Who runs the internet? Not (yet) girls.
Let us start with a small exercise: can you name 5 YouTubers who make videos on different themes?
Can you? Now, same exercise but name 5 Female YouTubers who create content on various topics.
Of course, it was a trick question. Consider this: in the majority of YouTubers’ rankings, women’s channels are mostly about fashion, beauty and lifestyle. It is a fact that women are under-represented in certain areas, such as politics, media, technology and business. When it comes to online presence, it is even more obvious.
A study published in 2018 entitled “Exploring the YouTube science communication gender gap: A sentiment analysis” analyzed YouTube channels that offer content related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Out of 391 of the most popular channels, only 32 had female presenters, which is less than 10%. The content of 450 videos from 90 channels was analyzed and it revealed that the channels that were presented by women had a higher rate of comments per viewer than the channels presented by men. However, a particularly high proportion of these comments related to the presenter’s appearance, and often came with hostile, negative, sexist or sexual content.
In the UK, a 2018 article entitled “Anxiety, panic and self-optimization: Inequalities and the YouTube algorithm” shows that among the top 50 channels with the most subscribers, 43 are run by male vloggers who are interested in gaming, sports, technology, humor and politics. Among the 7 remaining channels, 2 are produced by and for young people under 18 (and their parents) and are specialized in games, toys and comedy. The 5 channels other channels are run by women: one is about gaming and the other 4 are specialized in fashion, luxury, make-up, cosmetics and lifestyle. If we add to this under-representation of women in other topics, the fact that the YouTube algorithm rewards and values a stereotyped image of femininity in accordance with the desires and needs of brands and advertisers (Sophie Bishop, 2018), it is unlikely that female YouTubers will reach the podium of the most viewed videos anytime soon.
How can we explain this trend and above all what could be done to reverse it? Obviously, there is no magic formula nor miracle solution, but here is some food for thought.
There are several factors explaining this under-representation of women:
- Even though some female YouTube make videos on topics that are not commonly perceived as “feminine”, advertisers tend to be more reluctant to be associated with feminine or feminized content (except when it comes to product placements related to lifestyle and beauty). As a result, the videos of female creators who do not talk about topics related to their gender generate less monetization, therefore the YouTube algorithm is less likely to push or promote videos created by women. In that sense, YouTube monetization and content valorization policies indirectly contribute to limiting the visibility of women.
- Then there is the impostor syndrome, the fear of judgment and the feeling of illegitimacy for women when they talk about topics that are considered “masculine”, such as science, history, technology, or sports. This syndrome is largely fostered by comments on women’s videos that tend to be often more reductive, sexist, and threatening than encouraging.
- Most female YouTubers create videos dealing with beauty, fashion, lifestyle or other topics considered as “feminine. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, the fact that the overwhelming majority of content produced by female creators is limited to these topics could give the impression that women could not address other topics.
- Finally, the lack of role models and examples to follow scales back potential female creators’ ambitions.
Once this observation has been made, it is important to keep in mind that on the internet and especially on Youtube there is plenty of room for everyone. The content of one is not necessarily done to the detriment of others. How can we encourage women to be more daring and to express themselves more actively on the internet?
Making women visible:
Several initiatives promote the work of women creators. Here are two examples from France:
- a group called “les Internettes” promotes videos created by women. They also organize a video creation competition in partnership with the CNC (National Center for Cinema).
- In October 2016, YouTube launched an initiative called #EllesFontYouTube (to be translated as “They make YouTube”) that aims to support and celebrate women’s creativity on this platform (https://ellesfont.withyoutube.com/en).
Education, the mother of all battles:
Educating and raising awareness as early as possible are essential to tackle stereotypes and prejudices. Education must be for boys and girls both for them to be able to build society and media that supports their fulfilment. The EU provides annual grants through the Erasmus+ programme to encourage partnership initiatives that promote an innovative approach to education. With the objective to make women visible and to highlight female role models, 4 organizations from Cyprus, Greece, Belgium and Poland created project FLYie (“Female Legends, Youth Innovation and Entrepreneurship”), a project that aims to provide students with examples of female entrepreneurs to follow and to get inspired by to encourage them to pursue management careers and dare to found their own business.
During the research phase, the partners will meet with women who decided decided to get involved in entrepreneurship with its ups and downs. Because we believe that everywhere there are inspiring women, who have the strength, courage and tenacity to build great initiatives and inspire new generations.
This project started in June 2019 and will run for 2 years. Don’t hesitate to follow the Facebook page of the project to keep up to date!