To investigate social media’s impacts on different gender groups, the M-A Chronicle conducted an anonymous survey of 153 M-A students, 71 of which identified as boys, 72 as girls, 6 non-binary, 3 no label, agender, or genderfluid, and one as transgender. Our survey shows how social media affects boys and girls differently.
Research by psychologist Nicki Crick explores these differences. “Boys are more physically aggressive—more likely to shove and hit one another, and they show a greater interest in stories and movies about physical aggression. Girls, in contrast, are more ‘relationally’ aggressive; they try to hurt their rivals’ relationships, reputations, and social status—for example, by using social media to make sure other girls know who is intentionally being left out.”
Jordan Hollies, a freshman boy, notes, “I feel like for guys, there’s a lot of mental pressure not to be emotional and sad, and to mask their true emotions by putting on a closed front online and in real life.”
When students were asked whether they felt drained from social media, 46.4% responded sometimes, and 19% responded yes. Of these two responses, 40% were boys, 52% were girls, and 8% were others.
The Coddling of the American Mind, an expansion of popular essays written for The Atlantic by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt to investigate the social trends that have intersected to promote the spread of these untruths says, “Social media offers many benefits to many teens: it can help to strengthen relationships as well as damage them, and in some ways it is surely giving them valuable practice in the art of social relationships. But it is also the greatest enabler of relational aggression since the invention of language, and the evidence available today suggests that girls’ mental health has suffered as a result.”
Freshman Ashley Arnello said, “I think girls really do struggle more on social media because girls tend to feel like they need to look a certain way trying to please guys when guys don’t experience the same pressure. They think ‘I wanna look like her,’ or ‘I wanna act like her because maybe that’s what he wants.’”
Another M-A girl wrote, “I feel like social media, albeit helpful in some cases, has more negative effects than positive ones, especially on teenage girls. Comparing yourself to fake people on the internet really has a negative impact on your mental health, and we often strive to ‘fix’ ourselves to literally unattainable measures because of it.”
A 2016 Center for Collegiate Mental Health report on 139 colleges studied rates of mental disorders among college students. These were the first group of college students who grew up with social media, also known as “iGen.” The report found that, between 2012 and 2016, the percentage who described themselves as having a mental disorder increased from 2.7% to 6.15% for male students, and from 5.8% to 14.5% for female students.
Though discussions regarding the downsides of social media often highlight girls’ struggles, boys also face struggles regarding gender.
On existing gender stereotypes on social media, Hollies said, “You can do this, but you can’t do that. And you have to treat a woman like this and you can’t treat her like that. But then for women, you have to let men just completely control your life because there’s an enforcement of social patriarchy and things like that. The social roles are strongly shown.”
Social media also affects nonbinary and LGBTQ+ people, because of the hate that circulates online platforms.
Sophomore Sabina Ortiz said, “There are going to be homophobic and transphobic people on social media, and they are going to take every chance to make people feel worse about themselves or try to change them because of their identity. Sometimes when people in the LGBTQ+ community see negative comments or posts about how they are ‘the devil’s spawn’ or ‘disgusting’ it makes them start to believe that and want to hide themselves.”
Social media can also benefit LGBTQ+ people by being an outlet for self-exploration.
Freshman Nora Acosta Aparico said, “Social media can help because LGBTQ+ youth are able to find and explore their sexual orientation and gender identity, and it’s a place to find support or support others within the community.”
Our research found that social media affects different genders differently, whether it’s through fostering toxic masculinity or transphobia. Still, while social media places immense pressure on teens to conform to unhealthy gender stereotypes, it can also be a place that affirms one’s gender identity.