Gender Pay Gap at Google and the Wages of YouTube Twerking

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Got Hired at UAlbany

Been a long time since my last post. Been hard at work and landed myself a new position at the University of Albany. I will be returning to a music department where I will teach Black American Music and a new course on Music and Interactive Media. My primary focus however will be my new research on race, gender, and technology in online musical spaces and information from YouTube to Wikipedia.

This past week, I began working on a new article about the sexploitation of tween girls in YouTube twerking videos that were uploaded from 2009 to 2014 (just a year after the Miley twerk-a-thon at the VMAs).

I was about to head out to take care of some chores when I read info about a pattern of gender discrimination against women at Google on the NASDAQ website It was reported from Zach’s investing firm yesterday.  It seems the gender pay gap and systematic discrimination in the area of compensation is something that plagues the culture of YouTube’s parent company Google. Think patriarchal oppression. But they’d never write that into the copy.

YouTube videos and gender demographics

When I first began researching twerking videos on YouTube, I remember there was a FAQ section on their help site that asked why females 13-17 were dominating traffic to popular videos, as if that was a personal problem not a form of public praise, and the answer that was provided stunned me. “We don’t know.”

They may have genuinely not known but that seems queer given when we know about the analytics of the social web. They know just about everything quantitatively and with predictive analytics and metrics they know quite about each user qualitatively. What users buy, where they go after visiting the site, their demographics which is bigger than the public demographics general users see–age, gender, and sometimes nation.

YouTube meets Billboard June 2013

Back in the old days you could see details about individual users and you could see the breakdown by age, gender and nation for every video. That public info was privatized around the same time that YouTube, Billboard, and Nielson began to treat YouTube views as viewable impressions for monetization and currency purposes.

I was just reading a wonderful quote about W.E.B. DuBois who in 1899 (r1999) “asserted that Black are not a social problem and that their condition and behaviors, are instead symptomatic of a larger system of oppression” (Hunter, Guerrero, and Cohen in Black Sexualities 2010, p. 377). What’s happening with women inside Google is another social problem that has structural explanations in the ways women are discriminated against. Read more…

Gender Inequality at Google

The U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) has made a sweeping statement that it had “found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce” and DOL Regional Director Janette Wipper said the agency had received “compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters.

In a detailed response to the allegation, Google’s VP of people operations, Eileen Naughton said that the claims had been made “without any supporting data or methodology.” She also explained the salary analysis system Google currently employs:

“Each year, we suggest an amount for every employee’s new compensation (consisting of base salary, bonus and equity) based on role, job level, job location as well as current and recent performance ratings…The analysts who calculate the suggested amounts do not have access to employees’ gender data. An employee’s manager has limited discretion to adjust the suggested amount, providing they cite a legitimate adjustment rationale.” The model then measures individual salary calculations against those received by their peers, which is done to eliminate “statistically significant differences between men’s and women’s compensation”. Naughton also said that Google’s methodology is available to other businesses if they want to test their own compensation practices for equal pay.

This has been going on since Sep 2016, after which a case was filed in January, asking for Google’s compensation data. Things came to a head after Google failed to comply with a routine audit.

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“How Can I Have 1.9 Million Followers and Feel…This Alone?”

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it. – Upton Sinclair

The intrinsic troublesome and uncertain quality of situations lies in the fact that they hold outcomes in suspense; they move to evil or to good fortune. The natural tendency of man is to do something at once ; there is impatience with suspense, and lust for immediate action.      – John Dewey,  “The Quest for Uncertainty” (1929)

Assata Shakur

The Lust and The Salary It May Depend On

A fellow black feminist scholar pointed this video of by a so-called professional twerker who appears to be “white,” and claims to the the “most famous booty shaker.” Why? Because she earns 6-figures making videos on Vine. When non-black women make this symbolic move and earn capital, I wonder if they ever consider that there are ethics involved in how their moves will impact those who came before them. It’s never necessary if those who came before are black and female.

While I am expanding my research to include videos by non-black teens and adolescents, I’ve chosen to limit my study to YouTube though I’d surely would have as much to figure out and analyze if I expanded the data set to video from WorldStarHipHop, Instagram and Vine. I want to thanksto Qiana Curtis for bringing this video/short film on the professional twerker to my attention on FB.

The line that strikes me most in the 4-minute short film I used as the title of the post. Does one have to make 6-figures to learn that money can’t buy you love or eliminate the animosities of race? Jessica says as her voice starts to crack as if performing on cue for the camera, “How can I have 1 point …. nine million followers and feel…this alone?” Generation Like meets the chicken that always comes home to roost in the old and new attention economy of the entertainment business.  (Check out the PBS documentary of the same name if you haven’t already. What are Teens Doing Online?).

 

This copy about the short film appeared below the original FB post:

Twerking 9-5: ‘Vine’s Most Famous Booty Shaker’ earns 6 figures

Jessica Vanessa is a professional twerker, who’s making big bucks by shaking her booty…in fact, she makes a 6-figure sum by shimmying her bum!

22-year-old social media superstar Jessica captivates audiences from around the world with her hypnotic assets. The former teaching assistant is now paid by companies to mention their products to her 2m online followers, who tune in to watch her twerk, jerk and crack jokes in comedy short videos on Vine.

Jessica now makes more money from a six-second Vine vid than she did working for four months at the nursery. It seems her bottom is taking her to the top!

Barcroft TV bring you a new short film every weekday – from the fascinating to the funny – plus two amazing full-length television shows every week.

#Twerking #Twerk #JessicaVanessa #JessiVanessa #Booty #Bum #Squats #Fitness #Dancing #Buns #VOTD #Video

Can Twerking Be Your Profession?

I don’t study adult twerkers and while Jessica Vanessa calls herself a “professional twerker” some critics/haters might consider the moniker an oxymoron. There are those who will liken it to “sex work” though there is no sexual touch or intercourse involved. The visual economy of twerking flips is like a free “peep show” that lures advertisers to solicit Vanessa’s “assets” to sell products.

In American culture and society associating earning money with having a profession is a common practice. If I earned a living off of making music, I too would call myself a professional. Google defines the term as:

pro·fes·sion
prəˈfeSHən/
noun
  1. a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.
    “his chosen profession of teaching”
    synonyms: career, occupation, calling, vocation, métier, line (of work), walk of life,job, business, trade, craft;

    informalracket
    “his chosen profession of teaching”
  2. an open but often false declaration or claim.
    “a profession of allegiance”
    synonyms: declaration, affirmation, statement, announcement, proclamation,assertion, avowal, vow, claim, protestation;

    formalaverment
    “a profession of allegiance”

 

The Oxford English Dictionary, a definitive and professional arbiter of definitions in the English language, defines “profession” as:

A paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification:
his chosen profession of teachinga lawyer by profession

This definition gets complicated when it comes to mixing work with anything sexual…outside of hollywood or any industrialized complex of music, TV or film. Then your profession is questioned….rappers, DJs and dancers esp. from hip-hop included.

For me, the question keeps coming back to who profits from the social or economic capital of the cultural performance known as twerking? A cultural practice that began with black dance behaviors outside the marketplace dating back to New Orleans in the late 1980s and linked culturally throughout the African and Afro-Latin and Caribbean diasporas for decades if not a century.

The fact that race is never mentioned in the short film seems curious to me. The following viral meme from 2012 suggests that race was attributed to the before Miley Cyrus took it to the top of Google searches. But such practices in dance and music have always been extracted from the rich bottom of black creativity in our culture for centuries. Erasing the contestation is troublesome but such practices go beyond the hood.

Meme - So this is what Negro Girls Do

Questioning Who Profits

I was chatting with Hannah Giorgis after inviting her to speak to my students yesterday and we both dwell in and pondered a few related questions. Most of the ideas of these questions I attribute to Hannah. I embellished on them. She’d probably say my previous blog post on who profits from the counterfeit culture of stereotypes about black girls inspired some of these ideas:

  1. How are people who do not identify, who are not socialized or perceived to be, black girls affected by black girlhood? Do other girls or transgender folk get to explore sexuality through its prism or as a way into and out of popular adolescent/ youth culture?
  2. What does it mean to put symbolic elements of black girlhood upon yourself (without the symbolic codes of skin color and its incumbent stigmatization)?
  3. What does it mean to adopt (as well as adapt to) “black femaleness” and at any moment back away from it, return it, shed it when no longer value-able?
  4. What does it mean to have black girlhood imposed upon you because you look the part because of skin color even though you didn’t necessarily sign up for the part (Cue music: “Mama’s always on stage“)?
  5. Can these tensions be in conversation with one another in our contemporary discourse or debates or must we always take sides (black or white, booty or not)? (Cue music: Which side are you on? #michaelbrown #ferguson)
  6. Ultimately, who is profiting from black girls twerking on YouTube (way back in its beginnings in 2006) as a performance?A performance that can “make it rain” in 6 figures for some and not others (particularly not adolescent/teen black girls themselves)?

The questions need to be lived with before we simply jump off on some conclusion or result. There’s research and study to do first. I’ll leave readers with this. Some  commentary about a bell hooks talk at the New School earlier this week. In a piece called “bell hooks Was Bored by ‘Anaconda'” featured in The Cut, writer Kat Steoffel wrote:

According to hooks, reducing female sexuality to “the pussy” raised questions about “who possesses and who has rights in the female body.”

the booty is a more visible, PG-13 stand-in for female sexuality, easier to represent (and sell) in pop culture, but freighted with more racial connotations.  A booty-centric vision of female sexuality, hooks explained, asks, “who has access to the female body?”

Broadcasting while your twerk has consequences and differential consequences for non-blacks than for black girls themselves. There’s a lot to unravel before or while shaking your butt in the webcam.