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Article

Crypto-masculinities

I encounter the bitcoin boy far later than most others. His devotion to the world of bitcoin makes him easy to poke fun at and he is quickly compacted into an unflattering archetype. Over time, bitcoin boy becomes easy to spot in both online spaces and real-world interactions. Over time, bitcoin boy also becomes wealthier.

Content warning: references to sexism

I encounter the bitcoin boy far later than most others. Admittedly, I initially understand little about his hobby. I am intrigued when told of the constant whirr of computers required to mint bitcoin, and of terms like blockchain and node which seem alien on my tongue yet perfectly normal to him. The bitcoin boy maps and assesses his currency of choice—a monetary system designed to be scarce and unreproducible—with single-minded focus. His devotion to the world of bitcoin makes him easy to poke fun at and he is quickly compacted into an unflattering archetype. Over time, bitcoin boy becomes easy to spot in both online spaces and real-world interactions. Over time, bitcoin boy also becomes wealthier. 

When I google image search bitcoin boy, the face of 22-year-old Erik Finman pops up. Mega-rich by age 18, Finman began investing in bitcoin as a 12-year-old in 2011. In one image—a mirror selfie—he stands in a suit, pouting, his hand on the collar of his jacket. Flick through the photos and his awkward selfies are replaced by Ted Talk snaps, the black background lending Finman an air of professionalism and self-assurance. “I’ve always kind of had a millionaire mindset”, he tells The Business of Business in an interview. Finman encapsulates the bitcoin boy archetype through the relationship between his nerdiness and his desire for wealth through ‘hustling’. His success demonstrates that there is much to be gained through crypto investment; he holds the title of the youngest bitcoin millionaire with pride.

Bitcoin boy is not a gender-neutral archetype. Rather, there is an explicit assumption of masculinity underpinning this stereotype. The inventor, or inventors, of bitcoin operate under the pseudonym of Satoshi Nakamoto. Online, many theories on Nakamoto’s real identity circulate. However, a common thread throughout the discussion of the mysterious Nakamoto is the use of he/him pronouns and the presumption of masculinity. This raises the question: why is cryptocurrency—and economics more broadly—so intertwined with masculinity? Is the typical bitcoin investor actually male? Or is the stereotype of the bitcoin boy entirely inaccurate? According to CNBC, there is truth to the stereotype, with twice as many men than women investing in cryptocurrency. This statistic seems to follow the general trend: the domain of economics has been, and continues to be, male-dominated. For instance, the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Business and Economics remains unbalanced in its employment of academics across different genders despite efforts to diversify staff. Additionally, less than a third of economics students are women, further suggesting that the problem does not originate from cryptocurrency but in the broader interaction between economics and gender in our society.

The masculinity of bitcoin seems to contradict its premise of decentralising, and thus equalising, the economic sphere. It seems as though a lack of regulation within bitcoin has not fostered equitable opportunity, with men making up the majority of those profiting from crypto investment. Some have made efforts to challenge the masculine culture of bitcoin. Actress Mila Kunis launched an animated non-fungible token (NFT) piece titled Stoner Cats in response to the sparse representation of women in crypto spaces. However, the sale of women-driven projects as NFTs seems unlikely to create significant change within bitcoin culture.

Bitcoin boy’s passion for his fodder is deepened by the marketing of cryptocurrency. Advertisements for bitcoin are spiked with adrenaline—flickering colours and quickly shifting digits conveying the urgency of investing immediately on sites like capital.com. Marketing is embedded in traditionally masculine spheres, to catch the eyes of new potential bitcoin boys. For instance, Plus500, a cryptocurrency mobile trading platform, sponsors Australian Rugby team ‘The Brumbies’. Further afield, a stadium in Los Angeles formerly known as Staples Center has since been renamed Crypto.com Arena.

Any currency relies upon collective belief in its value, which turns arbitrary digits into meaningful expressions of worth. But, in the case of bitcoin and its counterparts, the role of confidence seems even more central. On r/bitcoin, redditors share their belief that bitcoin will expand, feeling that permanent economic change is inevitable due to the power of cryptocurrency. They recommend investment to their families and friends, and express disappointment when ignored. One redditor writes that bitcoin is humanitarian, symbolic of freedom for all outside of traditional monetary systems. It is hard to gauge whether they are joking or not, but perhaps that is precisely the point. The insistent belief in the capacity of cryptocurrency to not only grow in value but to also unshackle humanity is both inspiring and bizarre. From an outside perspective, the reddit community of bitcoin enthusiasts appears as a pantomime.

Despite the intricacies of the bitcoin community, bitcoin boys essentially function in the same manner as other communities where collective belief is central. There is something spiritual in his faith in the capacity of crypto, especially considering the fundamental arbitrariness of currency. His role as a member of a community of believers is arguably more important than his investment theories. In this sense, the bitcoin boy is not dissimilar to his archetypal opposite, the astrology girl. Both find meaning in systems of belief—economics and the stars—which, to an outsider, appear as unscientific and random. To both groups, online spaces, particularly reddit, form a way to forge both personal and collective meaning. Given the frequent periods of isolation and lockdown over the past few years, it makes sense that bitcoin boys are becoming more commonplace. Beyond an opportunity to make some cash, cryptocurrency offers users a chance to find meaning and purpose through connecting with others. And, centrally, this is a phenomenon which has largely involved men.

Scrolling through online bitcoin spaces reveals the innovation required to sustain the currency. On my screen, I see upmarket tech-trailers scattered around the United States, filled with computers and precious graphics cards needed to mine bitcoin. Renting out space for others to mine is a lucrative side-source of income for a trailer-owner. The centrepiece of bitcoin, the blockchain, is unique in its capacity to resist attacks or corruption. The bitcoin boy, through his investment and keen interest in crypto, has enabled new markets to form and new technology to expand in use. His part in this system of collective belief has had a tangible, permanent change on the world of economics and technology. After looking further into bitcoin, these claims of its capacity to fundamentally change our relationship to money don’t seem too far-fetched.

But what remains for the bitcoin boy after years of devotion to crypto? Does the shine wear off? Disillusionment has struck the original bitcoin boy, Finman, despite his importance in bolstering the cryptocurrency. He tells The Business of Business that “he’s tired of crypto”, ready to move onto new endeavours, with others managing his investments. Despite the innovation and enthusiasm fostered by bitcoin, perhaps the bitcoin boy is an archetype which will eventually fade into the background, restoring a world where crypto advertisements are not omnipresent and we no longer need to pretend to understand ‘mining’. For each bitcoin boy, there is someone equally passionate in their indifference towards cryptocurrency. Finman puts it best: “if I hear the word bitcoin one more time, I’m going to smash my head against a wall.”

 
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