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CoverWeb 2.2 "Gender and Electronic Discourse" Overview

This issue's CoverWeb presents four hypertexts, each of which considers a different aspect of the effect of electronic discourse upon gender and/or the effect of gender theory upon electronic discourse.

In Harassment Online, Julia Ferganchick-Neufang argues that "although scholars have suggested that on-line communication is less gendered than face-to-face conversation, aggressive behaviors are coming on-line and manifest themselves most often as "flames" or derogatory, threatening messages." In a 1995-96 study of student-to-teacher harassment in the writing classroom (Women Teaching Writing, forthcoming), she found that nearly 60 percent of the women who responded to a nation-wide survey had experienced problems ranging from disruptive behavior in class to sexual harassment and assault. The most common venue for attacks on women teachers was student writing, as many women reported receiving notes and/or assignments that made explicit references to their bodies, including papers that graphically described the rape of an English teacher. Her hypertext builds upon the findings of her previous study and opens the way for a discussion about the ways in which student-to-teacher and student-to-student harassment is constructed on-line and the ways in which virtual space may exacerbate student-to-teacher harassment.

"I am not arguing against the use of electronic media here any more that I was arguing against traditional classroom settings in my previous study. Rather, I want to bring these problems to light so that as a community of teachers and learners we can become more of aware of these conflicts and look for collective and constructive responses to them."

Dean Rehberger, in The Censoring of Project #17 considers the implications of publishing student works online--and this particular work looks at a case of censorship applied to gendered discourse. As Dean explains:

"On my way to catch an early flight, I stopped in my office at 5:00 a.m. EST to make some final changes on a computer project that I was presenting at Computers and Writing Conference at Utah State University. During the fifteen minutes that I was adding a few files to my office server a dozen hits came in for one of my student internet projects, file #17. The hits came from educational, government and commercial resources. They came from all over the world and from many states: Japan, Australia, England, California, and New York. When I returned from Utah, because of the server overload, I censored project #17.

Project #17, I should explain, was a hypertext student project written about the commodification of women's breasts in U.S. Culture (advertising, media, internet). As part of the project, the student listed a few dozen cultural euphemisms for women's breasts. This hypertext, The Censoring of Project #17, contains the assignment, the student project #17, arguments about technology, culture and the body, and an exploration of some levels of censorship encountered when writing hypertexts, from assignment to web publishing."

In Speaking of the MOOn: Textual Realities and the Body Electric, Sandye Thompson offers a departure from the problematizing of gendered electronic discourse and offers a vision of electronic writing spaces--textual MOOs in particular--as "ideal places for the feminist re-creation of Self and community called for by technofeminists."

Mary Daly's _Wickedary_ demonstrates the power of "reclaiming" language from traditional suppressive definitions embedded in the Word; women should "reclaim" and therefore "own" their language, and hence, the tools of creation formerly wielded solely by men. MOOspace offers a forum for this sort of ownership, and through this ownership, the possibility for the creation of Self through language.

Bill Lantry and Nancy Barta-Smith in Gendering the Machines/Engendering the Web or Engendering Encounter: How We Experience Gender in Computers and the Role of Gender Assignment in Accepting Transformations from Traditional to Multimedia Classrooms, perform a cross argument, or interconnected discussion, each arguing a different view of the intersection of Gender and Electronic Discourse. In an interesting twist, the discussion features a male, leaning on feminist criticism to define the web as female, and a female, leaning on male critics to define the web as male. Bill explains the impetus for their hypertext:

I have always assumed the machines, and the web they make, are female, and said so. Nancy argued that they were male, using some arguments that had not occurred to me. I quoted Kristeva and Cixous, she specializes in Piaget and Merleau-Ponty. The transgendering was striking. . . .

In addition to the four main nodes, this issue's CoverWeb offers three commentaries on the topic of "Gender and Electronic Discourse." These commentaries are non-peer-reviewed invited submissions which I see as analogous to the commentary that one hears on NPR--short essays that relate to the topic at hand. The commentaries for this issue include a discussion list excerpt by Cindy Wambeam, an argument that electronic discourse isn't changing gender relationships by Lisa Gerrard, and an excerpt from the introduction to Kris Blair and Pamela Takayoshi's forthcoming co-edited collection, Feminist Cyberscapes: Essays on Gender in Electronic Spaces.

Kairos also invites readers to submit their commentary on "Gender and Electronic Discourse" as well as responses to specific articles in this issue's CoverWeb; contact CoverWeb Editor Douglas Eyman at for more information.

Harassment On-Line
Julia Ferganchick-Neufang
The Censoring of Project #17
Dean Rehberger
Speaking of the MOOn: Textual Realities and the Body Electric
Sandye Thompson
Gendering the Machines/Engendering the Web
Bill Lantry and Nancy Barta-Smith
Three Commentaries on "Gender and Electronic Discourse"