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ChrisR266 On February - 18 - 2011
The gender of countries in the French language...

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Well, the time has come to ask, since I have been unable to discern an answer on my own.  I have conducted some serious literature review over the last few months and can find no relevant studies on the matter.  So when I find myself banging my head against the virtual wall, I realize it is  a subject for which I need to seek guidance.  So I turn to you my friends, because you are the people I respect in this virtual world.

It’s a failing, I admit.  I’m not one to own up to weakness in such a public manner, but this question has vexed me for well over a year now, and I am curious beyond all modesty.

How do we discern gender (or sex, depending on your intellectual orientation) from the avatar one uses or the screen name one chooses?  I ask because I have learned over the last two years that the combination of my screen name and the avatars I choose to use somehow seem to stump other on-line friends and respondents about my sex, and a whole bunch of other things.

I use what most would consider a sex-neutral screen name:  ChrisR266.  I use it consistently from place to place I roam on the world wide web so those who may pay attention to screen names might realize that it is really me they are encountering on a site where we might not have encountered each other before.  I am blessed or cursed with the name “Chris.”  My baptismal and given first name is longer, but “Chris” is what all who have mattered in my life know me by.  I detest other versions and perversions of my full name, so I chose at an early age to stick with Chris.  Chris I am.

Chris is one of those interesting appellations to the extent that it is sex (or gender) neutral.  When you are addressing a Chris, you only know what sex the person is if you are speaking to the person live–like “Pat,” we would consider the name gender or sex neutral.  In fact, the most popular college textbook on basic Interpersonal Communication (The Interpersonal Communication Book by DeVito) uses the names Pat and Chris in all theoretical conversations constructed to illustrate concepts and theories discussed in the text.  It is fascinating to read these theoretical conversations, because as DeVito constructs them, it is almost impossible to discern which speaker, Pat or Chris, is male or female.

I raise the issue because in my experience, almost no one I have interacted with on line assumes me to be the sex I am.  Even after informing people I have interacted with at length, they have difficulty retaining my sex and addressing me appropriately.  It has made for some hilarious conversational situations, but it has also made me consider at length the unspoken assumptions that operate for all of us at deep cultural levels.

When I think of this issue, my mind always wanders to a wonderful essay written by Julia Copeland in 1999, entitled “The Parable of the Crayon:”  http://2011sye402.pbworks.com/f/The-Parable-of-the-Crayon-(2).doc I encourage you to read it.  The essay is short, but powerful, and her words remind us that our culture teaches us many “default assumptions” about the way things are supposed to be, who rates in the world, and how we process ideas and experience based on those assumptions.

“Parable of the Crayon”  is relevant here, because it goads all of us to ask some important questions: Am I obligated to use an avatar that informs people by inference that I might be male or female?  Should I write in a specific way so people can tell immediately who I am and then of course infer what I might be thinking?  Are we rightly or wrongly indoctrinated to a masculine or feminine style that hinders us from seeing people and their ideas in a more objective and fair light?  Is there a written style that we connote male or female?  And why the hell is it that I can ALWAYS tell when a poster here, at HP, or on almost any other site is male or female?  Oddly, despite what I think are my clearly distinguishable posts, 99% of the respondents who chose to use identifiers get my sex wrong?

I have more questions, of course.  But I think the few I pose here are a healthy start.  I think it’s time we spend a bit of our time thinking about the deep assumptions that organize our cultural world.  I became very sensitive to this issue when I realized what I was saying to commenters that I flagged at HuffPost.  I always felt the need to inform commenters that I was flagging them and WHY.  One evening, I realized that I was qualifying my flag in a particular way:  “I know you are a dude because no woman would make a comment so crass.”  It was crystal clear to me then, as it is to me now.  And, I suspect, it is crystal clear to you, too.

Ironically, the world wide web (or the internet, whatever you prefer) has created an interesting paradox.  It authorizes people to speak their minds on a variety of things.  At the same time, it also allows people to be anonymous and thus unaccountable for the words they speak.   As lack of accountability for words spoken seems to be a significant issue in our public dialogue, it might well be the time to ponder the role of virtual interaction in public dialogue.

Just my four cents (inflation, of course).

Written by ChrisR266

Professor of Communication. Have been teaching for 30 years. Interest areas are in Contemporary Rhetoric--Popular and Political; Sport and Fandom; Television and New Media. Married with grown children. Ahhhh. Am a true "bleeding heart" liberal.

319 Responses so far.

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  1. boomer1949 says:

    @Chris,

    I just read your bio. Jinx, not only did I attend Otterbein University, I also worked there. Heh, I would bet, in a past life, we literally crossed paths. Who knew? 😯

    ***EDIT***Light bulb moment here! Now I understand why there was “no reply” to the debate analysis/opinion question several months ago. 😉

  2. Caru says:

    I chose my name and later found out that it’s either Welsh for “to love” or Sanskrit for “beloved” or “agreeable”.

    I was dismayed.

  3. funksands says:

    I got my name from a cool online random rock-band name generator site.

    I haven’t been able to find it since then.

    I regretted choosing almost immediately as it was about the time that the Irish sociopath went nuclear.

    Took awhile for some people to warm up to me after that.

  4. BigDogMom says:

    In my opinion the best screen name and AV was Hume’s “HumeSkeptic” with the pic of Einstien…will never forget that man, nor his posts.

    I think everyone us strived to live up to his standards, and was always estatic if he replied to one of my posts.

    R.I.P Hume

  5. UncleB says:

    Simply put… I try to avoid “brain farts” when posting; and hope NOT to correspond with others constantly guilty “of same”. So, I believe in a “brain fart-free zone” when posting/commenting. My pic was the closest I could find, at the time, to depict such..!

    : )

    [Hope I didn’t just break my rule explaining this..!}

    : )

  6. dimplasm says:

    “dimplasm” is a phrase from a Carl Sandburg poem, “Timesweep”:

    “I have been a dim plasm in the sea,
    rocking dumb, not-so-dumb, dumb again,
    a dab and a dangling tangle
    swarming and splitting to live again.”

    Carl Sandburg is my favorite poet.

  7. boomer1949 says:

    I’m not sure why I chose Maggie Simpson — seriously — I have no clue. I was boomer1949 with Miss Maggie as my avatar at “the other place” and, when HITO invited me here, I decided to keep the persona.

    Guess I’ll have to go to therapy to analyze why — Freud would have a field day, I’m sure. 😉

  8. deygirl says:

    My original screen name was adey. First initial, last name. Not creative, but I tend to be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kinda gal. Never intended to have an avatar, but after enough people told me that I, a white person, could have no idea what it was to be mixed race, I posted my pic in an attempt to end that nonsense. And it was a way to stand proudly for who I am and what I wrote. Clear things up.

    Yeah, except not. I STILL got called a dude. And now, in addition to being called a white person, I was told, when I corrected them, that I “didn’t look” mixed race. Plus I was helpfully informed that I was unattractive. And fat. You know, because people always sit on things that are exactly their width. You are what you sit.

    Mistake to use my pic, right? NO. When adey went to spend eternity with her more…..adamant….posts, I became ChardinisAngel (the name a nod to being one of Lardini’s 3 original “girls” in the split second before he created his mega-harem)and had a ridiculous cat avatar. I took even more shit for THAT one. Because, you know, what the hell does a white overdressed cat know?

    I keep the pic, now, because I’m a stubborn-ass old woman, I’m set in my ways, and if my face offends you, I’m here to tell you that you really aren’t being forced to enlarge it and stare. ;p

    Plus, it’s ME. And I yam what I yam.

    • Artist50 says:

      Deygirl -- you are hysterical! I read you so many times on HP and you always made me laugh and you always spoke your mind. I love that you are true to yourself! I didn’t talk much there -- I was a fly in the room but I enjoyed your comments.

    • boomer1949 says:

      HITO always wrote about you and, although I “moved” December 09, I do remember you.

    • BigDogMom says:

      deygirl -- I don’t remember the cat avatar, maybe that’s a blessing! 😆

      I always liked your pic and thought you where very brave to use it…Oh, and the ones who thought you “fat” and “unattractive”, they were probably the ones who were sitting in their mother’s basement passing judgement on others, pretending that they were god’s gift to the world! 😉

      • jdmn17 says:

        Gosh, I almost miss those guys (I’d say gals but I know they have to be twenty something shut away dudes -- dark basement, sitting in their underwear drinking Mountain Dew and eating Cheeto’s leaving the greasy cheese on their keyboards).

        I used to laugh when people would write that back to one of those creeps, heaping abuse on them. I recall one of them writing back and going into this grand multi-post explanation about being a hedge fund manager, blah, blah, blah and some one of our dear friends wrote back and dumped on them about hedge fund managers wouldn’t waste their time going on HP to snark. That was the last I ever saw of him.

      • deygirl says:

        The big irony is that my mother is in MY basement.

        BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

    • Abbyrose86 says:

      I love your picture deygirl…although I must admit, I’m never sure what to call you here! I want to call you Angel or adey from before, but I have been using the deygirl since you got here! :)

  9. KB723 says:

    ChrisR266. I am Not sure what my av or name might lean folks to think of. Does it Look at All like Me?????

    ” width=”350″ alt=”bucket” />
    bito, if you can Help me post this, it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. 😎

  10. BigDogMom says:

    My screen name is a nickname, my husband once gave me a T-shirt with, “Big Dog Mom, She Who Must be Obeyed” and the name just stuck. When you have two dogs, both over 85 lbs., one who is an Alpha male and the younger one who wishes he was…it got a little tricky to who was in charge of this bunch, hence “BigDogMom”

    My AV is my beloved “Rudder” who we lost this past year…I always loved this pic of him, because it showed both his strength and kindness at the same time. This is what I wanted the world to see me as…

    You wouldn’t believe it, but there was several times posters thought I was a male, you would think they’d get the hint that I was not, the key word being “Mom”.

  11. 2garden says:

    I find it interesting that leaving out the possibility of being attacked by others might be the reason some people choose the avatar and user name was not mentioned in the article.There will always be that person to try to get around things or to subvert their personal responsibility.The biggest percentage of the bloggers/poster don’t think in those terms.Since there is no specific outline as to where the lines are drawn for public discourse, cyber bullying or threats on the net,many of the posters I know use their avatar for protection. The system has very little protection or very little recourse when someone is attacked. I have seen people get attacked because someone did not like them. I have seen a gang mentality by a group against one person.
    Some times to even hide one’s gender may be the answer to help protect one’s self from cyber stalking or bullying.

    I have had several people assume I was a male when in fact I am a female.

  12. Questinia says:

    Since we’re ‘fessin’ up. I am

    Pity-Fan Me [img]http://planetpov.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/[email protected][/img]

    Hitchcock Blonde [img]http://planetpov.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/2010-06-20-233932.jpeg[/img]

    Tom Nevers [img][/img]

    Lips of Burkhalter [img]http://planetpov.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/2010-08-13-231245.jpeg[/img]

    Moist Robot [img]http://planetpov.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/2010-09-05-030605.jpeg[/img]

  13. SueInCa says:

    Chris
    On HP I was Giantsfan44 with none other than Willie McCovey as my avatar. EVERYONE at first thought I was a man. I picked Willie because I am a long suffering(until this year) diehard Giants fan. I went to my first game in 4th grade, met Willie Mays and he arranged for us not only to go to the front of the line to get in, he introduced himeself to each of us with a special comment for each child. I was hooked, won my first bet from a father of another kid there and enjoyed my hotdog and coke as the winner.

    Even though I am SueInCA here, I changed my avatar here. Every so often you will see Bob Marley because I am also an avid fan of reggae.

  14. AlphaBitch says:

    AlphaBitch because I was leading a pack of Afghan children (my “pups”) through their time here as high school exchange students, and SOMEONE needed to be the biggest dog in the yard, to protect them and nurture them and to frighten anyone who would accuse them of anything nefarious. Wolf packs are lead occasionally by a female, hence the name.

    Plus the snarly picture fit me well. My husband has referred to me as either “Lotus Blossom” or (more frequently) “Shezilla”.


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