István Jenei is a graduate of the Institute of English and American Studies, University of Szeged with a master’s degree in English Studies. Email:
Due to their ever-changing nature, cyberspace and its various technologies offer fertile ground for academic inquiry. One aspect worthy of discussion is their subversive potential as regards identity formation, or, more precisely, identity liberation from the perspective of gender relations. This paper will focus on debating the latter aspect.
I will attempt to demonstrate that online communication, regardless of the platform or the degree of anonymity it lends, contrary to the celebratory approaches, is still unlikely to be capable of rewriting “real-life” conceptions of gender and identity. Instead, what we see is an obvious invasion of traditional values into the space of the internet, allowing for the proliferation of dichotomous and essentialist understandings of gender and identity.
My paper consists of four main sections. To start, I will present a critique of the early postmodernist approaches to online identity formation. Helen Kennedy’s (2006) empirical approach and Laura Robinson’s (2007) more theoretical reflections shall aid me in this endeavour.
I will begin the actual discussion of the various online communication technologies through the works of Michaelson and Pohl (2001), and Postmes and Spears (2002). Here, I will look at the ways in which gender stereotypes are activated during anonymous e-mail and instant messaging conversations. The conclusions made here will suggest that anonymous online communication is in no way free of gender stereotyping, and in some cases the online occurrence rate of stereotype activation is even amplified.
The third section will explore a lesser known technology of online communication, one with a special focus on online identity formation—the MOO (MUD [Multi User Dungeon] Object Oriented). MOOs allow users to create identities in the form of player characters, with apparently freely definable characteristics, including genders of their choice, with many outside the conventional binaries of the “real world” (such as “Spivak” and “neuter” [Roberts and Parks 2001, 216]). Here, I will first analyse the research of Roberts and Parks (2001), and that of McLeod and Leshed (2011) in order to gain insight into player habits (and the related research) that surround the gendering of online avatars, and the phenomenon labelled by Roberts and Parks (2001) as “gender switching.”
Fourth, drawing upon Gregson’s (2005) analysis of shoujo anime fansites, I will discuss the fandom world of Japanese cartoons targeted at a female audience in order to find out how fangirl identities are articulated on the space of shoujo fansites, and how these identities relate to traditional conceptions of femininity. Fiske’s “cultural economy of fandom” (quoted by Gregson 2005, 129-130), will also be briefly discussed for reflecting on the activity of shoujo fans and the exploration of the subversive potentials of the technologies they employ.
Since my paper focuses on the various technologies of the internet, all centred on the act of communication across cyberspace, as a final move, I will also look at the concept of the cyborg, a controversial figure of various definitions—though almost always described as a part machine, part flesh, still-human being. Indeed, one could argue that with the unprecedented level the integration of technology has reached within our lives we have already become cyborgs, our computers, smartphones and cyberspace itself become an “extension” or, rather, part of our “natural” bodies. And this is precisely the reason why I have included the topic of the cyborg: we might argue that we have turned post-human, our limbs stretching limitlessly across the non-spatiality of the internet—yet does this rewrite the traditional ideologies of gender?
In the paper I shall draw on Judith Butler’s (1990) approach to the concept of “gender”; I align myself with the Butlerian notion of “performativity”. This approach defines gender as arbitrarily constructed collections of actions and modes of self-expression, imposed upon individuals by society with the aim of rendering them recognisable within a clearly defined binary. A key element here is “repetition”, or rather, reiterations (Butler 1990, 140): signifiers that are assigned to either sides of the spectrum come to be solidified and made to seem “natural” through a socially regulated logic that requires, and at the same time makes possible, their continuous performance, “awaiting” the earliest moments of childhood.
Regarding the notion of “identity”, in accordance with Butler’s (1990) concept of performativity, my stance may be labelled “postmodernist”: there is no essence of a person, no unified sense of self; identity as understood here is fragmented, a fluctuating chimera comprised of a number of abstractly imagined personae—similar to what Childs would call a “self-informative identity” (Childs 2011, 15). Still, the key difference that separates this understanding from those employed by Turkle (1995, 1997) and other related authors is that I do not believe in the separation of identity from body: identity, or sense of one’s self, is formed in crucial part as a response to one’s reaction to their own perception of their physical form, and the inscriptions engraved upon it by society (Grosz 1999, 381). Consequently, I shall challenge the position that argues for the possibility of disregarding this connection, by referencing the reader to the internet technologies of our present day. I will expose the postmodernist ideals of the liberation of the mind from the body; of the arguable freedom of identity formation within cyberspace. What we shall see is that the space of the internet, as part of a particular late-modern society, is informed by the same logic and values that structure and inform that very society.
2 Critiquing the celebratory postmodernist approaches
Since the internet becoming publicly available in the early 1990s, identity liberation in cyberspace has often been the focus of academic attention. Initially, postmodernist scholars, such as Turkle (1995) or Stone (1995) claimed that cyberspace makes it possible for people to shed their embodied selves and the inscriptions of gender, race, or religious orientation upon them, allowing for prejudice-free communication with fellow internet users. As time passed and the internet became more and more widely used, however, these arguably idealistic notions came to be challenged. Kennedy (2006) and Robinson (2007) are two such authors who would debate the postmodernist views on the freedom of online identities with their respective empirical and “symbolic interactionist” approaches. Their studies form compelling arguments against the ideals of identity-liberation online, and thus, I turn to them to bolster my own claims against a gender-free, non-dichotomous cyberspace.
Perhaps the biggest and most often-cited advocate of the post-modernist line of argument for the Internet as a space for identity freedom and play was Sherry Turkle (1995, 1997). What she and other scholars of a similar stance—for instance, Stone (1995)—have argued, is that the Internet allows users to communicate without the burden of one’s seemingly inescapable physical body and its embodied characteristics of difference, such as gendered-ness and raced-ness. Turkle would further claim that cyberspace enables a person to have multiple identities that one could simply switch between on a whim (1995, 178, as cited by Matusitz ).
For my arguments, Turkle’s two most problematic claims are the following. Firstly, she clearly distinguishes online identity play from the act of lying, insisting that all of the alternate identities textually constructed in cyberspace are genuine fragments of the mind. Here, I would draw upon Matusitz’s (2005) argument, who locates the possibility of online identity play precisely in the deceptive capacity of language whose function Turkle (1997) is so eager to deny. Of course, in a context of arbitrary social constructs it is difficult to say what amounts to a deceptive presentation of the self, but I would still strictly argue that complete freedom from one’s socially embodied self is impossible, and thus “alternative” online identities merely stand as its deceptive negations.
The second troublesome, and now undoubtedly disproved claim made by Turkle is that her research findings, acquired by studying the very limited demographic of Multi User Dungeon (MUD) players (a userbase predominantly consisting of young white male adults with a financial standing to allow them everyday access to the Internet [Robinson 2007, 94]) would hold true for the whole of cyberspace (1995, 187). To disprove this claim, I would draw upon two insightful studies, one by Kennedy (2006) and another by Robinson (2007). Here, I would like to very briefly summarise them, as both texts are crucial to my later arguments.
In her paper, “Beyond anonymity, or future directions for internet identity research”, Helen Kennedy (2006) problematises the concept of anonymity, as well as its future usefulness and validity within identity studies. She does this while examining the empirical findings of a previously conducted research project called Project Her@. The importance of this project lies in the fact that its participants, all required to take part in a distance education course on computer skills, were members of a specific stratum of society vastly different from that studied by Turkle (1995): while the MUD users of Turkle were largely white, middle class, young adult males, Kennedy’s Project Her@ participants were fourteen working-class women belonging to minority ethnic groups, and without previous experience of computer usage.
As a culmination of their efforts during the course, the fourteen participants were required to create customised online websites. These websites, functioning as the base of empirical data for Kennedy, were precisely what she focused her analysis on (2006, 862). In the end, the most intriguing characteristic of these personalised homepages turned out to be that none of them were intended to hide or reinvent aspects of their creator’s “physical” self, such as their gender or ethnicity. On the contrary, in certain cases these characteristics were the explicit thematic foci of the websites (Kennedy 2006, 867-868).
Needless to say, Multi User Dungeons and customised homepages are two entirely different technologies of identity formation, with starkly different functions, and one cannot, and should not draw overt conclusions based on either analyses of the two separate groups of Turkle (1995) and Kennedy (2006). However, Kennedy’s study proves at least this much: Turkle’s claim that online identities are free-floating, bodiless subversions of conventional notions of identity, does not always hold true, and definitely cannot be generalised to the entirety of cyberspace. In fact, as I will later argue, today it only characterises a vast minority of internet users.
Laura Robinson’s (2007) text, “The cyberself: The self-ing project goes online, symbolic interaction in the digital age”, provides a line of argument comparable to that of Kennedy’s (2006), though from a proclaimed symbolic interactionist point of approach. Here, Robinson claims that online and offline “self-ing” (as she puts it) are wholly inseparable processes, the former being an “extension” of the latter (2007, 103). Robinson treats online selves not as free-floating redefinitions of the physical embodiment, but formations inescapably embedded within it.
When addressing the matter of self-ing in the context of MUDs, Robinson presents a crucial point: that even the supposedly reinvented selves of these online role-playing platforms adhere to the gender binary of the “real world”, reinforcing the constructed duality of maleness and femaleness. She observes that the online identities of MUDs are not only clearly and exaggeratedly male or female in their imaginary physical characteristics, but are also endowed with a gender-stereotypical form of behaviour to ensure recognisability (Robinson 2007, 99-100). Furthermore, she points out how sex-based identity play (especially male users role-playing as female) is generally frowned upon, this further troubling the possibility of “liberated” identities in MUDs (100), and supporting an important point: that online self-ing technologies are generally permeated by the same binary-based logic that lingers at the core of society and culture, reaffirming and proliferating it in the process.
With this, I have hoped to present a brief critique of the celebratory post-modernist approaches to online identity formation. While such lines of argument are not entirely dismissible, their validity is greatly limited when one looks at the ever-widening population of the Internet. Moving on, in the next section, I aim to find out what effects gender stereotypes have on the various forms of online communication and identity formation.
3 Online communication and gender stereotypes
In this section, I shall present a discussion on the effects certain forms of online communication technologies have on gender equality in the course of conversation, as well as seek answers to the question whether gender stereotypes carry over into these forms of communication, and if so, how. First, I will briefly summarise and discuss a study made by Michaelson and Pohl (2001), which analyses inter-gender communication with the purpose of cooperative work via the technology of e-mail. Here, while due to the small size of the data pool, definite conclusions are not made, it is suggested that gender stereotypes tend to be present in e-mail-based conversation, although to a lesser extent than in real life. A second, larger-scale study, on the other hand, by Postmes and Spears (2002), discusses the issue of gender stereotypical behaviour in anonymous instant messaging. In this case, based on a much larger pool of data, it is concluded that gender stereotypes do indeed carry over, and surprisingly, are even intensified when there’s a high degree of anonymity among conversation participants, predominantly in the form of what is termed “self-stereotyping” (Postmes and Spears 2002, 1079). Finally, once both articles have been summarised and briefly addressed, I will present my own conclusions as to how these studies’ findings relate to the issue of identity formation online.
3.1 Gender stereotypes and e-mail
Michaelson and Pohl (2001) look at e-mail-based online communication, and with the aid of two small-scale empirical studies, endeavour to find out the effects it may have on cross-gender conversation, especially as regards to gender-stereotypical behaviour. The two studies, one conducted in 1995, and the other in 1998, involved the participation of male and female university students from Edinburgh and Vienna in e-mail-based cooperative problem solving sessions. While quantitative analysis of the results showed little differences along the axis of gender, a qualitative analysis showed the existence of gender stereotypical behaviour.
In the first study, conducted in 1995, eight pairs of students participated, four from the Vienna University of Technology (four women and four men), and four from the Heriot-Watt University of Edinburgh (four women and four men), in order to carry out e-mail based discussions about sightseeing in Vienna and Edinburgh. Discussions were held in pairs, and each pair contained one student from VUT, and one student from HWU, with gender pairings of man-man, woman-woman, and woman-man, the last of which there were two combinations: one in which the female student was from VUT and the male from HWU, and another in which the male student was from VUT and the female from HWU. Participants from VUT were required to write about an ideal afternoon spent in Edinburgh, while participants from HWU were asked to do the same about Vienna. E-mails were analysed both quantitatively and qualitatively, the former in order to observe word count, and the latter to note more the individual characteristics of the discussions. Contributions were evaluated based on whether they were “altruistic” (x<1), “balanced” (x=1), or “selfish” (x>1), as pertaining to the number of words expended on one’s own topic (selfish), divided by the number of words expended on the partners’ topic (altruistic) (Michaelson and Pohl 2001, 25). Based on this 1995 study, no definite conclusions were made, other than the lamentable observation that the participation pool of 8 students proved lacking when it came to definitive results (Michaelson and Pohl 2001, 26).
The study conducted in 1998 served as an expansion upon the study of 1995, with the primary objective of expanding the pool of available data samples. In this round, another 8 pairs of students were asked to participate, with the replication of the conditions present in the 1995 study. However, two important differences were found between the student groups of 1995 and those of 1998: firstly, all students in 1998 showed greater skill and experience when it came to online communication via e-mail (understandable, based on the span of time between the two studies, during which computers and the internet would become notably more widespread), and secondly, female participants of the 1998 study typed a greater number of average words across all messages sent, than those of the 1995 study (71.45 words/message in 1995, as opposed to 114.73 words/message in 1998) (Michaelson and Pohl 2001, 26). Regardless of these differences, however, Michaelson and Pohl felt the combination of the two studies was appropriate and feasible (2001, 26).
The combined results of the two studies were analysed from three perspectives: firstly, there was the aspect of overall word count; secondly, the aspect of total message count; and lastly, an altruism/selfishness score was calculated, though based on an altered version of the 1995 formula. Here instead of simply counting the words sent regarding one’s own and those regarding the partners’ topic, then dividing the first by the latter, the number of words spent on one’s own topic was divided by the sum of the words spent on one’s own and the partners’ topic. This revision of the formula proved more fruitful as the dimension of “proportional effort” was also preserved in the final score of “altruistic” (x<1), “balanced” (x=1), or “selfish” (x>1) (Michaelson and Pohl 2001, 27-28).
Regarding the above mentioned quantitative findings, male participants could be roughly generalised as being “selfish”, while female participants “altruistic”. Interestingly, however, even the fact of whether students were from Edinburgh or Vienna seemed to play a part in the scores when looking at the overall findings. For instance, the female students of Vienna scored more altruistic when e-mailing with Edinburgh men, than the Edinburgh women who conversed with Vienna men. However, as an important note, the authors do point out that the scale of the research was still much too small to allow overarching generalisations (Michaelson and Pohl 2001, 30). Still, these findings may serve as an ample reminder that gender is, in fact, a culturally prescribed set of behavioural norms that do vary from culture to culture.
The qualitative findings, on the other hand, are perhaps more worthy of discussion, especially when the matter of gender stereotypes is concerned. Indeed, the authors did observe gender-stereotypical behaviour in some of the cases, though mostly in same-gender pairings. One woman to woman exchange, for instance, consisted of very long and verbose messages structured like “proper” letters, while in the case of a man to man discussion, many sexist remarks and jokes were present with an overall stereotypically masculine conveyance (Michaelson and Pohl 2001, 33). In general, Michaelson and Pohl do locate some gender stereotypical behaviour in the rest of the messages as well, though the extent of this is lessened in comparison to face-to-face communication. The authors argue that this may be because of a lack of a “bodily presence” that would activate stereotypical behaviour (Michaelson and Pohl 2001, 34). While this point is not elaborated upon in the text, one may think of examples where face-to-face interaction would incite gender-stereotypical behaviour: for instance, certain mentally engraved non-linguistic cues of submission may incite stereotypically masculine conversation strategies from the other, or inversely, fervent gesticulation as an assertion of masculine dominance in conversation may push the partner to take a submissive stance. Still, even without these factors of physicality, other, linguistic forms of gender-stereotypical behaviour do appear to seep into e-mail conversation, hindering the ideal of gender-equal online communication.
3.2 Gender stereotypes and instant messaging
In their paper entitled “Behavior Online: Does Anonymous Computer Communication Reduce Gender Inequality?”, Postmes and Spears (2002) seek to find the answer precisely to the question suggested by the title: whether online conversation, under various degrees of anonymity, tend to reduce gender-stereotypical exchanges or not. In order to accomplish this, two separate studies, empirical in nature, were conducted, both involving anonymous communication via instant messaging platforms. While one may be led to believe that anonymity would create a more equalised, “gender-free” space for communication, the studies suggest this isn’t the case.
It is important to note, that other than to answer the focal question of the paper, the two conducted studies each had their respective claims to demonstrate. The first study sought to make the point that, instead of simply considering utterance count—as in most studies that claim online conversation is gender-equalised (e.g.: Kiesler and Sproull, 1992, as cited by Postmes and Spears 2002, 1074)—the actual content of the utterance should be observed and analysed in order to make conclusions. The second study on the other hand, seeks answers to the hypothesis that anonymous communication has a high chance of activating gender-based stereotypes (Postmes and Spears 2002, 1076).
The most important characteristics of the first study are the following: 56 participants were involved in the procedure, 28 male and 28 female students, all university students with an average age of 22 years. Each student was allocated to a group of four participants, consisting of two female and two male students, and other than their genders, the students were completely anonymous to each other. The participants in each group were then asked to communicate via instant-messaging for ten minutes in order to cooperate and find a solution to a problem that was deliberately created to appear stereotypically male-oriented (Postmes and Spears 2002, 1076).
In order to evaluate the data, two individual people were asked to rate every utterance of each participant on a scale of -1 to 1, noting whether a particular statement was “dependent” (-1), “neutral” (0), or “autonomous” (1). An average of the results was then calculated across both raters, in order to arrive at a single score, again on a scale of -1 to 1, for each participant. According to the instructions, an utterance was rated autonomous if it was “an explicit and unambiguous statement of the opinion of the sender, or when it was forceful, independent, directive, or explicitly reactive” (Postmes and Spears 2002, 1076), or dependent “if the utterance explicitly deferred to another discussant or to the group, when guidance was asked, when ignorance or incompetence was claimed, or when it was otherwise submissive” (Postmes and Spears 2002, 1076).
When analysing utterance count, the difference between male and female students turned out to be negligible. Postmes and Spears (2002, 1077) contribute this to the fact that in instant messaging, contrary to real life situations, simultaneous contribution to the conversation is possible, since each participant has the opportunity to type at the same time. When looking at the actual content of the statements, however, crucial differences could be observed: the female contributions appeared to be markedly more dependent than those of male students, also demonstrated by the fact that female participants asked 3.2 % more questions than men (Postmes and Spears 2002, 1077). The conclusion the authors came to was that the analysis of the number of contributions is simply not sufficient when determining inequalities in online conversation and the actual content of the contributions need to be observed in order to arrive at more reliable results, which in this case suggested a palpable lack of equal contribution during cross-gender conversation (Postmes and Spears 2002, 1077).
While the fact that in this first study only a stereotypically masculine (as opposed to a feminine, or “gender-neutral”) topic was discussed may seem troublesome, with the possible intention of skewing results in a certain direction, I would argue this was not the case: the sole purpose of this first study, as I have stated, was to prove that it is important to qualitatively analyse findings, as opposed to simply measuring them in quantity, and one can see that this point was successfully made. The second study, on the other hand, and as we shall see, does introduce a number of new factors into the research process, providing a more fertile ground for discussion.
Study 2 inspected the issue of self-stereotyping in the course of online communication, and, this being the case, was somewhat more complex in nature. Firstly, the number of participants in this study totalled at 128 students, 64 female, and 64 male, again randomly allocated to four-member groups of 2 men and 2 women. There were 32 groups altogether. Secondly, the procedure of the study was split into two seemingly unrelated stages, the relevance between the two parts hidden from the participants. In the first part, students were required to “unscramble” sentences for the duration of six minutes, and the individual participants would either be given sentences that were designed to “activate gender-stereotypes” (with some “neutral” sentences mixed in to make the stereotyped ones less conspicuous) or only sentences that were intended “neutral” (Postmes and Spears 2002, 1077). In the second part, the student groups were asked to discuss two separate topics, one of which was stereotypically masculine, and the other stereotypically feminine. During this discussion participants were either “individuated” or “depersonalised”: in the former case, they shared some of their personal information (excluding names); in the latter, they concealed them. In either case, however, the participants’ gender still remained unknown to their group mates (Postmes and Spears 2002, 1077).
Predictably, results showed that when participants were asked to unscramble gender-stereotypical sentences, they were more likely to self-stereotype themselves. This was observable, for instance, in the way that male participants would labour to appear more masculine when stereotypes were prior made available. It is also interesting to note that in these stereotype-manipulated cases, male participants would more likely claim a high level of proficiency in computer skills than female participants, whereas in the non-manipulated cases, professed proficiency levels were largely the same (Postmes and Spears 2002, 1079). I would argue that this tendency is possibly attributable to the stereotypically masculinised image of computer proficiency especially prevalent during the 1990s and early 2000s, which, one could say, may have created a form of social pressure for men to be skilled with computers. Furthermore, while it is inversely true that the image of the “computer nerd” has also existed as a non-favourable form of masculinity at odds with certain forms of “manhood” (e.g.: “the jock”), in the context of higher education (and especially in the early 2000s when these studies were conducted) this connotation was more than likely non-existent.
Another crucial observation of the second study was that participants tended more to self-stereotype themselves when the group in which they were present had no biographical information shared amongst the members. It is suggested that this near-complete anonymity (the only factor for identification being a unique instant messaging handle that was personally unrelated to the participant, and only functioned to ensure smooth communication) tends to activate stereotypes precisely as a result of the difficulty to individuate fellow conversation participants (Postmes and Spears 2002, 1080). When faced with the non-categorisable ethereality of anonymous speakers, it is easy to see how the perceiver, perhaps unconsciously, would attempt to fill in the gaps and transform the unknown, alien, and in turn, hostile, into something socially recognisable and transparent. Building on this, then, one can also understand how anonymous speakers would be eager to make themselves recognisable in the eyes of their conversation partners by relying on socially constructed, socially accepted, and socially expected stereotypes.
Less unexpected, though equally important was the fact that students tended to act in stereotypically masculine or feminine ways when the topic of the discussion corresponded to their gender, or, in other words, was also stereotypically masculine or feminine. When the topic at hand was highly masculine, for instance, male participants tended to contribute much more actively to the conversation, asking far fewer questions, and writing in a more assertive and dominant style. When the topic was stereotypically feminine, on the other hand, female participants showed a degree of dominance over their male partners, though not to such a great extent as men did when discussing masculine topics. Furthermore, both in the cases of feminine and masculine topic discussions, self-stereotyping was boosted by the increased anonymity of the groups where there was zero biographical information shared. This further demonstrates the point that the authors wished to make: online communication, and especially anonymous communication, contrary to some previous claims, does not necessarily result in equalised inter-gender conversation, but, rather, it tends to activate gender stereotypes (socially engraved, I would add) in order to ensure recognisability (Postmes and Spears 2002, 1080-1081).
Based on the currently discussed two papers, I would argue that gender-stereotyping in online conversation does indeed exist, and I would also agree with Postmes and Spears (2002) that anonymous conversation in cyberspace fails to provide the prejudice- and physicality-free environment postmodernism would dream of. Furthermore, I would say this line of argument clearly resonates with what I have previously said when looking at the papers of Kennedy (2006) and Robinson (2007), namely that internet users cannot, and generally do not even want to become free of their embodied forms, and thus, tend to embrace the social stereotypes engraved upon their embodiments.
It is important to note, however, that stereotypes do exist, as free-floating abstracts, without an actual embodiment. This is a point I would like to emphasise and add to my previously established claims regarding online identity formation. For in order for an online self (e.g.: in the form of an RPG avatar, or Facebook profile) to come into being, the sexed-ness of its owner does not need to correspond to its gender. In this way, however, what once was an “identity” turns into a “persona”, acted out in Goffmanian (1959, as cited by Robinson 2007) theatricality, which literally is bodiless; a free-floating, ethereal figure, which only appears, but never “truly” exists1. But, regardless of this non-embodied-ness (or, perhaps as a precise consequence of it) these personae still very much conform to stereotypes, reinforcing them, and in turn, hindering gender-equal online communication. And this is where self-stereotyping (Postmes and Spears 2002) comes into play, a concept, which, I would argue, is tremendously useful in our discussion of gender and online identities.
Self-stereotyping is arguably at the core of the plight of gendered online communication. As I have already mentioned regarding Postmes and Spears (2002), gender-stereotypes are, in most cases, so deeply engraved in the person’s mind, that it becomes incredibly difficult to categorise oneself, as well as fellow humans, without activating them. Even when one would think these stereotypes are avoided, with claims to “gender-neutrality”, they may very well be at work unconsciously, having been gradually burned into one’s mind since the bygone days of childhood.
And what happens in the case of these technologies of e-mailing and instant messaging, to come to my final point, is just one aspect of how gender-based stereotyping troubles the subversive potential of the various online technologies, as well as the subversive potential of online identity formation at large. The following section will be dedicated to discussing how rigid gender-stereotypes rear their head in the realm of online role-playing technologies. My focus, consequently, will now be shifted to MOO (MUD Object Oriented) platforms in general, and the popular virtual life simulation program Second Life in particular.
4 Identity formation within the realm of MOOs
In “The social geography of gender-switching in virtual environments on the Internet”, Roberts and Parks (2001) look at online MOO (MUD Object Oriented) platforms and the way in which MOO users attempt to express their identities online, with research focus placed on the aspect of gendered-ness. Commenting on the freedom cyberspace supposedly provides for the phenomenon of “gender-switching”, the authors express their lamentations regarding the lack of large-scale empirical research regarding user-habits on online platforms that allow for gender-play. It is precisely this lack which their study wishes to remedy, by gathering and analysing empirical data about gender-switching habits among the userbase of various MOO platforms.
As Roberts and Parks (2001) explain, MOOs differ from traditional MUDs in that while MUDs generally focus on the game playing aspect of interaction, MOOs tend to emphasise the social side of role-playing—and this is exactly the reason why the authors chose MOOs for their analysis. Two particular MOO services were chosen to serve as examples: firstly, LambdaMOO, which is an entirely social interaction-based MUD where one can create, name, describe, gender, and participate in social interactions with one primary and a number of secondary characters; secondly, Ghostwheel, a MOO with some role-playing game elements set in a post-apocalyptic future, in which users likewise can create, customise, and use a single primary character, and a number of alternative ones, as well as assign specific professions to their characters (e.g.: dragonrider), that exist within the lore of the game. It is important to note, that most MOOs are purely text-based (Roberts and Parks 2001, 210-211).
As regards the methodology of the research, two studies were conducted, the first of which focused on finding out the frequency at which gender-switching may occur on the aforementioned MOOs, and the second that focused on researching the actual motivations behind practices of gender-switching, as well as the attitudes of users against these practices. The first study selected random participants from seven different social-only MOO platforms, with an almost equal male/female distribution (51.9%/48.1%), under the age range of 13-74, at an average age of 27. In this study, 233 users participated. The second study drew random users from eight popular social and role-playing MOOs with 202 users leaving a response. Here, the distribution of sex was 53% male to 47% female, with users aged from 16 to 53 (Roberts and Parks 2001, 214).
Research was conducted in the form of a survey which had to be answered by the selected MOO users. In the first study, aside from personal information—“age, sex, marital status, online experience“—two questions were posed as regards the user’s gender switching habits: firstly, whether they had ever gender-switched, and secondly, if they had, approximately what percent of the time in the course of the last month had they been using a gender-switched character (Roberts and Parks 2001, 215). The second study posed the same two questions as the first one, but also asked for the main motivations of the user behind their practicing of gender-switching, and finally presented the participant with a 39-point query regarding their attitude towards gender-switching (Roberts and Parks 2001, 215).
The results of the two studies were the following: when social MOOs were concerned, a significant majority of participants reported never having gender-switched (Study 1 – 62%; Study 2 – 58.3%), though a non-negligible amount of users still reported either active gender-switching (Study 1 – 22.6%; Study 2 – 19.1%) or some previous gender-switching (Study 1 –15.4 ; Study 2 – 22.6). When role-playing MOOs were concerned, however, users never having gender-switched were in the minority (43.3%) with 40% current gender-switchers and 16.7% who had tried gender-switching before (Roberts and Parks 2001, 216).
Regarding the second question, altogether 22.6 % of currently gender-switching users reported spending more than 60% of their time in a MOO gender-switching. Significantly, however, in the second study (where some role-playing MOOs were included) 20% of gender-switchers reported to be always practicing gender-switching when using a MOO. Still, most switchers in the first study only rarely practiced gender-switching (60%: 10% or less of the time) with 40% of switchers in the second study reporting 10% or less, and 31.5% of switchers reporting switching 70% or more of the time (Roberts and Parks 2001, 216).
A crucial observation made by Roberts and Parks (2001) when analysing their findings was that the majority (78.7%) of gender-switchers remained within the traditional binary of genders. As the authors very simply put it: “Men presented themselves as women and women presented themselves as men” (Roberts and Parks 2001, 216). Regarding the main argument of my paper, about the relationship of gender stereotypes and online technologies, this point will be perhaps the most important, so I will return to it for elaboration later. For now, however, I find it necessary to note, that a 21.3% of users did apply non-dichotomous gender categories to describe their characters, among which the categories “neuter” (6.4%) and “Spivak” (4.3%) were featured most prominently (ibid.). Many of these non-binary categories, as Roberts and Parks testify, were even so unique that only single instances of them were found within the data pool (ibid.). I would argue that this suggests a subversive potential within MOO platforms and similar technologies which goes lamentably underutilised even today.
Among the 105 participants of study 2 who had reported never having gender-switched an interesting, though somewhat predictable variety of reasons were given for their refusal to try switching. Most users simply claimed they did not want to try, or thought it a pointless endeavour. 12.4% claimed their identification with their “own” gender was too strong for them to switch, and 12.9% said they wanted to present themselves online in an “accurate” way. 14.6% equated gender-switching with deception. 11.8% confessed that they would most likely not succeed in gender-switching—in other words, as I would strategically paraphrase, they thought they would not be able to pass (Roberts and Parks 2001, 217).
Much of these opinions seem to have an essentialist understanding of gender (especially the ones that compare gender-switching to lying about one’s “real” gender); others seem to recognise, perhaps unwittingly, the performative nature of gender, by expressing their uncertainty whether they could successfully switch without being found out. Still, I would argue, that all of them demonstrate just how strongly gender stereotypes come to be integrated into one’s identity. Despite the many liberties in the course of the construction of online identities that players take, whether it is their race (or better put, species, when one considers, for example, wolf-people or anthropomorphic pandas) or general physical appearance, gender seems to be an aspect that for most is strictly set in stone, from the very moment of their induction into society.
Another useful article dealing with the issue of the fluency between offline selves and their online virtual world counterparts is McLeod and Leshed’s “As Long as They Don’t Know Where I Live: Information Disclosure Strategies for Managing Identity in Second Life™” (2011). In this text, the authors look at how users of the virtual life simulation program, Second Life, cope with anonymity and identity construction online. McLeod and Leshed gleaned their data through various interviews conducted within the actual virtual space of the program (2011, 193-194).
While the methodology of McLeod and Leshed’s (2011) research is empiricist in nature, their main arguments still suggest a postmodernist standpoint towards the notion of identity, with its fragmentary and multi-faceted nature, though not falling into the extremes of claiming for the possibility of identity being wholly separate from the physical embodiment (McLeod and Leshed 2011). After all, our sexed “biology”, with all its social implications, still persists, latching the online self onto the offline as though an inseverable umbilical cord.
According to the testimonies, users generally do not try to “forge” identities, and none of the interviewed users confessed using avatars opposite to their offline sex (McLeod and Leshed 2011, 198-199). Most treat their avatars as online outlets of the offline embodiment, and not as complete reinventions of the self—though, as I have mentioned before, liberties are taken, just not when it comes to the interrelated binaries of gender and sex. Some users even argue for the existence of a “true self” that seeps to the surface whenever, on the off-chance, they’d indulge in identity play (203-204).
Finally, an interesting recurring element found within the testimonies of the participants, which evidently inspired the title of the paper itself, is the opinion that disclosing aspects of one’s offline self is safe and completely acceptable—except when it comes to one’s personal information, most importantly, their address (McLeod and Leshed 2011, 201). While it is perfectly understandable that people would refuse to share such information (for fear of being scammed, or worse, physically harmed), this is also yet another wonderful example that demonstrates how the postmodernist separation of physical body and online identity does not work in practice, as any semblance of immersion is obliterated when players have to actively keep into consideration strategies of disclosure to diminish the chances of being tracked down. And with certain gruesome stories floating about2, one would not be strained to find a reason to stay anonymous.
In the next section of my paper, I will be discussing writings concerning the internet usage habits of adolescent girls, from the anthology called girl wide web: Girls, the Internet, and the Negotiation of Identity (Mazzarella 2005). The emphasis here will be placed on yet another platform for online self-expression, the medium of personal websites. While earlier in my paper I have already very briefly looked at the phenomenon of homepages (Kennedy 2006), this time the cultural sphere under scrutiny will be quite different: following a more general look at the topic of “girls and the internet” in the chapter “It’s a Girl Wide Web” (Mazzarella 2005) discussion will be shifted to Japanese shoujo anime (cartoons intended for girls) fansites, with reliance on Gregson’s (2005) intriguing paper, titled “What if the Lead Character Looks Like Me?”. As opposed to the inexperienced group of gathered-together users in Kennedy’s (2006) study, this specific part of the demographic will be more tech savvy and possessing of much different motivations for self-expression.
5 Articulations of fangirl identity on shoujo anime fansites
In the anthology girl wide web: Girls, the Internet, and the Negotiation of Identity (Mazzarella 2005), thorough academic attention is paid in an analysis of the internet use of teenage girls, and the opening chapter, titled “It’s a Girl Wide Web”, sums up just why this is necessary. It is explained how the late 1990s and the early 2000s saw a significant boom in the number of female internet users (Mazzarella 2005, 2), and a curious phenomenon is mentioned that seemed to go hand in hand with the aforementioned increase in the internet userbase: the appearance of guidance literature, aimed specifically at teenage girls, about internet usage (Mazzarella 2005, 3).
Clearly, books with titles such as Infochick, Netchick, or Girl Net, as mentioned by Mazzarella (2005, 3) will have little to do with the liberation of identity from the shackles of gender and the physical body. Not that testimonies suggest such tendencies were the norm: as it is pointed out, there is a prominent gender divide when it comes to what the internet is actually used for, where girls tend to be more engaged in communication via email and instant messaging and boys favour video games and downloading music (Mazzarella 2005, 2). Indeed, it appears gender-stereotypes and gender-based upbringing never cease their influence, not even in the world of the virtual.
It is in this problematic context that Gregson (2005) looks at the greatly specialised demographic sliver of shoujo anime fangirls in her chapter “What if the Lead Character Looks Like Me?”. Shoujo anime, such as Sailor Moon, are Japanese cartoons aimed specifically at a female audience, often featuring strong and wilful heroines who, usually with the aid of special powers, jump into action to save the day. And while such cartoons are rarely without the element of teenage romance, said heroines are almost always portrayed as courageous and independent.
Gregson (2005) draws a contrast between shoujo anime and western pop culture products aimed at young girls, pointing out how western pop music, magazines, and fiction targeted at such a demographic tend to exclusively deal with the topic of romance and “pursuing boys”. She expresses her fascination with shoujo anime and how these shows offer very different role models for young girls: shoujo protagonists are active and determined, and not solely concerned with romantic relationships. And this is why she chose to look at the fan sites created by shoujo anime fangirls—in order to find out how they relate to their heroines and how their identities are facilitated by them (Gregson 2005, 126).
Initially, Gregson (2005) imagined the reason shoujo anime could garner such a great female fanbase, invalidating the old stereotype of a male dominated anime fandom, was that they offered girls fresh and more diverse narratives as compared to teen-magazines and romantic fiction. Her actual findings, however, seemed to disprove this impression. The analysed fan sites, instead of paying tribute to the female protagonists of the cartoons, or presenting personal narratives of identification with their heroic struggles, almost always were more concerned with initiating discussions regarding the male characters of the shows (2005, 126).
On this note, Gregson (2005) brings up the term bishounen, literally meaning “beautiful boy”, which is a label placed upon many of the central male characters of shoujo anime. These characters are often androgynous, or at least markedly feminine, both in their looks and personalities. It is these characters around whom the many shoujo fan sites seem to centre, with accounts written by fangirls regarding what they like about their favourite bishounen characters (2005, 127). Gregson also draws a comparison between these bishounen characters of shoujo anime and the male characters of western-made romantic short stories aimed at young girls, commenting that both seem to be quite different from the male peers of their target audience; more feminine and interested in the prospect of romance (2005, 128).
Even those fan sites which do not focus on specific male characters tend to place an emphasis on discussing the heteroromantic aspects of the narratives they pay tribute to (Gregson 2005, 128). Indeed, one could argue that not even the technologies of the Internet or the thematically rich medium of Japanese anime may break the grasp of gender stereotypes. Which is precisely the point I would like to further support with the help of Gregson’s (2005) arguments: technology alone is not enough for self-reinvention and liberation when that self is already too culturally-drenched to truly become free. Or, from a different point of approach, one could claim that the cultural logic of gender-dichotomies have already invaded the very technologies to which the postmodernists would attribute potential, thereby diminishing their subversive capabilities. Instead, these technologies help to disseminate the very knowledge one would hope to be liberated from—in this case, in the form of fan girls’ shoujo anime fan sites that promote and idealize male-female romance.
Here, however, as I delve further into Gregson’s (2005) informative paper, I would like to stray from, and perhaps even undermine, my central argument outlined above, and discuss another aspect of online technologies that may yet harbour potential for subversion. This potential manifests itself in the form of websites and blogs as useful tools of “textual production” (2005, 129) and non-passive fan activity. For even if the fangirls of shoujo anime produce knowledge that reinforces gender stereotypes, the very acts of production and dissemination place them in a role highly opposite to stereotypical femininity.
Gregson draws upon Fiske’s (1992, cited by Gregson [2005, 129]) notion of “textual production” in order to develop her argument. Here, fans are defined not as mere passive consumers of a certain product, but active participants of discourses of fandom, engaging with their beloved works of art on a deeper, more meaningful, and productive level—in the form of creating fan fiction or other forms of fan art, for instance (129). Fiske, as Gregson (2005, 129-130) paraphrases, identifies a “cultural economy of fandom”, maintained by these active and “committed” participants, who continually produce their own knowledge concerning a particular object of devotion in order to develop their identities as fans, competing with other fangirls and fanboys in the process in order to earn credibility. And it is such “textual production” that Gregson (2005) identifies, made possible for shoujo anime fan girls by the various website creation technologies at their disposal.
Based on this, and as Gregson (2005, 137) rightly argues, the internet lends a wonderful space for fans of less mainstream cultural products to flock together, sparking discussions and creating fan economies. In such a way, websites, blogs, and even social-networking sites, may become ample tools to strengthen otherwise repressed voices, and because of this, one can see a glimmer of hope; a twinkle of opportunity.
Yet these are, lamentably, still only glimmers and twinkles. Mainstream internet discourses are still permeated with the logic of patriarchy, and cyberspace has become so parallel to our everyday “physical” lives, that its boundaries have been set in stone and subversive potentials greatly diminished. And, as I will further argue, this is the end that is fated for all technologies born and languishing within the invisible confines of our patriarchal cultures.
In the next section, I am taking a look at the concept of the cyborg, a part-machine, part-flesh figure of scientific and military discourse, as well as of science-fiction, in order to discuss the persisting question: is there such a technology that can truly challenge the rigid dichotomies of gender and sex?
6 On cyborgs and robots
The current section will be dedicated to the discussion of cybernetics, robotics, and their relation to the issues of gender. My ultimate aim here is to contest the notion of “the cyborg” as a utopic figure that has surpassed the issues of gender-difference—an idea explored in great complexity by Donna Haraway in her paper, “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1991). My arguments will be aided by Thornham’s “Technologies of Difference” (2007), a text likewise aiming to problematise the un-gendered-ness of the cyborg figure. Finally, while attempting to set the boundaries between cybernetics and robotics, I will argue that not even the wholly artificial robots can truly be labelled as located outside patriarchal dichotomies.
In her essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1991), Haraway draws upon the figure of “the cyborg” to present her argument that “traditional” and essentialist views on the concept of gender, as well as the very concept itself, should be abandoned in a paradigm-shift. She presents the cyborg as a figure that stands outside the various phallocentric dichotomies of gender and sexuality, and the religious narratives of creation. The cyborg, according to Haraway’s claims “is a creature in a post-gender world; it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labour, or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all the powers of the parts into a higher unity.” (150) The cyborg, then, is seen by Haraway to be outside gender, much like the online identities of post-modernist new media feminism. Consequently, her argument pinpoints technology—in this case, the technology of cybernetic-enhancement—as a possible tool of subversion that can be utilised in order to dismantle patriarchal discourses that oppress women based on arbitrary systems of differences—the system of differences between male- and female-sexed bodies, for instance. For Haraway, the un-sexed, un-gendered cyborg functions as a sort of idealistic key to human equality.
For Thornham, the figure of the cyborg is far more problematic. In her text entitled “Technologies of Difference” (2007), she presents a complex discussion of various technologies, from cinema and television to computers and cybernetics, regarding how they reproduce aspects of difference, most notably, and most importantly to our current discussion, gender. It is here that she revisits the concept of the cyborg, problematising the idealistic line of argument Haraway presented in “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1991).
Thornham starts out by exploring the historical roots of the cyborg figure. As it turns out, the term and concept of “the cyborg” was coined within the discourse of “military research” (Thornham 2007, 135), which, one could say, is a “traditionally” masculine domain. Furthermore, the original purpose of the cyborg nowhere involved the construction of a sexless and genderless body, but instead were to function as the ideal, adapting force to “penetrate” alien terrain. As it is quite apparent, the language surrounding the concept of the cyborg, not to mention its very purpose, are wholly locatable within phallocentric culture and discourse (136).
Thornham also makes use of an interview discussion by the “father” of the notion of the cyborg, Manfred Clynes, to give further insight into its masculinist origins. Here, Clynes overtly states how the cyborg was, in fact, never meant to be a gender-neutral figure. Instead, the cyborg was to possess a gendered identity similar to that of the human subject of patriarchy: either a man, or a woman (2007, 136).
From here, Thornham propels her discussion into the world of popular culture, and how science-fiction has appropriated the figure of the cyborg. What we see here runs parallel with Clynes’ prior claims. The cyborg is always either a “he” or a “she”. Figures such as RoboCop (1987) and the original Terminator (1984) present mechanised versions of hyper-masculinity, whereas the female cyborgs of popular culture—for instance the T-X in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)—are “hyper-feminine” in appearance, yet “hyper-masculine”, in a traditional sense, when it comes to strength and deadliness (2007, 138).
One could argue, however, that drawing the Terminator franchise into a discussion of cyborgs and gender is somewhat problematic. For one thing, according to the story of the film, the Terminator, sent from the future by an artificial intelligence gone rogue, was precisely meant to look and behave as closely as possible to a human being, its objective to hunt down its victim while blending in. Secondly, and on a much more relevant note, it is arguable whether the Terminator can even be considered a cyborg. Indeed, there is a thin line between robots and cyborgs, one that is quite often blurred and unclear.
According to Thornham’s citing of Clynes, cybernetics serves to mechanically-augment an already existing human body with an already present consciousness (2007, 136). The altered bodies of women and men would most likely still remain female- or male-sexed (needless to say, as situated within the scientific discourse of human biology), and even if, deviating from its original functions, cybernetics were to be applied in order to eliminate the arbitrarily-defined differences between the sexes, such as removing reproductive capacities or the so-called “secondary sexual characteristics”, the resulting bodies would still not be outside the patriarchal systems of sex differences, but, precisely, borne of their dichotomous negation. Truly, in these scenarios of augmentative cybernetics the problem posed by the persistence of gender-specific social conditioning within the human consciousness is merely the expired icing on a particularly foul-tasting cake.
Returning from here to the mechanical heroes and villains of the Terminator series one can immediately notice the discrepancy. Simply put, these figures are not mechanically-enhanced human beings, but almost entirely mechanical creatures, with the occasional biological component, such as living tissue for skin, or even a human heart—as seen in Terminator Salvation (2009). However, not even a heart can make a “tin man” human if it has no psyche, and the tin people of Terminator certainly do not. Instead, they are animated by what is referred to as an artificial intelligence (AI), originally created through the programming language of humans. All things considered, then, one can safely say that the Terminator is not so much a cyborg, as a robot.
But here is the twist: even if entirely devoid of flesh, not even robots can escape the reach of gender dichotomies. These machines, and the AI beneath their shells, too are all rooted in human society and culture, with all of its values, systems of logic, and language instilled within. Furthermore, as a form of strange fetishisation, these figures are often given shapes that replicate or caricature the male or female human appearance, explicitly gendering them so that they would be more recognisable and relatable for the conditioned human perception. Designing the exterior of robots, then, can be said to have a lot in common with how the conditions for the recognisability of gender performances (Butler, 1990) function. A robotic body is crafted by its creator in a way that it may fit recognisably into the gender dichotomy, much like how one’s own body is policed to be socially recognisable.
Of course, not all robotic bodies are fashioned to resemble the human form. It is interesting to note, however, that even these non-human looking machines tend to receive a gender, often as a sign of affection from their creator or fandom. Again, one need only look to popular culture icons, such as R2-D2 from Star Wars (1977), for examples of gendered machines that hardly, if at all, resemble the human form, at least not from a “conventional” perspective.
Looking at this blog post3 and the discussion in the comments section about whether the aforementioned robot character R2-D2 is “male or female” we can clearly see just how deeply gender stereotypes run in our culture. One argument here for R2-D2’s femaleness is the fact that one of “her” primary functions were to provide assistance to Luke Skywalker during his flights, and one can see how this claim clearly draws upon the gender role stereotype of woman as helper to the male hero, endlessly reiterated throughout popular culture. Another point, one somewhat comical, yet raised with seeming earnest, is that “the high noises R2 uses to communicate are oddly similar to the sound a group of 5 or more women make when gathered for coffee”, and it is also mentioned how “R2 was working as a waitress on Jabba’s cocktail barge”. In these arguments curious gender stereotypes are yet again evoked, one more dubious in its validity than the other.
As a counterargument claiming that R2-D2 is, in fact, a “boy”, one commenter says: “R2 is the logical one of the partnership with 3CPO. He’s got blue panels, traditionally a boy colour. More importantly he’s an astromech droid. A both [sic] a mechanic and a highly skilled navigator.” (Comment #2) By drawing upon the stereotypes of men as rational and technologically skilled, as well as the red/pink-blue dichotomous colour-coding of infants’ clothing, the poster likewise reiterates traditional gender concepts of patriarchal discourse. Also, it is very interesting to see how both sides of the argument rely on what they view as conventionally feminine or masculine occupations (waitress vs. mechanic).
However, perhaps the most entertaining argument for R2-D2’s maleness is presented in the fourth comment: “But R2-D2 has that probe that inserts into the computer ports of the ships (which are females) [sic]”. Here, the poster not only genders R2-D2, drawing a parallel between the male penis and the tool attached to R2’s robotic form, but even marks spaceships as “female”, simply relying on the age-old conventions of the English language. Still, speaking on a metaphorical level, one could say that R2-D2’s probe might indeed be intended as a symbolic stand-in for the phallus—after all, it has a penetrative function (traditionally attributed to the phallus in patriarchal discourse), both physically and in its intrusion into the ecosystem of the various machines to which it connects—but this would only further demonstrate how popular culture discourse of robotics is rife with sexism.
In this above example, we can see how discourses of gender stereotypes still run amok, even in the supposedly liberated realm of the Internet, and not even the fleshless artificial creatures can escape their persistent clutches. With this, my purpose is to argue that, despite Haraway’s (1991) claims, both “the cyborg” and “the robot” are figures which have lost much of their subversive potential by their induction into the sphere of popular culture. Instead of presenting un-gendered, un-sexed, and complex embodiments, they both reiterate, and, as seen in the above discussed blog post, invite the reiteration of traditional patriarchal values and gender stereotype discourses.
With this paper, I have wished to discuss critically the possibilities of subversion offered by online technologies of identity formation against “traditional” dualistic notions of gender. In order to carry this out, I explored a variety of online technologies, from the more everyday platforms of e-mail and instant messaging, to more unusual examples, such as shoujo fansites and MOO role-playing games.
I have come to the conclusion in all of these cases that despite a degree of potential for helping to dismantle, or at least provide alternatives to, traditional binary conceptions of gender (mostly in the case of MOO platforms), the vast majority of users’ activities does not seem to show any subversion of identity constructions that are based on already ingrained logic systems. In fact, cyberspace does not appear to be significantly different from our physical plane; all of our value systems and identity constructs are reproduced wholly intact.
However, it is always important to consider the possibility of change—and by taking the concept of the “cyborg” into the discussion, I have attempted to accomplish precisely this. Not that the future would appear to be any different: the popular culture industry—in Adorno and Horkheimer’s (1979) sense of the concept—seems to have succeeded in gendering our cyborgs and robots before they were ever even born.
Still, in line with Butler’s (1990) conceptualization of identity formation as an act of reiterable performance, one may never know where cyberspace and its related technologies may emerge, and what gadgets and software will abound; especially now, on the advent of virtual reality.4 For this reason, it is important to keep a constant and critical eye on any new developments, and maintain an active discussion regarding the effects of emerging technologies on our shifting (though ever slightly) notions of identity and gender.
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1 Here, I am not referring to transgenderism, but rather, what I would imagine to be an online equivalent to drag. However, looking at how self-stereotyping may work in the case of transgender online communication may be an interesting line of future inquiry. ↩
2 http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/news090605murdershelevelledup access: 2015-03-05 ↩
3 http://duckbrown.wordpress.com/2008/03/06/is-r2-d2-male-or-female/ access: 2014-10-29 ↩
4 https://www.oculus.com/ access: 2015-04-05 ↩