages, frames, blurring) Image from Vine
  18. Digital Media Research Centre So what? • There are digital intimate publics of same-sex attracted women performing sexual desire, but these occur within a varied visual landscape including porn, memes, and media images • Digital affordances evolve and shift in use across platforms Next steps? • Further analysis of visual content, trends, and context • Interviews with content producers
  19. Thanks! Digital Media Research Centre Stefanie Duguay, PhD Candidate @Dugstef Professor Jean Burgess @jeanburgess Professor Ben Light @doggyb #bne #socialmedia #digitalmethods #UQ #publics #LGBT #lesbians #bisexual #queergirls #les #dyke #lipsticklesbian #lesbianfunhouse #inkedlesbians #instagaygirls #boi #stud #RainbowGang #LGBTCrew #tbt #followme #follow4follow #lols
  20. References Digital Media Research Centre Alexander, J., & Losh, E. (2010). “A YouTube of one’s own?”: “Coming out” videos as rhetorical action. In C. Pullen & M. Cooper (Eds.), LGBT Identity and Online New Media (pp. 37–50). New York: Routledge. Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined communities. London and New York: Verso. Berlant, L. (2008). The female complaint: The unfinished business of sentimentality in American culture. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Blackwell, C., Birnholtz, J., & Abbott, C. (2015). Seeing and being seen: Co-situation and impression formation using Grindr, a location-aware gay dating app. New Media & Society, 17(7), 1117–1136. boyd, d. (2011). Social network sites as networked publics: Affordances, dynamics, and implications. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (pp. 39–58). New York and London: Routledge. boyd, d. (2014). It’s complicated: The social lives of networked teens. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press. Brubaker, J. R., Ananny, M., & Crawford, K. (2014). Departing glances: A sociotechnical account of “leaving” Grindr. New Media & Society. Bruns, A., & Burgess, J. (2015). Twitter hashtags from ad hoc to calculated publics. In N. Rambukkana (Ed.), Hashtag publics: The power and politics of discursive networks (pp. 13–28). New York: Peter Lang. Bucher, T. (2012). Want to be on the top? Algorithmic power and the threat of invisibility on Facebook. New Media & Society, 14(7), 1164–1180. Burgess, J., Light, B., & Duguay, S. (2015). Studying HookUp apps: A comparative platform analysis of Tinder, Mixxxer, Squirt, and Dattch. ICA 65th Annual Conference: Communication Across the Life Span, 21-25 May (San Juan, Puerto Rico). Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge. Calhoun, C. (1992). Introduction: Habermas and the public sphere. In C. Calhoun (Ed.), Habermas and the Public Sphere (pp. 1–50). Cambridge and London: MIT Press. Campbell, J. E. (2004). Getting it on online: Cyberspace, gay male sexuality, and embodied identity. New York: Routledge. Campbell, J. E. (2007). Virtual citizens or dream consumers: Looking for civic community on In K. O’Riordan & D. J. Phillips (Eds.), Queer online: Media, technology & sexuality (pp. 177–196). New York: Peter Lang. Chandler, L., & Livingston, D. (2012). Reframing the authentic: Photography, mobile technologies and the visual language of digital imperfection. Inter- Disciplinary.Net, 6th Global. Retrieved from Chang, A. (2013, January 23). Twitter launches Vine, the easy video-sharing app. Wired. Retrieved from 01/25/vine-launch Cooper, M. (2010). Lesbians who are married to men: Identity, collective stories, and the Internet online community. In C. Pullen & M. Cooper (Eds.), LGBT Identity and Online New Media (pp. 75–86). New York: Routledge. Cooper, M., & Dzara, K. (2010). The Facebook revolution: LGBT identity and activism. In C. Pullen & M. Cooper (Eds.), LGBT Identity and Online New Media (pp. 100–112). New York: Routledge.
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Notas do Editor

  1. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people have long used technology to find each other – from gay and lesbian hotlines in the 1970s to precusors to the Internet like Usenet and BBSes. There’s a lot of research on gay men – early studies include Campbell’s research on gay men exchanging fantasies in IRC chatrooms, and their use of Yahoo! Discussion groups to arrange hookups. Research on gay men has continued to proliferate and now we know a lot about their use of contemporary websites, dating sites, and mobile media. But the research about same-sex attracted women is comparably sparse. There are some older studies – one about women in a BBS who used ASCII symbols to flirt with each other, and later studies about women in chatrooms, talking about leaving their husbands or discussing the L word. But there’s just not much about queer women’s experience of the Internet these days.
  2. There is, however, a growing body of research into LGBTQ people’s use of social media. This can form networked publics, defined by boyd as both “publics restructured by networked technology” and “imagined collectives” or what we’ve come to think of as “imagined audiences”. There are studies of LGBTQ people making coming out videos on YouTube, as well as trans people chronicling their transitions on YouTube – in both these scenarios, the YouTubers imagine their communities to be both other LGBTQ people, whom they seek to inspire, as well as heterosexual and cisgender people whose understandings of sex and gender they want to challenge. Bryce Renniger has also done a study of asexual people on Tumblr and he found that they post memes and statements challenging the mainstream conception that everyone needs to be sexual. They form a counterpublic by circulating these statements to an imagined audience of similar others and allies. I argue that given contemporary social media, we should add to this that networked publics are very much shaped by the platforms through which they occur. Boyd 2011;2014 (Helmond, 2015; Burgess & Banks, 2014; van Dijck, 2013) (Anderson, 1983) (Raun, 2014; Alexander & Losh, 2010; Renninger, 2014)
  3. Looking at platforms from a Social Shaping of Technology perspective, it’s clear that both users and the technology shape the interactions we have. Drawing on Actor Network Theory, non-human objects within platforms, like buttons, display screens, etc, can influence what we do. This is because platforms have politics and economies, they have to worry about making money and their design can be influenced by dominant discourses. These politics get programmed and embedded in platform design, software and algorithms. One recent example of this was Facebook’s launch of the Safety Check feature during the Paris attacks – the first time they decided to use it for anything but a natural disaster was when a Western, developed country was in crisis – (not in Beirut) Influence of platforms largely ignored in studies of LGBTQ networked publics (Abidin, 2014; Gehl, 2014; Gillespie, 2010; van Dijck, 2013) (Bruns & Burgess, 2015; Light & McGrath, 2010; Duguay, in press) (Chandler & Livingston, 2012; Buse, 2010) Can shape visual artifacts
  4. And so, studies of LGBTQ publics raises the question of what kind of publics of same-sex attracted women exist? Given that gay men often have very sexualized, hook-up based publics, what kinds of performances of sexual desire are queer women carrying out? Well, this is question is complicated by historical debates over gender and sexuality. Radical feminism emerged in the 1970s and said that women’s sexualized media (porn and erotica) is too caught up in the male gaze that it could never be addressed to oneself or to other women for their pleasure. Post-feminism, as Amy will tell you, has declared a reclamation of women’s sexuality – stating that this business of feminism is done, so women can enjoy producing sexual media as an act of empowerment. However, most porn is still produced for men, especially most “lesbian porn”. Given that queer theory has pointed out how gender is a performance, there have been some efforts in lesbian and queer porn to defy these gender relations and produce porn that’s satisfying for women. BUT, yeah, it’s all mired in these complications. Berlant – Intimate public - “A public is intimate when it foregrounds affective and emotional attachments located in fantasies of the common, the everyday, and a sense of ordinariness, a space where the social world is rich with anonymity and local recognitions, and where challenging and banal conditions of life take place in proximity to the attentions of power but also squarely in the radar of a recognition that can be provided by other humans” (p. 10)
  5. Released in 2013. Not a lot of research.
  6. Content – Alice Marwick wrote a piece of Instagram microcelebrity Platform features – Kohn’s paper on the filter and its effect on the mood of soldier’s photos This study is a mix of both. (Marwick, 2015 & Tiidenberg, 2015) (Kohn, 2015) (Abidin, 2014; Olszanowski, 2014)
  7. Through ANT, it identifies mediators that “transform, translate, distort, and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry” (Latour, 2005, p. 39).
  8. University of Amsterdam Instagram scraper
  9. “Hot chat, kik me” Heterosexy - in line with femininity and heteronormativity (Dobson, 2015)
  10. Cutsey, sometimes sensual. Anime.
  11. Feminine with a small butch-femme dichotomy Wanting to BE and HAVE what’s in the image? post-feminist heterosexy?
  12. Addressed to other women – posting relationship status, looking for responses, “no men”
  13. YouTube celebrity couple mash-ups Co-hashtag: #relationshipgoals,
  14. Rap and hip hop with lyrics objectifying women – can see this as either perpetuating this objectification as the only way to express sexual desire for women OR as a queering of the lyrics … Thirst trap communities – with Thirst trap being a practice designed to ‘trap’ or arouse individuals. Exists across both platforms with many heterosexual people participating, but women reproducing the practice for other women brings into play all those questions around gender and sexuality.
  15. Filters make ideal lesbians look mystical; photoshopping can avoid censorship – small starts or hearts over nipples, delayed censorship is the only reason porn can be seen on instagram Vine’s music is pivotal to these sexual performances – just added a feature allowing users to easily cut and splice songs on to videos Shared – captions allow for more clearly addressing a public; emojis and acronyms help get the message across to certain target people who would also understand them
  16. Varied visual landscape – could have implications for identity formation and finding community # as signfier and amplifier on Instagram, whereas they’re used more sparingly on Vine maybe because of fewer users and because content gets grouped into channels. Context = comments, captions, etc