Gefen and Ridings, both local Philadelphia scholars, begin by recapping women's and men's sociolinguistic patterns of discourse as prior discussed in the literature. They hypothesize that women, more than men, will wish to both receive support from and give support to a virtual community in which they are participating. In addition, they hypothesize that such support will influence women's assessment of the quality of that virtual community, and that women will more constantly than men rate their virtual community as having higher quality. They surveyed 39 discussion boards, which they divided into men's, women's, and mixed boards. As to be expected, women more than men were found to go to discussion boards for support. One of the interesting results they found is that the men surveyed also sought rapport and support, but did so more often in men's-only communities, presumably where an expectation of common language would be held, and did not rate them lower in quality, even though rapport-seeking can be considered as indicating inferior social status among men according to past sociolinguistic studies. When the men did seek rapport in mixed-gender groups, it did not affect their assessment of the board's quality because there was an expectation of rapport-seeking inherent in the mixed-gender environment, since women were present and rapport-seeking is a characteristic of women's speech. The authors admit that even as they tried to control for gender-bias in the chosen bulletin boards, that some of the communities were specifically support/rapport based (eg. cancer support) and that may have skewed the data towards women's speech and away from men's speech.
In this article, Herring discusses her research into both asynchronous communication via discussion list and synchronous communication via IRC in which women were subject to harassment and demeaning characterizations by men. In both instances, the result was that the affected women fell silent or complied with the male behavioral normatives. I think it is important to note the forums chosen, as there may have been some issues inherent to the discussion which should be considered above and beyond the linguistic patterns. The discussion list was Paglia-L, a group dedicated to discuss the writings of the cultural theorist Camille Paglia, who is often referred to as an "anti-feminist feminist" and who often generates polemical discussions among women as often as in mixed company. The IRC channel was #india which is primarily composed of expatriates from India living in English-speaking countries, and as such, specific Indian cultural patterns may have also influenced the speech found on that channel. What is most useful to me from this essay is how Herring defines harassment online, shows examples of its resistance and escalation, and finally shows how the female participants accommodate or conform to the degrading situation. If these examples can be extended across the internet, it would indicate that male-female communication suffers from similar breakdowns as those that can occur on the job or in any face-to-face situation where harassment may surface and as such, that we have a long way to go to address gender equality online.
PDF/full text available
Winter and Huff's study focuses on a 1996 survey of a women's only online bulletin board for computer scientists called SYSTERS. Although the study is 9 years old, it still brings voice to women who were previously marginalized as gender minorities in their field of work/study. The authors discuss the issue of same-gender boards being both "havens" and "ghettos" for women online, and also provide some support for Cass Sunstein's theory that the internet allows for the consolidation of like opinions - both positive and negative, as in the case of women's forums and online sexual harassment, respectively. Based upon their work, the authors felt that the differences between the genders in online communication was equal or magnified to that present in speech.
Soukup's study focuses upon two chatrooms - one sports-related and male-dominated, and the other female-based and female-dominated. His results support the ideas cited by Tannen and others in linguistic studies of discourse, in that the male chatters were more aggressive, argumentative, and power-seeking than the female chatters. It's unclear to me whether the results can be viewed as reliable or representative, since there may be an inherent social context to a sports-related chatroom/bulletin board that goes above and beyond being merely a male-dominant community. For example, Soukup cites the fact that the sports-related chatroom essentially turned into a locker room replete with profane and sexist language, including sexual put-downs and challenges between male chatters. He goes on to note that when male chatters entered the chatroom of the female-based community, that there was frequent inappropriate behavior such that groups of male chatters would take-over the room with sexist remarks or propositioning of the female members.
Shade's research, although not linguistic in nature, is useful to provide a background into women's roles in constructing the Internet. She begins by reviewing research on gendered uses of various communications technologies, including the telephone, radio, and television. She discusses cyberactivism and feminism, as well as public policy determining women's access to the internet. She cites a case study of women in China and internet access implementation and concludes with a discussion of whether women are merely consumers targeted by merchants or active citizens in an online sisterhood (discussions that we have held in class as well).
In this essay, Frederick examines the question of whether computer-mediated communication is truly a democratic utopia where feminist values can flourish. By studying data from 2 newsgroups, alt.feminism and soc.feminism, she demonstrates that discrimination and exclusion/hostility can continue to occur, even in a supposedly inclusive and politically feminist context. She concentrates on the ethos of the newsgroups as the basis for constructing either a welcoming or distancing communication arena. My interest in this article stems from this notion of ethos because I think that it a highly influencing factor which combines with inherent linguistic features of women's speech to produce a speech community. I believe that any future discussions of the social structure of online communication must address ethos as well as linguistic differences in order to prevent factionalization or balkanization of men and women online, much as one might approach a dialog about multiculturalism and the internet.
In this compilation of essays edited by Jones, the central theme is about how the internet is a virtual culture of its own and how that culture can be described in sociological terms. Of particular interest to me for fan related discourse is Watson's study of the Phish.net fan community, which describes an online fan base of 50K+ members and their interactions. Shaw discusses gender and sexual orientation and internet communities in his essay "Gay Men and Computer Communication: A Discourse of Sex and Identity in Cyberspace", which although does not related to women's speech, does deal with issues of communication and constructed identity. Later in the volume, Dietrich takes on gender and internet journals in their construction of a body politic. Finally, Zickmund addresses the problem of internet hate speech or "cyberhate" and how "the other" is defined online.
While I am not dealing with the subject of "cyberrape" as we read about LambdaMOO in the class assignment, if anyone is interested, Richard MacKinnon has a chapter in this volume titled "Punishing the Persona: Correctional Strategies for the Virtual Offender" which further discusses the rape and subsequent punishment of online offenders at LambdaMOO and elsewhere.
Linguists such as Deborah Tannen and Robin Lakoff have sought to examine the conversational styles and practices between men and women in order to formulate theories of gender-specific discourse. In my final paper, I plan to take the theories of such linguists and apply them specifically to Internet venues (chatrooms, discussion boards, and Yahoo groups) to highlight differences in male and female user communication strategies. It is my theory that while online, female members employ more verbal deference mechanisms and more consistently defend the use of “netiquette” than male members of similar age and regional background in order to preserve group unity and cohesiveness while discouraging group divisiveness. From the theoretical readings assigned in class, I plan to cite from Republic.com by Cass Sunstein, and possibly also the 2 articles by Henry Jenkins, in addition to the other bibliographic citations.