Directory:Akahele/Gender bending, 2.0

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Gender bending, 2.0

It has been a long standing rule of thumb on the web that there are no girls on the Internet. This is not to say there are no female personalities on the Internet, but rather that at any given time, many (if not all) of the "females" in a given area on the web are probably actually men.

Watch out! It's a trap!

What proof do you really have that the hot, blond, nude Norwegian chick who has starred in porn movies is the real McCoy? For all you know, (s)he might actually be an aging, fat, 50-something guy who gets his jollies out of manipulating healthy young men. Or, it could be an undercover cop. Or even your dog. There's simply no way, currently, of telling. This often leads to some rather interesting situations when people finally figure out that the person that they imagined is not the person that they finally get.

Part of the problem is that men actually do pursue the Internet more intensively than women. Even Wikipedia acknowledges this on their Countering systemic bias page:

The average Wikipedian on the English Wikipedia is (1) a man, (2) technically inclined, (3) formally educated, (4) an English speaker (native or non-native), (5) white, (6) aged 15–49, (7) from a majority-Christian country, (8) from a developed nation, (9) from the Northern Hemisphere, and (10) likely employed as a white-collar worker or enrolled as a student rather than employed as a labourer (cf. Wikipedia:User survey and Wikipedia:University of Würzburg survey, 2005).

In terms of how all of this testosterone floating around works in practice, I described a possible scenario in a Wikipedia Review post several years ago:

  1. A closed set of individuals who represent a specific demographic sample make a hierarchical system based on their belief systems, knowledge base, and values. The negotiation of the shifting point of view of this population is defined as "reaching consensus". When points of view are not compatible, the hierarchical structure makes decisions that work from the top of the pyramid down to impose the viewpoint of the people at the top of the structure. With refinement of this process, the views expressed correspond more and more to those at the top of the power structure. As the material which could present contrasting views is excluded, it in turn validates the information within the system as "important", "notable", or "correct".
  2. Sources are selected to validate this view of the world. However, because the sources that are presented are those which have already validated the views in question, the sources also validate the idea of consensus. Other sources (which, outside the system, may be perfectly truthful and authoritative) are dismissed as being "pseudo-science", "original research", "POV-oriented", etc., as a means of excluding them from the sample. As the process of exclusion creates conflicts which in turn exclude those who are thinking outside of the sample, the vision presented corresponds more and more to the views of those at the top of the power structure.
  3. The result of this process is then labeled "the gift of knowledge" or "making the Internet not suck", and we are expected to receive this "gift" even if we reside outside of the system's demographic segment and may have (read, "almost certainly do have") life experiences which contradict the information presented to us. We may also object to the inherent cultural value of this information. The idea not expressed but ultimately present here is, "you need to think like us, because if you do, you can be part of this rich and successful enterprise founded by our great leader, Jimbo".

It would seem, for example, that such a process dominated by men would most likely cause women to be excluded from positions of power within it. Some studies as Ono and Zadovsky's Gender and the Internet suggest that the reason that women are less likely to be present on the Internet is mainly due to an inherent lag in the way women approach new technologies. However, Danielle Citron's work has suggested that women may be objects of what she terms Cyber Gender Harassment.

Pauline and her perils

With fewer women participating, and those who are finding themselves the object of cyber attacks, the question remains as to exactly what would prompt a man to pose as a women on the Internet, since it would appear that this would be largely counterproductive to both his participation, access to positions of power, and success in getting his message across.

The fact is, there are advantages to posing as a woman in a male-dominated society such as the Internet. One needn't look any further than your neighborhood bar to see exactly why this might be so. Amy S. Bruckman examined the phenomenon of "gender swapping" in multi-user online worlds during the 1990s and found that men posing as women were much more likely to be "helped" by other male players than if they were playing as male personae. As one player named Dennis explained:

I played a couple of MUDs as a female, one making up to wizard level. And the first thing I noticed was that the above was true. Other players start showering you with money to help you get started, and I had never once gotten a handout when playing a male player. And then they feel they should be allowed to tag along forever, and feel hurt when you leave them to go off and explore by yourself. Then when you give them the knee after they grope you, they wonder what your problem is, reciting that famous saying "What's your problem? It's only a game". Lest you get the wrong idea, there was nothing suggesting about my character, merely a female name and the appropriate pronouns in the bland description. Did I mention the friendly wizard who turned cold when he discovered I was male in real life? I guess some people are jerks in real life too.

A few months ago, it was discovered that a single individual had been juggling no less than 15 different personalities of both sexes on Wikipedia and Wikipedia Review in what has been called the "Poetlister incident", after the name of the principal persona.

Without getting into the specifics of the particular situation, what is interesting to consider is how the personae of each gender were used. The male personae were generally used in a straightforward, business-like manner, while the female personae were much more playful, needy, and prone to more fanciful details (such as a private "wedding" forum on the Wikipedia Review for one of the characters, or the overt sexually masochistic fantasies of the "Taxwoman" persona).

The female characters were also used as instruments of revenge whose actions were then defended by the male personae. It is obvious from the way the gender roles were played off of each other that the puppet master behind it all had exploited more ways to manipulate people by simultaneously using both sides of the gender equation, rather than just one.

Until some way of verifying identity on the Internet becomes standard practice, these sorts of role-playing games are going to be standard practice. While it may be argued that it simply does not matter what sex anyone says they are, the fact remains that people are manipulated by gender. Someone who is playing both male and female roles is much more likely to be able to manipulate social media environments to create his (or her) intended outcome. It would be refreshing, however, if just once it turned out that the fat, balding, fifty-something man was actually a twenty-something blond co-ed... but of course, there are no girls on the Internet, after all!

Photo credits


5 Responses to “Gender bending, 2.0”

Gregory Kohs
As someone himself tricked (for a brief spell) by the network operated by “Poetlister”, I offer this video-formatted word of advice:
Barry Kort
Just as many professional sports teams have increasingly taken on names that correspond to abstractions, some of the more interesting avatars names are genderless abstractions.
Way back in the 90s, when Amy Bruckman and I were pioneering MUDs, one of our colleagues in academia took the name Pi and provided no clues whatsoever suggestive of any gender at all.
John A
Lots of people were fooled, Greg. It was certainly an impressive show to have infiltrated not only WR but also Wikiquote and Wikipedia itself with so many characters without once slipping up for so long.
The Internet plays games with people’s personas to such an extent that I tend to spend most of my time talking to arguments rather than people, so as not to get surprised at sockpuppetry when it happens.
I know that you are Gregory Kohs, because you have gone to extraordinary lengths to be a verifiable real person. But you could still be a sockpuppet – I’ve never met you, nor can I verify that every single post by “Gregory Kohs” is by the same person.
I use one to two personas but I don’t change characters, nor pretend to be the opposite sex, nor sexually deviant nor gay nor anything else. I like my anonymity because it is much less of a strain to my personal life and that of my family – I’m just introverted like that. I certainly don’t seek fame or notoriety and am appalled by “celebrity culture” which is an oxymoron.
The Internet is an immense stage with innumerable disguises available, and so one is always wondering exactly how many people are really out there. The Internet also plays with our belief system and betrays our trust, which is why I don’t trust it with my life.
Paul Wehage
The “Pi” incident is interesting: what happened? Did people decide what gender “Pi” was and on what basis? Was it ever uncovered which gender “Pi” was and what were the consequences?
Please tell us more!
Timothy Usher
See also these sockpuppets (among many others) of Steven McGeady (”Gnetwerker”), better known for his testimony in the Microsoft trial: As discussed on Wikipedia Review, McGeady misappropriated a South African girl’s photograph from her blog and, under the alias “Reseaunaut,” pretended to be her, much as our British civil servant misappropriated women’s photographs to accompany his feminine personae. In such instances, it isn’t only, or even mainly, other online denizens who are the victims of these frauds.