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Bikini selfies and suggestive lip dubs: Examining queer women’s performances of sexual desire in digital media


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Stefanie Duguay, Jean Burgess, and Ben Light
Digital Media Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology

Draft working paper for the Digital Intimate Publics Symposium, 19-20 November 2015, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

This paper focuses on images of sexual desire that shape digital intimate publics of same-sex attracted women through related hashtags on social media platforms. While previous research has focused on same-sex attracted men’s use of digital technology to perform sexuality, studies of same-sex attracted women are sparse, focused on older technologies, and complicated by debates around gendered power relations. This is investigated by examining sexual content organised through hashtags related to same-sex attracted women (e.g., #lesbian, #gaygirl) on Instagram and Vine. Textual and visual analysis of user-generated content is paired with walkthroughs interrogating these platforms’ design, activity flows and features, identifying mediators that shape performances of sexual desire. Preliminary analysis shows that performances on Instagram can be divided into four categories: pornography and advertisements; memes, animations, and popular media; images of idealised ‘lesbians’; and personal selfies and sexy photos. On Vine, popular media and idealised lesbians are represented in fan mash-ups of YouTube celebrities while the majority of sexual performances involve sensual lip dubs and dancing to rap and hip hop music. Each platform provides unique affordances for these performances, such as Instagram’s filters and Vine’s audio track tools, as well as shared affordances like co-hashtags. Further analysis will allow for a better understanding of these multiple components of performances of sexual desire, presenting a view of Instagram and Vine’s digital intimate publics relating to same-sex attracted women.

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Bikini selfies and suggestive lip dubs: Examining queer women’s performances of sexual desire in digital media

  1. 1. Bikini selfies and suggestive lip dubs: Examining queer women’s performances of sexual desire in digital media Stefanie Duguay, PhD Candidate @Dugstef Professor Jean Burgess @jeanburgess Professor Ben Light @doggyb Digital Intimate Publics Symposium 19-20 November 2015 University of Queensland Digital Media Research Centre
  2. 2. Let’s talk about sex Focus: • Images of sexual desire that shape the digital intimate publics of same-sex attracted women on social media platforms • What content is attached to same-sex attracted women’s hashtags (e.g. #lesbian, #gaygirl) on Instagram and Vine?
  3. 3. Technology-facilitated LGBTQ publics • Early tech – phones, videotext, Usenet • Same-sex attracted men’s digital publics • Sex, relationships, and friendship • What about women? • BBS, chat rooms Digital Media Research Centre Image from Doug’
  4. 4. LGBTQ+ networked publics • Networked public = • networked tech • imagined audiences • platformization • Imagined audiences & communities • Trans people’s vlogs; • ‘Coming out’ videos; • Tumblr’s asexual counterpublic Digital Media Research Centre
  5. 5. Networked tech & Platformization • Social Shaping of Technology & Actor Network Theory • Platform affordances and constraints • Shaped by politics and economies • Embedded and enrolled in platform design, software, and algorithms Digital Media Research Centre Image via Facebook
  6. 6. Digital Media Research Centre Mediated performances of female sexual desire • Same-sex attracted women as an intimate public - addressing performances of sexual desire to an imagined audience? • Radical feminism & gendered power relations • Contradictions of post- feminism • Queer possibilities Image from Lost Girl via Bilerico
  7. 7. • Owned by Twitter • 6.5 second videos Digital Media Research Centre
  8. 8. • Owned by Facebook • Photos & 15-second video • Emerging research: • User content • Platform features • User interactions with the platform Digital Media Research Centre
  9. 9. Method I: Walkthrough • Interdisciplinary (ANT, HCI, political economy) and vernacular step-by-step ‘how to’ procedures (Burgess, Light & Duguay, 2015) • User interface • Functions and features • Textual content and tone • Aesthetics and symbolism • Identifying mediators of performances of sexual desire Digital Media Research Centre
  10. 10. Method II: User-generated content analysis 1 Instagram Scraper 3 days of collection 22 diverse hashtags 20(ish) images per scrape 422 Instagram images Digital Media Research Centre 0 automated Vine tools 3 widely-used hashtags 10 Vines collected per # 50 collected previously 80 Vines Telling people about my day job? Priceless! +
  11. 11. a) Porn and sexual services • Businesses • Mainstream hashtags • Male audience, heterosexy tropes Digital Media Research Centre Sexual desire on Instagram #lesbian #les #girlswholikegirls
  12. 12. Sexual desire on Instagram b) Memes, animations and popular media • Mostly teen accounts • Cross-posted from Tumblr • Addressed to fan and youth audiences Digital Media Research Centre #lgbt #loveislove #hellagay #lesbiancouple
  13. 13. c) Images of idealised lesbians • Teenagers and pseudonymous accounts • Lesbian stereotypes & fashion • Feminine, resembling mainstream media • Addressed to oneself? Digital Media Research Centre #lesbiancouple, #lesbianlove Sexual desire on Instagram Image from MTV
  14. 14. d) Personal selfies and sexy photos • Full spectrum of sexual performance, from seductive gaze to underwear shot • Broader range of body types, gender presentation, race, and age • Addressed to other women Digital Media Research Centre #lezzigram #inkedlesbians #lipsticklesbian #dykesofinstagram Sexual desire on Instagram Image from Autostraddle
  15. 15. Sexual desire on Vine • Fandom + popular media + idealised lesbians Digital Media Research Centre
  16. 16. Sexual desire on Vine • E.g. • Gazing at the camera, lip syncing, and dancing • Produced by individual women; • Focused on the camera; • Rap and hip hop; • Addressed to? Women and/or Vine communities relating to platform practices, musical taste, possibly race and location Digital Media Research Centre Co-hashtags: #ttsquad, #grindonme, #teamuntamed Image from Glamour
  17. 17. Digital Media Research Centre Mediators of sexual performances • Instagram • Filters, photoshopping, delayed censorship • Vine • Music, content channels, rapidly spreading trends • Shared • Captions, emojis, manipulation of brightness and camera angles, hashtags (but used differently across platforms), 3rd party apps (collages, frames, blurring) Image from Vine
  18. 18. Digital Media Research Centre So what? • There are digital intimate publics of same-sex attracted women performing sexual desire, but these occur within a varied visual landscape including porn, memes, and media images • Digital affordances evolve and shift in use across platforms Next steps? • Further analysis of visual content, trends, and context • Interviews with content producers
  19. 19. Thanks! Digital Media Research Centre Stefanie Duguay, PhD Candidate @Dugstef Professor Jean Burgess @jeanburgess Professor Ben Light @doggyb #bne #socialmedia #digitalmethods #UQ #publics #LGBT #lesbians #bisexual #queergirls #les #dyke #lipsticklesbian #lesbianfunhouse #inkedlesbians #instagaygirls #boi #stud #RainbowGang #LGBTCrew #tbt #followme #follow4follow #lols
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