Anybody familiar with the concept of love knows that it’s never simple. It is so complicated, in fact, that the idea of making a relationship public to the entire world seems ludicrous… but then there’s Facebook. Ah, Facebook, where relationship status is printed right under that picture of you that you’re so darn proud of. A place where somebody you’ve never met can get to know you intimately just by clicking a few links and reading about your favorite things. Facebook represents an all new aspect of the social world, one in which your private life isn’t so private, and where your relationship status dictates who views your page. Such a melting pot of young adult angst and hormonally charged dialogue and imagery provides a dangerous and intriguing new arena in which our generation plays the dating (and mating) game. An anthropological analysis, using Feminist and Symbolic approaches, of this new “social network” Facebook reveals a new set of cultural guidelines and strict limitations concerning gender, sexuality, and love.
To begin with, we will look at the structure of the Facebook profile from a Feminist, gender-related perspective. To create a page, a person fills out information about their personal information: hometown, date of birth, education level, etc. Yet some of these areas expected to be filled in are blatantly biased; the category of “Interested In,” for example, offers only two choices, male or female. The category of sex also offers only male or female. Automatically, the site infers an adherence to common gender roles, and even suggests a strict adherence to sexual dimorphism. For example, while a gay man can choose male as his gender and select “Men” in the “Interested In” category, there’s little room beyond this. There is no “Transgendered” category, nor is there a category for intersexed individuals. The options listed present very little wiggle room in the way of sexual orientation, gender, and gender roles; you can be homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual, or you can choose to hide this specific information. Facebook has become global, yet it still recognizes only two sexes and gender is still predetermined.
If we look at Facebook from the Symbolic or Interpretive perspective, we can see that the site becomes a stage for performance. Sometimes the projected self can be vastly different from reality. If culture is not in the mind but in public performance of symbols, then Facebook provides a gallery for our symbolic expression. We publish pictures of rites of passage; 21st birthday parties and graduations, for example. And in this same way Facebook-sanctioned relationships have become status symbols. The visible connection between individuals on their profile signifies the legitimization of a relationship in real life, and it has become a rite of passage within a relationship to change a status from “Single” to “In a Relationship.” In these ways, Facebook has given Love a set of rules… you’re not in love if you’re not male or female, and you’re certainly not in a loving relationship unless your Facebook page says so.
– Sidney N.