QMJC November 2020 - Facebook and the Fun of Drinking Photos: Reproducing Gendered Regimes of Power

First published: 03 December 2020 | Last updated: 03 December 2020

Article: Lyons, Antonia C., Ian Goodwin, Christine Griffin, Tim McCreanor, and Helen Moewaka Barnes. Facebook and the fun of drinking photos: Reproducing gendered regimes of power. Social Media+ Society2, no. 4 (2016): 2056305116672888.

Link: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2056305116672888

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) team

GCU Substance Use Research Group (@SubMisuseGCU): Carol Emslie (lead), Elena Dimova, Matt Smith, Lana Ireland, Jodie McGarry, Antonia Lloyd, supported by Chris Graham (SARN / SHAAP).  Online journal club discussion with 24 colleagues supported by the Scottish Alcohol Research Network (@SARNalcohol).

Paper Summary

This beautifully written qualitative paper examines the meanings which young adults attach to sharing drinking photos on Facebook, and explores how these practices are gendered.  The memorable title clearly conveys the topic, indicates the paper will focus on respondents’ perceptions (aligned with pleasure, rather than risk) and introduces the claim that ‘fun’ drinking photos ultimately reproduce gendered and heteronormative regimes of power.  The authors argue that while both men and women manage their online identities to some extent, the tensions inherent in performing an empowered and sexy femininity in the ‘culture of intoxication’ (Griffin et al 2013) lead to more intensive engagement by young women.  This curation of online displays (taking, uploading, tagging and untagging photos) is then disparaged as trivial and self-indulgent ‘women’s work’ by young men.

The authors foreground colonial power and ethnic, gender and class disparities in Aotearoa / New Zealand in the methodology section.  Using snowballing techniques, they conducted 24 friendship group discussions (12 groups with predominantly Pakeha participants- people of European descent – and 12 with predominantly Maori participants – the indigenous population), with gender, geographical and socioeconomic diversity within the sample. They also conducted 15 individual interviews with a subset of the population who were asked to show researchers their Facebook pages and photos and discuss how they used social media. Data collection took place in 2011 and 2012.  The researchers used Foucauldian discourse analysis to explore how respondents positioned themselves around gender and drinking norms. The innovative methods used by this team (focus groups with pre-existing groups to reproduce the social context of discussions between friends; individual Facebook interviews to elicit more private accounts) allow researchers to unpack the social context of preparing for, taking, uploading, tagging, sharing and discuss drinking photos, and inspired similar research on gender and drinking in Scotland (Emslie et al 2015; Emslie et al 2017; Lennox et al 2018).

The findings demonstrate how young women become “the custodians of the memories that pictures encode” (p5).  Excerpts from the focus groups and interviews are used effectively to make this case, and include tone, gestures and body language (e.g. laughter, waving, using a ‘girly voice’, emphasis on particular words).  The authors also demonstrate the discursive work undertaken by participants. For example, an excerpt from Alex’s interview (p5) shows how he constructs photo-taking and uploading as ‘feminine’ by the way he frames these activities, his use of certain words and his interaction with the female researcher who is viewing his Facebook photos.  The authors also describe the ‘exception to this rule’ – one group of men who posted a sequence of photos using a webcam – and explain how these respondents constructed their use of technology in a way which was not feminized (dynamic, moving pictures rather than static and posed; a ‘masculine’ use of video technology). This attention to ‘outliers’ or ‘deviant cases’ plays an important role in many forms of qualitative data analysis (Ritchie et al 2013).

Finally, the discussion of selfies and of how young women ‘suss out their pose’ before going out in the night time economy is particularly thought provoking.  While these practices were disparaged as excessive, self-indulgent and frivolous, some narratives suggested they could be viewed as potentially empowering, and that taking and posting images could provide young women with agency to define and control their online presentations. However, the question remains as to whether young women can challenge and redefine older gendered regimes of power.

Points raised in the online discussion

  • The context / literature review at the beginning of the paper helped to ground the study and set the stage for the findings
  • Liked how the paper covered three big ideas – social media, gender and drinking and was able to draw complex connections between all three in a clear way.
  • Enjoyed the layered approach to data collection: natural dynamics of friendship groups plus individual interviews.
  • The interpretation of the data was communicated to readers in a very clear and elegant manner. This takes work and practice; reading and discussing papers that do this well help us with our writing.
  • The paper revealed the micro power structure of social networking sites vs broader power structure of gender roles and behaviours. What about the power of free social media platforms, when user-generated content is the product? Who has the power to decide that is attractive (and to make their definition stick?)
  • Made us reflect on our own practices around posting and presenting ourselves on social media
  • Also made us think about the evolution of technology -would these findings still apply today (2020) and, if so, to which social media platforms?
  • The paper inspired a discussion about differences between discourse and thematic analysis and when to use each one.
  • Quotations were accessible to readers from other cultures
  • Found the paper helpful when planning how to form and use interviews/focus groups in research
  • Quantitative researchers found the paper very engaging

References

Emslie, C., Hunt, K. and Lyons, A., 2015. Transformation and time-out: The role of alcohol in identity construction among Scottish women in early midlife. International Journal of Drug Policy26(5), pp.437-445.

Emslie, C., Lennox, J. and Ireland, L., 2017. The role of alcohol in identity construction among LGBT people: A qualitative study. Sociology of health & illness, 39(8), pp.1465-1479.

Griffin, C., Szmigin, I., Bengry-Howell, A., Hackley, C. and Mistral, W., 2013. Inhabiting the contradictions: Hypersexual femininity and the culture of intoxication among young women in the UK. Feminism & Psychology, 23(2), pp.184-206.

Lennox, J., Emslie, C., Sweeting, H. and Lyons, A., 2018. The role of alcohol in constructing gender & class identities among young women in the age of social media. International Journal of Drug Policy, 58, pp.13-21.

Ritchie, J., Lewis, J., Nicholls, C.M. and Ormston, R. eds., 2013. Qualitative research practice: A guide for social science students and researchers. Sage.