Researching gender on the move: TubeCrush as postfeminist intimate publics

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract

TubeCrush is a multi-platform website that allows its users to sneak a picture of ‘guy candy’ on the London Underground, and share this image with other TubeCrush users. The website works on the principle of mobility, both in the mobile device (e.g. the phone, the tablet), and on a modern urban-based anonymity facilitated by an ever-increasing sense of alienating city life. In combining these elements, TubeCrush taps into new cultural practices bound up with the taking and sharing of unsolicited images of people in public places.

Berlant (2008) has defined intimate publics as ‘operat[ing] when a market opens up to a bloc of consumers, claiming to circulate texts and things that express those people’s particular core interests’ (p. 5). In this paper, we develop ‘intimate publics’, arguing that alongside a collective normative conventionality embodied by the intimate public space, we also see in TubeCrush a deepening of postfeminist sensibility in the context of a broader feminisation of the workforce, that allows for an extension of workplace intimacies (Gregg 2010).

This paper therefore thinks through TubeCrush through four lenses: as a digital articulation of a broader fabric of gender relations in relation to postfeminism; as Intimate publics that hold a ‘bloc of consumers’ in place; as ‘attraction to-’ community, that forms allegiances across gender and sexuality across physical and digital spaces; and as mobile desires. In analysing the online images of ‘hot men’ on TubeCrush, we argue that this postfeminist intimate public directs desire in particular ways. For example, the expensive watch or suit demonstrates forms of symbolic value, while erotic capital is represented through repeated reference to thighs, biceps and arms: many of the images feature men on the way to or returning from the gym. The groin area is also repeatedly made a focal point, allowing symbolic power (disposable income, time, care of appearance) to shore up alongside sexual prowess. The visual economy of the TubeCrush platform privileges the suited or gym muscled man to secure the power of the white, cosmopolitan, urban city worker while being constructed by social commentators as reverse sexism and evidence of gender equality.

We locate the emergence of these unsolicited digital images to a particular temporal zone, in the movement to and from work. We argue that TubeCrush renders invisible the subjective experience of ‘the city’ for this new worker, for example where relationships outside the office have become increasingly difficult to maintain. Tied to new workplace intimacies, TubeCrush masks some of the everyday oppressions of living and working in these contexts, so that despite its obvious gender reversal, TubeCrush remains decidedly normative. The paper concludes with a review of the online and mobile methods used in this study for researching gender ‘on the move’.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2018
EventEuropean Congress of Qualitative Inquiry - KU Leuven University, Leuven, Belgium
Duration: 7 Feb 20189 Feb 2018

Conference

ConferenceEuropean Congress of Qualitative Inquiry
CountryBelgium
CityLeuven
Period7/02/189/02/18

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