Who runs the internet? Not (yet) girls.

Let’s 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 are women and create content on various topics? 

Of course, it was a trick question, because for most of the YouTubers’ rankings, their channels’ favorite themes are mostly Fashion and Beauty (and lifestyle) where women are in majority as creators. It’s a fact that women are under-represented in certain areas: politics, media, technology, start-ups, but when it comes to online presence, it’s even more obvious.

A study published in 2018 entitled “Exploring the YouTube science communication gender gap: A sentiment analysis” looked at 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. The content of 450 videos from 90 channels was analyzed and it was found that the channels that were presented by women had a higher rate of comments per viewer than the channels presented by men and had a particularly high proportion of comments on the presenter’s  appearance, with hostile, negative and sexist / 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, sketches. Finally, out of the 5 channels, run by women, one is a gaming channel and the other 4 are specialized in all 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 YouTube women will soon reach the podium of the most viewed videos.

But then how do we explain and, above all what could be done to reverse this trend? Obviously, there is no magic formula, nor miracle solution, but for sure there are some food for thought.

Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

There are several factors explaining this under-representation of women:

  • Even though some YouTube girls make videos on non-gendered themes, it can happen that advertisers are 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, fewer advertisers generate less monetization and therefore the YouTube algorithm is less likely to push/promote videos with women. In short, it’s all about monetization and YouTube policies.
  • Then there is the famous impostor syndrome, the fear of judgment and the feeling of illegitimacy for women who are talking about subjects considered “masculine” such as science, history, technology, sports… This syndrome is largely accentuated by comments on the Internet which are often more reductive, sexist and threatening than encouraging.
  • There is a lot of videos dealing with beauty fashion and lifestyle, which is positive, but sometimes it gives the impression that women can’t? shouldn’t? don’t know how to address other topics.
  • Finally, a lack of role models and examples to follow which scales back potential female creators ambitions and prevent them from daring.

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 or the other is not to the detriment of the others, so how can we try to encourage women to dare more and be more actively represented on the internet?

De-invisibilize :

This can start by highlighting initiatives that promote women who make videos and prove that it exists 😉 ! This idea is already put in action  for example in “France of the Internettes” which also organizes a video creation competition in partnership with the CNC (Centre National du Cinema en France).

In October 2016, in France, a YouTube-framed launched an initiative called #EllesFontYouTube that aims to support and celebrate women’s creativity on this platform: https://ellesfont.withyoutube.com/en

Inclusion :

In developing countries, women represent only 40% of Internet users. The more initiatives put in place by women and for women, the more emancipation will be promoted and hence an improvement of the living conditions. It is the project of W4.org an online crowdfunding platform aiming at promoting women and girl’s empowerment especially with the power of digital connection. One of the project called SOAR TV is an online YouTube channel dedicated to the women and girls of MENA to inspire them and highlight their accomplishment in the region.

Benevolence for all :

The word “hater” is well known to all of us. One in ten comment on Facebook media pages is hateful. For men, women and children, caring, respect and integrity should be among the basic principles to be applied without distinction of gender, location…A French Facebook group called #jesuisla is inspired by a 2016 Sweden facebook group “#jagärhär” whose aim it to fight against cyber bullying, haters, fake news… “The idea is to say to those who are mistreated on social networks: we are ready to support you and it is not the norm to be insulted, harassed because we belong to this or that community. We fight prejudices and misconceptions with facts and figures.”

Education, the mother of all battles

Education and awareness-raising as early as possible to tackle stereotypes and prejudices. Education must be for both boys and girls so that together they can build a society and media that they feel fulfilled with.  With an objective of de-invisibilising women and highlighting female role models, 4 organizations from Cyprus, Greece, Belgium and Poland created a FLYie  (Female Legend Youth Innovation Entrepreneur) project that will develop a board game that places  all kinds of inspiring women in the center of attention. The idea is to provide students with examples of entrepreneur women to follow and to get inspired by so they are more likely to follow business-management careers and take the risk of founding their own enterprise.

During the research phase partners will seek for women who make their mark in all aspects of entrepreneurship world with its up’s and its downs. Because we believe that everywhere there are inspiring women, with strength, courage and tenacity to build great initiatives and inspire new generations.

The project started in June 2019 and will run for 2 years. Check the project website www.femalelegends.eu and follow us on Facebook

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