The art of selling one s self on an online dating site: The best or worst lie I ve ever told: A report on digital dating in Canada. Dating sites require users to develop a new literacy of self-presentation, one that reinforces and re-inscribes the tendency toward promotionalism that permeates contemporary social life.
Gendering the self in online dating discourse community -
They further suggest that Huffaker and Calvert's finding of few gender differences in lexical choice in teen blogs may be due to the fact that the latter's data were all of the same genre, diary blogs, in which teens of both genders wrote about the same topics: On the face of it, these findings might be taken to support Rodino's and Danet's claims that traditional gender binaries are breaking down in CMC, were it not for the fact that research has repeatedly found evidence of gender differences in CMC at the discourse and stylistic levels.
Herring , , , found that in academic discussion groups women tend to apologize, appreciate, and thank—as well as to perceive and be upset by violations of politeness—more than men, whereas men are less likely to be concerned with politeness and more readily violate online etiquette. In Internet Relay Chat rooms, Herring observed that females tend to type representations of laughter and smiling more, while males tend to use more profanity, more sexual language, and to be more aggressive.
Cherny found similar patterns in a social MOO: Males were more likely to use authoritative language and to respond negatively in interactions, while females were more likely to agree explicitly, support others, and make more personal and emotional contributions. Similarly, in an analysis of positive and negative message tone on MySpace profiles, Thelwall, Wilkinson, and Uppal found that female messages had a positive tone significantly more often than did male messages.
Sites such as Facebook have gained rapidly in popularity, including among teens, and many have incorporated synchronous chat to enhance interaction.
A few studies have analyzed users' visual self-representations in multimodal CMC environments. Siibak studied Estonian teenagers' motivation for profile picture choice in social network sites and found that female users had a higher tendency to base their choice on looking good, whereas the motivations of males were more varied. Their results are consistent with the findings of Ellison, Heino, and Gibbs for online dating sites, which found that in written self-presentations women tended to heighten desirability by describing an idealized version of themselves.
Relatedly, Toma, Hancock, and Ellison found that users of online dating sites reported the photograph as being the least accurate feature of the user profile, implying that the pictures were edited to appear more attractive. Except for Siibak , most studies of visual self-presentation have not focused on young people. Another exception is Scheidt , who analyzed visual self-presentation in a moderated graphical teen chat environment.
She found that female avatars tended overwhelmingly to be seductively posed and partially clad, while male avatars tended to be fully covered, including hiding their eyes—which tended to look down or away from the viewer—under hair or caps.
In their study of photographic self-representations of college students on MySpace, Manago, Graham, Greenfield, and Salimkhan also found a pervasiveness of sexualized female self-presentations.
However, a new finding was that males in Manago et al. Research Question and Hypotheses The overarching question that guides this study is: To what extent, and in what ways, are gender differences manifested in contemporary teen chat sites?
We address this question by analyzing four levels of communication: Based on the literature surveyed in the previous section, we posit the following hypotheses: Few, if any, gender differences will be found on the level of individual word choice microlinguistic level in teen chatrooms. Gender differences will be found on the discourse-pragmatic level. Boys will use language that is more assertive, resolute, and active. Girls will use language that is more passive, cooperative, and accommodating.
Stylistic gender differences will be found. Boys' communication will tend to adopt a more flirtatious and overtly sexual tone. Girls' communication will tend to adopt a more positive, friendly tone. Gender differences will be found in self-representation in profile photographs. Girls more often than boys will be shown in suggestive clothing or undress. Girls more often than boys will present seductive behavior. These hypotheses do not posit that a change has occurred over time e.
Rather, as a heuristic, we adopt the conservative assumption that what has been found in previous studies of gender and CMC is likely still to be true for teen chat.
However, the hypotheses are subject to disconfirmation, in which case, that assumption would be called into question. Data Sample The sites for analysis were chosen by first attempting to compile an exhaustive sample of English-language teen chat sites from multiple sources: The 27 sites identified in this manner were subsequently narrowed down to a judgment sample based on popularity. Site popularity was defined as user frequency individual visits per month and identified using the website rank page www.
The five highest-ranked sites in the sample were selected for analysis. None of these sites specified the sexual orientation of its target population of users e. This assumption was supported by the active presence of heterosexual flirtatious interactions, and the absence of same-sex flirtatious interaction, that we observed on the sites. Three of the sites seemed to invite flirtation through the names of the chat rooms they made available e. A sample of 1 hour of chat was collected from all five sites simultaneously in January , and the first messages from each were selected for analysis, excluding overt advertisements e.
Meet cute singles now! Gender was identified by analyzing userIDs, as well as the thematic content of messages. Overall, messages in the corpus were from male users, were from female users, and the sender's gender could not be identified for 47 messages. Three out of the five originally selected sites contained either no images apart from the site logo or had only graphical images ranging in number from 1 to 16 , while two of the chat sites supported profiles where users could upload profile pictures.
For the purpose of this study, profile images from one of these sites were analyzed. Images from the other site containing profile images were considered for analysis but discarded, because the site crops images uploaded by users, such that a full analysis of those images was not possible. The selected site has a search feature that randomly retrieves user profiles according to specified search criteria. For this study, two searches were conducted, one for female and one for male users between the ages of 16 and The first profile images from each search were taken as the sample for analysis.
Images that did not contain a photograph were not excluded, since we were also interested in knowing what proportion of users of each gender chose to represent themselves with photographs and what proportion did not. The final sample consisted of profile images male, female. The methodological procedures followed for each level of analysis are described below.
Microlinguistic Features The first analysis focused on word frequencies. This text analysis application, which contains a default dictionary that defines which words should be counted in the target text file, had previously been used by Pennebaker et al.
The online version provides automated counts of seven key linguistic features: The application was run for all the female messages and all the male messages separately for each of the five chat sites.
Discourse-Pragmatic Features The approach adopted to analyze discourse-pragmatic features in this study was speech act analysis, which is concerned with the intended meaning or illocutionary force of utterances Levinson, All of the chat messages were manually coded by the authors according to a CMC act taxonomy developed by Herring, Das, and Penumarthy The CMC act taxonomy is derived from Bach and Harnish's classic classification of speech acts combined with Francis and Hunston's classification scheme for acts used in spoken conversation, adapted to fit the medium of online communication and simplified for ease and reliability of coding.
The resulting adapted taxonomy thus consists of the following 15 CMC acts: Each message was coded for only one act; in cases where more than one act label could have applied e. Stylistic Features All messages were also coded for message tone, using categories adapted from Herring —aggressive, friendly, and neutral.
Using a grounded theory approach, we added three other categories that emerged from our data: Each message was coded for only one tone. It seemed reasonable to expect that site users would self-describe, or identify, with traits imagined to be desirable to members of the opposite sex Jagger, , p. One woman described herself as outgoing, energetic, funny, intelligent, intense, compulsively honest, a little mischievous is how friends would describe me.
F The qualities she desires in an other are somewhat different, though with some overlap; while describing herself as affectionate, playful and even bashful, she seeks a partner who is intelligent, funny, decent, passionate, lively, knows himself well, spiritual, noble, strong, driven, independent, tall, sextastic to me.
A number of these attributes seem to fit especially well with those described by Jagger , p. Feminine traits represented include empathy, intuition this profile also lists the user as being a therapist , and communication; masculine traits desired include intelligence though this is listed in descriptions of both herself and her desired other , strength of character and principles noble, decent , and ambition driven.
An interesting example for comparison is this quote from a male site user who seems to be seeking a relatively modest personality, but shows no concern for projecting that trait himself: I am looking for a [sic] energetic, funny, intelligent woman. If you consider yourself in possession of some or all of the aformentioned qualities, have a job and your life together though not too much, I don t need a bitch or anything then please feel free to consider me.
Also, being considered a knockout would be a bonus, but not required. And if you think you may be a knockout but aren t sure then that s even better. I don t like people who are too full of themselves!!! M The tone is simultaneously demanding and self-congratulatory, such that one almost wonders if the writer is being ironic.
He implies that while he desires a certain level of independence and intelligence, too much makes a woman a bitch, though very 11 Fullick Online Dating Discourse good looks being considered a knockout are acceptable particularly if she doesn t have too high an opinion of herself. The qualities referenced by profile authors are not always listed in a straightforward sequence of single words.
In her profile, F implies an ability to transcend traditional stereotypes about women as helpless and dependent, with the comment that I like to pick [up] my cordless drill, and put up a shelf or two once in a while. An example of women s desire for alternative versions of masculinity is written by F, who selects what are generally considered to be feminine traits in her outline of what she desires in the other: Other users stuck to a more normative script, including M, who states: I love slow dancing with a lady, I love romance and surprise, and I love to spoil my partner and make her feel comfortable.
He expresses his ideas about his ideal partnership by elaborating with references to normative versions of male-female romance, such as those where the man takes care of the woman, and he references chivalry note use of the word lady. A number of attributes were regularly referenced or implicated as desirable by both men and women; many users sought to associate both themselves and their ideal matches with these qualities, which included creativity, intelligence, passion roughly defined as an enthusiasm for something , maturity, confidence, selflessness, honesty, morality, and a good sense of humour.
User M writes that he is looking for honesty dammit! Someone I can trust, someone I can love. She has to have good morals and someone who is not selfish, while F likes spending time with people who think about the world beyond themselves. You are a grown-up. Food, culture, work, place Throughout the profiles, many references are made to specific places and to travelling, restaurants, leisure time, work, and so on; these generate associations.
To allude to one s lifestyle, including habits of consumption and pace of life, is to reference other kinds of choices and desires and ways of seeing oneself in the social world. Occupations and work are seen to signify something important about a person s ambitions and goals. In the profiles sampled, users did not list their incomes or financial status, but quite a few made comments about work and almost all indicated something in the occupation category.
Education, a category filled in almost all the profiles, could indicate income level and occupation indirectly. Job titles did not noticeably reflect gender norms, though women seemed to have chosen more communication-oriented jobs such as therapist, translator, comms advisor compared with men s finance, entrepreneur, working for the man, robotics mfg. Nerve s profile form encouraged its users to refer to objects, through prompts such as In my bedroom you will find, In my refrigerator you will find, and The last great book I read.
A good example was that of M, who listed as Five items I can t live without: Within a single line, he makes references that indicate an affiliation with and reliance on particular forms of technology a trendy laptop others referred to their ipods ; an appreciation for wine as opposed to beer, 12 Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 38 4 which may be viewed as less classy and also more male ; the importance of work and international travel; and a place for a partner within a particular vision of urban living.
This demonstrates a concurrence with traditional gender norms for women not only is a man listed as an object among others; he is also indispensable Paasonen, For example, user M references place and politics as aspects of lifestyle: This could imply a concern for the environment, an interest in sustainability, and a preference for a rural rather than an urban lifetyle as well as a rejection of the mainstream values of consumerism.
On the other hand, when F imagines her life 25 years from now she sees herself in [her] 50s. With [her] soul mate whether be married or common law maybe a child. Still working hopefully still in recruiting and do[ing] an awesome job at it. She references what is generally an acceptable life-script for contemporary Western women, envisioning a long-term partner, a child, and a fruitful career.
In addition to the photo What happens to the form and features of dating discourse when the signifiers of the body that are employed in the short ads like slim, blonde, and so on, are already covered by the use of a photograph and a series of checked boxes that refer to height, weight, and hair colour? Paap and raybeck , p. Possibly because of this, there were few explicit references to bodies or to sex in the profiles I used in this analysis.
This seems interesting in a context where photos may be used as an initial means of eliminating candidates from a larger pool of possible dates, but text often does the rest of the rhetorical work. It was still clear that some users had more invested than others in describing their physical attributes; for example, M is keen to point out in the first available text box that between dancing every weekend and hitting the gym a couple of times a week, I manage to stay in shape.
He also identifies his body type as athletic. One of the primary ways in which such significations work is through users referencing of their bodies in different ways that did not point explicitly to a version of maleness or femaleness, but which played on associations.
A relevant text box was Favourite item of clothing. Many of the men in my sample did not complete this at all, and women were not particularly descriptive: In spite of their brevity, these answers still seem to signify that site users are presenting their bodies in specific, gendered ways: Pragmatics, rather than choice of object, could also reflect gendered differences such as one interesting example in which two users one male, one female chose the same favourite item, shoes.
While M picked A good pair of shoes. Gotta have good shoes, F showed more enthusiasm with Shoes, shoes, shoes! While one norm of femininity is that women tend to be more concerned than men with advertising their bodies and that men are receptive to this , idealizations of youth, beauty, slenderness and fitness are now promoted as universal consumer images of desirability Jagger, , p.
Not just a slim body but a healthy one fit, active, bolstered by good diet is the ideal for everyone, men included Featherstone, The concern for body image has been universalized such that now we both [men and women] have magazines dedicated to what s wrong with our bodies Vitzthum, , p.
There could be a connection here to the number of references to activities such as hiking, camping, bike riding, and so on, which are not necessarily considered sports but which do signal characteristics of an active body and lifestyle.
Discussing which sports I play and watch makes a distinction about lifestyle, fitness, health, and gender. Competitive sport is normatively gendered as masculine, and men are generally assumed to both watch and engage in more sporting activities especially team sports than females. For women, playing sports is more likely to be acceptable primarily as a form of exercise. In some of the profiles I analyzed, the position of references to sport and exercise in the first text box seemed to indicate its assumed importance to the profile s author: Sports is a bit of a blank spot, though I m working on it, unless you count following English Premier League football ; I love playing sports and hittin the gym.
Contrary to the stereotype, some of the women indicated that they enjoyed sports as well F states: I ll play pretty much any sport you can throw at me I don t really watch sports unless it s live; I prefer playing them. While a number of site users did not fill out the sports text box, they were able to generate inferences about the body in terms of general physical healthiness suggested by references to food and drink, smoking, alcohol, and so on.
When such references showed up, it was usually in categories such as the Fill in the blank: Walking on a beach with a lady [is sexy]; walking naked on a beach with said lady [is sexier].
One place where sexuality was more often referenced in detail was the Favourite on-screen sex scene box, which invited profile authors to make a cultural reference to a movie or TV show that indicates something about their own sexual preferences, desires, or fantasies.
However, not all those who responded did so with a specific ex- 14 Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 38 4 ample. F states that she has way too many favourites in this category, but that in general she prefers more of a vulnerable charge and emotional risk ; while F also avoids picking just one scene but describes an ideal that would involve sensuality and desire. Nothing is sexier than wanting to touch but holding back to make the desire last.
Instead of responding directly to the prompt, each of these women chose to articulate a theoretical version of on-screen sex that reflected their own preferences and desires. Two of the women made references to same-sex desires or fantasies, one of whom F seemed to qualify her interest even as she took the trouble to mention it: I can t recall because it was too late and I was too stunned but I m pretty sure it involved two men.
Yes, us women too have this strange fetish! In the same profile, there were also oblique references to queer sexuality as other from the self, in the best or worst lie I ve ever told box: I might have told a few men I was a Lesbian when trying to avoid harassment at bars where I frequent to do karaoke. Unfortunately that just encouraged them. This site user has an interesting strategy for constructing attractiveness to the opposite sex by implying that she is so magnetic that men wouldn t stop approaching her, even when she described herself as a Lesbian.
Men s references to sexuality were no more explicit than women s, showing variation according to the user s style of self-presentation. However, while women more often described or imagined ideal intimacy, men were more likely to engage in flirtatious implication, showing how the nonverbal cues individuals typically display when they flirt can be represented online in text Whitty, a, p.
In the Favourite on-screen sex scene box were some examples, including I prefer to create the content and Come over here and I ll tell you. Conclusions and further research The Internet as a medium has provided a new arena for social interaction and thus inevitably for the development of romantic relationships.
As websites have been developed to facilitate this, an apparent philosophy of more information is better has led to a flexible interface that can support images and also much more text, and thus a much more complex array of rhetorical devices.
Site users are authors of virtual versions of themselves, assembling each as a bricolage of references to genres and cultural artifacts. A new form of literacy is required on the part of both writers and readers in order to successfully construct and interpret these texts, which are highly considered, well- worked, and re-worked and re-imagined over time.
A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods would help to build up a fuller and more nuanced picture of the ways in which gender presentations change over time, manifesting partially as shifts in discursive practice. The self-promotional, explicitly romantic objective of dating profiles provides a unique and useful case study of new forms, discourses, and identifications that should be a rich vein of research in the future.
Quantitative, content analytic research could also be used to inform further theoretical work on gender and identity in contemporary romantic life. Dating profiles are not trivial texts; in spite of the humour employed by many profile authors, the search [for a romantic partner] is far from playful, since it involves the very sense of the self, social acceptability, and desirability Paasonen, , p.
At stake is one s self-perception and self-worth, signified by success or failure in the romantic arena, with gender performance serving a key role.
Dating sites in form offer users a peculiar combination of private and public, personal and promotional elements, as do many of the websites in the social networking genre they invite one to present a particular kind of face to the virtual world, and they tend to structure the interactions they are designed to facilitate.
Profile-writing and other forms of online participation are also part of a reflexive process of identity creation and reformation. As more people continue to use these sites as a part of their everyday practices of interacting and identifying, what will be the implications for intimate relationships?
Acknowledgments The author wishes to thank the two anonymous reviewers who provided constructive feedback on this paper, the Social Sciences and Humanities research Council of Canada for generous support, and Lars Wessman for assistance with French translation. From satire to singles: Former president of The Onion is running new dating site. A report on digital dating in Canada.
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Free-form text boxes Introduction text [Why you should get to know me]: The word or phrase that best describes my personality: The best or worst lie I ve ever told: Fill in the blank: My most humbling moment: The last thing that made me laugh out loud: If I could be anywhere right now: If I was given a million dollars: Five items I can t live without: The role religion plays in my life: