Archive for March, 2009

Gender representation in video games

This week’s topic is gender representation in video games and virtual worlds.

I doubt that anyone is going to argue that the representations of women are either hyper-sexualized or non-existent in most video games. But, I argue that that while the representations of the men are indeed more frequent, they are equally hyper-sexualized.

We had to do an observation report this week for class, and I went to an arcade. I analyzed the themes and graphics of 10 games, and overall, it seemed to me that all of the people that were depicted were hyper-sexualized. Yes, there was a definite lack of females compared to the number of males. And, yes, almost all of the women images had huge breasts, small waists, and were wearing very revealing outfits. But, almost all the male images were very, very muscular, some to the point of being grotesque.

I left the arcade with the impression that the images of humans–all humans, men and women–were idealized images that the game makers had. The lack of women in the games, and the fact that most of the women who were represented were the “damsels in distress who need to be rescued” or prostitutes do point to a real problem with gender representation in games. But, I’m not so sure that the hyper-sexualized depiction of women’s images is an issue, since men’s images are depicted the same way.

But, it seems that researchers who wrote the papers we read this week think so. In The U. S. Video Game Industry: Analyzing Representation of Gender and Race, the author reported on a content analysis of the cover art and context of some video games that are popular in the U.S. For the most part, her study is well-rounded because it looked at different aspects of how women are represented, not just their physical appearances.

But, she seems to gloss over the fact that the images of men are hyper-sexualized as well. On page 104 she states:

Of the male characters represented in the games, a significant majority was mesomorphic. Likewise, of the female characters, a clear majority was hyper-sexualized, and much fewer had normal body types, supporting an initial impression that the most purchased video games perpetuate amplified, unrealistic, and potentially damaging ideas about body image for young players.[1]

So far so good. I can’t argue with that. But, in her conclusion on page 106, she writes:

This study illustrates that the portrayal of women and people of color continues to be overwhelmingly stereotypical when they are represented at all.[1]

Nowhere in the conclusion does she mention that the images of the men are also stereotypical. It’s almost as if she glossed over that fact to pursue her own agenda. And, that was not necessary, because she did present some valid data and interpretations of that data that could be used to support her argument that “gender roles and ideas about ethnicity may be negatively impacted by visual and textual messages that some of these games illustrate.” In fact, acknowledging that BOTH genders are stereotyped in video games would, in my opinion, would bolster that particular argument even more so.

[1] Dunlop, J. (2007). The U.S. video game industry: Analyzing representation of gender and race. International Journal of Technology and Human Interaction, 3(2), 99-109.


Is it cool to be a geek or a nerd?

One of the recommended readings for last week’s class was this article from the NY Times: The Alpha Geeks It discussed whether or not it’s “cool” to be a geek or a nerd.

The author of that article, David Brooks throws around many names in the article. Of them, only one is a female and he makes reference to her appearance:

Tina Fey, who once was on the cover of Geek Monthly magazine, has emerged as a symbol of the geek who grows into a swan.

(Okay, so it’s not specific. But, the opposite of the swan, in the fairy tale, is an “ugly duckling”, and the common sentiment about Tina Fey is that she is most definitely not ugly, so I believe this statement is indeed talking about her appearance.)

In addition, only one of the names of the “cool” geeks mentioned is of a person who is not white. (He mentions President Obama, who is half white and half black).

Last week, this article was published in NetworkWorld: Computer science major is cool again. Good news is that there is a rise in the number enrolling in CS. Bad news is, it’s still only white men who are doing the enrolling.

So, if we go by what these two articles are implying, the answer to the question I posed in the the title to this post is:

“Only if you’re a hot female or a white male.”

Another Example of the Gender Gap

The lack of recognition of women occurs in many fields, not just technology.

Even the most talented women writers often aren’t validated in the same way that their male counterparts are.

That’s from this blog post from bitch magazine discussing how there were no women given awards this year by the National Books Critics Circle (NBCC): 2008: Not a Good Year to be a Woman Writer

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Who is Ada Lovelace?

Ada Lovelace

Born in 1815, she wrote the world’s first computer programs for the Analytical Machine, a device invented by Charles Babbage. That’s pretty impressive. So, why isn’t her name as well known as Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, or Bill Gates? If you read over the posts in this blog over the past couple of months, you’ll see some of the reasons that researchers suggest as to why women are minorities in technological fields as well as some suggestions for how to reverse this gender computing gap.

One such effort is Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology.

I pledged to blog about a woman role model in technology today. The trouble is, I’m having a hard time picking just one. But, there is a group of women I’d like to give props to…the women with whom I’ve worked at University Information Technology Services (UITS), who I refer to in my own head as the “UITS Beauties”:

Kristin Hanks is a natural leader, an amazing mother, beautiful, smart, and a woman to whom I owe a large debt of gratitude, since, if she hadn’t hired me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. She also inspired me to go back to grad school.

Tara Bazler is my current manager. I am awed by the fact that she is still sane, given how much she has on her plate!

Tiffany McCormick‘s ability to fix hardware on the fly is amazing. My ‘D’ key has never worked better, thanks to her! And, I’ve never, ever had a conversation with her which didn’t end with us laughing!

Tracie Greer is such a beautiful and funny woman who gives so much of herself to everyone around her. This world is so much better off with her in it! (I just wish she’d realize that!)

Leah Mathews is is the tie-wrapping queen! She gets the job done, and it’s always done right. And, she’s got a great sense of humor and an huge heart.

Nitocris Perez is ubercool. I don’t know how else to say it. She can create a vi command and replace your motherboard all before her first cup of coffee in the morning! She really should wear a cape.

Emily Adams is beautiful, funny, an awesome dancer, an amazing leader and a Mac queen!

Thank you Kristin, Tara, Tiffany, Tracie, Leah, Nitocris, and Emily for helping to make UITS such a wonderful place to work!

You can find many other Ada Lovelace Day blogs here:

Men text from Mars, women text from Venus

The following article was in today’s Bloomington (IN) Herald Times. I’m reposting it here for three reasons: It features current technology research done by two female researchers specifically about gender and computing, the current focus of my blog (and I think womens research needs to be promoted as much as possible); Asta is in my Gender and Computing class so I’m giving Kudos to her; and it’s pretty cool stuff! 🙂

Men text from Mars, women text from Venus
IU researchers find key differences in content and motivation in male and female messaging
By Dann Denny
331-4350 |

Men and women think differently, act differently and talk differently, according to such books as “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.”

Now, two Indiana University researchers have found they even text differently.

A study by Susan Herring and Asta Zelenkauskaite showed that when men and women text-message one another in a public interactive forum, women tend to post more and longer messages; and do it with greater flair and more expressive language.

The two researchers published their data in the latest edition of the quarterly journal Written Communication.
They studied 1,164 text messages sent by viewers through their mobile phones to Italy’s real-time interactive music television channel Allmusic, which then displayed the messages across the bottom of the television screen for about 15 seconds.

“The messages are very flirtatious and have nothing to do with the television show,” said Herring, a professor in the IU School of Library and Information Science. “The women tended to push their messages closest to the 160-character-count limit, use more abbreviations and insertions — like repeated exclamation points or smiling or frowning faces — that represent such things as enthusiasm or sadness.”

Herring said men’s messages tended to be shorter and to the point. “Men are more likely to express just one idea, whereas women tend to cram three or four disparate ideas into their message,” she said.
But what does it mean?

Drawing on previous research showing that young men and women use language designed to make them look attractive to the opposite sex.

Herring and Zelenkauskaite surmise that women used more expressive text language to show a “lively and charming personality and a childlike playfulness, both qualities considered attractive in females.”

Herring said it’s possible women feel they are perceived as more desirable if they are talking more and keeping the conversational ball rolling along, whereas men use more straightforward words that “represent masculine accomplishment within the dominant social order.”

Herring said one male texter in the study said, “Hello I am Raf from Udine, 40 years old, single. I am at home sick. I am looking for new friends.”

She cited another message, this one from a woman. It said, “Danyel, you’re sooooo sweet. I know you’re at work, sorry to make all these calls to you, I can’t wait to hear from you, I hope tonight. I’m glad you like me. From Nunzy.”

Herring said she and her coauthor were surprised by their findings, saying the preponderance of previous research has shown that in online chat rooms and discussion forums, men typically post longer, more expressive and more frequent messages.

“In a dating situation, men are supposed to initiate things, so perhaps that’s why they post longer and more expressive and frequent messages,” she said. “And even in a non-dating situation, men tend to speak more in public settings, while women feel their role is to be more quiet.”

In interpreting their findings, Herring said she and Zelenkauskaite drew on the research work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who introduced the notion of a linguistic marketplace in which the way people speak and write has symbolic value or currency.

“The theory is that women use more standard and educated language as currency to buy better educated husbands and climb the social ladder,” she said. “It’s a way to be upwardly mobile.”

Herring said this theory is supported by a number of studies of print personal ads, which have found that men tend to describe themselves as financially secure and seeking women with attractive personalities, while women tend to describe themselves as attractive and likeable and seeking men who are financially secure.

Women are damned if the do, damned if they don’t!

I stole title of this post from my friend, Anna, BTW.

First, there was Jessica Valenti. She is the founder of a feminist blog who was invited to attend a luncheon with other bloggers and Bill Clinton. After the lunch, everyone posed for this picture:
Jessica Valenti

Jessica is the one in the gray sweater in front of Clinton. After this photo was published, a law professor blogged about how Jessica was purposefully posing so as to accentuate her breasts, and that post received over 500 comments, most of them making derogatory comments about Jessica and her body. (More info on the whole controversy can be found here.)

You can clearly see those bumps on her chest, and we can’t have that can we? We don’t want anyone to know that women have breasts, do we? If they don’t see them on us, then maybe they’ll forget we even have them, right? Cuz, you know breasts are evil!! Jessica should have worn a boxy, boring suit that doesn’t show off any part of her figure! It’s so degrading for a woman to actually look like a woman! (That was me being facetious, btw.)

Well, now we’ve got some controversy brewing with our First Lady. Did you know that she frequently bares her…gasp…ARMS!! And not only that, those arms are SCULPTED!!

Michelle Obama

Yes, the problem with her baring her arms is that they are sculpted, at least according to NY Times columnist, David Brooks (as reported by fellow NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd). According to Brooks and others who incredulously agree with him, her showing that she has muscles makes her appear “daunting” and “scary”.

Yeah, right. And, there really were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

I find this whole talk about how Mrs. Obama should cover up her arms rather amusing because in my many years of being an overweight woman who has no qualms about going sleeveless, I’ve been involved in many conversations about whether or not women with flabby, fat, batwing arms should go sleeveless. Some people have told me they think it looks “gross” so us fatties should cover our arms so they don’t have to endure our grossness.

Yet, here is a woman with absolutely gorgeous arms, and she’s also being told to cover them, too.

Like Anna said…we’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t.

Girls will be boys and boys will be girls, It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world …

This week’s topic in our Gender and Computerization class is “Computer-mediated communication on the Internet (Part II). Gender, identity, race, and sexuality.” The four articles we read look at how people portray and perceive and gender and race online.

One article from 1998 and another from 2000 pretty much started out with the assumption that most people pretend to be something online that they’re not in real person [1, 2]. It matches the attitude at that time. After all, the famous dog cartoon was published in 1993 when very little was known about the ‘net.

[1] begins with “It is a remarkable fact that many people who have never before been interested in cross-dressing as a member of the opposite gender are experimenting with gender identity in typed encounters on the Internet.” [2] includes the following line: “Now, it is commonly known that the relative dearth of women in cyberspace results in a great deal of ‘computer cross dressing,’ or men masquerading as women.”

I’ve been pretty active on the Internet since 1998, and my personal experience is much different. I have known of only one or two instances where people pretended to be a different gender. That’s one or two out of thousands of people I’ve met online (and some of whom I’ve met in real life). I don’t know. It may be just because I don’t frequent the places online where sex is the key topic of conversation. (Music is usually the key in my online escapades.) But, I find it hard to accept this as fact.

To me, it seems like people assume that just because it’s possible to pretend to be a different gender, then people will do it. Just because people CAN do something, doesn’t mean they will. Now, I do know that there are some people who do pretend to be a different gender. But, I do not think it is as widespread as these articles lead us to believe. Also, these articles make it seem as if these people pretend to be a different gender all the time. I can see someone trying it out for a little while, but I think most people just go back to being their real gender.

There is even some research out there that backs me up.

It reminds me of an old joke:

A woman and her husband are camping and are sleeping in a tent. The husband is snoring very loudly and the woman can’t sleep. So, she gets up and tries to read outside the tent. But, she can still hear him snoring and can’t concentrate. So, she gets into her husband’s fishing boat and rows out to the middle of the lake and enjoys the quiet as she reads.

After about an hour, a DNR officer approaches her in his boat and asks to see her fishing license. She informs him that she’s not fishing and therefore doesn’t have a license. The officer tells her, “I’m sorry, but you have all of the equipment there and could fish, so I’m going to have to write you a ticket.”

The woman replies, “Well, then I’m going to have to charge you with rape when we get to shore.”

“What?” the officer cries. “I haven’t touched you!”

The woman replies, “I know, but you have all of the equipment and you could.”

[1] Danet, B. (1998). Text as mask: Gender, play, and performance on the internet. In S. G. Jones (Ed.), Cybersociety 2.0: Revisiting computer-mediated communication and community (pp. 129-158). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

[2] Nakamura, L. (2000). Race in/for cyberspace: Identity tourism and racial passing on the internet.