Illusions of ambiguity: Signaling presence and representation of gender identities on a programmable media website for young people

Oct. 16, 2008


Karen Brennan


The Scratch website ( is an online community where young people share interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art created with the Scratch programming environment. Using the lens of signaling theory, I challenge illusions of ambiguity that are constructed in the spaces of gender-anonymous public user profiles and online practices that should not necessitate the communication of gender identity. To this end, I explore several questions related to online gender signaling, both generally and in a case study of Scratch, a usergenerated programmable media website: (1) How is gender signaled online? (2) How is gender presence and participation signaled on the Scratch website? (3) How does participation on the Scratch website inform gender representation? (4) How might the design or practices of the Scratch website be modified in response to issues of gender presence, participation, and representation?

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