Gender & Sexuality on Yik Yak: A Social Experiment

by Allison Judge

We’ve all heard the complaints about Yik Yak as a medium for cyber bullying and slander. The app has done some good, however, by providing the perfect setting for social experimentation. As you frequent yakkers may have noticed, the following yaks were posted three weeks apart, both Thursday night:

“My best friend and I made out the other night, so I might be a lesbian. I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know how I feel.”

“My bro and I kinda made out earlier, and I don’t know what to do. I think I might be gay. I’m so confused.”

The two posts I created essentially say the same thing, apart from the fact that the first suggests a female and the second suggests a male. The real differences lie in how other yakkers responded.

The anonymous responses to the female post provided empathy and understanding, including things like: “You could be bisexual, which is okay!” and “Experimenting with your sexuality doesn’t determine your orientation.”

With these comments, I decided to go deeper into the (made up) issue I was (not) having by saying, “But what about my boyfriend??? I think I still love him.” While some yakkers scolded me for being disloyal to said boyfriend, the tone remained empathetic toward my feelings with responses such as “dating a guy doesn’t negate your attraction to girls” and “talk about it together.” In the end, the yak received 15 up likes and 12 replies (including two replies from myself on the boyfriend issue). Not only were the responses not homophobic, but yakkers felt compelled to ask about my feelings and help me figure out my sexuality crisis.

The supposed male yakker (also me) was received very differently. Instead of talking about feelings, many commenters jokingly threw out names trying to guess who it was in order to make fun of someone. Several comments were either reported or down liked enough to be removed (there is no way to know for sure). In the end, this yak was down liked enough to be taken off of Yik Yak, so you won’t find it there. I did not get a chance to throw out a “what about my significant other?” question like I did with the previous yak—in fact, none of the comments asked for the original poster’s opinion or feelings.

So why were the messages—identical in subject but different in gender—treated so differently on Yik Yak?

It is well understood that society does not expect men (straight, gay and otherwise) to share emotions, so when a male goes onto an anonymous app to vent and maybe get help with his feelings, it isn’t surprising that he gets negative feedback. Not only was he not encouraged like the female was, he was scolded and bullied.

The thing is, any guy or girl on Yik Yak could have responded to either of these posts. We can’t blame straight males for being the only people to feed into this stereotype, as people often do, when no one at all commented on the man’s yak with encouragement. There is no way to know what gender or sexuality the commenters belong to, but it still says something about Millsaps—or at least the Yik Yak of Millsaps. Is it a good thing that we discourage men from sharing their feelings like this? If not, what are you going to do about it?