Monday, November 26, 2007

Gender on MySpace Project Proposal

I wrote this a few weeks ago, and in my classic procrastination fashion, proceeded to ignore it until now, when I have to report my progress on Thursday. I reread it and decided it's not half bad, so I'm posting it. Why not? No one reads this anyway. :)

Project Proposal: Gender on MySpace

Research Question and Rationale:

How is gender performed and portrayed on MySpace? I will look at MySpace profiles of men and women and analyze the way people present themselves and others in terms of gender.
MySpace is one of the most popular websites on the internet. A huge number and wide variety of people are members of this social networking site. So far in this class we’ve mainly examined conventional mainstream media. The internet has been heralded as a change in the media landscape, an increasing democratization of society, and an opportunity for every person to make media. MySpace has given millions of people a place on the web to show their friends, acquaintances, and strangers a representation of who they are. This sort of participatory internet is called Web 2.0, and it seems to be the direction in which the internet is going. With the impact of the internet on how people spend their time and where they get their information from, it is especially important that MySpace be studied in terms of something so important as gender.

Gender performance is mostly, if not entirely, a social construct, and it is maintained through our everyday lives, not just because the voice of the mainstream media is telling us to do so. We perpetuate these social constructions in how we personally perform our genders. MySpace profiles are a way for people to express their own identities, and they are a space where many people see others’ expressions of identity. Because of the relative anonymity and freedom of the internet, it can be an opportunity for people to represent themselves differently than in their day-to-day lives. MySpace profiles are also a place for standard gender identities to be maintained or subverted. Many people spend hours upon hours on MySpace, and so are viewing large numbers of these profiles. I will be comparing the profiles of women and men, but I am not looking to find essential differences between the two, just to see how people perform their genders in the context of a medium like MySpace.

There has not been very much research in this general area, and as far as I can tell, no one has done an analysis like the one I am proposing. There has been research done about gender and internet usage, as well as digital divide issues in relation to gender. There are some studies on social dynamics like friending, and more general studies of identity and self-representation on the internet, but I was only able to find a couple articles that specifically dealt with gender and MySpace, and none of them are on the same topic I’m researching.


I will do a text analysis of approximately 60 MySpace profiles: 30 by women and 30 by men. (This number is relatively arbitrary, and if I seem to have not enough or too much information, I may modify it.) I will gather the pool of profiles with MySpace’s Browse feature. I’ll browse for men and women between ages 18 and 35 within the United States who have photos in their profiles, with results organized by most recently updated. While this is not an entirely random sample, it is relatively random, and the fact that the profiles are recently updated suggests that there will be substantial content and fewer profiles that are completely empty with no information. The sample is between 18 and 35 because that is the age range of the majority of MySpace users, and that is the default age range when one goes to Browse. If other people are browsing profiles, they are likely to be looking within that range. For the sake focusing the study and because of potential language limitations, I am only examining profiles of people in the United States. I will look at the main page for the profile, and if there is a blog on the profile, I will include the entries that show on the main page in my analysis. I will also view the photos the user has uploaded.

My research will be mainly quantitative, but I will also incorporate qualitative analysis. I will “ask” each profile a set of questions (see list attached). I will record the answers and categorize and count them for a quantitative analysis (for example, the number of men with shirtless profile pictures). Because of the complexity of gender representation, and because not everything can necessarily be categorized and counted, I will also analyze a selection of the profiles qualitatively for a more in-depth and holistic understanding.
I will present this analysis in the form of a 12-15 page research paper.

Timeline and Resources:

November 8-15: Do more background research into field of internet and gender. Incorporate feedback from 11/8 class into proposal. Create document to track content of each profile. Begin to gather information from MySpace profiles.
November 16-22: Finish gathering information from MySpace profiles. Begin analysis.
November 23-29: Complete analysis. Finish first draft. Submit to professor for feedback.
November 30-December 6: Revise draft, incorporate feedback.
December 7-13: Complete, edit, and proofread paper. Turn in to professor.

I will need a computer with internet access, which I have at home and at school. For the background information I’ll be seeking, I will use the internet and the resources of the library, looking at journals and books. I may contact Professor Silver to see if he has any resources related to my topic.

Questions for analysis:

What components are included in profile? (e.g. blog, about me, favorites, videos, music, etc.)
What sort of profile picture is shown? (e.g. sexually suggestive, face, object, etc.)
What colors are used?
Are they associated with femininity or masculinity?
What images are included? (e.g. cars, celebrities, friends)
Are they associated with femininity or masculinity?
What written text is included?
What is said in “About me”?
What is said in “Who I’d like to meet”?
What are their interests, favorites, etc.?
What is stated for Status, Orientation, Body Type, and Children?
What sort of gender identity, if any, does the overall profile suggest? How/in what way?
How are women and men portrayed within the profile? (e.g. in pictures, in text)
Is there an apparent purpose for the profile? (e.g. looking for a relationship)
What are the significances of the elements included in the profile?
How does the content of the women’s pages compare with the content of the men’s pages?
What are the implications of my findings?

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