Virtually Gendered: Materiality and Interface Design on Transnational Social Media
Feminist theorists have long critiqued the conceptual binaries that underpin western thought as mapping to gender. In the late 20th century, digital technologies seemed poised to rework the boundaries of divides such as public and private, self and Other, masculine and feminine, or virtual and real. Drawing on posthumanist, transfeminist, and new materialist approaches in feminist thought, I analyze digital media interfaces as material sites of enacting and producing gender. In my fieldwork with young, mobile, urban cosmopolitans in early 2000s Berlin, many contested conventional gender, in ways tied to class status, even as they navigated implicit understandings of gender in interface design. I argue that these technologies must be analyzed as material interfaces or surfaces through which gender is constructed discursively and materially. Feminist technology and design scholars ask how new technologies and interfaces can support alternative, non-hegemonic enactments of gendered selfhood, as a means to challenge and rework how gender is constructed in and through sociotechnical systems. But such interventions require asking what exactly gender is online, as a virtual practice that combines the material with the informational in new ways.