Theoretical Framework, Prior Research on Gender and Computer-Mediated Communication
- A portion of the research on gender in electronic writing communities (Wahlstrom, 1994, Rickly, 1999, Aschauer, 1999) is influenced by three landmark feminist texts: Nancy Chodorow’s The Reproduction of Mothering (1978), Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice (1982), and Mary Field Belenky et al’s Women’s Ways of Knowing (1986).
Chodorow (1978) “analyzes the reproduction of mothering as a central and constituting element in the social organization and reproduction of gender” (p. 7). She describes the “reproduction of mothering” as a built-in facet of girls’ and women’s personalities. Because girls are mothered by women, they see their mothers as role models and, in turn, desire to mother. Chodorow argues that “the contemporary reproduction of mothering occurs through socially structurally induced psychological processes. It is neither a product of biology nor of intentional role-training” (p. 7).
- Chodorow points out that “girls emerge from this period [preoedipal phase] with a basis for ‘empathy’ built into their primary definition of self in a way that boys do not. Girls emerge with a stronger basis for experiencing another’s needs or feelings as one’s own (or of thinking that one is so experiencing another’s needs and feelings)” (p. 167). Because a girl was mothered by a woman who anticipated her needs as an infant and child, she in turn learns to anticipate and meet others’ needs.
- Gilligan, influenced by Chodorow, explores women’s development with attention to ethics and morality. From data collected in interviews with children and women, Gilligan finds “the concepts of responsibility and care in women’s construction of the moral domain, the close tie in women’s thinking between conceptions of the self and of morality, and ultimately the need for an expanded developmental theory that includes, rather than rules out from consideration, the differences in the feminine voice” (p. 105). Gilligan theorizes that if women think of ethics and morals in terms of rights, or what they are entitled to themselves, they can balance ethics and morality between the needs of the self and the needs of others, going from “the paralyzing injunction not to hurt others to an injunction to act responsively toward self and others and thus to sustain connection” (149).
- I realize that these theories of gender have their limitations; they take the categories of "men" and "women" as monolithic and do not account for intersectionality with race and class. I have used these theorists here for the questions they raise about behavior in an environment with a gendered power differential.
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