Memes and their Ironic Sexism

Memes and their Ironic Sexism: An Analysis on the journal article

“Old Jokes, New Media-Online sexism and constructions of gender in Internet memes” by Jessica Drakett, et al

Abstract

This essay explains and analyzes the study and journal article, “Old Jokes, New Media-Online sexism and constructions of gender in Internet memes,” by Jessica Drakett, et al. This study used a critical feminist analysis on English based image macros or as they are commonly called Internet memes.

Keywords: memes, sexism, media

Memes and their Ironic Sexism

Method

This study, “Old Jokes, New Media-Online sexism and constructions of gender in Internet memes,” by Jessica Drakett, et al, used a critical feminist analysis on English based image macros or as they are commonly called Internet memes.

In the study, researchers used a critical academic feminist perspective while analyzing the sample of memes (pg. 114, 2018). Frey, et al, (1992) in the textbook Interpreting Communication Research defined feminist criticism as, “a rhetorical critical approach that analyzes how conceptions of gender are produced and maintained in persuasive messages” (pg. 315).

The researchers in this study collected image macros and analyzed the image and the accompanying caption. This is textual research where, according to Frey, et al, “is used to study messages recorded in texts” (pg. 7).

Drakett, et al, used three meme websites to find popular memes: MemeGenerator, quickmeme, and We Know Memes. The researchers used a sampling strategy in which they studied 240 English based macro memes. They downloaded 80 of the memes from the most popular list of each website to import into NVivo 10, which researchers used to organize and tag dataset.

Drakett, et al, coded each of the data sets based on the meme’s components: the textual caption and the image. The researchers coded each meme with a series of words that describe the image and the context. Each sub-theme had a variety of codes. In the article, the researchers gave one example of this: under the sub-theme “Appearance” codes as sexy, beautiful, fat, makeup, and weight (pg. 116).

The researchers grouped the memes into large descriptive categories. They used the large categories such as Technological Privilege, for the codes: sexy, geeks, Internet and technology, and memes about memes (pg. 116). Drakett, et al, analyzed the codes in hopes to find any themes among the sample.

Results

Researchers took note of several memes in the sample:

Photo/DescriptionCaption
A man and woman in bed; “Sexually Oblivious Female.”“Maybe if I poke her with it, it’ll put her in the mood.”
A woman and a man at a bar; “Sexually Oblivious Female.”“Go back to your place for a drink? We are already at the bar silly!”
Success Kid features a baby with a smug face making a gesture of success.“Pressed Play – No LiveJasmin pop-up.”“asked girlfriend where she wanted to eat – she gave a decisive answer.”
Staredad is a cartoon panel of a teenage girl bursting into a room to tell her father something shocking and/or important.Coat hanger is in the closet.” She asked him to repeat what he said, and he replied, “Did I fucking stutter?””Child: ‘Dad I am hungry,’ “Father”: ‘Tell your mother.’ “Child”: ‘She’s not in the kitchen.’ “Father”: ‘She’s what?!’
Horny Harry is a series of photos from the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire where Harry saying something sexually inappropriate to Hermione, in which depicts her tricked by him.Harry tells Hermione that his “birth-control spell” did not work.“firetruck” where he will touch her inappropriately until she says red-light. When she yells red-light, Harry reminds her that firetrucks don’t stop at red lights.
Actual Advice Mallard is a duck giving the audience advice.“don’t try to understand women – women understand women and they hate each other.”
Overly Attached Girlfriend is a woman smiling maniacally.“I am going to learn all of your mom’s favorite recipes, so you’ll never need her again.”
Sean Bean as his character from Lord of the Rings.“One does not simply meme””mom, one does not simply pause online game.”
Condescending Wonka is a condescending or smug looking Gene Wilder in the 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.“You say that guys are all the same? You must have tried them all.”
Confession Bear shows a female boss being tormented by an employee daily.“I fart in my boss’s office every morning before she arrives, and now she has the facilities checking the walls for dead animals”
Woman-Waking-Up.“Got hired – will have to start waking up early again”
A man with an American pride vest.“I like my violence like I like my beer – domestic”
Insanity Wolf is a photo of a snarling wolf. “she takes a pencil without asking – take her virginity without asking” or “upvote this or I will molest and drown a bag full of kittens.”
Vengeance Dad is a family photo.“My family is a treasure – they can only be found with a shovel and a map.”

Discussion

Drakett, et al, categorized the type of humor of these memes as generalized sexist humor where sexist humor is not targeted at a specific group (pg.119). The researchers found that these memes featured disciplinary humor where, according to the researchers, is the type of humor that mocks and challenges people outside social norms. While, the opposite: rebellious humor, on the other hand, is the type of humor that people use to oppose authority (pg. 111).

In the study, researchers also understood the postfeminist sensibility – the notion that we live in a postfeminist world – in which these sexist jokes are ironic (pg. 112).  Drakett, et al, found that theses memes feature heterosexist and heteronormative narratives. Other memes normalize internet pornography and domestic violence. While others trivialize women’s health and reinforce gender stereotypes (pg. 117).

According to the researchers, memes such as Sexually Oblivious Female, Success Kid with the caption: “Pressed Play – No LiveJasmin pop-up, Sean Bean as his character from Lord of the Rings, and Horny Harry show women as naïve, sexually passive, and “unfamiliar with the online technologies and spaces” (pg. 116). While men in these memes are portrayed as sexually active and as knowledgeable of the internet and/or technology (pg.117;119).

Memes such as Actual Advice Mallard, Woman-Waking-Up, Condescending Wonka, Confession Bear, Overly Attached Girlfriend, and Success Kid (with the caption: asked girlfriend where she wanted to eat – she gave a decisive answer), portray women as jealous, vengeful and potentially threatening as well as lazy and unfit for work outside the home (pg.119).  According to the researchers in this study, this a discursive strategy that often seeks to demean women leaders and keep heteronormative masculine dominance management spaces (pg. 118).

Drakett, et al, found that these memes such as memes featuring Staredad, Vengeance Dad, Insanity Wolf, and man with American pride vest suggest that violence against women and children is humorous.

Researchers found that these memes build up hegemonic masculinity in which they construct gendered spaces (pg. 116).

Strengths and Weaknesses

While it is important to study imagery or text on the internet and its effects on the user, the researchers doing this study did not ask a specific question, nor do they focus on a specific meme and its problematic messages. They focused on a general array of image macros that, in a postfeminist world, have ironic sexist humor.

The researchers also did not find out how sexism in these image macros can influence online and offline culture. Or how people outside the feminist perspective can interpret these images and their caption.

Drakett, et al, did not disclose what the large categories, sub-themes, or codes they used, which makes the reader doubt the viability of the study and its results.

Additionally, researchers in the study categorized the memes they analyzed as general humor, but each meme they studied aims at specific target.

The study, however, did make progress in analyzing memes in the internet. By using the feminist analysis, these researchers found that these memes are not just sexist, but in a postfeminist sensibility, these memes have ironic humor, which are just as sexist. The researchers report that these memes reflect a deeply problematic issue where ironic postfeminist sexist humor is used to incite and normalize sexism in its variety of forms.

Drakett, et al, used the textual analysis that deals with both the text and the image. This way, the researchers focused on the message of the memes. Standing by the feminist criticism, the researchers report that the messages in these memes reinforce the traditional patriarchal view of the world (Frey, pg. 170, 1992).

References

  • Drakett, Jessica. Et al (2018). Old joke, new media: Online sexism and constructions of gender in Internet memes. Feminism and Psychology, Vol.28(1), 109-127.
  • Frey, Lawrence R. (2010). Interpreting Communication Research. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Print.
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