Does this Emoticon Make Me Look Like a Girl?

GeekMom Technology

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?

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24 thoughts on “Does this Emoticon Make Me Look Like a Girl?

  1. I think it depends in the context. It could just be cheeky, but doesn’t mean you are flirting.

    It also depends who you are winking to, if it’s your boss, or your work mate.

  2. This is a great question! I have to hold myself back from overusing the smiley face. But anything expressed in words online has such potential to be ‘read’ wrong that I sometimes want to make sure what I am saying is taken the right way. The smiley face helps. 🙂

    I look forward to seeing what other people, esp guys, have to say about this. I am pretty confident my husband NEVER uses emoticons. (but now I’m curious, and will ask)

    Judy

  3. I’ll use emoticons when I want to make sure the other person knows I’m being sarcastic. Which is often – being sarcastic, not caring if the other person knows.

    But that’s about it.

  4. I’m female – I don’t use the winky one, but I do use smiley and the sad one. Actually, come to think of it, the only people I know who do use the winky one tend to be guys.

  5. I don’t often wink. Smiles and eye rolls are more common. Usually winking to me would indicate subtext. I suppose flirting would count there, but I would have thought you were hinting that cold fingers meant something else. At that point I would just leave it alone because I probably wouldn’t want to know.

  6. Never! Never, Never, Never….! Smileys are for girls, absolutely. Complete failure of respect for any man who uses a smiley- learn to express yourself in words.

  7. I am a guy, and do use the 😉 smiley quite often. I don’t think there’s much in terms of gender difference here.

    Also, note that there are differences in culture that by far outweigh the gender differences. South-East Asian emoticons are different. Similarily, if your opposite has spent time more time than you on certain IRC venues or Furcadia … get a dictionary!

  8. I wondered about this myself, and ended up writing my undergraduate thesis about gendered communication online. I did a study of an academic online forum and emoticons were one of the things that I coded forum posts for to see if women used them more then men. I found (at least in the forum that I was studying) a strong difference between the way men and women communicate. My research is a couple years old now, but what I found most interesting was how much online communication mimicked verbal communication despite being written.

    Just for the record, I am a huge fan of the e-wink. 😉

  9. I use emoticons all the time. In fact, the winking one seems to be my default. I don’t us it as flirting but as winking at a joke. (Depending on the situation, though, I could see how a 😉 could mean “I’m flirting with you.”)

  10. I find that having a screen name that does not readily denote your gender does make it harder for other people on the internet to interpret your text, even if you use emoticons. My s/n has been NeedToDestroy for ages and while I’ve come to find it very feminine sounding, I find that when my husband is playing online games under my name accidentally, most of the other players assume that the tag is a male tag and speak to him accordingly.

    That being said, I’ve never been a fan of smiley faces in the traditional sense, but almost overuse common meme-popular faces, i.e. >.< for frustration or :3 when I'm smirking, and I picked these up from my male forum trolling friends.

  11. I think it depends on the person as well, not the gender. I know quite a few guys who use smilies pretty regularly in their emails/chats.

  12. I tried using smilies (oh, I’m female btw) and they didn’t fit me. Instead I use the word “Hee!” or “Woo!” and html tags like /sarcasm or /rant.

    Other men I know do use the smilies, far more than I do.

    My Mom uses them all the time, making me wonder what age has to do with it as well? I think that would be interesting.

    Also, @Amanda, can we see the study? I would love to see it! I’m a Cunning Linguist so love nerdy things like that.

  13. I use emoticons quite often, including the wink and nonplussed face :/
    But especially now because a two-character smiley is much more concise on Twitter than a spelled-out word.

  14. Did you know that the original Turing test was meant to explore if you could tell the difference between a man and a woman.

  15. My experience is about what the others described: it really depended on the person.

    HOWEVER

    I did notice that if someone used emoticons excessively, it was most often a woman. (Many guys who *did* use emoticons used them more sparingly.) I also noticed that some women seemed to use exclamation points excessively (especially when every sentence ended in 3 or more of them)

    Generally speaking, really, I have noticed that those differences in communication that extend to traditional gender roles do indeed carry over to the Internet, and in more subtle ways than just emoticons or amount of punctuation.

  16. I’d like to point out that emoticons were invented when the Internet was 98% men and 2% women.

    If your husband feels his sexuality is threatened by a couple of ASCII characters, then he needs to just relax.

  17. I use emoticons, though not as much as I used to. I’ve consciously cut down on my use after being told it makes me sound like a middle school girl. There is *definitely* a gender thing going on there. :-/

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