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Does Online Gender Masking Work?

Mowbray, Miranda


Keyword(s): gender; online communities

Abstract: This paper looks at a particular freedom that appears to be offered by online communication: the freedom to carry out multi-person social interaction without revealing whether one is a man or a woman. This paper investigates whether online gender masking works, in two senses: Do users with masked gender succeed in keeping their gender ambiguous to their interlocutors? And do they (and others) benefit from the gender masking? Interviews with 51 gender-masking members of two online communities suggest the answer to the second question can be "yes" even when the first is "no". My interviewees said that although their offline genders do not usually remain ambiguous, nevertheless gender masking does provide them some protection from harassment, it gives a sign that sexual stereotyping may not apply, it can open up possibilities for people with non-standard offline genders, and above all it provides an opportunity for light-hearted creative personal expression.

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