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1In the 1990s, North American feminist scientists were enthusiastic about the Internet: they thought ‘communication at a distance would allow the physical body (male/female) to be dissociated from gender identity (man/woman), thereby promoting a fluidity of identities, challenging sexual binarity’ (Introduction, p. 2). Twenty-five years later, ‘how do digital practices change or reproduce gender relations; that is, the practices and principles of differentiation between women and men?’ The answers to this question, which opens and runs throughout this dossier coordinated by M. Bergström and D. Pasquier, highlight some signs of change, but above all the heteronormative inertia of ordinary digital practices.

2American students’ day-to-day digital flirtation imposes heteronormative codes of sexuality—enterprising men, reserved women—regardless of the sexual orientation of the individuals involved. The internalization of norms is powerful, and the interviews collected by D. Pinsky highlight the tensions between the control involved in following the codes of digital communication and the relaxation favoured by physical distance. The ‘double punishment’ of young women—who suffer both harassment and stigma if they take the initiative—is recognized, but without any real change in practices. The threat of public dissemination of photos or text messages within the community limits aggressive manifestations of masculinity, but it mainly affects girls and restricts the expression of their sexuality.

3E-sports tournaments via local networks (LAN parties) are organized to stage the performance of a virile, attractive, effective masculinity. J. Chaulet and J. Soler-Benonie observe that this masculinity rejects the figures of the homosexual and the single geek, and assigns limited space, functions, and models of identity to women. They supply the teams and provide care work for the players, and their presence is also the public assurance of the players’ heterosexual identity. In this arena where all activities are subject to a heteronormative, androcentric logic, the small minority of female gamers negotiate their presence by adopting the few accessible codes of the world of video games: ‘Lolita’ or ‘tomboy’.

4In the South Korean video game company studied here by C. Paberz, the gender regime that governs the activities of and relationships between employees contradicts the company’s professed policies of democracy and egalitarianism. The company’s organization reflects a gendered order of social control, where female professionals are assigned to less qualified positions, precarious status, and the ‘natural’ function of speaking for female tastes in video games. Real games are for men, and those who play them are no longer women. The maleness of the video game sector confines women to the role of sympathetic, transient ‘anomalies’, reduced to discreet protest in the face of avatars in bikinis and stilettos.

5Thanks to the rise of information and communication technologies, the most widespread form of video viewing is now the consumption of pornography. But as F. Vörös points out here, its ubiquity does not require its consumers (whether gay, straight, trans, bisexual, or lesbian) to criticize the gender relations that are performed within it. Satisfaction, control, distinction, and passion: the typology of pleasures that guide practices around pornography reflects a complex and heterogeneous range of relationships. While passionate interest involves very advanced knowledge of gender, of the actors and actresses, which is shared and debated between initiates, the resulting space of exchange and discussion quickly excludes women.

6Finally, L. Delias deconstructs the established link between advanced age and a lack of mastery of digital technologies. Delias emphasizes the diversity of situations and degrees of digital autonomy of respondents from the middle and upper classes in the light of varied professional and family trajectories and the gender relationships that structured them. Women’s extremely widespread involvement in administrative and secretarial work, as well as the experience of marital separations, have enabled many to acquire digital skills and technological tastes which are favourable to their autonomy. The ordinary conditions of employment and (ex-)conjugal experience can therefore sometimes produce secondary benefits in the long term, which are renegotiated in the domestic context, where men’s economic power can be decisive in the selection and purchase of equipment.

7These studies show that practices in the digital world are not cut off from the social spaces in which they are embedded, which they define, and where relations of domination are established and maintained. In light of these findings, it seems that the subversion of sexual binarity via the internet is very limited. An important challenge is to analyse ‘subspaces’ involving less fixed relationships, to contextualize practices temporally and socially, allowing this range of analyses to be refined and complexified. In many respects, the reflections featured here echo research on the feminization of male-dominated professions, where the experience of the minority involves tensions, adjustments, resistances, transformations, and displacements of gendered symbols and practices. They also encourage the exploration of ‘gender inversion’ (Guichard-Claudic et al., 2008) and the place of the masculine in feminized digital spaces and practices, as well as spaces that may profoundly challenge binarity and heteronormativity, making room for plasticity in identities and practices. [1]


  • [1]
    Guichard-Claudic Y., Kergoat D., Vilbrod A. (eds.), 2008, L’inversion du genre. Quand les métiers masculins se conjuguent au féminin…et réciproquement, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes.
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