Weavers & Warriors? Gender and Online Identity in 1997 and 2007 V1.0

Deirdre Ruane


In 1997 the Internet was seen by many as a tool for radical reinterpretation of physicality and gender. Cybertheorists predicted we would leave our bodies behind and interact online as disembodied minds, and that the technology would reshape the way we saw ourselves. However, physicality has proved to be an inextricable part of all our interactions. Changing Internet technology has allowed Net users to find a myriad ways to perform and express their gender online.

In this paper I consider attitudes to gender on the Net in 1997, when the main concerns were the imbalance between men and women online and whether it was possible or desirable to bring the body into online interactions. In much of the discourse surrounding gender online, a simple binary was assumed to exist. I go on to consider the extent to which those attitudes have changed today. Through my own experience of setting up a women’s community on Livejournal, and my observations of a men’s community set up in response, I conclude that though traditional attitudes to gender have largely translated to the Net and the binary is still the default view, some shifts have occurred. For example, between 1997 and today there seems to have been a fundamental change in perceptions of women’s attitudes to adversarial debate, and an increase in awareness of genders beyond the binary.

In addition, experience and preliminary investigation lead me toward a hypothesis that today’s female-identified Net users are engaged in more conscious and active exploration and performance of their gender online than male-identified users are.

Full Text:

Full text PDF


Argyle, K. (1996) "Life After Death", in Rob Shields (ed.) Cultures of Internet, Thousand Oaks, Sage, 1996.

Argyle, K. & Shields, R. (1996) "Is there a Body in the Net?", in Rob Shields (ed.) Cultures of Internet, Thousand Oaks, Sage, 1996.

Balsamo, A. (1993) "Feminism for the Incurably Informed", in Mark Dery (ed.) Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture, South Atlantic Quarterly, 92(4):681-712.

Cameron, D. (2007) The Myth of Mars and Venus, Oxford University Press.

Clerc, S. (1996) "DDEB, GATB and Ratboy: Online X-Files Fandom", in David Lavery, Angela Hague & Marla Cartwright (eds) Deny All Knowledge: Reading The X-Files, London, Faber & Faber, 1996.

Dibbell, J. (1993) "A Rape in Cyberspace", Village Voice, 38(51), Dec 21, 1993: 36-42.

Dudley, G. A. (1968) Adventures in Memory, Marple, Cheshire, Psychology Publishing.

Fallon, H. (1997) WOW – Women on the Web, Women's Education Research and Resource Centre, University of Dublin.

Fallows, D. (2005) "How Women and Men Use the Internet", Pew Internet & American Life Project, December 28. http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Women_and_Men_online.pdf

Huffaker, D. A., & Calvert, S. L. (2005) "Gender, Identity, and Language Use in Teenage Blogs", Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10(2), http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol10/issue2/huffaker.html DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2005.tb00238.x

Kennedy, T., Wellman, B., & Klement, K. (2005) "Gendering the Internet Divide", IT & Society 1(5): 72-96. http://www.stanford.edu/group/siqss/itandsociety/v01i05/v01i05a05.pdf

Liff, S., & Shepherd, A. (2004) "An Evolving Gender Digital Divide?", Internet Issue Brief No. 2, Oxford Internet Institute, July. http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/resources/publications/IB2all.pdf

Lombardi, C. (2006) "Women outnumber men in online games, survey finds," CNet News (news.com.com), October 5 2006. http://www.news.com/2100-1043_3-6123172.html

Plant, S. (1995) "The Future Looms: Weaving Women and Cybernetics", in Mike Featherstone (ed.) Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk, Sage, 1995. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781446250198.n3

Reiner, D., & Blanton, K (1997) Person to Person on the Internet, San Diego, AP Professional.

Report by committee on social change and the education of women, chaired by K.R. McKinnon, (1975) Girls, School & Society, The Schools Commission, Canberra.

Sardar, Z & Ravetz, J. (eds) (1996) Cyberfutures, London, Pluto.

Slouka, M. (1996) War of the Worlds – The Assault on Reality, London, Abacus.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/tfc.v2i2.637