The Communications Factors: Gender Differences on the Web

Author and Indiana University professor Susan Herring has done extensive research on the different ways men and women use the internet, and to read GENDER DIFFERENCES IN COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION: BRINGING FAMILIAR BAGGAGE TO THE NEW FRONTIER, click on the title.

She writes about the attitudes toward “flaming,” or sending hateful, insulting messages in response to someone else’s comment which are intended to degrade or belittle the commentor’s intelligence or abilities. She sent out an anonymous survey, via the internet, to the members of a discussion group in which they were asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 5, how much they disliked flaming. Though she seems surprised by the results, I am not: “Although women expressed a stronger dislike than men, giving it [flaming] a score of 4.3 as compared with 3.9 for men.”

 Why am I not surprised? To paraphrase Owen Wilson’s character in Night at the Museum, “Look, we’re men; We fight; It’s what we do…”

Men, in general, relish the battle, the conquest, the victory. We look at all flames or attacks on our views as challenges to be confronted.

In the online world, flames challenge our beliefs, and therefore allow us, if only “virtually,” to engage the aggressor in a battle of wit and intellect. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to embrace opinions differing from their own, and therefore don’t like for themselves or others to be targets of such attacks. What do I know? I’m a man, and men have been trying to figure out women for thousands of years!

How ’bout it?

|         *****  Copyright 1994 by Susan Herring *****                  |
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Susan Herring

Program in Linguistics
University of Texas
Arlington, TX  76019

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