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.

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