Image via WikipediaYolanda vanPetten purchased a burka and wore it on the streets of Saskatoon. (News article in Saskatoon Star Phoenix, July 24, 2009) She wanted to understand what women who wear a burka experience every day. It was an unusual sight for people in this prairie city. She was stopped and questioned by the police and found that some people avoided her. In the end, she concluded that "anonymity is a wonderful power".
This caused me to reflect on some comment threads on one of Will Richardson's blog posts in July. A newcomer (according to Will) in the comments was a person with the moniker of Ceolaf. Ceolaf can be quite challenging of the opinions of others in his or her comments. In reply to one of Ceolaf's comments, the next responder used the pronoun "she" to refer to Ceolaf.
Here's what Bill Ferriter said, "But even though they haven’t been articulated well, I think we all know what those “larger lessons” are. Ceolaf names many of them, doesn’t she? We want kids to work collaboratively and to be critical thinkers. We value creativity and innovation and problem solving."
Ceolaf responded in a defensive manner--citing his or her credentials in using computer technology over many years. "Bill, why do you assume I am a woman? Is it because I am expressing a Deb Meier sort of viewpoint? Is it because you think I am uncomfortable with technology? Would it change [your] view if I mentioned that I — 15-20 years ago — knew more than half a dozen programming languages, wrote some educational software for higher education, was hand-coding HTML before the first Netscape [browser], carried my own laptop to school (as a teacher) every day in the early 1990s, kept my grades on my computer long before you could buy specialized software for the job, and remain an “early adopter” of technology? From what I have seen, women are rather in the minority among commenters of this blog, so I am curious why you concluded that I am a women. (I suppose that that could be a reason to use a pseudonym like mine, right? To hide my gender. Or [maybe] I really am Debbie Meieir….hmmm…I’ll need to look into that
Image by tcp909 via Flickr.)"
Bill Ferriter replied, "ceolaf asked:
Bill, why do you assume I am a woman? Is it because I am expressing a Deb Meier sort of viewpoint? Is it because you think I am uncomfortable with technology?
None of the above, ceolaf! I just needed to use some kind of pronoun and the “he/she” is awkward at best. In those cases, “she” is as good as “he” and much better than “it.”
I’m never opposed to people who hide their genders in online conversations, but I always hope they won’t be offended when other readers are forced to guess when choosing how to respond."
Whether an individual is wearing a burka (like Yolanda vanPetten) or using a pseudonym to hide identity and gender online (like Ceolaf), anonymity can give a sense of power. For myself, I prefer to find my power within an online identity in which I can be transparent and yet professional. I don't need to shelter within a burka or a moniker.