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Call for papers n° 8: Doing Gender Online. Ordinary Practice Beyond Utopian Ideals

Deadline for abstract submissions: NOVEMBER 12, 2017

Issue edited by Marie Bergström (Ined) and Dominique Pasquier (CNRS/Télécom Paris-Tech/EHESS).

Rarely did a technology raise so many hopes as the Internet did. The development of this “network of networks”, originally in North America, spread enthusiasm among social scientists for the possibilities of social transformation that it seemed to offer (Rheingold, 1993; Turkle, 1995). This enthusiasm was especially strong among feminist scholars who immediately considered the Internet as a space for changing gender norms. Contemporary to the development of “gender studies”, the Internet was seen to create “gender trouble”, as Sherry Turkle put it (1995) in reference to the founding work of Judith Butler (1990). Online communication was conceived as offering a possibility to dissociate the physical body (male/female) from gender identity (man/woman) and resulting in more fluid identities, calling into question gender binarity. Thus, in the mid-1990s, Allucquère Rosanne Stone declared that "in cyberspace the transgendered body is the natural body" (Stone, 1995: 181).

Twenty years later, while the enthusiasm surrounding the Internet has faded the image of the online world as a space for subversion of gender relations persists. The qualities attributed to the Internet – anonymity, horizontality, and free expression – are considered to favor a plurality of gender norms, behaviors and identities. However, several empirical studies tend to challenge this idea. For example, Claire Balleys' work on teenager’s sociability shows that most of the time, online behaviors remain very stereotyped. Her study of young YouTubers does not indicate a subversion of gender roles but rather reveals a strong attachment to gender binarity (Balleys, 2016, 2017). Other scholars stress the misogyny and the homophobia that often characterizes online interactions, especially on social networking sites and in video games (Marwick, 2013; Marignier, 2017). Far from being a “loophole” in contemporary gender relations, the Internet appears more as a “looking glass” that reflects, and even emphasizes, the inequalities and the power dynamics between the genders.

This issue of RESET thus calls for original and empirical work on the gendered nature of Internet use. The scope of the proposals is not limited to specific devices (computers, mobiles or tablets) or topics (personal or professional uses), nor to the sole analysis of gender relations: intersectional perspectives that take into account age, class and race are much welcomed. Nonetheless, this call does privilege a specific approach, favoring two main axes of analysis.

In line with the RESET philosophy, the issue welcomes articles that place Internet use into the perspective of long-term evolutions. Too often, scholars tend to assume a strong specificity of online activities, to the extent that they sometimes become blind to historical continuities and to the interweaving of online and offline practices. The purpose of this issue is not to minimize the changes brought by the Internet but rather to situate these changes within their broader context of social transformation: in the field of education, the labor market, sociability, sexuality, couple relationships, and so forth. This implies considering both the potential reproduction and transformation of gender roles online.

The second axis consists of highlighting “ordinary” activities, attitudes and behaviors. Studies on Internet use tend to focus on marginal or “extraordinary” users, such as hackers, gamers or fans. This trend is sometimes strong within gender studies that seek to shed light on dominant norms by looking at the “margins”. Although this approach has proven its heuristic value, it can lead to ignoring the practices of the majority while focusing on the more spectacular ones (Brekhus, 1998). Today, it appears important to rebalance the research agenda and pay more attention to those Internet uses that are considered banal, common or even insignificant.

Areas of research

Papers may (but do not have to) focus on the following three areas of research.

Skills and computer (in)competence

Several studies have shown the gender differences in girls’ and boys’ “computer socialization”, and how these differences lead women to lack confidence in their skills. In her study of a technology program at Harvard, Sherry Turkle gave a precise description of this female “reluctance” to get involved with computers (Turkle, 1988). Supriya Singh depicted how this reluctance vanishes when the machines become “invisible”, i.e when they appear merely as a tool rather than as a technology to be mastered (Singh, 2001). In the same line of argument, Cockburn and Omrod (1993) stressed women’s active role in the development of new technology; a role rarely acknowledged. Their case study – the innovation of the microwave oven – brought into question the idea of technique as a “male skill” and suggested that the association between technology and masculinity partly depends on the research objects.

  • 1 Source : Insee, census, 2014.

This being said, computing and programming are still highly men-dominated occupations. In France, 4 computer engineers and technicians out of 5 are men1. This has not always been the case. Until the 1980s, women were relatively well represented in the computing sector in Europe as well as the United States, but were progressively outnumbered by men as the computing professions gained in prestige (Collet, 2006; Collet & Mosconi, 2010: 103; Misa, 2011; Abbate, 2012). The development of the Web and of the Internet economy – as illustrated by the Silicon Valley – does not seem to have significantly changed this trend.

This issue of RESET welcomes articles on women’s and men’s Internet and computer skills as well as their attitudes toward these technologies (as expressed at home or in the workplace). Contributions on the computing and programming occupations, as well as on the association between technology and masculinity are encouraged as well. Ultimately, we wish to address the following question: To what extent are women “excluded from the understanding of the functioning of modern machines”, as the French sociologist Josiane Jouët claimed 15 years ago? (Jouët, 2003).

Gendered Internet use

  • 2 Source : Eurostat, 2014.

In many countries today, the rate of Internet use is very much the same for both genders. This is the case in France, where 84% of women and 87% of men declare to have used the Internet in the last 12 months2. Differences are slight, especially in the younger ages. However, do women and men use the Internet in the same way? In an article published in the first issue of RESET, Pierre Mercklé and Sylvie Octobre (2012) showed that, among young people, gendered differences in digital practices increase with age. While Internet use is relatively similar for girls and boys during childhood (at age 11), it gradually differentiates and becomes much more gendered at the end of adolescence (at age 17). In other words, digital and gender socialization work together and are co-produced. This opens up several questions regarding Internet use and, for example, gender differences in communication, leisure and gaming.

Former research on telephone use showed that women, in their role as kin keepers, made a more widespread use of this technology than did men: the telephone was a central tool in maintaining intergenerational and family ties (Segalen, 1999, Quéré & Smoreda, 2000; Rivière, 2000). As people mainly use the Internet for communication purposes – emailing, chatting and networking through various platforms such as Snapchat or Facebook – an important question is to what extent these communication practices are gendered. Does Internet communication rely on traditional gender roles or does it favor new communicational behaviors?

Another topic worth discussing is that of cultural and recreational practices. Consumption of culture differs not only with regard to class but also to gender (Pasquier, 2005), In view of the extent to which the Internet has transformed both the access to and the nature of cultural goods, one can question whether this process has opened up different cultural spheres (traditionally considered as “male” or “female”) to both genders, or whether the digital revolution reproduces existing gendered patterns in cultural production and consumption.

Let us finally raise some questions related to video games. Gaming has traditionally acted as a form of computer initiation, primarily for boys (Jenkins, 1998). In addition, large-scale surveys on cultural and digital practices show much higher rates of video game use among men than among women (Donnat, 2009, Granjon & Denouël, 2010; Gire & Granjon, 2012, Mercklé & Octobre, 2012). However, recent research calls for an analysis of new and more widespread forms of gaming on smartphones and on social network sites (FarmVille or CandyCrush for example), that women seem to use as much as men. Does this relatively new way of gaming broaden the use of video games among women? Or does female gaming limit itself to certain products, often located at the bottom of the gaming hierarchy, namely because they are disqualified as “girls’ games”?

Doing gender online

Josiane Jouët's seminal work on the French Minitel showed that the online world, under the guise of pseudonymity, may be a space for playing with gender identity (Jouët 1989, 1993). This image of the Internet as a medium for exploring and subverting gender norms was especially strong at the beginning of the Web. Since then, it has partly lost its popularity, especially with the development of Web 2.0 blogs and social media that allow for less flexibility in the expression of identity. Internet research then shifted towards a focus on issues of reputation and popularity (Delaunay-Téterel, 2010, Balleys, 2012, boyd, 2014; Beuscart et al., 2015). Studies taking on a gender perspective are today less interested in the transgressive dimensions of the Internet than in its performative dimensions. Goffman's notion of "gender display" and Butler's concept of "doing gender" are two major references in this literature (Goffman, 2004; Butler, 1990, 2004).

Empirical research on the Web 2.0 often indicate a reproduction of gender stereotypes that are already present offline. "The gendered division of the world into two complementary and antagonistic sub-worlds", described in Isabelle Clair’s work (2007: 157), resonates with Claire Balleys’ research on gender performances among young YouTubers (Balleys, 2017) as well as that of Marie Bergström on online dating (2014). This does not mean that the Internet does not change anything. On the contrary, several studies show that online practices also give rise to new expressions of gender and sexuality (François, 2009; Metton-Gayon, 2009; Balleys, 2012). More empirical research is however needed. This is especially true as the existing literature is often either overly enthusiastic or severely critical regarding the gender-related social transformations induced by the Internet.

More attention could also be paid to Internet use among middle-aged or older people. Today, most work dealing with gendered Internet use, and the online display of femininity and masculinity, focuses on young people, often from middle or upper class backgrounds. In this sense, the existing literature does reflect the diversity of Internet usage and users. Consequently, this issue of RESET calls for a widening of the research questions associated with gender and online communication, as well as of the populations under study.

Practical information

The abstracts (500 words maximum) are due by November 12, 2017. They should be sent to the following address: reset@openedition.org

The abstracts, written in either English or French, should state the research question, the methodology, and the theoretical framework used. It will focus on the scientific relevance of the proposed article in light of the existing literature and the call for papers, and may be accompanied by a short bibliography. We would like to draw the authors' attention to a special section called Revisiting the Classics, devoted to new readings of classical authors and theories in light of the Internet.

The abstracts will be reviewed anonymously by the issue coordinators and the members of the editorial board. Authors of submissions selected at this stage will be asked to e-mail their full papers by February 28th, 2018.

The journal RESET also accepts submissions to its “Varia” section, open to scholarly work in the Humanities and Social Sciences dealing with an Internet-related object or method of research.

Calendar

Deadline for abstract submission (500 words maximum, plus references): November 12, 2017

Responses to authors: November 30, 2017.

Deadline for full papers (6 000 to 10 000 words, plus references): February 28, 2018.

Contact

Editorial board reset@openedition.org

Coordinators

Marie Bergström marie.bergstrom@ined.fr

Dominique Pasquier dominique.pasquier@telecom-paristech.fr

Bibliographie

Abbate Janet (2012). Recoding gender: Women's Changing Participation in Computing, Cambridge, MIT Press.

Balleys Claire (2012). "Je t’aime plus que tout au monde". D’amitiés en amours, les processus de socialisation entre pairs adolescents, Doctorat de sciences sociales, Université de Fribourg.

Balleys Claire (2016). « “Nous les mecs”. La mise en scène de l’intimité masculine sur YouTube », in Martin Olivier & Dagiral Éric (eds.), L'ordinaire d'internet. Le web dans nos pratiques et relations sociales, Paris, Armand Colin, pp. 182-202.

Balleys Claire (2017). « L’incontrôlable besoin de contrôle. Les performances de la féminité par les adolescents sur YouTube », Genre, sexualité & société, 17 [en ligne], mis en ligne 01.06.2017, consulté 28.08.2017. Url : http://gss.revues.org/3958

Bergström Marie (2014). The Dating Deal. Sexuality, Class and Gender Relations in the Production and Use of Online Dating Sites in France, doctoral thesis, SciencesPo Paris.

Beuscart Jean-Samuel, Chauvin Pierre-Marie, Jourdain Anne & Naulin Sidonie (2015). « La réputation et ses dispositifs. Introduction », Terrains & travaux, 1 (26), pp. 5-22.

boyd danah (2014). It's complicated: The social lives of networked teens, New Haven, Yale University Press.

Brekhus Wayne (1998). « A Sociology of the Unmarked: Redirecting Our Focus », Sociological Theory, 16 (1), pp. 34-51.

Butler Judith (1990). Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New-York, Routledge.

Butler Judith (2004). Ondoing Gender, New-York, Routledge.

Clair Isabelle (2007). « La division genrée de l'expérience amoureuse. Enquête dans des cités d'habitat social », Sociétés & représentations, 2 (24), pp. 145-160.

Cockburn Cynthia & Ormrod Susan (1993). Gender and Technology in the Making, London, Sage.

Collet Isabelle (2006). L'informatique a-t-elle un sexe ? Hackers, mythes et réalités, Paris, L'Harmattan.

Collet Isabelle & Mosconi Nicole (2010). « Les informaticiennes : de la dominance de classe aux discriminations de sexe ? », Nouvelles questions féministes, 29 (2), pp. 100-113.

Delaunay-Téterel Hélène (2010). « L'affichage public des amitiés. Le blog au lycée », Ethnologie française, 40 (1), pp. 115-122.

Donnat Olivier (2009). Les pratiques culturelles des Français à l'ère numérique, Paris, La découverte / Ministère de la culture et de la communication.

François Sébastien (2009). « Fanf(r)ictions. Tensions identitaires et relationnellles chez les auteurs de récits de fans », Réseaux, 1 (153), pp. 157-189.

Gire Fabienne & Granjon Fabien, 2012. « Les pratiques des écrans des jeunes Français. Déterminants sociaux et formes d’appropriation », RESET. Recherches en sciences sociales sur Internet, 1 (1) [en ligne], mis en ligne 01.01.2012, consulté 04.01.2012. Url : http://www.journal-reset.org/index.php/RESET/article/view/4.

Goffman Erving (2004). « Le déploiement du genre », Terrain. Anthropologie & sciences humaines, 42, pp. 109-128.

Granjon Fabien & Denouël Julie (2010). « Exposition de soi et reconnaissance de singularités subjectives sur les sites de réseaux sociaux », Sociologie, 1 (1), pp. 25-43.

Jenkins Henry (1998). « Complete Freedom of Movement: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces », in Cassell Justine & Jenkins Henry (eds.), From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games, Cambridge, MIT Press, pp. 262-296.

Jouët Josiane (1989). « Une communauté télématique : les axiens », Réseaux, 7 (38), pp. 49-66.

Jouët Josiane (1993). « L’amour sur Minitel », in Bougnoux Daniel (ed.), Sciences de l’Information et de la Communication, Paris, Larousse, pp. 784-789.

Jouët Josiane (2003). « Technologies de communication et genre », Réseaux, 4 (120), pp. 53-86.

Marignier Noémie, 2017. « "Gay ou pas gay ?". Panique énonciative sur le forum jeuxvideo.com », Genre, sexualité & société, 17 [en ligne], mis en ligne 01.06.2017, consulté 28.08.2017. Url : http://gss.revues.org/3981.

Marwick Alice (2013). « Gender, Sexuality and Social Media », in Hunsinger Jeremy & Senft Theresa M. (eds.), The Social Media Handbook, New-York, Routledge, pp. 59-75.

Mercklé Pierre & Octobre Sylvie, 2012. « La stratification sociale des pratiques numériques des adolescents », RESET. Recherches en sciences sociales sur Internet, 1 (1) [en ligne], mis en ligne le 01.01.2012, consulté 04.01.2012. Url : http://www.journal-reset.org/index.php/RESET/article/view/3.

Metton-Gayon Céline (2009). Les adolescents, leur téléphone et Internet. "Tu viens sur MSN ?", Paris, L'Harmattan.

Misa Thomas J. (2011). Gender codes: Why Women are Leaving Computing, Hoboken, John Wiley & Sons.

Pasquier Dominique (2005). « La culture comme activité sociale », in Macé Éric & Maigret Éric (dir.), Penser les médiacultures. Nouvelles pratiques et nouvelles approches de la représentation du monde, Paris, Armand Colin, pp.103-120.

Quéré Louis & Smoreda Zbigniew (2000). « Le sexe du téléphone. Présentation », Réseaux, 18 (103), pp. 9-17.

Rheingold Howard (1993). The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, Reading, Addison-Wesley.

Rivière Carole-Anne (2000). « Hommes et femmes au téléphone. Un chassé-croisé entre les sexes », Réseaux, 18 (103), pp. 21-49.

Segalen Martine (1999). « Le téléphone des familles », Réseaux, 17 (96), pp. 15-44.

Singh Supriya (2001). « Gender and the use of the Internet at home », New Media & Society, 3 (4), pp. 395-415.

Stone Allucquère Rosanne (1995). The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age, Cambridge, MIT Press.

Turkle Sherry (1988). « Computational Reticence: Why Women Fear the Intimate Machine », in Kramarae Cheris (dir.), Technology and Women’s voices: Keeping in touch, New-York, Routledge, pp. 41-61.

Turkle Sherry (1995). Life On The Screen. Identity In The Age Of The Internet., New-York, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

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Notes

1 Source : Insee, census, 2014.

2 Source : Eurostat, 2014.

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