On Gender and Electronic Discourse

Cindy Wambeam

[This is an excerpt from a message posted to the ACW-L Discussion List, which Cindy has kindly allowed us to reprint. It struck me as particularly appropriate to the topic of this CoverWeb, and it also describes the collaborative mode that Kairos hopes to promote as we explore the possibilities of this collaborative medium. --ed.]

Anyone versed in gender studies learns about connectedness and collaboration and how there are gendered differences in ways of knowing, ways of writing, ways of communicating. (yes, I'm playing with Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule [usually known as Belenky, et. al.] here),

So often, though, we assign these differences to each member of a gender without thinking about the implications for individuality. I, for instance, have published collaborative pieces. I often work with others in writing teams. And, yes, I am female. BUT -- I also like working alone, finding a level of autonomy that I cannot achieve (or perhaps that I achieve differently) with others. Is that because I'm buying into a patriarchal system? -- possibly. But it is also possible that we need a combination of both -- individual writing and scholarship, along with networked and collaborative scholarship.

And in the same way, we shouldn't overglobalize our statements about differences in gendered discourse. The overgeneralization about women's ways of discoursing has been bothering me of late -- often feminists (myself included here) overextend our claims to individuals, just as we overextend our claims to all ethnic groups, all nationalities, all socioeconomic levels. This appropriation of individuals and of ethnic diversity seems as troubling to me as the patriarchical assumptions that thrive in our society.

There are many ways of knowing. While I recognize that there are some important social distinctions between genders, I hesitate to extend these distinctions to individuals. It's a strange place, this line we walk when we study culture -- it's so easy to apply the studies of a society to individuals, yet that ease does not make it so.

Cindy Wambeam is on the Editorial Board of Kairos and can be reached at cwambeam@NMSU.edu

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