Sociality and classification: Reading gender, race, and class in a humorous meme

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


This article is concerned with how the gendered, raced, and classed practices of readership of a humorous meme on Tumblr organize forms of sociality and belonging along these lines. Based on the anonymous Tumblr blog, WhatShouldWeCallMe, the meme narrates feelings and reactions related to youthful, feminine, Western “everyday” experience through the use of captions and Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) images. Drawing on the feminist Cultural Studies tradition of text-reader analysis as well as New Literacy Studies approaches to literacy, I suggest the practices of readerly participation in the meme require a social rather than individual set of competencies and knowledges. I propose “spectatorial girlfriendship” as a term encompassing how the texts of the meme require the reader to operationalize gendered, classed, and raced classificatory knowledges and construct social forms of commonality on this basis. In the meme, the reader “gets” the joke by aligning an ostensibly incongruous GIF and caption, remixing and matching existing classifications of people, bodies, and objects. I demonstrate how spectatorial girlfriendship as a readerly lens arranges, transacts, and interacts gender, class, and race in multiple ways, indexing social inequalities without recognizing them as such. Bodies in the GIFs become “stock” images, used for selective resignification. Consequently, while offering pleasures of an understood readerly feminine commonality, participation in the meme is structured unequally, going beyond the reader’s ability to decipher the GIF and caption in the posts. The meme privileges an ideal reader constructed through postrace, postfeminist “theories” of the useability of gender, race, and class.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Media and Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • class
  • gender
  • humor
  • literacy
  • meme
  • race
  • reader

Cite this