Gender Issues on the Net

While the Internet decreases the influence of physicality, gender is not as invisible as other traits: a person's name, their use of pronouns, and the content of their communications can often indicate a person's gender.

While people can conceal gender online, most generally don't. In an informal survey of online forums, it was found that only about 10% of individuals seemed to be disguising their gender by choosing user names and content that would not belie their gender.

Gender, as a mode of identity, tends to be more typical than stereotypical: there are certain qualities of character that are consistently identified as male or female across an array of cultures. Men tend to be more aggressive, competitive, dominant, and task-oriented whereas women tend to be more empathetic, relationship-focused, and emotionally attuned.


Of particular importance to the online medium is that women tend to be more adept than men at communication, particularly in interpreting the information others write to determine attitude.

Stylistically, women tend to hedge more: they will use intensifiers (very, really, awfully, quite) and qualifiers (maybe, perhaps, kind of , etc.) more than will men. They ask more questions, and are more inclined to explicitly express agreement with the statements of others.


The language of power - that which is used from a position of strength, or to obtain a position of strength in conversation - tends to be more common among men than women. The female conversational style is, by its nature, more complaisant and submissive - though it is noted that women who have more power, by virtue of their role or the situation - tend to adopt more aggressive communications patterns. The patterns used by women in communication tend to reflect a concern with the social environment of a conversation rather than a tight focus on the purpose of the conversation.

The author explores this issue in a bit more detail - but it's a bit random and sloppy. For a better treatment, see Lewecki's Business Negotiation - I won't detail it further here.

Of note is the conflict in personal communication styles: the "weaker" female approach is often ineffective in group conversation: a tentative statement that seeks agreement is seen as uncertain, statements that do not relate to the immediate objective are seen as a distraction, merely agreeing with someone else's statement is seen as unproductive.


While the similarities of male/strong and female/weak conversation styles would seem to indicate that the "male" conversation style will always dominate the female, such is not always the case: if the majority of a group is in "female" mode, those in "male" mode generally cede.

In the end, the author concludes that communication modes are more an effect of the group and the conversation rather than the gender of any single conversant that determines the conversational modes in use.

Since men outnumber women online, it is largely a matter of women adapting to the male majority - but there are rare instances (a women's' studies forum, for example) where male conversant have adapted to a female majority.


There have been instances in some forums where men and women became factionalized against one another, and conflict has taken place between the genders, generally as a result of the position taken in a given conversation.

The author presents some exchanges from a thread about "men's literature" in a group discussing women's' studies - but it really strikes me as an anecdotal incident rather than a trend, and is not applicable in a general context.

There is a brief discussion of segregation, and the performance of women-only, men-only, and mixed groups - but this seems to be very artificial (there are few instances outside a laboratory environment where this would actually occur).


Gaming environments are noticeably hostile to women, moreso than most internet forums. It is reasoned that this is largely an effect of demographics: Internet gaming is dominated by adolescent males who behave ... well ... like adolescent males (lewd humor, sexual harassment, etc.)

There have been anecdotal reports of incidents where a woman was harassed and heckled in other forums - those not related to games, and those whos overt purpose or topic would not seem to require or expect an exclusively male audience - but these remain incidental.

Presently, there is little control over this hostility, and little precedent for such behavior to be controlled by civil authorities - except in cases where the use of the Internet is a component of harassment in a real-world environment (workplace or classroom).


The chapter concludes with a look at demographic trends on the Internet. In its earliest days, it was very much a male-dominated medium, but use by women is growing, and its expected that the two genders will conflict, and find a way to be at peace in the online world, much as they have in meatspace.

My sense is that the nature of gender issues on the Internet has largely changed as the demographics of the medium have become more balanced. Given that women predominate in social media (blogs, profiles, communities, etc.), the balance seems to have shifted and the kind of "adolescent male" behavior and attitudes that once dominated the medium are relegated to specific places. It may well be that generalizations about the Internet are moot, and one should consider the social dynamic of an individual site.