Last week, Peer Index revealed its annual list of the most influential 140 UK tweeters. Strikingly, only 24 women made it in at all, and only four into the top 50. Not to mention the fact that two of them were only there courtesy of their connection as mother or girlfriend of a famous male pop star. But this doesn't seem to indicate any gender bias in the process of compiling the list, which was generated using digital algorithms focusing on criteria such as numbers of interactions and retweets. In fact, the process itself was gender blind.
In explaining how they compiled the list, Peer Index wrote: "The key is to understand how other people respond to a tweeter. Your rating is a function of other people's assessments". So the outcome reflects something wider about Twitter itself, or more specifically, the way we as human beings use Twitter, and the startling extent to which our unequal society is reflected even on relatively new social media platforms.
Of the 13 people listed in the 'politics' category, only two are women, reflecting a society in which male MPs outnumber their female peers four to one and of a cabinet of 23, only four of its members are women.
The 'science' and 'sport' categories are entirely dominated by men with not one woman appearing in either, revealing society's stubborn refusal to let go of the archaic and outdated notion that these areas are the preserve of men alone. (See, for example, the repeated categorisation of chemistry sets as 'boys' toys' in our department stores, the paltry 5% of female fellows in our Royal Society, or the fact that though women make up 50% of undergraduates studying chemistry, they represent only 6% of the subject's professors.
More surprising but equally frustrating is the fact that only one woman appears in the nine names listed in the blogging category, and there are only three women in the 11-strong 'journalism' list. But then again, we do live in a society in which women write only one fifth of front page articles and 84% of those articles are dominated by male subjects or experts. Twitter imitating life.
Where it gets really interesting is in the entertainment category, and particularly at the very top of the list. The whole thing is completely dominated by the powerhouses that are the members of boy band One Direction, who are ranked from one to five, with Ed Sheeran close behind. Their sheer star power is cemented by the hilarious fact that even their hairstylist, and the director of a film about them individually make it into the 140 most influential tweeters in the UK, purely by association.
What all this relies on is the screaming, obsessive adoration of millions of tween girls, brought up in a world that sends them the daily message that their major role in life is to be a girlfriend, sex object and worshipper of boys, whilst far more balanced messages are broadcast to their male peers. Yes, teenage boys are dealing with pressures and unrealistic body image airbrushing too, but largely speaking, they are still growing up in a world that tells them they can do and be anything they want, whilst girls have the suggestion drummed into them everywhere they look, from Monster High to Babyliss, Bratz to Cosmo Girl, that their appearance and sex appeal is the sum total of their value. It is significant that of the (fewer) women who appear in the 'music' category, including Ella Henderson and Rochelle Humes of the Saturdays, the fan bases responsible for putting them there are also largely female dominated. Boys are not pushed to validate and define themselves through external adoration to nearly the same extent.
But there is a glimmer of positivity in one other aspect of society that is very strikingly reflected on this list; its readiness for change. Within the top 140 most influential UK tweeters, alongside our prime minister and incredibly famous pop stars with million dollar promotional budgets behind them, appear a remarkable number of voices calling for equality. Caitlin Moran, Laurie Penny, Robin Ince, Simon Pegg, Graham Linehan, Stephen Fry, Neil Gaiman, Chris Addison, Lauren Laverne, Owen Jones and Helen Lewis all make the list - and are all prominent voices who have supported feminism in the UK. Their inclusion in the list at least suggests that a lot of people feel the same way.
Disclosure note: a former Everyday Sexism Project volunteer now works at Peer Index
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