Autoethnographic Reflections on Gender

     The article Knee-High Boots and Six-Pack Abs: Autoethnographic Reflections on Gender and Technology in Second Life, by Dumitrica and Gaden,  is a piece out of  the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research (Feb2009). It focuses on the ‘gender experience’ and performance (the actions/behaviors/choices) in the game (where gender is ‘achieved’ through performance), and analyzed from a post-structuralist feminist perspective.
The article claimed that the game had accurate virtual reproductions of real places, but the people in the game were surreal. Genderless cyborg technology creates a world of possibilities, which liberates-and-reinforces gender binaries and boundaries (6).   I found the article to be a little wordy. A chunk of the article explains that people have their own personal experiences which alter their perceptions, and the researchers have collaborated for a critical self-reflexive comparison of each others understanding of virtual world gender performance (options/choices/binary gender normativity).
Both female researchers were hesitant to have female avatars out of fear of the unknown in the new environment. Observing that the avatars (both male and female) were highly sexualized to the extreme, and felt trapped by the same expectations of beauty found in real life. The concept was easy enough, and it’s similar to another article I read a few weeks ago : Just Like Me Only Better [2008], by Fragoso and Rosario, which was about avatars in virtual environments and how they embrace contemporary ideals of beauty.  Both articles were about how technology has allowed us to present a more attractive westernized version of ourselves online.
Online avatars  in games (both male and female) are usually highly sexualized. Most games with humanoid avatars ONLY have conventionally attractive options. Slim and muscular, with nice hair and symmetrical features. Their avatar features are more contemporary and  have higher expectations of attractiveness than found in real life, because it’s not real, and there’s very little effort from the gamer is needed to maintain the appearance. In real life, IF it was possible to drastically change your physical appearance in just a few minutes with very little effort, don’t you think that everyone would choose to be unreasonably attractive?
The article mentioned that the research was presented from a post-structuralist feminist perspective, which might be skewing the findings toward how uneasy women feel by being portrayed as highly sexualized. The issue being that being extremely attractive in real life is often a hazard to women, and invites harassment.


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