In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Digital Gender Diversity

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Gender Diversity in Digital Structures
  • Gender Diversity and Video Games
  • Gender Diversity in Historical and Global Perspective

Communication Digital Gender Diversity
by
Łukasz Szulc
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0307

Introduction

Since about the mid-2010s, the idea of gender diversity has come to enjoy unprecedented popularity, not only in academia but also in politics and popular culture, and especially in the Anglophone world, but also elsewhere. New terms for gender identities—such as nonbinary, genderqueer, genderfluid, demigender, or agender—have proliferated in youth cultures and have been adopted by mainstream media. Digital media have played a key role in the emergence and popularization of these terms, not least because culture in general has become heavily digitalized in the recent two or three decades. Moreover, digital media have allowed many alternative gender communities to flourish, connect to each other, and explore and express a wide range of gender identifications. This bibliography presents an overview of the emerging research on digital gender diversity, understood here as any challenge to the gender binary in digital cultures. The focus is placed on social media, but the bibliography also includes works on other digital technologies, including voice-activated personal assistants, fan fiction websites, video games, advertising, and biotechnologies. The bibliography first lists major works that provide a general overview of the topic and center on the conceptual rethinking of the idea of gender. The next section focuses on how the gender binary has been reproduced or challenged in digital structures, especially through social media design and governance, interfaces, and algorithms. The following section moves on from works on digital media production to studies of digital media use. In two subsections, it elaborates on research into social media use by ordinary users and content creators, respectively, emphasizing users’ agency and its limitations. The subsequent section zooms in on the discussions about gender normativity and gender transgression in video games from the perspective of both game players and developers. The final section drifts away from the focus on digital media and, instead, offers a selection of works that analyze gender diversity from a historical and global perspective. While digital media have undoubtedly helped gender diversity to rise to prominence as an important topic for social and political discussions—especially in the Anglophone world—gender diversity has a much longer history across the globe—a history that should be acknowledged in any analysis of digital gender diversity.

General Overviews

This section focuses on a selection of key works that give broader overviews of the topic of gender diversity in relation to digital as well as broader technological and biotechnological developments. Turkle 1995 is one of the key early academic contributions that celebrate the possibilities of postmodern identity play online, including gender identity, while Wakeford 2000 provides a more critical account of gender and queer identity construction on the Internet, emphasizing the material and structural constraints on digital identity formation. The classic text Haraway 1991 opens up a deeply theoretical discussion of gender at the intersection of human, animal, and machine. In a similar vein, more recent books, such as Hester 2018 and Bassett, et al. 2019, offer theoretical contributions to thinking about gender and technology more broadly, while Shapiro 2010 presents the debates from a sociological perspective and in a textbook form. Preciado 2013 goes beyond the discussions of digital media and interrogates biotechnological interventions in the body at the intersection of pharmaceuticals and pornography. Cover 2019 focuses more narrowly on the relatively recent emergence of numerous labels for gender and sexual identities in Western contexts, and connects the phenomenon to digital youth cultures. Empirical works like Bailey 2021 and Cavalcante 2018 testify to the diversity of digital experiences by gender-diverse individuals, related to their diverse ages, races, and gender identifications.

  • Bailey, M. 2021. Misogynoir transformed: Black women’s digital resistance. New York: NYU Press.

    DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479803392.001.0001

    Interested in the intersections of racial and gender marginalization, Bailey elaborates on her concept of misogynoir, a portmanteau of misogyny and noir (i.e., Black, as in film noir). Foregrounding the experiences of queer, trans, and nonbinary Black women, the book offers an in-depth ethnographic account of Black women’s digital resistance across such platforms as Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube.

  • Bassett, C., S. Kember, and K. O’Riordan. 2019. Furious: Technological feminism and digital futures. London: Pluto Press.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctvs09qqf

    This in-depth theoretical analysis provides a feminist and critical reinterpretation of popular discourses about various new technologies, from genomics to automation to big data. It also offers a sort of manifesto or roadmap for radically intersectional feminist technofutures, contesting the masculinist and Anthropocene assumptions of a digital world.

  • Cavalcante, A. 2018. Struggling for ordinary: Media and transgender belonging in everyday life. New York: NYU Press.

    Through interviews and focus groups with transgender people based in the United States, Cavalcante identifies a wide range of legacy and digital media as crucial for the processes of transgender identity formation. The book emphasizes the role of the entire media ecosystem instead of particular media outlets in those processes and proposes the concept of “queerly ordinary” as a counterstrategy to extraordinary media representations of transgender people.

  • Cover, R. 2019. Emergent identities: New sexualities, genders and relationships in a digital era. London: Routledge.

    This book offers an in-depth theoretical discussion of the new taxonomies for gender and sexual identities, with a focus on young people’s cultures in Western societies. The author argues that the proliferation of new gender and sexual labels is inextricably linked to rapid digital media developments, and that the new labels both resist and reproduce dominant ideologies.

  • Haraway, D. 1991. Simians, cyborgs, and women: The reinvention of nature. New York: Routledge.

    In this milestone contribution to feminist theory, Haraway rejects the rigid boundaries allegedly separating humans from animals and machines, proposing instead to focus on the figure of a cyborg, a cybernetic hybrid that offers a potential for transcending gender. By rejecting the essentialism of gender, the author argues for solidarity based on affinity rather than identity.

  • Hester, H. 2018. Xenofeminism. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

    Putting the alien, the other, or the stranger at the core of feminism, this book is a manifesto that calls for technomaterialism (emphasis on the materiality of technology), anti-naturalism (rejection of the fetishization of the natural), and gender abolitionism (not gender blindness but the rejection of the gender binary through the proliferation of genders). It also offers a roadmap for applying these principles in the creation of xenofeminist technologies.

  • Preciado, B. 2013. Testo junkie: Sex, drugs, and biopolitics in the pharmacopornographic era. New York: Feminist Press.

    In this book, Preciado extends the discussions of gender and sex diversity from digital media to biotechnological interventions in the body in general, and to the intersections of pharmaceuticals and pornography in particular. The book comments on the growing availability of factory-made hormones, birth control pills, and erectile dysfunction remedies, and details the author’s experience of taking testosterone as a performative and political act.

  • Shapiro, E. 2010. Gender circuits: Bodies and identities in a technological age. New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203859360

    Positioned between biological determinism and social constructivism, this book offers an overview of sociological approaches to thinking about gender in relation to the development of biomedical and information technologies, specifically in the United States and Canada. It is a good introduction for people new to the topic, as it provides basic definitions as well as useful case studies illustrating key concepts and debates.

  • Turkle, S. 1995. Life on the screen: Identity in the age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    This classic book is one of the major academic publications arguing that digital media promise the realization of postmodern identity. Based on an analysis of how people use text-only online technologies, especially Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs), it claims that Internet users can relatively freely play with their identities, including gender identity.

  • Wakeford, N. 2000. Cyberqueer. In The cybercultures reader. Edited by D. Bell and B. M. Kennedy, 391–395. London: Routledge.

    This is one of the first overviews of early social research into queer digital cultures, which includes discussions of queer online spaces and digital identity. While, at that time, works on the topic tended to focus on the cultural, textual, and symbolic aspects of digital life, Wakeford insisted on paying equal attention to the economic and structural relations influencing online interactions.

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