The tension between Twitch and the larger community of female gamers has been high for some time now. One of the landmark moments of this tension was the great Twitter battle of 2015 that ensued after Smash Bros streamer Sky Williams published a youtube video declaring that women who intentionally use their bodies to gain popularity on Twitch are creating a false expectation for men and a sexually hostile environment for other women.
This was followed by a wave of Twitter, Redit, and Youtube users urging Williams to examine the other side of the coin: women should be able to do what they want with their own bodies. A patriarchal society should not dictate how low a woman’s shirt can be before she is considered a “slut.” Just because one girl shows her boobs on Twitch doesn’t mean an expectation is set up for all women to do so. Many Twitch users genuinely want women to show skin, as streaming is meant to have a hook and is rarely “just about games.”
And to this very day, the debate rages on… Many still side with Williams saying that women using their bodies for money regardless of the platform is detestable. Others blame Williams for slut-shaming and putting the blame for female objection on women.
But what about Twitch itself? Can the platform at the center of this controversy do anything to solve its female objectification problem? The answer is yes.
1. Twitch Needs to Admit There’s a Problem
A Polygon article posted in November of 2016 published research by the Indiana University Network Science Institute which analyzed 70 million messages posted across 400 Twitch channels. Their findings? While commenters on male streams were more likely to discuss actual game content, commenters on streams by women were more likely to reference their physical appearance, using words like “boobs,” “babe,” and “cute.” An excerpt from the report reads:
“Female channels are characterized by words about physical appearance, the body, relationships, and greetings while male channels are characterized by game-related words…The content in female channels share common words that signal objectification.”
With actual data now to back it up, the first step Twitch needs to take in battling female streamer objectification is fairly simple: look at the numbers, look at the comments, and admit that it’s happening.
2. Twitch Needs to Adjust Its Algorithm
In the comments of that same article by Polygon, one user pointed out that although he only uses Twitch to watch Spelunky speedruns and Dark Souls streams with all male players, his top 15 recommendations are all all top-down cams of women with plunging cleavage. “Why were these particular streams ‘recommended’ for me?” He asked- and it’s a good question. Its not what he was looking for, and yet, it was fed to him. For Twitch to be promoting this kind of adult content to users who aren’t specifically looking for it is poor marketing. By adjusting its algorithm for recommended streams according to what the user is interested in, Twitch may be able to increase interactions with people of similar interests and decrease potential female objectification and harassment.
3. Twitch Needs to Clearly Define Its Identity
Twitch came out in 2011 as a spin off of Justin.tv– a general interest streaming platform. However Twitch primarily wanted to focuses on video gaming playthroughs, eSports competition, and content for charity. In recent years Twitch has also moved to include music broadcasts and other miscellaneous creative content, almost swinging back to a general-interest style platform that they originally diverged from. Needless to say that with a continuously morphing/adapting identity it is difficult to know exactly what boundaries should look like for site content. Twitch needs to spend some time asking themselves who their current users are, what content they are looking for, and exactly what they are promoting.
There is no easy fix the issue of female objectification on Twitch, because first you would need to address female objectification in general, which is an even more complex topic. But admitting its prominence, fixing their algorithms to be more relevant to user interests, and clearly communicating the site’s main purpose (whether it be video gaming or a more general interest), may help to slow down the female objectification monster that Twitch has been feeding.
What do you think? Are there other ways Twitch can help prevent female user objectification? Let us know in the comments!