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iDentity: Constructing Gender Through Apps and 4G Technology

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As we perform and construct gender through external costume pieces such as clothing, cosmetics and hairstyles etc, I believe we also portray ourselves as gendered through our material possessions. As we progress further into an information-based society our possessions are increasingly virtual, in the form of applications on smart phones for example. Although we see our use of these technologies as personalised, reflecting our individuality, what we begin to see are new discourses and norms around how to perform gender that reflect the stereotypes of the real world.

I am fundamentally interested as to what extent we are projecting ourselves into and through our online presence and use of Internet technologies. There are times when I have been sitting at my computer, or using my iPhone, when I have almost been entirely unconscious of my physical body. I may be interacting with my wider circle of friends in a legitimate and productive way, and yet I am doing this through an artificial and intangible networking system in which my body does not physically exist. In this situation how is my identity constructed? How do my friends make the conceptual leap from merely seeing a collection of symbols on a screen to actually feeling like they are interacting with the person they know to be me? As in all human creations and interactions, gendered meanings inevitably permeate this discourse even if it is disembodied in cyberspace. 

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I have a hunch that, as we progress into the future, you will be able to tell more and more about a person by their use of internet and smart phone technologies, to the extent that eventually someone’s combination of social networking profiles, photo sharing habits and applications will constitute a large portion of their identity. We can already see this happening in the ways people portray themselves online. What is it about a person’s Facebook page that tells us about their gender? They may have chosen male or female in their information, in congruence with their real life sex. There may be photos of their real world self that we can decode as being a particular gender according to their physical appearance, as we would in daily life. Perhaps they like certain pages, links and other profiles that may give an indication of their gender identity. I also think that the way we photo-share reflects our general worldview, which is profoundly influenced by our gender, and therefore works to construct our online image of ourselves through what we believe is worth sharing.

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I was inspired to write this blog because of my recent discovery of just how gendered many Apps are, and the extent to which we have projected aspects of our selves, our lives and our cultures through this new form of technology. There are copious numbers of pregnancy and menstrual cycle tracker apps for women. These often feature lovely pink backgrounds and graphics with cute little pictures. There are also gendered dating apps such as the infamous ‘OkCupid’ and ‘Grindr,’ which largely reproduce stereotypes and discourses of gender and sexuality in the outside world online.

I was simultaneously intrigued and enraged to discover earlier this week that Android are developing an iPad-like tablet “For Women” which features numerous pre-loaded apps (http://jezebel.com/5990404/tablet-for-women-is-like-a-regular-tablet-but-more-fucking-bullshitty?utm_campaign=socialflow_jezebel_facebook&utm_source=jezebel_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow). This is fine in the case of iPhones/iPads that come with gender-neutral pre-loaded apps like ‘notes’ or ‘calendar’ or ‘maps,’ however, this device’s pre-loaded apps For Women include things like yoga, recipes, fashion, shopping, pregnancy and weight-loss apps… All stereotypical feminine pursuits clearly implying homogenising value judgements about women. As with my problem in my last blog on gendered toys (https://riseofthefembots.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/the-other-50-per-cent-gender-socialisation-through-toys/) I have no issue with these ‘feminine pursuits’ and anyone who does enjoy these things, however, I just think choice for women is integral. Like Lego, the tablet that was seemingly gender-neutral had to be elaborated on For Women, indicating that the original product was for people (read: not women). As we increasingly construct our gendered identities through our use of technology, the danger with such products is that companies can make broad assumptions about what women want and what it means to be a woman and market them as absolute.

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About JohnnyCigar

My name is Ruby and I'm a Gender Studies major at the University of Tasmania, Australia, with a special interest in gender, sexuality and technology. I also enjoy books with a bit of attitude, American TV with sex, violence and preferably a car chase, tea with no sugar, and a flawless WiFi connection.

One response to “iDentity: Constructing Gender Through Apps and 4G Technology

  1. Christina ⋅

    It is interesting that various products have a given “gender.” Historically speaking, all things were given a gender, for example, the typewriter was geared towards women because it performed menial tasks with little physical activity, so much so, that most men did not know how to type until computers became more prevalent.

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