“Don’t hate me because my avatar is beautiful”: Discourses of Femininity and the Body in Second Life


Next week I am presenting at the Discourses and Cultural Practices conference as part of the “Discourse and Popular Culture” symposium. I am speaking about my favourite topics – avatars, identity, feminism, desire, pleasure, sexuality and the body.

I just finished my conference presentation but as I used hundreds of images, the file is too large to upload and share! But here is the abstract:

Title of Colloquium: Discourse and Popular Culture

Title of Abstract: “Don’t Hate Me Because My Avatar is Beautiful”: Discourses of Femininity and the Body in Second Life


In Second Life, a 3D virtual world, there exists a new ‘body culture’: the avatar, a visual representation of self in the form of a virtual body. This virtual space is a theatrical space, a space of fiction and fantasy. Yet it also the site for real business, and more and more professional women are entering the space for work purposes. This blend of reality and fantasy is creating a murky domain for traditional feminist ideologies. There is a guilty pleasure associated with having an aesthetically beautiful body given that it contradicts genuine concerns about media and body image. Many women who also work inside Second Life feel trapped in their offline identity roles and conform to traditional discourses of femininity, appearance, beauty and fashion. Yet in some contexts, people who resist these discourses are discriminated against. Using feminist notions of the body as a text (Grosz, 1994; Kirby, 1997), this paper will explore the ways women encode (Kress and van Leeuwen, 2006) and perform (Butler, 1990; Threadgold, 2003) discourses of femininity, desire, and identity through their avatars.

Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York, Routledge.

Grosz, E. (1994) Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism. St. Leonards, NSW, Allen and Unwin.

Kirby, V. (1997) Telling Flesh: The Substance of the Corporeal. London, Routledge.

Kress, G. and van Leeuwen, T. (2006) Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. London, Routlegde.

Threadgold, T. (2003) ‘Cultural studies, critical theory and critical discourse analysis: Histories, remembering and futures’, Linguistik Online. 14, 5-37. Available at: http://www.linguistik-online.de/14_03/index.html, accessed 5 March 2005.

I’m using or linking to a number of videos, and for ease of participants finding them, here they are:

I am also presenting a critical discourse analysis of the posts and comments associated with these blog stories (and additional linked blogosphere discussions):

Op/Ed: RL/SL Fashion Faux Pas


The Voice of Pixeleen Mistral


Where is Swirly, Lacoste?


No Anorexia Second Life

And, as usual, I am stealing a heap of images from the wonderful Stephanie Misfit to illustrate the points I want to make, such as this amazing one of her and Swirly:

dont hate me because my avatar is beautiful

That’s one of my intro slides – I am assuming nobody in the audience will know anything about Second Life, but still I am hoping to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time. I figure people will know a lot about feminist theory and discourse analysis, so its more about me linking it all to an unfamiliar culture for them in my presentation. I’m looking forward to it a lot :)

Second Life Training Session Resources

(Resources for participants in corporate training session)

An inspirational introduction to the potential of Second Life, from the NMC’s Symposium on Creativity:

Your avatar: the means for personal expression and in business, a representation of your brand.

Robbie Dingo’s machinima, MASK:

Torley Linden’s tips for changing your avatar’s appearance:

How to dress up your avatar, by Jo Kay:

Basic tips and hints 

Newbie Tips by Jokay and Sean:

Getting started in Second Life, by unhealthscienceslibraries:

Business in Second Life

Second Life for Businesses, by Arvetica

White Paper about branding by webmetrics

Business Communicators blog 

Virtual world, Real Money: podcast from Business Week

Companies shifting virtual world strategies: Reuters report

Avatar English

I received this press release today – there are lots of ‘teaching English’ classes being held in Second Life, but this is explained beautifully in terms of its pedagogical approach and how it uses the affordances of Second Life:


New Methods in Language Teaching Combine Virtual Worlds with Real Life

La Paz, Bolivia, October 31, 2007 – - Educators are now finding that teaching in virtual worlds such as Second Life is most effective when combined with real life activities.

The 3D virtual world, Second Life, provides language learners with new opportunities for socially interactive learning, and when it is blended with other online teaching methods language learning becomes a truly communicative, immersive and practical experience. 

Second Life has established itself as an arena for innovative online education, attracting universities such as Harvard and Oxford and also specialized e-learning institutes. One such institution is the virtual language school, Avatar Languages, which has pioneered an approach to language teaching it calls “SurReal Quests”.  These Quests combine Second Life language teaching with real life and a wealth of media-rich online resources by integrating communicative and task-based approaches to learning. Continue reading

Research Fest and Literacy Conference



The past two weeks have been absolutely crazy but wonderful too :) First I was involved in a week long research festival at the University of Sydney. My time was divided up into giving presentations myself (about various aspects of learning through roleplaying in Second Life) and enjoying the amazing work by other educators in the areas of English, literacy, drama and theatre. I was also involved in some general sessions about research and learned about the fabulous research being done by some of my colleagues – projects I didn’t know about because we don’t always get opportunities to share!

Two sessions I attended were incredible – both related to using texts in the classroom, and getting young people to respond to them through drama and roleplay. The first text was Shaun Tan’s The Arrival:

In the session we explored issues of immigration, loss of language, dreams (some realised, some shattered) and discovery.

Another session I attended was using Shakespeare’s The Tempest:

In this session we explored ways of getting into the themes of the Tempest (colonialism, power) that would also allow young people to access the complex language of Shakespeare. This session was led by reknowned drama educator Jonathon Neelands from the UK, and participants included many members of the Sydney’s Bell Shakespeare Company who had been doing research into how to work with Shakespeare in schools. There were also theatre experts from New Zealand and other states of Australia who attended.


Then this week I was involved in the Catholic Education Middle Years of Schooling Literacy and Technology Conference. I gave a keynote on machinima, but again I managed to attend some incredible sessions by teachers doing amazing things in their classrooms. The first session involved two teachers using Kahootz (which I have spoken about at length here before!) in their studies of film as text. They had their classes working on units of work about the Great Barrier Reef, and then study the film Finding Nemo. The kids then used Kahootz to produce some machinima representing “deleted scenes or DVD extras” from Finding Nemo, and these had to weave in accurate factual information about the environment.

The other session I went to was all about using claymation to enhance English and literacy in the classroom. This was a report of work done by a cluster group of teachers and their classes and was absolutely amazing. The kids were photographed as they made their claymations and then interviewed afterwards about their participation in the workshops. I loved the kids comments so much I managed to get copies of not only their claymation videos but also their interviews. Here are some of their comments I thought were absolutely priceless:

“you felt proud because it was yours”

“teachers didn’t do anything except walk around taking photos, we taught ourselves how to do it all – it was the power of the children!”

“you felt like a professional”

“we made ourselves do homework to make it better”

“you have more respect for people who do this work all day long”

Aren’t they gorgeous!! I love it!!! And their twisted fairytale animations are just incredible. Hopefully I will get a chance to share those sometime too.

Anyway, I guess I’d better go grade those 80 assignments piled up in my office :)


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