Friday, June 11, 2010

The Cell Analogy: The Cell- Part 2 Modern Day and Technology

In light of yesterday's post, as well as some of the positive feedback I received from some commentators (thanks Neal and Ben), today's post will continue in a similar vein (pun intended!). This is the second installment in a series of posts relating to my more scholarly trilogy about my ongoing argument that methods of gender exploration in the Renaissance echo that of today's modern blogosphere. In yesterday's post we used a muscle cell analogy in our exploration of gender exploration during the Renaissance. Today, let's use the same basis for our analogy, the cell, just a different type of cell. The red blood cell!
Now before I go any further, you might be thinking, "Ok, Becca if we're going to form a tissue for the next part of your analogy, red blood cells don't form a tissue, they form a liquid, blood!" Yes, that's true, but did you know blood IS a type of connective tissue. So thus my analogy still works!

Self-Expression Online
The World Wide Web has become a way of life for Americans. An article by The New York Times shows,
At home, people consume 12 hours of media a day on average, when an hour spent with, say, the Internet and TV simultaneously counts as two hours. That compares with five hours in 1960, say researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Computer users visit an average of 40 Web sites a day, according to research by RescueTime, which offers time-management tools.
Social networking sites, Facebook and blogging sites above the rest, have become social platforms for people to "update" about themselves. A colleague, Amanda, did some research on this topic of self-disclosure on the internet and its effects. She found an article published by The Open University where studies found,
"New, meaningful relationships can be formed in cyberspace because of, not despite, its limitations." He (Reingold) further argues that `the medium will, by its a place where people often end up revealing themselves far more intimately than they would be inclined to do without the intermediation of screens and pseudonyms'. Wallace (1999) argues that `The tendency to disclose more to a computer . . . is an important ingredient of what seems to be happening on the Internet'
In the same post, Amanda also makes reference to a New York Times article "Brave New World of Digital Intimacy" in which it states,
It is easy to become unsettled by privacy-eroding aspects of awareness tools. But there is another — quite different — result of all this incessant updating: a culture of people who know much more about themselves.
So what's the point of all this? It is important to understand that today's internet is part of self discovery. Traditional objective methods of evaluating and judging another have all but vanished with the emergence of social networking sites where representation is highly subjective.

Enter the theory of disembodiment and use of avatars.

Disembodiment= The idea that while one requires the use of the body to connect to the Internet, once the user is online, the need for the body is no longer required, and the user can participate completely separately to it. This ultimately alludes to a sense of detachment from the identity defined by the physical body (Sexual Identity Online)

As a person creates an online avatar (a manifestation; display [OED]) sexual and gender representation becomes a choice! Just as we discussed in yesterday's post, the transvestite theater used costumes and adopted characteristics of the gender they were portraying to assist their audience in how to understand their words, the "costume" a computer user "dresses" their avatar with (profile pictures, username, color themes, music play lists, widgits, word font, etc.) creates a gender base which readers use to interpret the words.

Which Implies...
If we all have both masculine and feminine aspects within our biologically biased body, and if we are no longer constrained by biological factors which bias a listener to what we say, perhaps just as Elizabeth was able to convincingly manifest her masculine parts without her audience having a bias, a writer on an online social networking site, such as a blogger, could either create a bias in his readers by obviously "dressing" his avatar with gender "indicators," or remove that bias through removing any gender indicators and having the words speak for themselves. Yesterday we explored the idea that we are all hermaphroditic in gender and that situation dictates what role we are to play. The idea of removing gender indicators presents the possibility of a hermaphroditic reading of a text. One where the reader not only understands things from both a masculine and feminine view point, but where the words themselves promote an unbiased reading in terms of gender. Can you read a text without trying to guess "Who wrote it?" Can you take words for simply that, words and ideas?

Gender exploration is just one "cell" of the many issues (culture, social class, economic status, race, etc.) which make up the "tissue" of "Online Identity," the next topic to be explored in my series on "The Big Picture" of why understanding that transvestite theater exploration of gender during the Renaissance echos that of today's blogosphere matters! So stay tuned!


  1. Love this post (and no, I'm not being too nice, I'm being an honest person.) What I really like is that this really ties together some of your bigger ideas... the literature, online identity, the metaphors... with one big "so why does this matter?" I need to be better at that, I think. So good job Becca!

    Ok, the other thing I really like is the element of choice you see in online representation. This is essentially what I'm working on as well. We choose, we create identity! Ta-dah!

    It might interest you to know that Gloria Anzaldua is a bit interested in gender represenation, too, as far as I can tell. I don't know for sure, and I don't know if it's at all what you're looking for, but if you liked her "How to Tame a Wild Tongue" ideas, you might look at it.

  2. I had a couple of thoughts as I read your post.

    I was walking with a friend, Brittany, the other day and we started discussing books that impacted our childhood. She mentioned the "BFG" by Roald Dalh and then "Holes" which she also attributed to Dahl. Well, "Holes" is a great book, but it was not written by Dahl. I couldn't quite remember who the author was, but I did remember that the author's name was Lois something. Thinking the author's name was Lois, I thought the author was a woman. Brittany, however, said there was no way that "Holes" was written by a woman--she had always believed it was written by a man and to hear after all these years that it was a female author after all would change the entire perspective of the book. This comment made me laugh, and made me think back to your subject matter. For some reason, I had never thought about the gender of the author in this case; "Holes" seems like such a non-threatening, non-gender-bias novel that I couldn't see what difference the author's gender made.

    Well, we came back to my apartment, attacked Google, and found that the author was male (much to Brittany's delight) but his name was Louis Sacher (not quite Lois, but close enough for me to feel justified).

    My point in this comment is merely to chip in with some of your themes, the audience really chooses whether or not to find importance in gender. It mattered to Brittany (childhood memories were at stake) and I couldn't see a difference either way.

    My other comment ties in with your themes of disembodiment. I looked up a few articles, and one ties in very nicely with this particular theme. The author discusses Lara Croft and the dual nature her character plays. Because this game is classified as "third person shooter" the player (gamer?) can see the person they are embodying, as opposed to "first person shooter" in which you cannot see your avatar, but others can.

    Lara Croft is an interesting example of both objectifing the woman, while also becoming her. As a large proportion of those gamers happen to be male, there is natural attraction to the designed physical appearance of this particular model. contrastingly, however, Lara Croft also becomes the avatar they embody to kill things, hunt things, or whatever they do in the game. As they become Lara, its as if these gamers dress in drag. Again, the lines of gender are blurred as every male player become female without giving it much thought.

    I don't know if this is particularly relevant to your current studies, but here is the article in case you're interested.

  3. You have a lot of good sequencing going on in this post. You start with a continuation of yesterday's post and then evolve the related ideas of expression and disembodiment and end with an overall analysis and teaser for the next post.

    The one thing that confused me a bit was how in the last paragraph you say "Gender Exploration" is one cell of online identity and then say that parallels in "Gender Exploration" are the big picture. Maybe compare identity (instead of GE) to cells that make up the tissue of the larger body of GE for consistancy in your metaphor. I think tissue consists of the identical cells linked together but could be wrong.

    Otherwise, I really liked this post.

  4. Hey, great post and great comments from the others! This topic is getting more interesting, especially as it obviously is generating real responses from others and relating to their projects or lives.

    Be careful about using first person plural ("last post 'we' discussed..."). Very old school. Meh.

    You know, the video game connection / Lara Croft thing was very relevant, Allison. Obviously guys like to have their cake and eat it, too (Lara Croft is both object [feminine sexual appeal] and subject [masculine combatant]). If you have time you might check out more research on avatars and gender in either video games or immersive virtual worlds. I think that you might also personally try going into Second Life and experiencing first hand the gender identity realities (including as you construct your own avatar's identity). Is this all academic? Where does your own personal identity become hermaphroditic? Not on this obviously feminine-themed blog! (A gentle challenge...)

  5. Hey Becca! I was just working on research and looking at the book My Avatar, My Self. Dr. Burton put it on the Diigo group today. It talks about identity A LOT and also disembodiment, and there's also a little on gender technology theory in there. Look at Chapter 2! Hope it helps!!