Breaking out of Binaries: Reconceptualizing Gender and its Relationship to Language in Computer-Mediated Communication


  • Michelle Rodino

    Corresponding author
    1. (MA, Northwestern University; BA University of California at Los Angeles) is a doctoral student at the University of Washington. Her research interests include computer-mediated communication, feminist media studies, organizational communication, and critical theory. She has presented papers in these areas at the annual conferences of the International Communication Association, the National Communication Association, and the Eastern Communication Association.
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  • The author wishes to thank Professor Diane Gromala at the University of Washington and Professors Roberta Astroff, Janet Skupien, and Carol Stabile at the University of Pittsburgh for their insightful comments. I also thank Professor Gromala for supporting this research. Bill Sucevic at Computing and Information Systems at the University of Pittsburgh and David Brahm provided technical assistance that facilitated this project. Data analyzed in this project was reported in a paper presented at the 1995 convention of the National Communication Association, Feminist and Women Studies Division, San Antonio, TX. Research for this project began at the University of Pittsburgh.

School of Communications, University of Washington, Box 353740, Seattle, WA 98195, USA


Virtual environments provide a rich testing ground for theories of gender and language. This paper analyzes interactions in one virtual environment, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), to look at the extent to which research on face-to-face (FTF) talk and computer-mediated communication (CMC) can describe gender and its relationship to language. I find that neither the function of utterances nor the construction of gender adheres to dualistic descriptions, as past research has implied. Reconceptualizing gender as performative helps researchers break out of binary categories that have bound past research. Conceiving of gender as under constant construction also helps demystify and thus disrupt the binary gender system which naturalizes patriarchy.