Living with another gender on the Net

Ryoko Asai


Over the past few decades, a considerable number of studies have been conducted on the effects of information and communication technology (ICT) on gender or gender roles. Some of them have focused on the relation between women and development of ICT, and have revealed the existence of gender disparities or gender inequalities in the information societies. Moreover it has been proposed that the use of ICT plays a big part empowering women in many countries, especially in developing ones. In fact, this proposition is now widely accepted by governments of many countries, as well as international organizations such as United Nations. It is clear that women have often been the subject of the studies related to gender and ICT. However, it is plausible to expect that development and deployment of ICT have effects on men as well as on women. The purpose of this study is to examine what effects ICT have on men in Japan from the viewpoint of gender. In order to attain the purpose, this study attempts to illustrate what significance ICT has to Japanese men who enjoy their life with another gender in cyber space in which gender role is alleged to be reinforced more than in the real world.

Nowadays, various types of communication in cyber space are available on the Net. These can be classified into two types on the whole: “transient communication” and “continuing communication”. The former is defined as a single-shot or a few times communication; once-and-for-all chatting on BBSs is a typical example. The latter is communication that keeps relatively long-term relationship with certain people: giving an example, communication evolved around on-line games and social networking services (SNS). In on-line games or SNS, its users continuously communicate with other users by using characters and emoticon as if they got into discretionary roles or pre-selected characters.

Japan has had a huge number of people who enroll and join in on-line games or SNS as its popularity has already been statistically proven. According to the use of on-line games or/and SNS, we could recognize very interesting phenomenon in the communication in cyber space.

In one of the major on-line game sites in Japan, over 90% of the players are male and 9% are female. But more than half of players pose as female characters in appearing on its sites, and this is contrary to the population structure. Namely, this circumstance indicates that many male users are more likely to appear and play as females in the site. Besides, men do not only pose as female characters but also comport themselves as women when they communicate with other players. In other words, they use the feminine form of expression, choose the subject of the conversation which women is more likely to talk about, and dress their own characters and/or avatars in women’s clothing.

In Japan, there has been the talk “Nekama” that was introduced in the online service period, i.e. pre-WWW period (sometimes this term has been considered as Otaku’s one).This term explains a certain type of men’s behavior in on-line communication. To put it another way, almost “Nekama” naturally go about their own daily life as person who have a male gender identity and most of them are heterosexual in the real world, on the other hand they represent themselves as females on the Net. The purposes of doing “Nekama” can be largely divided into two categories. One is to elicit a positive response from other males and openly rally them on their credulity on the Net, while the other is to feel rejoiced and a sense of release by acting as a female. Some of male players acting as female characters on the Net given above fit the latter description of “Nekama”.

As many studies in linguistic sociology have been pointed out, gender is considered as the important element to facilitate communication in the real world. Thus, gender has a great influence on the underlying conditions for communication. Then what significance does doing “Nekama” have in continuous communication on the Net? Because there are little indexes which are available for the users to discern the other users’ sex and gender in communicating each other in cyber space.

One “Nekama” person has told me, in an interview, that he disengages himself from masculinity enforced socially in the real world by acting as a female on the Net. In other words, ICT has a possibility for people to extricate from enforced gender identity in the real world through a process of expressing one’s another gender identity in cyber space. And also it can be seen as a means for resetting one’s own gender role in the real world because of its anonymousness and invisibility. Furthermore, it may open up a possibility of forging certain identity in line with certain discourse because it increases the importance of the expression by using some letters in the communication in which gender index does not function effectively. On the basis of recognition above, this study present the viewpoint that looks on ICT as a tool of giving free to gender identity containing diverse aspects, and also explore the significance of gender in cyber space.