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The Timesian Urge to Explain a Meme

  • December 07, 2021

When Toni Kelani, 23, tweeted “Why hasn’t anyone felt the masculine urge to send me money?” she had done so as a joke. But there is a bit of truth behind the sentiment, she said. “I think the tweet resonated with so many women because this is a feeling they want to experience, and who doesn’t like receiving gifts?” she said.

Several people noted that the meme was an example of the ways in which the internet has enabled people to express a wider range of identities.

“No matter one’s gender identity or expression, deploying one or more gender constructs playfully in the meme can be subversive and potentially liberatory as a practice,” said Heather Woods, a meme researcher and an assistant professor of rhetoric and technology at Kansas State University.

Faith Hewitt, 20, who posted her own take on the meme — a tweet with four selfies captioned “the nonbinary urge to not smile in pictures” — said that “being nonbinary online is easy, but actually living with that in real life can sometimes be challenging.” The meme, she said, was meant to articulate an experience that other nonbinary people might relate to.

Dr. Woods echoed that sentiment. “This meme claims as collective something that otherwise might feel individual or unique. It finds a shared point of connection to bridge differences and create a community within large, amorphous and flexible boundaries,” she said. “That community, that catharsis, can be welcome in times of division.”

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