If you take a look at a list of the most-subscribed YouTube channels you’ll notice a trend: nearly all of them are created by, or predominantly feature, men. Currently at youtube.com/charts, a list of “Popular Channels” features smosh, RayWilliamJohnson, nigahiga, PewDiePie, HolaSoyGerman, the male-centric machinima and OneDirectionVEVO, while the RihannaVEVO channel is the only nod the video site gives to content starring a female. Why is this? Does the YouTube audience simply prefer men? Are men creating better content than women? Is it more difficult for girls and women to gain acceptance from viewers than boys and men?
Earlier this year, British YouTuber Benjamin Cook, aka ninebrassmonkeys, explored these questions in “Girls On YouTube,” an episode of his weekly documentary-style YouTube series, “Becoming YouTube.” The episode took an unfiltered look at what some of YouTube’s biggest names, including Hank Green, Charlie McDonnell, Carrie Hope Fletcher, Jack and Dean, Lex Croucher, and Emma Blackery, think about “girls on YouTube.”
“Becoming YouTube: Girls On YouTube” sparked some controversy–mainly because it ignored the fact that there are hugely successful female YouTubers, such as Grace Helbig, iJustine, Hannah Hart and Jenna Marbles, the second most-subscribed-to creator on YouTube with over 8 million subscribers and 1.1 billion video views. It also left out the voices of some of YouTube’s more seasoned and successful female stars, many of whom actually feel empowered by their YouTube fans and tout the advantages of being women on the video site.
We’ll hear from a couple of these more optimistic female YouTubers shortly, but first – here’s a look at some of the biggest issues brought to light in Cook’s ‘Girls On YouTube’ video.
The demographics are in the guys’ favor.
In “Girls On YouTube,” YouTuber Lex Croucher explains, “It’s about an 80-20 split of girls to boys watching [vlogs on] YouTube and girls, especially 15 year old girls, like to watch boys.”
While YouTube’s demographic breakdown for advertisers and Quantcast demographics show a negligible difference between the number of male and female viewers on the video site, the consensus among the YouTubers in Cook’s video seems to be that a majority of viewers of their vlog-style content are female. Thirty-year old Cook reports, “82.4 percent of my audience is female…and just over half is aged 13 to 17.” He says, “This split is typical of a male vlogger’s audience demographic.”
YouTuber’s Jack and Dean attribute this to the fact that girls are simply more prone to the whole fan-girl lifestyle. “Girls obsess over stuff,” says Dean. Jack adds, “It’s been proven for ages. Look at the Beatles, and now you’ve got One Direction.” Fair or not, teen girls’ inclination toward fandom, paired with their desire to look at cute boys, is more advantageous to male YouTubers than to female YouTubers.
Emma Blackery says, “Some people just go for looks – they want to see a cute boy on the screen.” It’s different for female creators, explains Blackery. Girls aren’t just watching because you’re nice to look at. “They’re not looking at how attractive you are – they’re seeing if you make good content, if you’re relatable, if you’re funny.”
Society teaches girls that looks matter.
If you turn on your television or open a magazine, odds are you’ll be bombarded with beautiful women. For our entire lives, we’ve been conditioned to believe that if we are thin and if we are beautiful, people will like us more and we’ll be more successful.
YouTuber Carrie Hope Fletcher says, “In the media in general, there’s definitely more pressure on girls to kind of look a certain way, whereas there’s less pressure on the boys. It’s more nerve-wracking for girls to be on camera because they might not think that they look right for it.”
It doesn’t help that many male and female YouTubers alike are bombarded with trolling comments about their looks–called fat or ugly, even if they aren’t. Blackery says, “Girls do get judged a lot more than guys, I think,” which can be hard to overcome, but overcoming it and sticking with making videos can ultimately lead to a successful YouTube career. “I got really upset, my first dislike I think I cried in a corner somewhere, but now I’ll get any kind of comments that are rude and I’m just like ‘Yeah I’m used to hearing that’ and I’ll say something back to them…I stand up for myself now.” Blackery now has over 217,000 subscribers.
The flip side.
Cook’s look at ‘Girls On YouTube’, while interesting, does shed a rather pessimistic light on the world of female YouTube creators so I decided to do a little research of my own. I spoke with a couple of seasoned female YouTubers to get their take on what it’s like being a woman on YouTube.
Issa Rae, creator and star of comedic web series, ‘The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl’ and ‘roomieloverfriends’, who also recently joined forces with Shonda Rhimes on a new comedic television series, tells me,”I think there are way more opportunities and advantages for women on YouTube. It really provides a unique opportunity to find your own audience, big or small, for whatever it is you do.”
When asked whether she could recall any instances in which she felt she was treated unfairly or differently on YouTube because she was female, Issa Rae told me, “I can’t think of anything offhand, because I don’t like to think that way. If I’m the only minority in a situation (the only woman or the only person of color), I try to use that to my advantage as much as possible. I try to think of the advantages of being the only female in a certain situation, as opposed to the disadvantages.”
Cassandra Bankson is a model that has made a name for herself on YouTube by helping those who, like herself, suffer from cystic acne. She has put herself out there in a big way, revealing her biggest insecurity to the world in an effort to help others, and says that, “There are certainly individuals who are a bit more open about their negative (and sometimes hurtful) opinions.”
Bankson does point out that, “Speaking personally as a woman, and just from what I have observed, it seems women are slightly more critical and ‘comparing’ than males. Occasionally I wonder if my audience was male if there would be the same competition.” But overall, she says, “I’m so thankful to have a place where I can share my experiences and still receive such amazing feedback and support.” Bankson says she doesn’t believe that being a woman has made things harder for her. She says of her channel, Diamondsandheels14, “My experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I try to focus not only on beauty, hair, acne and makeup, but on inner beauty, confidence, and self-worth.”
What do you think? Why do you think there are more popular male YouTubers than female YouTubers? Is it harder for women to succeed on YouTube? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.