How is gender equality represented on the web? A Psychological Introduction.   no comments

Posted at 11:29 pm in Psychology

This post will look at the definition of gender and the different types of interaction to try and better understand the different gender interactions on the web, to further understand how one would go about answering this question using psychology as a discipline.

In order to study gender equality from a psychological point of view, it is first important to define the notion of gender. Psychology defines two terms in relation to defining gender: “gender identity” and “sex typing”. Gender identity is where there is a clear separation between male and female, and a vast majority of cultures extend that biological difference into affording highly contrasting attributes and expectations of behaviour to each gender. Sexual typing is the instance of a person of a specific gender taking on the qualities and characteristics of that gender as expected of them by culture and society.

Another interesting psychological area to look at is interactions, after all to study this topic interactions between different genders on the web would have to be addressed.

Group Interactions: these are often ruled by social norms whereby a certain level of behaviour is deemed acceptable or even actively encouraged. Group interaction patterns have the potential to become ‘institutionalised’, meaning that people who occupy certain roles will take on subsequent behavioural actions based on them. These roles could be the traditional ‘boss/employee’ role, however this could equally be applied to the stereotypical gender roles. Perhaps females will fall into occupying sites that contain material that is deemed ‘stereotypically female’ such as cooking and baking sites; whereas men will involve themselves with aggressive war based sites/online games.

This arguably may not even be a representation of gender inequality, as perhaps people are just running with their personal interests; however this could easily be an example of them falling into their historical roles even with a modern invention such as the web. Following on from the last psychology post involving case studies and direct observation as two of the methods of conducting psychological research, if I were investigating this question using psychology I would look at case studies of gender usage of the web and do some direct observing of posts on forums/social networking sites etc. A case study called ‘Measuring the Gender Gap on the Internet’ which looks at different genders presence and use of the internet. One of it’s hypothesis based on the larger presence of males over females was that ‘the Internet may have “gendered” attributes that favour men in some way’. It also suggests that the internet might be preferable to males given (or because of?) the stereotype that males prefer technology to females.

There are also different varieties of individual interaction: reactive, evocative and proactive.

Reactive Interaction: different individuals will interpret, experience and react to the same situations in vastly different ways depending on their personality. For example an anxious person might react significantly worse to a potentially worrying situation (e.g getting shut in a lift) in a very different way to a calm unaffected person. Different people could interpret different remarks about gender or websites that play to a specific gender stereotype in different ways inciting potential situations of gender inequality, or at least unequal gender representation.

Evocative Interaction: different personalities evoke varied responses from different people. Different types of behaviour will encourage people to react to them differently. Perhaps someone who makes a comment that implies they do not see the genders equally (even in jest) will provoke certain people to angry reactions thus resulting in gender bashing on both sides and potentially setting up of groups/statements being made that don’t represent the genders equally.

Proactive Interaction: we select our environments as we get older, perhaps one gender over the other will elect to spend their time on the web in a certain way, or even just spend more of their time on the web than the other; leading back to the case study about the gender gap on the internet.

I think studying the different types of interaction can give insight into gender representation on the web, as part of it will certainly be how both genders actually interact with each other on the web. Other factors will be looking into internet usage by the different genders, and also what sites are frequented by what genders. Drilling down into these it’s also looking at the access both genders have to various sites; the comments made about them and how they are represented on individual sites.

In my next two blog posts I will be looking at what defines a gender equal web from the perspectives of both philosophy and psychology, to better yet ascertain how I would answer this research question (aka determing the representation of gender on the web) by measuring reality against a proposed ‘idealised equal’ gender web.

[1] B. L. Fredrickson, S Nolen-Hocksema, G. R. Loftus, and W. A. Wagenaar. Atkinson and Hilgards’s Introduction to Psychology. Cengage Learning EMEA, 2009, 15th edition, 2009.
[2] David G Myers. Exploring Psychology. Worth Publishers, 2009, 7th edition, 2008.
[3] D. Westen and R. M. Kowalski. Psychology, Study Guide. Wiley, 5th edition, 2009.
[4] Bruce Bimber. Measuring the gender gap on the internet. Social science quarterly, 81(3):868–876, 2000.

Written by Samantha Kanza on November 10th, 2013

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