Monday, April 06, 2009

Gender in the virtual world

When you're online, you can be free from the constraints of age and gender. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman, young or old, everyone relates to you according to your words and not your physical being.

Well, that's what I thought when I first started using the internet but I found out that it isn't that simple.

In the past, a lot of people assumed that fairy hedgehog was the name for a gay man. There was one particular man who was amazed when he found out that I was female. He said, "You're too logical to be a woman." He was never as friendly to me after that which I regretted.

More recently, I've found out that someone online is not the gender that I thought they were and it affects how I relate to them. It made me realise how differently I respond to men and women even when gender doesn't matter. It's not something I'm proud of but it's the way it is.

Given that people respond to us differently according to the gender they believe us to be, and that if we don't reveal our gender people will make assumptions about it, do you think it's our responsiblity to correct those sort of assumptions, or not?


JaneyV said...

Well I guess I would correct someone if they thought I was a bloke but more because it feels like I'm being dishonest if I don't. I can come across quite blokey sometimes (it's the potty mouth) but I suppose having a picture of myself as my avatar kind of corrects any assumptions for me.

I suppose I don't want to give a wrong impression of myself. The internet can be a place where ne're-do-wells can hide behind these false assumptions so I think, for me, giving an honest representation of oneself is important. Especially when friendships are being formed.

writtenwyrdd said...

You know what I suspect the real issue is (in general) in these situations is that you have to retake that 'mental snapshot' of the person you had. We all do it; we all form a near-instant impression (mental snapshot) of people we interact with. In person it is based on how they look first and then how they act in that first meeting; in the virtual realm, it's based on what they say and how they say it.

The problems arise when you learn more and are forced to revise that mental snapshot. There is a lot of mental resistance to this. It can upset people or make them irrationally angry or resentful or grudgebearing against the person who 'offended' by being different than their interpretation.

Maybe that's a little bit of what you are experiencing. The mind having to rewrap itself around facts that don't fit the picture you had.

writtenwyrdd said...

PS people seem to think I'm a guy pretty often. Hell, in the real world I have been consistently labeled a lesbian. I have no problem with being a lesbian, but I don't happen to be wired that way. Yet I give that impression and have given that impression consistently. It's gotten worse since I gave up dating. People don't seem to understand that some of us just don't care about that aspect of life.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

In a beginning scene in The Matrix, Neo meets Trinity and discovers she's a famous hacker he has heard a great deal about. His response: "I thought you were a dude." Her reply: "Most guys do."
Generally, people unintentionally form a mental image of people they've never seen. Often, the image is based on their world view. Clearly, some people need to expand their view -- I know I've had to do it a couple times with mental images.
The real question is whether or not people can let go of the old idea and embrace the truth.

fairyhedgehog said...

Jane, I have to say that there's nothing wrong with strong language! (If I didn't say that I'd be a complete hypocrite.) Isn't it funny what gets assigned to each gender?

Writtenwyrd, people's assumptions can be so way off. My best friend looks much more feminine than I do but she is the one who has a female partner.

Dominique, I love that quote from the Matrix. You're right, it is about letting go of impressions we've formed.

I think that coming out as our own gender can feel intimidating when we've been hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. We just don't know if people will be able to let go of those previous impressions and realise that we are the same person they've been relating to, just with different genitals.

Whirlochre said...

I too have been mistaken for a woman and engaged in more than my fair share of manly flirtatious banter with women who have turned out to be men. In that sense, blogging is much like going down the pub.

Seriously though, I take your point about anonymity. I have a friend whose 13 year old child prodigy passes for an expert on a variety of highbrow websites in a way that he simply wouldn't if people knew who he was.

As for the gender thing, it's interesting that most of the people with whom I'm conversing, and who visit my blog, are (or purport to be) females. Does this mean I'm some sort of cyberletch, grooming you all for my own nefarious purposes? Nope. That just happens to be how it is in 'real life.' Some blokes can talk for hours on end about football, DIY, cars and all of that nonsense, but I'm normally done after five minutes of that. And heaven forbid if they start talking about women.

Not sure if that addresses any of the points but I'm glad you posted this today.

As for WW's preconceived phantoms — mental events based on minimal information — it's significant that these can become as fixed as more tangible sensations.

Ms Scarlet said...

I got accused of being 'a friend of Danny La Rue' last week... and even though I say I'm female on my profile and I do write about girly things, I'm still mistaken for being a tranvestite. I know I write in a very camp way, but this is because I grew up enjoying this type of humour. I don't think people expect women to be camp?
Anyhow, this is a fascinating subject and I'm pleased you brought it up in a post.

Ms Scarlet said...

Sorry, sp* - should have been 'transvestite'.
I think blogging has helped me to stop generalising about people... I'll stop wittering... but it's also proved that my first impressions of people can be way off the mark. I'll shut up now.

Elle Scott said...

This is very interesting! Along with the gender thing is the age thing. I'm sure that I respond to things on-line like the middle-aged mom I am. I doubt I'd fool anyone if I tried to act like a teen.

Sylvia said...

I've definitely been mistaken for a man before and in RPG games I have been frustrated when my female character has been dismissed for seemingly no reason other than my gender in the game. On one occasion, every time I tried to tell the group what to do, I was ignored. My boyfriend then repeated what I said, and the group agreed to the plan of action. That was the most blatant I've ever seen it.

On the other hand, specifically when it comes to gaming I don't advertise my gender nor my age. I write reference guides and I am pretty sure kids don't want to know they are being told how to play by someone the same age as their mother. :)

I've also been wrong about people many many times - I find my reactions change a lot more if I was wrong about their age rather than wrong about their gender, but I agree that in both instances, something about the way I view the person changes.

Kevin Musgrove said...

I have to admit that it took me a while to decide which gender you were. With me it was the subject matter rather than the writing style (I'll leave you to twitch in the corner picking the bones out of that!)

It matters to me only so that I don't accidentally freak somebody out by flirting with a bloke who or being overly schoolboyish with a lady if they're not comfortable with it. If a bloke wants to blog as a lady or vice versa I'm happy to play along with the persona, it's part of the game.

It's sometimes a shock when the veneer slips: my working assumption has always been that Scarlet is a burly stevedore, especially now she's starting posting disturbingly attractive photos of a slip of a thing on other people's blogs. (-:

On the other hand, it came as a shock to somebody to find out who I was in real life: "Blimey! I thought you were at least thirty years older than me!!!"

Bevie said...

"engaged in more than my fair share of manly flirtatious banter with women who have turned out to be men. In that sense, blogging is much like going down the pub"

That one makes me laugh for sure.

Based on a few comments I have been reading recently, it seems more than a few bloggers assume I am female. (No one's flirting with me, though.) Some think so because of my name but, 30 years ago, the baby name book I used indicated it was a boy's name. Some think so because of my writing style and/or subject matter.

I've corrected a few, but I've got so I don't anymore. Not because I'm a cyberletch, grooming people for nefarious purposes (that makes me laugh, too), but because:

A. I don't really care what gender people believe I am. Since we don't meet (except in words) I don't see it as significant.

B. I hate embarassing people.

C. One person I corrected didn't react too well, and now I'm afraid to tell the truth.

I have been wrong about five or six people regarding gender. I found out by continually reading their blogs and the comments others make to them.

Is that enough? I mean, several of you others who have commented have indicated you have also been gender misidentified. Do you always correct everyone?

Ms Scarlet said...

Bevie - sometimes I think it's fun to tease people when they get it wrong, I find it amusing. But I am quite clear about being female... sorry Kev!

Kevin Musgrove said...

another illusion shattered (-;

JaneyV said...

Bevie - it's the fluffy kitten. ;0)

Anonymous said...

Hey babe - I am passing out awards - smooches!

McKoala said...

Initially, I don't really care about the sex of my online friends. If I feel I'm getting to know someone, then I do like more information, including sex, vague age, country and such. Nothing huge, just an outline. It's just part of the friending process. Sometimes people spill their innermost thoughts online and it's helpful to have some basic background information when trying to help.

I thought both Written and Freddie were guys for quite some time! But that was before I knew them particularly well. I think they've forgiven me... Also, I seem to remember some EE minions expressing surprise that I was female. Again, ages ago. It didn't bother me particularly.

fairyhedgehog said...

I'm interested by how frequent an issue this is online, with Whirl, Writtenwyrd, freddie, Scarlet-Blue, Sylvia, Bevie and me all at some points being taken for a gender other than our own.

I agree with Whirl, Elle and Sylvia's point that age can be as important in forming predudices as gender can, whether you are perceived as being too old or too young. I wish being too young was my problem!

Kevin intrigues me by writing that my subject matter caused him to wonder about my gender. I have no idea what that is about. (Can I get any clarification here?)

I suppose it's the same as it is for GLBTQ people in face to face situations. There is no reason to tell people what your sexual orientation is but when people make assumptions it can give rise to a dilemma. At some point in a friendship it will probably need to be revealed, as McKoala points out, so that the friendship can deepen.

Bevie I'm glad you've decided how you want to handle this now.

Thank you all for making this such a thoughtful discussion.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Oh, go on then...
Not a big deal, honest. Your early posts are gender-neutral (I have arguments with a friend who says that pictures of cats always equals female blogger, though I'll admit it's a balance of probability).

Lulu LaBonne said...

Shit I thought Scarlet was a burly stevedore too, going to have to rearrange my ideas a bit now...

In the 'real world' I find people treat me differently because of all sorts of judgements they make. Wearing my glasses gives me more authority I find, so I pop them on when I need to be stern.

Interesting post - nice to meet you

fairyhedgehog said...

Kevin, I thought the cats were a dead giveaway but Cat in the Buff is Bevie's blog so clearly not. I wondered if it was all the computery goodness that made you wonder if I was a guy but it turns out I was just being coy.

Hi Lulu, I would say nice to meet you too but your blog is so extraordinary that I'm going to be forced to read it right from the beginning and that's a lot of reading. Hang on, I'm complaining about reading? That can't be right! Pleased to meet you.

I spent two years in France in my youth, in the Ardennes and in Brittany, but I have never met a bombadier beetle. I'm interested to read about your adventures.

writtenwyrdd said...

For me, Scarlett was a question mark next to Guy because of comments not because of what she said, lol.

I have responded by correcting the incorrect; but really, after blogging this long, it's not a big deal because most of my correspondents know I'm a gal. (And I suppose I sprinkle enough mentions of my age being in my 40s and my gender to educate most everyone new rapidly enough.)

But now I'm imagining the blogosphere as having a smoky ambiance with gender-unknown flirtations slinging through the air.

Lisa said...

If someone has a misconception, I would think it best to correct them, more honest even. But, with that said, I think, to some degree, using avatars the don't reflect what you look like are nice in that it helps to prevent opinions (good or bad) that can result based on looks. Ok, that coming from me who sees ANYONE with a cat avatar as some sort of really great sweet wonderful person!

Since I've been copying from your blog, I've nominated you for the 'I Love Your Blog' award - you can read about it and pick up the logo on my blog.

Firestar said...

"pictures of cats always equals female blogger"

Really? Hmmm. Maybe I'm the one who's gender mistaken.

Bevie said...

Firestar! What are you doing on the computer? That post should have been from me, folks.

Bevie said...

"who sees ANYONE with a cat avatar as some sort of really great sweet wonderful person!"

I'll accept that. [purrr] (I mean, [grin]

Lisa said...

I think Firestar might have logged in as Bevie! Talented little kitty!

Lisa said...

This is sooo funny, I'd been thinking that Bevie was female. The peculiar thing is that I thought for sure that that I looked at the profile and it said female. Possibly I 'missed it' and saw what I thought I should see based on the gender I gave the name. (This is actually a big problem that I had with editing because I would see what I think should be there.)

I thought nothing of the references to the spouse as a 'she'. I make no assumptions about sexual orientation.

Bevie said...

Lisa: Don't feel bad about it. I think most people thought/think that. And I must confess that I only recently added gender to my profile. (Spouse wanted it kept secret and I felt no reason to argue about it as I don't care how people view me - as long as they don't hate me for it.)

Robin B. said...

What Janey said in the first comment made me grin - I'm right there with the 'quite blokey sometimes' potty mouth. And I can be pretty direct about what I mean, ya know.

No one has thought I was a guy, though, because I have my picture posted.

I do agree that it shouldn't matter what gender we are - for the first year I read EE's blog, I was POSITIVE ril was female. And I was positively incorrect. But male or female, ril is a genius.

Polenth said...

People get my gender wrong all the time. I let them know when it's practical, but it's not a big deal to me.

Most people take it well when they realise... though I do have the information publicly available. You'd have to go some to find a way to blame me for you not reading it.

fairyhedgehog said...

I like idea of the smoky ambiance, writtenwyrd! Although in real life I don't like smoke.

Lisa, Thank you for the award. Did I say thank you to Aerin for the award? I can't remember but if I didn't then thank you.

Robin, You can be pretty direct and I love that. I'm not sure why strong language should be the sign of a man and I refuse to use the phrase potty mouth.

Polenth, I've never seen you as firmly one gender or the other by your writing.

It does emphasise to me how constricting society's gender constructs are. I've never liked being shoved into a box and expected to behave in particular ways because I'm female. I feel a rant coming on so I'll stop!

Sarah Laurenson said...

I think I might have been wanting to derail any confusion for me since I was called "sir" a lot when I was younger. Even in my own element - a gay bar - the gay boys would come on to me until they realized I was female. So I have been fairly open about who and what I am on the blogosphere.

[Even at a lesbian retreat, I ran into women who thought I was a male intruder. I am seriously not that butch!]

Bevie - I kept forgetting which gender you are and it really didn't matter. I think of people here more for who they are in their writing than in their physical body.

Great discussion!

fairyhedgehog said...

Sarah, I used to get taken for a boy when I was in my early teens. It's odd, I really hated it even though I half wanted to be a boy because they were allowed to do more things than girls were!

Bevie said...

"Bevie - I kept forgetting which gender you are and it really didn't matter. I think of people here more for who they are in their writing than in their physical body."

You know, Sarah, I think that's great. I don't really want people thinking "this is a guy writing to me". I want them to just think about what I write.

Thank you

Richard N said...

As a non-blogger (at least for the time being) I'm finding this discussion rather interesting.
I spend a fair bit of time in various forums, and that's 'usually' under my own name which strongly suggests my real gender - which I suppose only adds to some people's discomfort because I'll unashamedly flirt with people of any gender online even though I wouldn't normally engage in such behaviour 'offline' - I'm straight and happily married, but like to challenge a few assumptions about what 'straight' actually means online... the 'rules' are pretty much whatever you choose them to be and all the 'offline' social norms are negotiable...

fairyhedgehog said...

Hi Richard,

I like that idea of the rules being whatever you want them to be. I hope that can spill over a bit into offline life, at least to the extent that we can welcome other people's differences as I know you do. Maybe we can spread some of that around.

Sylvia said...

Fiction Writing with Storytellersunplugged | Apparently Bev Vincent writes like a girl

fairyhedgehog said...

Thanks, Sylvia. I saw that on Twitter and I'm going to post it for anyone who doesn't see your comment.

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