Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What's in a name?

At one time I was commenting anonymously on several political blogs. I'm now commenting exclusively as myself, and I've noticed something interesting. My old pseudonym was an abbreviation of my middle name, and could be interpreted as either male or female. On reflection, I'm pretty sure that most other readers and commenters assumed I was male. And, while it could well be my imagination, I reckon people are more polite to me as a female entity than when I was assumed to be male, and are more polite to girls in the blogosphere generally - at least when they address them directly*.

All this is a propos of nothing in particular except that it was quite nice being a fake man. I felt as though what I had to say was the most important part of any comment or interaction I had online, and no quarter was given for the fact of my being female. It was like I'd sneaked into the secret boys' club where arguing is allowed. I loved it. It gave me a taste of a world where I was finally part of the male in-crowd. However temporarily.

* Whaleoil ran a post recently that was so misogynist in tone I couldn't bring myself to comment on it. And the comments that followed were worse. Improbably. They were all written with the assurance of men who expect only to be read by other men. For a link to the original post and comments, cut and paste this: http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/?q=content/truffle-hunters-vote-labour. You've been warned.


stilltruckin said...

Part of the reason I use Ari online is because it's not a common name and people don't know what to make of it, and actually have to look at what I say to judge me. Anonymity can be good to you that way. ;)

I've definitely noticed too that people seem to be a lot less willing to listen to women and take them seriously. It's really sad too, as many of the most insightful things I read online are obviously from a female point of view.

Ruth said...

I agree. I once tried a male pseudonym a few years ago and was pleased to not have to ut up with misognistic comments. The blogosphere is still in the dark ages in a lot of ways and you get all these men with chips on their shoulders crawling out from under their rocks.

You don't get the sexism in real life to anywhere near the same extent.

Ex-expat said...

My current user name is gender useful but I think from using my previous name and my writing style most people know I am a woman.

Lyn said...

It's interesting hey. Gender is a really pernicious part of the way we interact with each other. And there are various ways people (most probably men) manage it - misogyny or extra respect both serve to mark people identified as women out from the rest of the group. I guess it's and unavoidable part of life. At the end of the day I stopped being gender neutral because I wanted to be identified as a woman in comments on gender politics and it was the right decision - but I did enjoy being judged only/mostly for the quality of my ideas (cue pensive sigh).

._. said...

The Internet used to be hailed as being a gender-neutral space. Interacting without bodies, or bodily clues, the ability to pose as anyone .. identity being more fluid and could be divorced from the body etc .. what's funny is that I think more or less, the opposite happened. It's a very gendered space. And I agree with Ruth, I think the Internet is pretty hostile to women. Well, not the technology itself, but the forums, at least the places I frequent which are admittedly because of the topics easily 90% men.

Anonymity now is a movement about being a troll, a monster, without repercussions. It enables people to explore their dark sides, to openly express their prejudices.

Summarised nicely in this image.

I'm suprised at the bitterness shown towards women by men on the Internet. You'd think most of us had been beaten with sticks as children by packs of women and were scared from the experience. Or at least within geek culture. I often read sad sad tales of men rejected, overlooked, and very spiteful for the fact.

Just before reading your blog I was reading this blog post which had been linked from a social news site. If you go through the comments you can see at what point the article became linked from the social news site and a number of angry men descend. To be honest the poor blogger probably wasn't intending that post to be linked so publicly. It's like witnessing "when the Internet attacks". Hello, the Internet has arrived at your blog and its pissed.

Anyway, I don't have a point. Just that the gender interactions I see online are quite brutal and misogynistic sometimes.

I post under pseudonym because I don't want to be Googled :)

lprent said...

I'd have to agree that there is a certain amount of gender asssesment that goes on with names. It has been around since I started playing around on the net a few decades ago.

I've been using lprent as a psuedonym since the days when I was restricted to 8 characters. Saved a lot of time because then I didn't get chatted up by every pimply faced juvie while discussing the intracies of c++ or windows API. Thats what would happen whenever I used my given name of Lynn.

Lyn said...

._. - your comment really reasonated with me. There's always been something scarey about a hoard, and an aggregate of individuals with no accountability to anyone, anywhere is a terrifying thing. Regarding the phenomenon you describe around bitter men - it's amazing how women are expected to contribute to a particular man's sense of manliness - and when this doesn't happen, it's the fault of all women.

lprent - I can only imagine the delight of geeks in online discussions upon discovering a girl who likes the same stuff they do. I feel for them (being a fan of geeks), but I have to say there is something uniquely annoying about trying to engage on a topic, only to have your efforts thwarted by an attention to your identity or attempts to change the topic of discussion to something more personal.

._. said...

>[...] because then I didn't get chatted up by every pimply faced juvie while discussing the intracies of c++ or windows API.

Oh I can imagine .. I've seen this over and over in geek forums. Sometimes it's just tongue in cheek "OMG there's a girl on the internet!" but often it's full on face in palms behaviour.

>it's amazing how women are expected to contribute to a particular man's sense of manliness - and when this doesn't happen, it's the fault of all women.

Hmm .. yes I think this feeling in geek culture has something to do with the Nice Guy (capital letters) persona .. which is way too off topic for this post I'm sorry :) but I have my own ponderings about this as someone who I think used to be one (I've reformed I hope to a nice guy - improper noun). My increasingly cynical perspective is that Nice Guys tend to use emotional closeness and friendship as a way of passively getting what they want from women. There's an expectation that they will receive. If they had muscles and tattoos, they'd be using those. A Nice Guy offers a woman they have a crush on friendship, closeness and a sympathetic ear and reveals their inner emotional sensitivity, because these are the best tools at his disposal, but the underlying motivations are the same as parading around without a t-shirt, it's just a lot less overt. Then they witness the girl falling for a nasty man with a motorcycle and decides she's a bitch. When this pattern has repeated over and over, he decides and all women are evil. Anyway, the general narrative amongst disaffected geeks who have become quite spiteful about women is something along these lines:

I started off as a nice guy, I offered equality and respect to these women, they turned around and went out with men who don't treat them anywhere near as nicely, I eventually realised women like to be treated badly, I've now started treating women badly and since I now get laid all the time I'm never going back to being a nice guy ever again.

Underlying that is a fairly sad admition of why they were wanting to treat women nicely in the first place anyway.

Apologies for a complete lack of relevancy :)

Lyn said...

._. - nice post and totally not lacking in relevancy IMHO. The article on world of Warcraft experiences as a woman absolutely illustrated what I meant in my original post about how in certain fora men imagine that there are no female readers/watchers/participants. The article highlighted assumptions that are also made about women's use of technology which was also interesting - just recently I've been noticing that when it comes to certain situations surrounding technology at work I can get sidelined quite easily or else maybe I'm allowing myself to get sidelined. It doesn't help that I'm not as technologically literate as the people (ie men) I work with. However either way I suspect that there's something gendered going on - I just can't put my finger on it...

lprent said...

"lprent - I can only imagine the delight of geeks in online discussions upon discovering a girl who likes the same stuff they do."

They sure did, at least up until I told them I was actually male.

My name happened as a combination of young parents with a naming problem, and a welsh rugby player on tour here called Lynn (at least that is what my parents tell me). One name fitted both genders.

You ever hear of that song by Johnny Cash - " A boy named Sue". Resonated with me. :)

Lyn said...

lprent - ouch. I do know of a male boatmaker by the name of Lynn, so this is not entirely the surprise it might have been. If "A boy named Sue" reasonated with you I gather the name has been character-building if nothing else. I'm also intrigued to know if you feel like it's given you an insight into gendered interactions online that you would otherwise not have had.

lprent said...

Was quite character forming when I was young. In adulthood, it made no real difference. Except on the nets.

In the absence of other cues, you do notice the difference. That is why I tend to use lprent or other genderless psuedonyms. I'm known to have some strong opinions and have been known to enjoy a good argu.. ummm discussion. But I found less discussion if I use my name, but I did get a lot more interest from the juvie's.

Lyn said...

lprent - was immediately interested by your last comment about less discussion if people think you're a girl. When commenting on the standard this def happens to me...granted it's often because my comments aren't what everyone else wants to talk about (possibly a gender issue in itself) but I've also found that previously frothing righties are really really polite when replying to my comments and since I do sometimes feel like tearing them a new one, having them respond in measured tones (as opposed to the flaming they'd dish up if they thought I was male) is a bit frustrating. It makes for a more intelligent discussion, but that's not always the point. I guess there's a really ingrained thing about not hitting or harming a woman that goes to the core of male identity. And I sure couldn't punch someone to save myself, but I like to think that intellect is, if not genderless, at least equally distributed between the genders and that women are entitled to their opinions AND that these should be as up for debate as the next man's. There are so many lines that get crossed though. It's not pc, polite or manly to get into an argument with a woman, esp in front of other men. And if you're a woman you shouldn't be shouting about something in the first place. With anyone. Ever.

lprent said...

I suspect you're not looking at the debate in the right frame of mind. You can't change peoples minds, all you can do is get them to question their assumptions. That is what I call stirring, and seems to be the main reason for the non-technical blogs.

I've generally found that you can get a reaction when you cut to the jugular of someone else's argument. Especially if you slide in a veiled cutting remark that, if read by a person that is a bit wound up, implies that their value system is a bit flawed.

It is a technique well honed around my family by all genders. One of the main tricks, apart from observing the value systems, is to simply not care about 'winning' (because that is pointless). Regard it instead as simply exposing people to other ways of thinking. But to do it at an emotional level. Humans don't learn intellectually, they learn emotionally. You don't even bother arguing for what you believe.

There are some pretty effective practitioners on the standard. But you have to really look at them, because what they're saying isn't directed at you. You have to look at the attributes of whom they're targeting. Often to non-targets, it looks very reasonable and balanced. But to the target it looks like a red rag to a bull.

Like bull fighting, it is all about finesse. You shift the argument basis on the target continuously to keep them off balance and to slowly wind them up in knots. Think of it as playing with someone.

In the meantime you're having a reasonable discussion with other people on other topics. Because that is interesting. The stirring is just the fun bit.

Anyway, to get to the point of all this. You ever notice that most 'new' psuedonyms, when posting, get a long grace period? I'll give a guess why. The real trick is to enjoy the battle when someone decides to run a stir on you.

(evil grin)

lprent said...

I should add that I'm a bit constrained on the standard. My main persona there is the Bastard Sysop from Hell.

But that is just to keep the flame wars from igniting.

Plus of course I've been around the nets for a long time. It gets boring after a while.

Lyn said...

lprent - this particular musing on gender and space on the web just gets curiouser and curiouser. The first thing I realised was the similarity of your description of the power-politics on the standard to something a friend of mine who is a regular commenter in a similar kind of forum had already told me. And obviously this isn’t strictly gendered. As you point out, it’s a type of behaviour that certain personalities, no matter if male or female, might indulge in. It’s not really something I feel completely comfortable with – I’m more of an idealist than a button-pusher. Not that I don’t understand exactly what you mean when you say that “you don’t even bother arguing for what you believe”. Whether that makes me a pussy or a girl I’m not really sure. I actually do believe in arguing for what I believe. I don’t really like a good chunk of politics because it routinely makes a joke out of the concept of intelligent argument in favour of one-eyed power games. Perhaps I’m just incurably na├»ve. That said, I do enjoy some of the wind-ups on the standard, because I’m not involved. There’s often a comedy factor and the joy of taking sides.

The argument I was thinking of when writing my last comment was with another newbie, and I’m assuming from the presentation of this person’s own blog that they’re a guy (tho who the hell knows). Maybe we were being careful newbies together. However the other party behaved differently to me than to other commenters - I thought I was being reasonably inflammatory in what I was saying and that he was deliberately being nice. Maybe I just missed the tone somehow, or was simply too subtle in my approach. Or maybe I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Fuck.

Maybe there’s a gendered component to how much joy one derives from taking someone down just for the hell of it, or in defending oneself from attack. This is admittedly a turn-around from the position I was taking in my last post about WoW - which is why the whole gendering of net-space continues to fascinate me. In your comment you mention “the non-technical blogs” as if they’re all the same. But blogs written and read by women (e.g mommy blogs) are a hellava lot more touchy-feely, in my admittedly limited experience, than the standard or any polly blog. And a lot less masculine. Discussion of mucus anyone?? Throwing that in a thread on a polly blog would be an interesting exercise.

I’ll reflect further on your representation of what happens on the standard when I’m there next. Is it comforting to note that lefty ravers are more skilled in the kinds of bullfighting you describe than the average frothing rightie or simply scarey to know that they too are a pack of vulpine psychos sniffing out the next target? One thing I do think though – when in the forest you have to run with the wolves. Maybe that’s why a lot of the net gets gendered – everyone wants to hang out with people who act and think in the same way that they do. And gender is quite a pervasive aspect of identity, although by no means the only determinant…..do you have a sister? And if so does she like to go online and flame the shit out of people?

isologic said...

Hi, like your blog, was reflecting on the discussio of gender identity and gaming and was reminded of Dr Esther MacCallum-Stewarts blog on world of warcraft and gaming. You have t surf around a bit but all very interesting, also challenges a lot of stereotypes of women writers of the day.


She is a doctor of lit with a genius for WW1 poetry and has been funded to study online communities, and writes a lot about gender issues..all really interesting and covers similar ground. I have found her analysis of war poetry great for teaching. Cheers
Phil from Ohope Beach

Lyn said...

Hey isologic/Phil - thanks for the compliment and for the tip. I'm doing a bit of reading on online communities at the moment so I'll certainly follow this up.

lprent said...

What I was saying is that the process of the discussion is often as useful as the discussion itself. You have refine your ideas frequently to get anywhere in the discussion.

I tend to view it as a form of self-improvement. Often I start reviewing the other persons response before I've finished writing my comment. It is always great when they manage to come out with something I haven't thought of.

To do that you have to be able to get inside their worldview. That is a very useful skill, if you can do it from as few cues as short written comments. When you have more cue, faces body posture, vocal tone, clothing, it becomes more powerful.

The other useful thing you learn fast on the written net is how to keep your temper under control.

Lyn said...

Interesting. I'm finding that once you get into it cues about someone's ideas and identity online get easier to read. I've done ok so far because I don't get particularly angry and the things people have used so far to try and get a rise haven't worked. It's a lot tamer than actually arguing with someone IRL and I've had a bit of practise at that. Plus there's an element of reflection that helps make arguments more consistent and harder to crack.

I miss the pointless, loud, booze and politics-fueled arguments I used to have at uni. These are a good alternative..