Categorizing the non-categorical: the challenges of studying gendered phenomena online

Sarah Shugars, Alexi Quintana-Mathé, Robin Lange, David Lazer
Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication
Volume 29, Issue 1, January 2024
February 2, 2024


Studies of gendered phenomena online have highlighted important disparities, such as who is likely to be elevated as an expert or face gender-based harassment. This research, however, typically relies upon inferring user gender—an act that perpetuates notions of gender as an easily observable, binary construct. Motivated by work in gender and queer studies, we therefore compare common approaches to gender inference in the context of online settings. We demonstrate that gender inference can have downstream consequences when studying gender inequities and find that nonbinary users are consistently likely to be misgendered or overlooked in analysis. In bringing a theoretical focus to this common methodological task, our contribution is in problematizing common measures of gender, encouraging researchers to think critically about what these constructs can and cannot capture, and calling for more research explicitly focused on gendered experiences beyond a binary.

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