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Gender Online

By news editor, on 20 February 2012

Last weekend, UCL Gender Studies hosted Gender Online, an interdisciplinary post-graduate symposium which aimed to open a conversation about the relationship between gender, digital communications and the internet.

The event, funded by the Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies, brought academics, graduate students and members of the public together from many different backgrounds to create cutting-edge debate around a diverse selection of papers.

It had been widely promoted by the use of social networking sites such as Twitter and was recorded for podcasting at a later date. Speakers came from UCL Gender, and Digital Anthropology, the Institute of Education (IoE) Social and Educational Research, LSE Social Anthropology and NYU Tisch Interactive Telecommunications Programme.

‘I send a text because…’

Dr Stefana Broadbent, from UCL Digital Anthropology and a TED Fellow, opened the event with a fascinating keynote presentation which looked at the gender relations within three main areas: a.) how different types of communication – specifically telephone (or voice), email, texts, and social networking sites – demanded different levels of attention b.) how digital communications disrupt the spheres of public and private, and c.) who owns, and knows how to use, communication devices around the home.

Her research highlights the greatly gendered use, access to, and ownership of technologies – from the reasons given by men and women for sending a text, to who is most likely to be able to contact their private sphere with the use of new technologies during their working day.

Stereotyping and Self Esteem

The first session included two papers, Sarah Fink’s (UCL Gender) Gender Online – Is there space for androgyny? and Hyerin Kim’s (LSE Social Anthropology), Cross-National comparison of self esteem and online participation of different genders in social network services.

Sarah Fink questioned the gendered assumptions made online, and provoked real debate into advertising, design and the effects of stereotyping. Hyerin Kim presented a quantative analysis on the levels of self esteem of students of different genders, online and offline, from the USA, Cambodia and Iran. Her research appeared to find an interesting correlation between being online and an increase of self esteem for many women.

Metaphor and Middle Earth

The afternoon session saw the presentation of two more papers, Emily Henderson’s (IoE), “[S]o much more personal!”: Exploring the potential for a metaphorical relationship between Gender Studies and “computer technology” in an e-learning context and Monica Fajardo Krishnan’s (NYU) Gender and Online Myth-making: Women in Tolkien Fandom.

Emily Henderson’s fascinating paper opened up a debate into the advantages of online learning versus classroom learning for Women’s and Gender Studies students and invited many varied responses from attendees of the symposium.

Monica Fajardo Krishnan presented on the phenomenon of female Tolkien fan fiction writers on the internet and highlighted the creative, business and philanthropic potential of their communities.

To conclude…

The day reflected the diverse perspectives and responses possible when looking at gender relations online, and highlighted the relevance of continuing such a conversation. As can be seen in the titles of papers presented, the event highlighted the global importance of creating debate into this area. It is clear that the relationship between gender, the internet and digital communications is complex, varied and rapidly evolving.

Written by Elizabeth Noble, UCL MA Gender, Society and Representation.

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