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Gender Bending On the internet, individuals participate in MOOs and MUDs to communicate and interact with other users online at the same time. The personas of the users are able to interact in a way some may consider to be similar to the way people do in reality. People have established values and norms in real life as a society in an attempt to maintain order and identify a difference between acceptable and deviant behavior. The innovation of new computer technology requires attention in order to establish a consensus of what people think the normative rules and values ought to be in cyberspace. Some people believe it is acceptable to transfer normative rules and values existing in real life and apply them to cyberspace, while others believe cyberspace is different from existing modes of technology and therefore requires its own unique values and norms. The participants are able to be the gender opposite, and because of the anonymity and opportunity available, it is impossible for an individual to know if the person they are communicating with is male or female.
Everyday, people sit down at their keyboards, connect to the Internet and assume the opposite gender. Dale Spender, in Gender Bending says that the anonymity provided by the Internet benefits both men and women, in that it allows for a free transfer of communication without fear of repercussions. However, she focuses primarily on what she sees as specific benefits for women. Gender blindness says Spender, holds the possibility of being able to leave behind the baggage that goes with being rated as a female speaker.
Spender acknowledges that the phenomenon of women writing with a male handle is not new. Women have been doing this for centuries for safety and to avoid harassment, also to gain validity, and to be taken seriously with the value given to men s voice. The following quote goes far in illustrating why women would assume male identities. The number is larger than appears on the surface, for the fear of public ridicule, and the loss of private favors from those who shelter, feed, and clothe them, withholds many from declaring their opinions and demanding their rights. I agree with Spender that in the past these have all been valid reasons for women to write in the persona of a man. Clearly without this tool, we would have been deprived of some of literatures greatest works.
But do these reasons remain valid, or indeed, acceptable? The medium today is more complicated. People know that men and women write in the voice of the opposite gender. Spender says we are working out ways to identify gender online but is our analysis of gender such that we are able to do this accurately or effectively? I don t think so because often our analysis of gender is too shallow. Only the dominant men are masculine, women are feminine heterosexual worldview is discussed.
Very rarely do we include ideas of men and women having a balance of masculine and feminine characteristics. It is assumed that women will talk about certain topics and in a particular voice, and the same holds true for men. We make assumptions and never know if our assumptions are accurate, and in not having the opportunity to challenge our assumptions we go on perpetrating our views, however accurate or inaccurate they are, about gender If we accept Spenders position that being rated as a female speaker is unworthy, then we can accept her notion that we should aspire to move away from that, to discard the baggage, to become more masculine. The move then, isn t towards anonymity but rather towards an acceptable masculine voice.
By doing this we accept society s value system which says that femininity is bad. Wouldn t women be better served by creating value out of their own voices? Rather than struggle with trying to identify the gender of the communicator, we should try to hear what the person has to say without jumping to conclusions. Why assume the gender of a person we are communicating with using only our experience and subtle clues of gender as a guideline, trapped by society s stereotypes of gender.
Isn t it a person s belief of gender that ultimately wins? Will a person toss out the possibility that an idea or thought can belong to a woman because it doesn t fit their worldview of a woman? For example: Online a woman says something male like such as hey baby or I want to get laid. A man is interacting with this woman, and in his experience, women do not talk like this.
He dismisses the possibility that this is a woman and assumes that she is really a he. He has rejected the possibility of women being sexually aggressive or assertive and retreated to the stereotype of women as sexually passive. He then uses this experience to tell others of men writing as women online. In actuality this is a woman who, within the safety of anonymity, is comfortable making comments in a mixed gender environment that in the past she may not have said or may only have said in the company of other women.
Hence we see the benefit of the gender anonymity online. Yet, in this situation not only is the woman s experience denied but the man clearly has missed some valuable insight into women and an opportunity to check his assumptions about women. It is these types of assumptions about gender that, in my view, invalidate the benefits Spender refers to. As we continue to hide behind male personae we continue to reinforce the power imbalance between the genders. Spender says Women no longer feel obliged to stay within the confines of the male servicing ornamental role.
If this is true why are so many women still writing in the persona of men and sacrificing our identities. Women throughout history have sacrificed their identities just to be heard. Have we learned nothing from these sacrifices? It is not enough for women to blend in and conform to the male voice under the guise of neutrality or anonymity. In order for women s voice to be heard, the scope of legitimacy needs to be broadened, and the scope cannot be broadened if women do not put their voice forward. The measure of legitimacy will only be expanded when women write as women.
Women need to add their voice to the voice of the current power holders of society not hide within that voice. It is also my belief that if women continue to take male identities to avoid harassment we do nothing to combat the harassment. If we accept the notion that to speak in a feminine / feminist voice invites harassment, we perpetuate the myth that women who dress seductively are asking to be raped.
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