From the Boardroom to the Bedroom: Sexual Ecologies in the Algorithmic Age
Dr. bird's Dissertation
This project examined traditional U.S. ideas about identity and relationships, as well as the impact of electronic, digital, and algorithmic sexual media and institutions. It explored the relationship between these technologies, sexual discourses, and the socio-sexual environment in the United States, before and since COVID-19 started.
The study critiques the historical constructs that shaped our understanding of humanness, inclining the lack of comprehensive sexual education and the prevalence of sexual violence. The author argues that humans have become both profitably overly mechanized, just as, now, objects are being humanized. The research analyzes advertisements for biomimetic sexual technologies marketed to vulva-havers and examines their rhetoric about identities, sexual experiences, and more in the current socio-sexual landscape. The project takes a critical feminist perspective to contextualize these technologies within the larger societal and cultural norms. In summary, this research brings a new perspective to the field of media ecology by exploring the impact of biomimetic sextech and algorithmic platforms on U.S. individuals' sociosexually experiences and sense-making. This project anticipated the “rise of lonely single men” and mass neuroqueer self-realizations happening on TikTok in the ongoing COVID-19 envirusment.
Most notably, I am one of the first researchers to study TikTok, creating my own method to account for the unique opportunities and challenges it affords users. After coding and analyzing the primary data of biomimetic sex tech advertisements, I conducted a secondary analysis to contextualize those rhetorics inside present-COVID-19 discourses unfolding on the TikTok platform. I also did so to reveal how TikTok's algorithm distributes content based on stereotypically perceived race and gender. I used categories that reflect these common U.S. classifications, although they are limiting and not useful for capturing the complexity of human experiences. Out of the total 428 TikTok videos I saved, manually searched, coded, and analyzed from my personalized algorithm, I found there were more white creators (60%) compared to Black, Brown, and Asian creators. In terms of gender, cisnormativity prevailed, and there were more "feminine" creators (81%) compared to "masculine" ones. When looking at viral videos, there were more white creators (67%) and "feminine" creators (73%). These findings indicate that TikTok's algorithm shares and promotes less content from Black, Brown, and Asian creators, and their content is significantly less likely to go viral compared to white creators. These results highlight the racial and gender biases embedded in TikTok and society.
This dissertation project contributes to interdisciplinary conversations and literature in fields such as media ecology, communication, ethnic, whiteness, and gender studies. It also adds to disability scholarship and discussions on late diagnosis of neurodivergences. The project explores the mechanization of humans and the humanization of objects, drawing on U.S. cultural and technological histories. The author presents a critical feminist and media ecological framework and uses discourse analysis to explore the TikTok platform algorithm. The research findings highlight the importance of understanding the historical biases and structural inequalities embedded in media and society. In conclusion, this project contributes to advancing research on embodied sociosexualities and emphasizes the relevance of media ecology for critical feminist perspectives.
Beyond arguing that there has been a mechanization of humans that is now flipping into a humanization of objects, in my future research agenda, I contend that feminists and critical cultural scholars more broadly were the first overlooked media ecologists. We have a lot to gain together.
Relatedly, I argue that humans act as media in society building processes reinforcing biases. In other words, my liberatory embodied new research paradigm engages with implications of the COVID-19 envirusment. Ecologically, it can reveal how profitable disinformation and miseducation (about everything from race to sex ed) stacked on top of hundreds of years of propaganda, continuing the spread of colonially-founded capitalist-funded sickness, disablement, and death. To no one's surprise, those who are hit hardest by COVID-19 are disabled folks and those in redlined populations.
Considering the loneliness epidemic and sex apocalypse were well underway prior to March 2020, my post dissertation publications and content creation connect otherwise disparate phenomena like: rape culture, environmental racism(s)/injustices, algorithmic platform affordances, and the authority gap together to critically and media tingly describe the envirusment and U.S. sexually violent U.S. ecology.