Facebook has risen in popularity over the last few years and many people wouldn’t be able to function without it, as checking their news feed has become a vital and enjoyable part of their day. It allows you to connect with your friends around the world, check on the news and laugh at photos from Saturday nights out. It has a user base of approximately 800 million, and according to Facebook this is skewed in favour of women, who are estimated to be more frequent users than men.
Facebook may be the bright star of the last decade, but with its web popularity comes a downside- cyber bullying, exclusion, and trauma. It can be a very inclusive tool, but it’s also easy to feel alienated and excluded on Facebook.
Research shows that over 42% of kids have been bullied while online. 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once, with 35% of kids have been threatened online. How much of this internet anger is due to kids evolving personalities, and how much is related to the fact that men and women struggle over how to represent themselves online is unclear, but I feel this is an area that needs looking into.
Facebook ostensibly used to be a place where students could get together and share classes and event info, but in reality it was a place where you’d check out the cute guy on your course. When it became available worldwide, we thought we had moved beyond this, but more people are revealing that they use Facebook as a dating site, and are increasingly falsely representing themselves to create the most attractive appearance. This might be great for getting dates, but if you’re editing yourself online you miss the advantages and inclusion of being part of a honest social network- so would having a female only Facebook solve this problem?
Imagine a world where it didn’t matter if someone posted a fat picture of you, or you didn’t have to detag yourself in 100 pictures because you knew that no boys/men were going to see it?
I’m not the only one to wonder if a Female Only Facebook would be a positive thing- Alexandra Chong started female only social network LuluVise in 2011 in order to cater to women who were becoming disenchanted with what their other social networks provided, designed to be something that fitted into their life not the other way round. The LuluVise idea is that women have a place to chat free from the fear that they’ll be judged or critiqued on their comments and photos. ‘Women want a more intimate place for their private, girly conversations’, says Chong.
Yes, we can also call that Facebook private messaging, but LuluVise is designed to be easier to share. It strangely can actually crawl your Facebook friend list to let you sign up with them, and options involving sharing photos, stories- and rating men you know on the WikiDate Scoop section of their site. They use a lot of buzzwords like BFF’s and Inner Circle and try and make the idea of networking seem more complicit and girly than the all out approach policy Facebook takes. ‘Take control. It’s girl time, all the time’ they say.
The Pew Research Centre say that women make up 58% of all social networks and that male use is declining, so it really does seem like women enjoy online networking more- it’s suggested women collaborate and share where men ‘like’ and create entertainment.
Debra Peters, a UK Further Education Teacher who works with young adults of both sexes thinks it’s true that women are using social networks more regularly, but feels that it wouldn’t be ideal to segregate men and women online.
‘I do believe that some women alter their behaviour online because of men, but definitely not the majority. I believe that people generally use Facebook as a tool to keep in touch with close friends, distant friends and family, as well of course to have a ‘nosey’ on people they have lost touch with in the past. Facebook feeds into people’s curiosity to investigate people they have grown up with. Their gender is irrelevant to their purpose of using Facebook. ‘
When questioned about the fact that young women are representing themselves sexually in order for titillation she responds;
‘It’s true that young people might use the internet as a way of getting to know a potential ‘suitor’ without having to engage in physical interaction in the early stages. It cuts our awkward first dates, since you can see get a glimpse of each other’s life, hobbies, photos and friends which would give an individual more of an idea if there is a romantic interest brewing. That is, of course, if one chooses to use Facebook as a means to meet someone romantically’.
Debra is adamant that social networks should stay co-ed. ‘I do not believe that a female-only Facebook would be a good thing. This is because most people’s friends and family are a mix of men and women. Why would anyone want to limit their online social-interactions to a single gender?’
Abi Silvester, editor of Dollymix has mixed thoughts on female only social network.
‘Some women are definitely the same in either environment, but others seem a lot happier to ‘let their hair down’ and be a little more honest when there are no gentlemen present. For the majority, I’d say it’s really the range of topics that differs between mixed and single sex online environments: women seem a lot happier to talk about the ins and outs of health, relationships and other more personal matters in closed communities than they do in more open, co-ed ones, for example’.
This seems to be true when browsing through the content on LuluVise as the topics are far more varied than those of Facebook and Twitter feeds- it seems less about sharing news stories and more about discussing period cramps and sexual positions.
Abi Silvester agrees that there is more freedom when you know your content is restricted to small number of people. ‘Most people with any real experience of social media in general will be on their best behaviour on Facebook precisely because it’s so inclusive: not only do you have the opposite sex to think about; there are family members and colleagues on there too. It’s hard to tell how much of this comes down to gender and what is based on other factors. I think it can be a good way for men and women to chat, and to maybe get glimpses into the everyday lives of the opposite sex they might not get from everyday real-life encounters, however.’
It’s when topics get very personal that Abi thinks that a female only network could be helpful.
‘There are definitely women out there who prefer to spend time in a female-only space – and not just to talk about men behind their backs where they can’t listen in! For the purposes of discussing some of the topics outlined above (relationships, health etc) I think it can be really useful to have spaces where you can consult other women without fear of men derailing the conversation’.
We’ve seen similar sites offer this type of service such as Mumsnet which is orientated towards mothers and child raising though they do allow Dads to join- so their service is topically inclusive rather than sexually separated. ‘If it doesn’t sound too pompous we think the concept of “mumming/mothering” goes beyond gender so don’t feel Mumsnet is too exclusive. We did think of calling the site parentsnet.com but it just sounded so hideous. We do have Dadsnet specifically for men to chat here but you’ll find that if you just contribute on the regular threads folks won’t be surprised by having a male joining in,’ they say.
There are pros and cons of creating a female only Facebook and most people seem to be in favor of keeping it mixed sex. Whilst it may be true that some topics might be compromised or not discussed if they can be read by the other gender, the positive sides of sharing and getting input from all sexes can’t be ignored and it’s unrealistic to expect people to segregate themselves online, when this isn’t the case in the real world. Sites like LuluVise do have a place for some people, but overall I think Facebook should stay just the way it is.