Masthead CMC Magazine / March 1, 1996
 Gender Without Bodies, by Mindy McAdams

There aren't many places I can go where no one notices that I'm a woman.

Is there any need for gender when we have no bodies? Of course my body has gender, and I can't go anywhere in real life without it. I could make a strenuous effort to appear to be male, and possibly succeed, but I have no desire to conduct that masquerade. That means I am always visible as, identifiable as, a woman.

Sometimes that's a liability. In real life (say, on a dark street or in a deserted parking lot), identifiable female gender can put me in danger. It can impede me in the workplace in situations where biased people hold power.

Danger to my physical body does not exist online. I agree with Laura Miller that rape cannot take place in a realm I inhabit only with my mind (despite numerous opinions to the contrary). After stating the obvious -- that "women's smaller, physically weaker bodies and lower social status make them subject to violation by men" -- Miller notes that "there's a troubling notion in the real and virtual worlds that women's minds are also more vulnerable to invasion, degradation, and abuse [emphasis mine]." This notion, reinforced by media reports about verbal harassment of women online, fuels the campaign to regulate and censor online communications -- the implication being, Miller says, that "helpless" women desperately need protection.

I don't need protection from "virtual rape," thank you -- especially not at the expense of my First Amendment rights.

I wouldn't mind some protection from the other prominent liability of being female, which plagues women online as it does elsewhere: having my opinions or ideas disregarded. But there is no way to regulate or censor that type of behavior (you can lead a boor to culture, but you can't make him think), so I just have to defend myself verbally against it online, as I do in real life.

If it would give my ideas more credibility, maybe --hiding my gender online would be a good idea.

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