Should Anonymous be gendered ?

If I’m saying « Anonymous » I guess that every body have in mind the same image : an empty black suit, or the mask of Guy Fawkes. The basic idea is that everybody could be behind this image, everybody could be Anonymous. Anonymous has no race, Anonymous has no gender. Anonymous is an idea.

But I’m not taking a big risk by saying that behind the idea are projections of people about who is likely to be an Anonymous. And as ever when something is supposed to be neutral, this projection is a white male. The image in itself connote masculinity : it’s a suit, traditionally male clothe, and even if empty, the shape is still the one of a male body. The mask is also a man’s face. Besides, one of the unofficial rule of the internet, also known as “rule 30” says : “There is no girl on the internet”. Indeed, the classical representation of hackers do not usually include females.

Though some noteworthy efforts are made in order to challenge this representation of Anonymous but not all are taking the same path.

Making some of the Anonymous videos with a synthesized female voice is one of the way to fight against stereotypes. Sometimes you can also find videos in which the speaker is a woman with the mask.

Discourses in themselves tend to be integrative. “Who is Anonymous? You are Anonymous. Your parents are Anonymous. Your brothers and sisters and friends are Anonymous. Doctors, students, priests, atheists, and stay-at-home mothers are Anonymous. Everyone who wishes to protect freedom and destroy oppression is Anonymous.”.  Or elsewhere : “We come from all places of society: We are students, workers, clerks, unemployed; We are young or old, we wear smart clothes or rugs, we are hedonists, ascetics, joy riders or activists. We come from all races, countries and ethnicities. We are many. We are your neighbours, your co-workers, your hairdressers, your bus drivers and your network administrators. We are the guy on the street with the suitcase and the girl in the bar you are trying to chat up. We are anonymous.”

There is a real try to create real neutrality behind the Anonymous image and idea. But then there is also another way to fight against the male image of Anonymous. Last year, an operation called Anonymiss was meant to integrate women.

The text going with the woman suite is quite interesting. First there is a text intended for potential “Anonymiss” :

“So you want to be a modern girl./You want more freedom./You want more power./You want to have fun./You want to prove that women are more courageous than men./And you love the Internet./ We need you./Welcome on board, Anonymiss”

And then this one, intended for actual anonymous -presented as all being men- to spread the message.

“Gentlemen,/ tell your girlfriends, your wives, your sisters, your mothers, that we protect their freedom of speech all around the world. And tell them that it will be even more protected if they protect it themselves. And if they don’t do it for the fun, tell them to do it for the innumerable censored women all over the planet. Don’t be a wanker : share our ideal!”

When I read it I first thought that if the intention was good the way to do it was clearly not. And then I wondered how much I should take this text seriously. Seems to be too exaggerated paternalist to be read at the first degree but I still want to make a short analysis.

Why paternalist ? If it’s not obvious for you, you can begin to look at the words used to refer to women. The first one is girl, and of course we have also the “miss” of anonymiss, two terms which can hardly avoid to be condescending. Then you have “girlfriends”, “wives” “sisters” and “mothers”, oh, please!, classical feminine roles. I’d have been glad to see here friends, or colleagues, maybe. When it refers directly to women it’s with an optic of fight between sexes : “You want to prove that women are more courageous than men.”. No. Why on earth would we like to prove such a thing ?, or as victims : “censored women”. Traditional protective masculine posture appears here : “we protect their freedom of speech”.

Even if the whole text is made to involved women, to show them they have capacities of action and a place in Anonymous I think it’s a clumsy way to encourage empowerment.

We are facing here a classical dilemma of feminism, the same problem that you can find for example concerning vocabulary. Should women be integrated to tend towards neutral concept willing to abolish gender -but here is raising the risk of just making women inivsible- or should we have specific images/words for women in order to give them visibility -but then you recreate difference(s) by iteration and reconduct the idea of a feminine specificity.

I personally dislike the term anonymiss even if I like the image. Using both female and male voices, as well as showing females and male bodies behind the mask seems for me to be a better way to act than the creation of a new word. But the debate is open.

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7 Responses to Should Anonymous be gendered ?

  1. mballest says:

    If feminism is all about equality then why should we be worried about being “invisible” over the Internet?! Internet itself is about anonymity! Make a presence by being “invisible” at the same time! It doesn’t matter weather you’re a woman or a man, or a nerd, or a shallow guy/girl, or handsome, or ugly… That’s the the whole point about the Internet, that’s the beauty of it. And it’s not about hiding behind a network, it’s just as simple as in Internet all that matter is ideas no genders (or any other kind of differetitaton among humans).

    Once said that, I don’t think we, as women, should ever feel threatened of being/feeling invisible on the Internet just because the image or idea behind the “anonymous” person is usually a man in suit or a male mask, that’s just a matter of language it’s just the way it is. Language is defined that way (at least it is with spanish), when something doesn’t have a gender, it’s neutral, or to genralize a group of people it’s referered to it as “male”. I really believe it’s not important whether those cases are threated as male or female, it’s just a way to express it. And if anonimity is what we’re aiming to what do we care how “anonimity” is represented in an image, why would it be 2 images and 2 words to refer to anonymous men and anonymous women? I thinks it’s just silly to even worry about that, because that’s the best about the internet: it doesn’t matter weather you have a penis or a vagina! Instead all we care is about ideas. And isn’t that one of the principiples of feminism? Well, which better place to put all that in practice but on Internet? And maybe we could one day extrapolate it into our daily life.

    • apalmgre says:

      Both you, Mayra, and Leïla touch upon dilemmas of feminism and language. This got me thinking about three different ways of looking at gender (I’m not aware of them being used in English, so the names can sound a bit strange/from Swedish to English constructed). First being traditional difference perspective, second being the sameness perspective and third being the gender perspective. In traditional difference perspective one thinks that men and women are different and one usually doesn’t reflect on that men and women may live under different settings. In the sameness perspective one strives to see gender as neutral. In this perspective one usually doesn’t reflect on that men and women may live under different settings. When something is considered to be unequal one usually see it as an individual problem, not a cultural problem or something in the sturcture. In the gender perspective the focus is on a more structural (not individual) level and power relations are important in looking at how gender is socially and culturally constructed.

      I like the idea that it doesn’t matter if you have a penis or a vagina on Internet. But is it so? If gender is neutral online are we all transgender? Equality has also been questioned by feminist scholars, since the gender binary (I called it gender system, during class) is constructed again and again when talking about equality: there is only one way of being masculine (a man) and one way of being feminine (a woman), nothing in between.

    • Daria Sverkunova says:

      Internet provides anonymity, but not so to be able to hide your gender. All posts on the Internet in this way open up gender of one who writes them. Anonymity on the Internet no longer exists. What we write on the web under nicknames, only exacerbates the situation, making us believe in their own anonymity, although it is not more than an illusion. As social services continue to gain popularity, they are no longer solely virtual spaces, the boundary between the Internet and the real world in this sense is eroded. If any actions are prohibited by the real “off-line” world, it is quite logical that they fall under the same ban and on the web.

  2. apalmgre says:

    Thank you Leïla for an interesting and important blog post where you focus on a norm (the picture of Anynomous being male) and critical reflections on it, but also on language and pictures.

    In the book Cyberfeminism in Northern Lights Fatima Jönsson has written a chapter called The Absence of Hackerettes in the Culture of Programming. She is writing how there are female hackers but they have received hardly any attention in popular press or from academics. Parallels could be drawn to the female bloggers and how they are portrayed in popular press.

  3. Seunghyun says:

    If you are throwing stones to Anonymous, the organization, because of the image they use for themselves, I believe it is just as cursing an innocent bystander about his/her fashion: “You’re such a warm and open-minded person but you wear to manly and I’m offended about it. You need to change your style.” In other words, it is off the topic, and in some way waste of time arguing whether Anonymous is sexist or not.
    I believe Anonymous is ‘an idea’ as you said, and the black-suited and black-tied depiction of themselves is just a part of collage for establishing the image of the group. If someone, who cares much about gender equality, is worried that it might influence people’s idea of ‘being anonymous,’ why not casting doubts over the connection between black suits and masculinity? Inducing gender images from allegorical items itself gives rise to gender inequality.
    In my opinion, projecting critical offense toward too many things could offend others who are not informed well about feminism and gives rather minus image to feminist groups.

    • Leïla says:

      @Seughyun :
      I’m not “arguing whether Anonymous is sexist or not” neither I’m “throwing stones to Anonymous, the organization” (and btw “organization” seems wrong to me to talk about it ; movement would be better) : I’m talking about representation and saying what I think is wrong but also pointing at some good things. I’m not either “inducing gender images from allegorical items” alone in a paranoiac feminist way : some people within Anonymous are already really conscious about it and are doing stuff, as I try to show.

      @mballest :
      I disagree with a lot of points but I’ll focus on this one : this not true to say that internet is (all) about anonymity. There is a culture of anonymity on the Web, for sure, but there is also a lot to say concerning identity. There is more and more discussion, for example, about “e-reputation”. People are caring about what they are showing from themselves on the social networks (or elsewhere). The ideal of an internet free from bodies is maybe beautiful but it doesn’t match with the reality.

  4. mshewell says:

    Quite an interesting argument that you bring up Leila. I agree with you on disliking the word “anonymiss”. I don’t consider myself a feminist, but in someways I personally feel that this is a setback rather than a set forward for feminism and women’s equality. I feel as though the term anonymous says enough, you don’t want to be identified in any way. I may be someone who isn’t the norm, as I do think that what you said about seeing the word and picturing a blank photo that looks more masculine is what most people do, but I don’t see that picture in my mind. I usually see a blank. That may have something to do with my culture and where I was brought up. Not only the country, but the region of my country that I lived in. It may also play in part to the family that I was raised in where gender doesn’t stop you from being who you are and doing what you want to do, I’m lucky in that aspect.

    Twitter may be the best online social-networking site for anonymity. If you chose not to upload a photo of yourself as a profile photo the site gives you an egg as your photo. They place different colors behind the egg, but that doesn’t have anything to do with your gender. Purple is usually associated with women and girls, at least in the American culture. My male friend on Twitter did not have a profile photo for a very long time (he does now) and his photo was a purple background with a white egg in the center. Before I added my own photo I had a lime green background with my egg. If you’d like to see you can go to and make an account without a photo and see for yourself. All of my friends have photos on Twitter so I can’t pass along an account with an egg as its photo. I think that this is the best I have seen at giving a user complete anonymity online. You pick your own username, which may give clues to other users about your gender, but also may not, and if you chose to stay anonymous by not adding a photo you can.

    Other social networking sites are starting to take a step in the right direction however which is nice to see. For example on social networking websites such as Google Plus, after you have filled out their form to create your profile, where you must say which gender you are, you can either add a photo of yourself or not. My friend who would in fact like to remain anonymous has chosen not to add photos to her Google Plus profile. As she is a female, and selected this, her photo shows up as a silhouette of a female. It is a dark blue-gray background with a lighter blue-gray person but the figure of the person appears to have a ponytail. Skype also does this if you have chosen not to have a profile picture. I think that this is a step in the right direction on showing the difference between anonymous female and anonymous male without taking as drastic of a step as the people above with a female in a suit.

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