Gender and digital space

The leading position that medias and the digital hold nowadays in cultural practices makes it vital to think the role they play in the construction, deconstruction, evolution and dissemination of gender stereotypes and inequalities.

Teresa de Lauretis defines digital medias as “gender technologies” in that they shape gender representations with whom the audiences are drawn to identify. The proposals outlined hereunder stand up for the idea that gender is different from sex, that it is the result of a system structured in two inequal parts, that this system is an observable object and a useful concept to understand how the construction of gendered identities happens through cultural practices in the digital space. The idea is to understand how collective or individual actors are reinforcing, bypassing, reconstructing or displacing gender norms in – and without doubt, thanks to – the digital space.

Since the massification of digital tools in our lives, it has become normal to consider that our actions leave traces on the symbolic and material web. Conscious, more or less visible traces: a blog article, a video, a picture, or a status on a social network, that we leave throughout our personal quantifications and moods. We know also, although less distinctly, that the tools we use online lead us to leave less voluntary traces. Those data, we exude them through our online and offline behavior, alone and together, when we interact with objects, humans and situations. The terminology used to express this phenomenon is quite tricky: data are never given, they are co-produced, co-created, they are the result interaction. The digital social selves are being redefined by our voluntary and unvoluntary traces, some kind of self-reflection that one is hoping to master, be it partially. The construction of gender identity is clearly embedded in digital space and thus, in this tracing dynamic, which indexing tools are able to identify and capture.

The focus group Gender and digital space seeks to address the question of gender construction in the mediatic and digital spheres, particularly by analyzing digital traces (pictures, texts on discussion groups, controversy mapping of spaces dedicated to gender expression on the web, analysis of socialization spaces in which a plurality of genders can be expressed, etc.). The issue of gender – where social and identity stakes are important and mediatized – seems to be a particularly relevant study field to come up to definition conflicts and to measure both quantitatively and qualitatively social gender and social roles.

This workgroup will fuel the discussion between researchers, engineers, experts, people directly affected in the public sphere, about the latest scientific developments and social and technical innovations in gender studies. The topic of gender is a promising topic, the research issues are diverse:

  • Can digital arrangements give place to uses and identity expressions that are likely to reshape the gendered aspect of cultural practices as well as the hegemonic norms of femininity and masculinity? To what extent can they play a role in the construction of gender identity and its multiple transformations? Is digital place a disruptive and subversive expressive space with regard to the deconstruction of gender stereotypes?
  • A distinctive trait of digital medias is that they have vastly been appropriated by men, who are in clear majority amongst the “creators” of the digital. Since men are “building” the digital world, it therefore seems interesting to question the fact that the representation which transit in those spaces are replicating social relations of gender and sex, where men have a dominant position. How does this masculine hegemony influence the production of tools (especially algorithms and programming languages? What kind of gender constructions do digital media produce, which links can be made between the making of composite genders and what kind of effects can it have on those who have and who use them?
  • If we work on the basis that digital technologies influence and transform social identities, what links can be made between the construction of composite genders and new information and communication technologies?
  • What methods to quantify, measure, qualify and study the issue of online gender?


Audrey Baneyx (Sciences Po Paris)

Ariane Bénoliel (Carism, Université Paris-Panthéon-Assas)