Does this Emoticon Make Me Look Like a Girl?

ewinkSomething weirdly enlightening happened to me during a tech-support chat today.

Chatting online with customer service agent “Jared,” I mistyped a number that caused some confusion in our interaction. When he figured out that I had botched the number, I gave him the correct number along with the message: “Sorry, cold fingers ;)”

Then I realized that I was signed into my husband’s account and was chatting under his name, and felt vaguely mortified that I had winked. It’s got nothing to do with homophobia: What I realized was that men, I daresay, don’t often e-wink when they goof up. Frankly, I doubt many men wink at tech support for any reason.

I realized that I had tried, however innocuously, to brush off my goof-up by playing the “cute” card, quite possibly burying years of feminist struggle in two keystrokes. I asked my husband later if he ever uses the wink emoticon. He said he never uses any emoticons at all, after a brief flirtation with the smiley face.

So my question became, do men and women have different e-communication styles? If a person’s screen name doesn’t reveal or hint at their gender, can you tell if they’re male or female by how they write? And do societal norms for emoticon use differ for men and women? What do you think?