Reality of Role-Playing

Posted: August 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

In Lisa Nakamura’s article of “Head-Hunting on the Internet”, she argues that race, gender, age and disability are visible in the so called anonymous world of the internet.  The common belief was that the Internet was a medium where individuals could become anonymous, where race, class and gender do not matter. However, the reality is that in this virtual world, we feel the need to make our “visibility” known. We create characters that depict how we want it to be, by skin colour, eye colour, hair colour and of course gender. Even with the online names that we choose for ourselves reflect our desire to become a certain identity. Many nicknames are in some ways represents the image/identity we try to create. Users have the ability to create an “avatar” to represent them graphically in online communities. It’s a way for some people to explore their identities, becoming who they fantasize. Some people create their avatars to actually look like them in real life. Other people create characters that they want to become, the constructed “other” race. The typical white male players fantasize about the exotic Asian characters that they want to explore. With the possibility of creating any identity online, it reinforces the idea of race discrimination we experience in the real world. Instead of non-white avatars being talked down to, they are seen as culturally cool and exotic. For example, the belief that all or most Asians are into Anime is a misconception. And for some reason, many online white male players are obsessed with the Asian culture, wanting to be a part of it where they are unable to in real life. They want to cross the racial boundaries through the Internet or virtual spaces.  The idea of being someone else even in a virtual world is very enticing, where we believe we can experience anything and become anyone.

When a person does not want to disclose personal information about themselves, such as their age or gender, we naturally create this fantasy of what they look like and we are intrigued and wonder what they actually look like in real life. As usually the case, the image/identity of the person we meet online is never what we expect to see in real life. People use the internet as an escape from their real life. Why do we fall into the belief that all unknown avatars are white males? Is it because we know they dominate the Internet that it must be the case? In doing so, we are only reconfirming that there is a “digital divide” between the white class and the minority classes. They view it as a way to take vacation from what they are used to and just be someone else. In their mind, they are living their fantasy, to know what it feels like to be other than what they are. In some cases, online users even go as far as “computer cross dress” where they become the opposite sex in online communities. Majority of the times it is males that creates female characters, participating in the act of role-playing. I agree with Nakamura’s concept that with the virtual world developing environments and people creating personalities to participate in these environments generally incorporate from what we know from the real world. We merely moved from the real world and create similar attributes online. The Interne has boundaries and divisions as well, creating inequalities that exist in the world we live in. Even though we are aware that online, anyone can be anyone, we still develop judgements based on how their avatar looks and how they describe themselves.  At least on the Internet we are able to construct our own identities instead of being discriminated by our physical looks. In a world (real or fantasy) race, gender, and other physical characteristics will always be factors in determining our identity. As the saying goes, “Old habits die hard”.

I’ve attached a link to an article that shows that online communities can create positive environments.

~ Tien Vuu

Head Hunting on the Internet

Posted: August 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

Author Lisa Namakura in her article attempts to explain how interaction takes place in online social role-play sites. She investigates how stereotypes that have been socially constructed are used in the creation of identities online. With the click of a button you can choose your gender to even your colour. She explains how people engage in “identity tourism” as they have the option to create digital bodies that can either reflect who they are in real life or who they desire to be in online communities. She concluded that a lot of white users of such sites tend to choose names or avatars that represent common Asian characters.

The common belief that the primary users of technology or in this case cyberspace is still dominant. Therefore she further affirms and contributes to the very important discourse, the digital divide. The author believed that when a person decided not to disclose their race, they were automatically labeled as a white user. I agree with Lisa, as I still picture many online users as white when I email people to inquire about items listed on Kijiji or even when I am buying used textbooks through websites. Even in many online gaming sites, the majority of players are white. And when you engage in the game over headsets, that is when you realize that the person who just defeated you is an Asian girl! Can an Asian person assume a person on the other side of the computer screen to be an Asian too? Can an Arab assume a person on the other side to be an Arab as well?

If we think about it most people have joined various sites and online communities that are more accepting than our society. Individuals who face the fear of being judged for their beliefs, aesthetics or just not fitting in resort to such mediums in order to be accepted. It can be said that the Internet does not discriminate or distinguish between one’s race or gender, as you can choose to be whoever and whatever you want online. You have the option of disclosing your personal descriptions and therefore your information is often invisible to others. I personally think that the Internet is “raceless” and most surfers cannot find out about the background of users unless they disclose certain descriptions to sites.

Given the freedom that people have online, they have the ability to choose their race and gender and depict themselves as who they would prefer to be in order to be accepted. Now what about online spaces that do not have those visuals or avatars? In website such as the Oprah blog or even in the various mommy blogging websites, people can choose to participate in any way they want. It is obvious that websites likes there are open for predominantly middle class white women that are married or in a heterosexual relationship. Therefore any one under any username and using any email address can contribute their thoughts. Can we label this as “textual identity tourism” where people have the opportunity to explore?

I don’t agree when she argues that that people can pick up one’s race in cyberspace by looking at the type of language you use. The way people express themselves is unique as many factors contribute to your language. Your education, occupation, the type of friends you have and even your interests shape you. I find this very vague, as it is really hard to make judge a person’s race based on their language used. People use online forums and social networking sites in a broad context that does not necessarily fit the norms or stereotypes that are attached to the different races. How long are we going to let these standard visuals or avatars define who we are?

Check out this video! There are guys that are playing a Nintendo game online with players from an Asian country. They keep saying, “ Who are these guys? They gotta be IT guys…They must play everyday?” This is a great example of how identity is always an ambiguous concept in cyberspace (in this case gaming).


A while ago, Chat Roulette became a worldwide phenomenon that sparked interest for all internet users. Here, a person from India can meet a person from China with the click of a mouse. Sometimes, the face is blocked or some other image appears, however, it did reveal a user’s identity through race or maybe even gender. It’s a new take on the idea of the chat room, in fact, the concept of the chat room has evolved far enough from being textually-based to visually-based. In relation to Lisa Nakamura’s article, “Head-Hunting on the Internet,” in the cyber world, identity can be more important than you think it is.

This calls into question of the importance of identity on the Internet – is it true that the Internet is an outlet where one can express their own opinions without being discriminated based on gender and race? Nakamura calls attention to “cross-dressing in cyberspace,” which can lead into “identity tourism.” This “industry” is a way to use the internet to surf around the cyber world one identity at a time. However, can you freely choose to reveal your true identity online without being discriminated in one way or another? Recalling, Hobson’s article I think Nakamura brings a point of the digital world being portrayed as a white world, because the revealing of one’s identity can cost the value of his/hers opinion online. In fact, Nakamura brings up the topic of how Orientalism on LambdaMOO where the Asian male or female is stereotyped as being a samurai warrior (male) or a Geisha (female). These avatars are portrayed by, according to her research, white individuals. Those who are ‘real’ Asians, are forced to hide their true identities because they’re not like the stereotypes at all. In fact, they will be looked down upon. I think, for the most part, Asians are expected to be the white construction of Asians. As Nakamura pointed out, it is reflective of the colonialist narrative. Have we resurrected this “colonial narrative” into cyberspace? I mean, Nakamura seems to have suggested that this is the root of this problem. The Internet is supposed to be seen as a democratic space, where one can express their opinions or be able to play digital dress-up, but reading this article complicates this notion of freedom in the World Wide Web. Is it really free? Or are we still chained to the confines of social constructs?

In my opinion, I think we still are. The internet is a reflection of the real world. Unfortunately, the ‘choice’ that you are asked to make about choosing your gender or your race is not really a choice. It’s a must, even if you call yourself neutral. Facebook, just like the majority of social media, always asks us whether or not we’re male or female. As a human race, we’re always categorizing ourselves into specific groups and it is definitely displayed on the Internet. You can easily run away from your true identity by masquerading it with an avatar, but revealing it may be more dangerous and difficult. Chat Roulette and the various chat rooms that Nakamura also brings up are supposed to be anonymous. However, Chat Roulette relies on the visible rather than the textual. You may not know that person’s name or who they really are, but one thing you will learn is whether or not they are male or female, Caucasian or Asian, White or non-white. It’s supposed to be stepping away from identity, but in a world full of constructs, we still group people by their looks and by how they’re portrayed. In this respect, do you really think the Internet is a space where democracy can thrive? Or has it even thrived at all?

This article on the New York Times website, has brought this question of identity to a new platform, in terms of the Chat Roulette Websites and how you can Google Map the person that you’re talking to:
Viel T.

The article on “ Wal-Mart to sell handicrafts made by women in artisans in developing countries: Items will be available online” by Janice Podsada talks about how Wal-Mart is helping women in developing countries by selling the handicrafts made by them on its website. Wal-Mart is recognized as top corporate charity. “Wal-Mart Stores Inc. increased its U.S. charitable giving 10 percent last year to $272.9 million, the world’s largest retailer, likely defending its position as the country’s largest corporate donor of cash” (See link below on NBC news). Being a Wal-Mart employee, I know the fact that Wal-Mart tries its best to help the charities it supports. For example it host barbecues, marathons and encourages all their cashiers to raise money for the charity. Wal-Mart takes the fund-raising very seriously. According to Janice, Wal-Mart has collaborated with Aid to (ATA), so that handicrafts can be displayed on Wal-Mart website to sell. Since ATA supplies business to the people in developing countries, its collaboration with Top corporate charity will aim to boost up the sale of handicrafts. As a result of this, more business will create for the people in developing countries. The organisation who is in competition with Wal-Mart for example Ten Thousand Villages critiques that Wal-Mart’s plan to support (ATA) is a strategy for trade and is not really for charity.

I can understand the fact that no one really knows about the amount of money raised by organisations for charity and the amount of money is actually given to the cause is different or same, unless you work inside the organisation. The interesting point to note here is that Wal-Mart is standing in the good books by selling handicrafts online so that it can create business for people in developing countries. It seems good on Wal-Mart part that it is helping people in developing countries. The irony is that almost everything that sells in Wal-Mart is made in developing countries. The difference in former and latter is that, in online digital labour, the handicrafts are sold under a tag of “good cause” or “charity” and the latter, is just considered as a labour work. Infact, a wallet sold at the jewellery section which is sold as price of $14.95 is actually made by people living in Slums in India for 90 cents. (See link below on working at Wal-Mart). If Wal-Mart really wants to help people in developing countries, they should increase the labour rate. So that people in slums can make good money and live better lives. Wal-Mart on one hand is pretending to empower digital labour because who knows how much money people in developing countries get when their products are sold in North America. At the same time Wal-Mart like every other retailer, is exploiting the labour in large extent by making them work on few cents. Now the question arises whether online business is really bringing more money or business for people in developing countries than working offline or is it same ? Also, how one can make sure that the money they are giving to the charity is actually going to the people?

Read More:

NBC news:

Working at Wal-Mart:


Raja Tasneem looks at the development of the “brogrammer”. Brogrammer: “recasting geek identity with a frat house swagger”. One problem with the concept of a “bro”-grammer is that the term in itself is gender oriented and exclusive towards a males only club. Yet, in this club of brogrammers there is a brotherhood bond around “male technologies” and the sexual exploitation of women.

“If a girl walks past in a see-through teddy, and you don’t even look up because you’re neck-deep in code, expect to spend a lot of time celibate no matter how bro you go.”

Tasneem mentions the event that took place with Matt Van Horner, an executive for the company Path. In describing his methods of how he was able to become successful in the company he admits it was by sending bikini photos from a calendar he made of fellow female students to the companies cofounders. Coupled with his sexist jokes and frat house comments, men and women began to leave his seminar. The outrage that this event sparked led to discussions over “advertising women as ‘perks’”.

Adda Birnir comments that, “Brogrammers might lack tact, but they’re definitely marketing development in a way that appeals to a new subset of men”. By taking the term “geek” and replacing it with the “bro”, it gives coding that frat house flare that will encourage men who were “headed to Wall Street to consider Silicon Valley”.

Where is there room for women in this brogrammer ideology? It is not only women who are noticing the stupidity of the exploitation and the business idiocy of eliminating the chances for women to seek employments within these companies, but men are flagging these companies as sexist as well! Tasneem quotes Christy Nicol, a veteran Seattle developer, “none of the company leaders involved appeared to realize initially that they’d done something wrong. They had simply crafted messages aimed at young men, apparently assuming: Who else would be drawn to programming jobs?” But how are women suppose to be able to apply for these jobs, let alone feel comfortable applying for these jobs, when part of the job entails the sexual exploitation of women?

Birnir cofounded Skillcrush “an online recourse for women looking to learn code and feel comfortable doing it”. She states, “This stuff is scary enough if you didn’t grow up doing it, and you constantly feel so far behind and worried that you’ll sound dumb if you ask some really basic question…And then you go to a conference panel and some guy is up there making misogynistic jokes? It just feels like at every point you’re getting the message that you’re not welcome.” Seeing men flag some of the sites and brogrammers’ comments as sexist is a step in the right direction in my opinion; with men stepping forward to show that they all do not share this gendered binary ideology. I am not exactly sure how we can end these objectifications of women in the brogramming industry, especially since women are posing for these photos and allowing themselves to be used for these campaigns. I think the main issue is how to make women feel comfortable enough to step forward into this “boys only club” and show that women are just as capable of coding and understanding technologies too. Skillcrush is a great opportunity for that, but the movement should not just end there, it needs to be extended into these group meetings, such as the one with Van Horner. Instead of reaching out to Wall Street frat boys, there should be more campaigns to attract women into the coding industry. Not only women but this frat house brogramming is completely exclusive to the heterosexual male. How is a gay male suppose to feel comfortable in the environment when the “perk” of the job is, “need another beer? Let one of our friendly (female) event staff get that for you”. Just by pointing to the sex of the staff is showing that this is a heterosexual, mens only club.

Check out this youtube video to see the a comedic take on the concept of brogramming…not far off AT ALL :


Bonny M.

This week I chose to do my blog on the reading entitled “Lexicons of Women’s Empowerment Online: Appropriating the other”. This reading looks at the ways in which women are both empowered yet held back by technology. This article focuses on three very different cases that all actually have the same thing in common. We are introduced to three women by the name of Phyllis who is an activist for FGM which is also known as Female Genital Mutilation; then we are introduced to a woman by the name of Yahui who speaks on the UNFPA which stands for the United Nations Population Fund; and lastly we are introduced to a woman by the name of Radhika who discusses her views on the NGO and the processes of marketing. While reading this article I came across a main point that each of these women had in common despite the fact of course that they were each speaking on different things. The commonality that exists is: 1) this whole idea of women in third world countries needing the assistance of someone from the western world; almost as they are incapable of caring for themselves. In each of the cases presented I feel as though women from third world countries are made to be looked down upon.

For instance let me focus on the first woman we are introduced to Phyllis. Phyllis is an activist for women in Africa. She speaks on how the issue of FGM is always made to look as though these women in African are uncivilized and ignorant and that they need the help of the civilized western woman in order to cope with the issues that they face in their home countries. The information that is presented online about this process tends to be one sided and make it sound as though it is more detrimental to the women than it actually is. So, on that instance because it is something that isn’t quite necessarily considered to be the norm in western society it is automatically deemed as something that needs to be corrected by the western world savior. The discourse of the woman from the third world country needing the assistance of a western world woman is brought back into existence. Another discourse that is reiterated is this whole idea that women in third world countries do not have access to not only the internet, but overall technology. So Phyllis’ attempt to empower these women may fall on deaf ears being that not all these women will have access to the information. This discourse of the “other” woman is brought back up when reading the piece by Radhika who discusses the marketing of a hand loom. Again, as a reader I see how women from third world countries are seen as charity pieces and needing someone else’ assistance to make it through they’re very “tough” day to day lives; almost like without this piece of western world equipment the weavers of in South India cannot go on. One question I thought of while reading this article was how affective all this online activism could be if all it did was empower women and in the same instant disempowered these women by reinstating the dominant discourses? Would it more so be helping them? Or would it be forcing more western world ideologies on this supposed “other”. Because women in third world countries are seen as void with technology, when it becomes something that they can get their hands on it is praised as some sort of gift. Almost as if to say that without the internet and technological advances the voices of women in third world countries cannot be heard.

Karen A.

In this blog I will be discussing the article titled Lexicons of Women’s Empowerment Online: Appropriating the Other written by Radhika Gajjala, Yahui Zhang, and Phyllis Dako-Gyeke. This paper examines the discourses of women’s freedom online as the authors try to illustrate how lexicons of women’s empowerment online are put in an ideological fashion that are in turn harmful in actuality. The authors focus on three differently situated discursive formations to examine the degree in which these lexicons of empowerment occur. One formation examined was websites around female genital mutilation (FGM) in online activism, another was the Americans for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) website, and lastly, the third case was based on work offline and trying to create strategies for online marketing. The authors explained that in each case, the possibilities of articulation are in fact prevented by the discourses that apparently aim to empower individuals. What seemed to be a reoccurring phenomenon in each case was the ways in which such discourses formed this notion and distinction of ‘the West and the Other,’ putting the West in a superior light than those whom were deemed the ‘Other.’

Websites and social networks that create lexicons of supposed women’s empowerment are problematic regardless of whether or not they target groups of lesser economic advantage worldwide as users and as audience. This is because individuals who have little access to computers may be ineffective and unsophisticated in their responses and discussions online where the overall result is not participatory; this maintains a hierarchy that privileges those who designed and produced the content.  Therefore, the individuals that such content is targeted towards-the subaltern Other- are not able to effectively participate, leaving the more privileged to dominate and direct such online environments which may not include accurate representations of such individuals. This results in a monolithic, homogenizing imagery of Third World poverty. A very important factor to keep in mind is that many of these ‘powerless’ Others who such online environments are apparently created for are not even able to access a computer let alone communicate on it, therefore, due to their lack of presence online, individuals who may not even completely understand or grasp their personal experiences are left representing these individuals. I find this to be rather alarming as the focus changes from women’s empowerment to Western women looking like caring saviors that are superior to the South whom need enlightenment and ‘saving.’  A significant point that the authors made in the article was that as long as ‘technology’ is only clearly positioned in a linear narrative of development that is based in colonial discourses about the supposed nontechnological Other, and as long as markets are embedded in such technological narratives, it will be rather challenging to redirect production and consumption in ways to empower these nonvisible populations that liberal feminist websites are apparently helping.

Phyllis Dako-Gyeke analyzes the practice of female genital mutilaton (FGM), which has become a very visible arena in globalized women’s health activism. She explains that the subject of FGM is crucial as it highlights the involvement of the Western world in affairs of the non-Western world in many ways. She argued that starting from the nineteenth century, FGM discourses have constructed the third world woman’s experience as involving female violence and oppression; this in turn called for colonial White man mediation as well as warranted the mediatory role of the Western feminist and third world oppressed ‘Other’ liberated through liberal feminism. The use of new media forms can be rather powerful and in itself oppressive to the woman that it attempts to ‘save.’  Globalized discourses display FGM as the ‘third world’ woman’s issue. Dako-Gyeke specifically looked at two websites that focused on FGM and analyzed how FGM was problematized on these sites by observing some of the terminology that was connected to the practice. Words such as ‘health damage,’ ‘infections,’ and ‘health risks’ were used on the sites as FGM was defined as a health problem. However, as Walley had explained, the attention to such health problems tends to create a divergence and distinction between a ‘rational West and an overly traditional rest.’ The websites also used diagrams to show the parts of female genitalia being removed during the practice which in turn instills fear and grasps the attention of Euro-American audiences.  The practice of FGM has also been associated with victimization and perpetrators as feminist advocates are quick to state that women perform FGM due to their powerlessness in traditional male dominated societies, ‘where women practice FGM to please men.’

A term that I found to be rather significant in the article was the ‘colonial flaw.’ Non-Western feminists argued that despite the diversity, most FGM discourses maintain voices that carry legacies of colonial representations of the ‘third world.’ I think that it is very important to acknowledge that the person or people speaking are rather significant in determining the significance or accuracy of the issue or topic at hand. Concerns about who speaks caused third world women to question the authenticity of the speaking voices as well as oppose the power dynamics characterizing it. Is it fair for individuals outside of culture or experience to represent other individuals who do not even get a chance to represent themselves? Is it okay for such individuals to represent third world women’s experiences, experiences they have not personally faced? Would they even be accurate, and does this help or hurt these individuals in reality? I feel like the views on such online sites may in turn become more ‘Westernized’ than really representative and effective and in turn alienate the people that were supposed to be made visible. The Western gaze is a very important phenomenon that should be acknowledged. There should definitely be a space created within the use of technologies where the third world woman who is underprivileged can use the internet to represent herself rather than having others speak for her. Although highly educated third world women seek to help the underprivileged third world women, they are definitely not representative of such individuals. Yahui Zhang examined the online space called Americans For UNFPA. She is a woman of colour from China but was trained in a privileged environment. She feels that Chinese women and many women outside of the framework of the West have bodies that do not belong to them. Touching on the issue of representation, she finds that the issue is exploited by liberal feminists in an attempt to speak for these women.  She explains that when the website is intertwined with discourses of liberal feminism it reinforces colonial discourses of the oppressed third world woman, a female Other who either needs to be ‘liberated’ through acts of techno-mediation and liberal feminist handouts or has been saved through liberal feminists’ generous acts of consumption and donation. Radhika Gajjala has worked with NGO fieldworkers to understand the process of marketing handloom products in order to ensure continued sustainable livelihoods for weavers in rural South India, she wants to understand how rural women are not empowered through Internet technologies. What I took from this section of the article was the fact that when the suggestion of handloom weavers and indigenous craft communities could benefit from ‘new’ technologies, the ways in which this is possible is through discourses that construct the third world Other as exotic and in need. Therefore, the civilized and rational Western beings are there to save and help such individuals through their ‘generous’ donations. Rather than such items being commodities being sold for the market and so on, this idea of these third world women in need of liberation and development comes to mind and the West ends up being seen as helpful saviors for such ‘backward, uncivilized’ Others.

The notion that internet technologies can set these women free and empower them has been reoccurring however, in each case the civilized West seems to come out on top and be viewed as these helpful, dominant, and gracious beings that will save the uneducated Others from their lifestyles and cultures. Even when ‘saving the others’ is their main concern it becomes rather contradictory as it brings the attention onto the West as they are constructed in a positive and caring light, leaving these ‘deprived women’ with no chance to represent themselves or have agency. The issues at hand are actually put to the side and more attention is directed towards the West or liberal feminists that direct or create these online spaces. In each case, the possibilities for expression end up being constrained by the medium created to empower. In addition to the questions mentioned above, I question whether or not the issues brought up by the West on these women’s bodies acknowledge the interlocking relationships between class, ethnicity and race as each person has their own individual and personal experience. The West in my opinion seems to have grouped the experiences of the ‘Other’ in a fixed and generalized manner which I find to be inaccurate, what do you think? I also encourage everyone to read this particular article as it covered a lot of information and was rather interesting and helpful in understanding the power dynamics that may develop through online discourses. Below I have attached a link that I found to be rather helpful and interesting that discusses orientalism which explains how we as individuals of western society tend to have preconceived notions of people of the Middle East in particular, regardless of whether or not we have actually been there or experienced this type of behavior. I found that this particular video relates to the article in that discourses and representations sent out by the West play a powerful role in shaping how we view the world and other individuals. After viewing this video, how affected to you think you are by discourses present in the media whether it is online or through other sources?

-Mundeep Dhaliwal