Friday, November 14, 2008

Making Media: Women in Second Life

Abstract: Mainstream media employs images of women in advertising, music videos, TV shows, and movies that depict women one dimensionally. Second Life - a 3d virtual game with more than 9 million participants - is offering a new space, new creativity for women who want to experiement in the art and practice of media making. Above is the speech that accompanied my slide presentation on November 15, 2008. The conference was Virtual Praxis: A Conference on Women's Community in Second Life, sponsored by The Department of Women's Studies, Ohio State University.


The following blog entries feature (and elaborate upon)research points covered during my presentation. The slides are posted at this additional blog site, so that you can follow along with the recorded speech. The second page of slides is found by clicking on the older posts. Slides are also grouped into sections (note the blog archive). You will need to open two Web windows - one to hear the audio, one to view the slides.

Hope you find all this interesting or helpful. :)

Virtual Praxis: SL Women as Media Makers

Welcome! This blog reviews the status of women as media makers inside the virtual game Second Life. Your host is Sonicity Fitzroy, alias Dr. Phylis Johnson, Southern Illinois University. This blog is a spin off of my November 15, 2008 Second Life presentation at the Virtual Praxis Conference sponsored by Ohio State University.

Virtual Praxis: SL Women as Media Makers

Women are increasingly involved in the creation, production, and distribution of news and entertainment content. This content is created for and distributed to radio streams and news and entertainment cable services, and printed in magazines and newspapers in Second Life. The role of “media” women in SL content creation, and the potential impact on the larger mainstream media industry is an area that deserves focus, particularly as new media promises new opportunities and creativity. SL users, internationally, are becoming notable media makers, and HBO featured the first documentary produced inside this digital community in early 2008. It is within this context that I create a portrait of an emerging woman producer who resides in a hall of media mirrors, and subsequently one might consider how much originality is realistically possible during "construction" in this parallel mediated universe. Presented at Virtual Praxis, Saturday, November 15, 2008.

Introduction to SL Media

National Public Radio’s Science Friday has a sizeable audience, and is indicative of the RL media experimentation going on inside Second Life. Sony/BMGdebuts and showcases real life artists on Media Island. CBS’s CSI show brought TV viewers in-world to help solve a crime mystery by inviting them to its virtual forensics lab during one episode. HBO purchased a documentary that was filmed by a real Hollywood producer, Douglas Gayeton, and his entire series Molotov Alva and His Search for the Creator was produced in-world as machinima. The show was broadcast on cable, and is available online via Cinemax’s Web site. Its producers, talent, and overall team seem to be mainly comprised of men, after a review of the credits. Women media makers, however, have found a creative outlet on Second Life Cable Network (SLCN-TV), whereas others like Dr. Angela Thomas, author, lecturer, and SL builder, designs interactive sites that serve as stand-alone educational projects. She launched in October 2008 one SL project, Foul Whisperings, Strange Matters, based on William Shakespeare’s MacBeth and Ray Bradbury’s 1962 classic Something Wicked This Way Come:

“The brainchild of Dr. Angela Thomas (Anya Ixchel in SL), a senior lecturer in English and Arts Education at the University of Sydney, the project is a stunning example of the combination of imaginative and evocative building and thoughtful (and thought-provoking) multi-layered educational content disguised as a wickedly creepy interactive carnival ride. She says "it took me 3 or 4 hours to do the initial designs, and then 6 months to make it.” (Ludwig, 2008)

In SL, there is a growing audience for movies, TV programs and music that are either produced in-world, or are broadcast in this virtual space. Some enjoy experiencing these mediated activities with their SL friends, partners, and colleagues. There is this sense of engagement with others and one’s avatar, as one watches her “virtual double” view in-world televised programs or movies. SL newspapers report on the art, music, and media entertainment. SL radio stations play the popular icons and newly rising stars on streamed stations that play in-world and on the Web. This discussion focuses on the rising women media owners, producers and writers – the content providers – who might offer a gendered slant to an issue or event. I begin by asking, who are the women of SL, and who are those women making media inside this virtual mediated tapestry.

Who are the Women of SL?

EPN, a non-profit foundation, released a report two years ago on the demographics of SL users, based on a survey of 246 residents in late 2006 (Reuters, 2006). Women tended to frequent SL more than men, and reportedly were better educated (“often at the university level”) than male members. As a qualifier, 10 percent of all members had experimented with gender, and that percentage increased to 16 for men. Second Life has been called an innovative space for the “creative vanguard” (Reuters, 2006). SL residents spending more than 30 hours weekly in-world tended to “belong to the creative or IT professions” (Reuters, 2006). Interestingly members who enjoyed “happiness” and “success” in RL were likely to experience the same satisfaction in SL; saying that, however, “a small group which feels less comfortable in the real world that has discovered fantastic social possibilities in Second Life [includes] retirees, the unemployed, housewives and ‘those who are ill or physically challenged’” (Reuters, 2006).

Mediated Discussion in Second Spaces: Athena

Given the demographics of SL users, it is not surprising that a number of women have found their way into virtual spaces as media writers and producers. Most women, however, appear to be involved in the print media, writing for the local virtual newspapers. The following entries take a look at broadcast programs airing on Second Life Cable Network (SLCN), coverage in Second Life newspapers, and content on SL Live Radio, as well as offer a context for their existence. For example, Cybergrrl Oh’s SLCN program Real Biz is a much larger project than merely the broadcast of a weekly program. It has grown into a community for its viewers.

Athena Isle: Cybergrrl Oh’s Real Biz Community

A significant amount of media content is devoted to gossip and entertainment in SL, but that is not always the case; one site offers a focus on non-profit groups and businesses within SL, and connects women professionally and personally to one another.
Consider the case of Athena Isle:

“Athena Isle is a Second Life community for writers, entrepreneurs, community builders, artists, women and moms. We hold weekly discussions with experts and authors and monthly gallery openings, parties and dances. We feature women's art in Athena Gallery and women's creations in Athena Wares.” (Cybergrrl, 2008)

This media group extends its reach to RL, with a blog outside of the virtual world connecting both realities. Even when you are not inside SL, you can catch the latest business buzz from Cybergrrl Oh, a self-described “seasoned business reporter in both her First Life and Second Life” (Cybergrrl, 2008): “I'm the host of REAL BIZ in SL. In real life, I'm a writer, blogger, and a freelance radio and TV producer. In Second Life, I can fly.”

Cybergrrl is producer and host of Real Biz on SLCN.TV. The live weekly program spotlights companies and non-profit organizations, with a screen hit of more than 10,000. One can view the show live on the Web on Mondays, 2PM PST (SLT). It is archived and available on both SLCN.TV and iTunes. A sample invite on the blog for example reads:

11/10/08 2 PM Screening on Athena Isle at Athena Isle
Stop by Athena Isle to attend a screening of Second Life Cable Network show REAL BIZ in SL live with guest Vivartia 7 Days Magic Bakery.

One gets a sense of the show’s content from its blog. Here are some photo excerpts on various 2008 shows, as promoted on the “Real Biz” blog, which is part of the larger Cybergrrl site of Athena Isle:More impressive is the fact that several other women have created a media collective on Athena Isle in SL: “Cybergrrl also co-owns Athena Isle with 7 other women. She manages Athena Isle HQ where she hosts weekly roundtable discussions with authors and experts on Tuesdays at 12pm SLT (PST). She also [interviews] book authors and writing and publishing experts for Story Mountain, a writers retreat on Athena Isle” (Cybergrrl, 2008).

Cybergrrl is targeted toward professional women, who might also be moms, but it has tapped into a connection beyond the professional to the personal. The team warmly welcomes all RL moms, inviting tips and advice to its blog readers and its isle visitors.

Amusing comments by Cybergrrl Oh include the following excerpt from her blog post:

“Yes, in real life, I have a very active (translation: exhausting) 16-month old baby girl. But in SL, I'm child-free and actually want to keep it that way!...So bottom line: I do not want a baby in SL. I don't even want my avatar to ever appear pregnant. Been there and done that in RL and not about to do it again - at least not yet… What motivates women
to make their avis pregnant anyway? They must not have kids in RL. Or they are those supermommies who love being mommies all the time and were basically put on this earth to be mothers. That, I hate to admit, is not me. Do I go to SL to escape my RL? Not really. The things I do in SL are extensions of what I do in RL, at least in terms of work. And the friendships I'm making in-world are as good, if not better, than the ones I make on Twitter and other online venues. So I'm not really looking for a life in SL that is wildly different from my own… Anyway - I've started a group for other women who are Moms in real life and using Second Life. Join: Moms in Second Life to find out more!”

One mom commented to the blog, actually questioning the use of Cybergrrl’s group tag for the new subgroup: “I’m a Mom and lovin’ it.” Here’s the post:

“I use SL as a diversion from my RL. Not an escape, but a diversion - I use it when I don't want to think for a little while about diapers, or naptimes, or signing up for preschools. And, to be honest, it's nice to be able to look thin and have my hair and makeup done in SL, because it so rarely happens in RL anymore…I just feel like if I advertise that I'm a mom, people are going to act differently toward me or form opinions from the outset. I simply don't want every conversation to start with, ‘Oh, so how old are your kids?’”

Regardless, Cybergrrl has made a connection to professional women, working women, and those moms who need diversion from real life. All gather for various reasons on the Isle, and follow along with the commentary on the various blogs that have sprung off from the main Cybergrrl blog. On Saturday afternoon, November 3, 2007, blog readers and SLers were invited in-world to meet Cybergrrl Oh (Aliza Sherman) who “has been helping empower moms, daughters and women entrepreneurs since the dawn of the Web.”

In March 2008, Cybergrrl Women’s Club hosted the “Passion Parties, Guide to Great Sex” for women and moms, inviting members to…

“Meet Pat Davis, CEO, Passion Parties and author of Passion Parties Guide to Great Sex. Then dance to the sexy tunes of JueL Resistance wearing your Sexiest Outfit to win prizes such as virtual sex toys from Stroker Serpentine! This promises to be a very stimulating event!” For the transcripts, click on

Athena Isle has gone through some transitions and development, one of which was a name change, having been formerly called the SL Women’s Club. Now the mom’s club and women’s club events are threaded together as part of Athena Isle. Past guest discussions have included:

03/25/08 MOMS CLUB presents Michelle Branco aka Mamandouce Darwin speaking about "Attachment Parenting in the Toddler Years."

04/08/08 WOMENS CLUB presents Diane K. Danielson, author of The Savvy Gal's Guide to Online Networking (or What Would Jane Austen Do?)

04/22/08 MOMS CLUB presents Sandra Gordon, co-author of Consumer Reports Best Baby Products talking about the best products for babies

05/06/08 WOMENS CLUB presents Elizabeth Kavaler, MD, author of A Seat on the Aisle, Please, to discuss common women's urinary tract issues that nobody talks about!

Perfect World Productions

Angie Mornington of Fabulous Fashion made her show debut October 13, 2008 on SLCN, the program now airing Mondays 6PM SLT. The show was created by Paisley Beebe, owner of Perfect World Productions. SLCN has served as a creative venue for women as guests and hosts, and often its content has focused on fashion, music and entertainment. Beebe is a real life singer, and brings her talent inside of SL, while also providing airtime to other performers. Moreover, she features various places and people in SL on her weekly show, Tonight Live. Her supporting blog links her RL and SL careers for her viewers. The show has been very popular, and has drawn a sizeable audience “more than 20,000 viewers” (Vanmoer, 2008) to her studios during taping. Like Cybergrrl, she has a My Space page, as her social networking platform. Her topics are varied, and run the gamut from informational to entertainment themes.

From her Web site []:

“Paisley Beebe is the alter ego on Second Life of Leonie Smith, an Australian Jazz Vocalist, and Radio Host. Leonie Smith has released 2 Albums “Sweet Jazz” and “Never The Less”. She is a professional Jazz Vocalist of over 15 years standing. Paisley Beebe is the CEO of the Film Production Company “Perfect World Productions” which produces ”Tonight Live with Paisley Beebe” and “Fabulous Fashion with Angie Mornington.” She is its host and it is Second Life’s® first Weekly TV Talk Show filmed live in front of a studio audience in Second Life every Sunday at 6pm slt.”

A review of Perfect World Productions’ crew, as listed on her blog, indicates that Beebe has involved women in the show’s production.

Women Contributors of SL Newspapers

Print news in SL has consisted of two primary papers: Second Life Herald began October 23, 2003 as a project of philosophy professor Peter Ludlow to engage in discussion on the social, political and economic aspects of virtual worlds. It has stirred up controversy at times in its raw coverage of the seedy sides of gaming and reports on Linden Lab’s policies and practices. SL- Newspaper is a recent competitor, with its 2-year anniversary week beginning November 16,, 2008. Other newspapers and magazines have surfaced, some having only short runs, since the Herald’s debut.

The Herald’s reporters have a creative mix of avatar names, and it is particularly difficult to sort out the number of females writing for this weekly press:

Herald Staff
Urizenus Sklar, Founder, Contributing Editor, First Pontiff
Walker Spaight, Editorial Director, Dean of the College of Cardinals
Pixeleen Mistral, Managing Editrix
Cardinal of the Metaverse Magisterium
Archdiocese Prokofy Neva
Staff Writer Monsignor Grand Inquisitor
Marilyn Murphy, Mother Superior
Pat the Rat, Evangelist

A more comprehensive look at the overall staff reveals that several women appear to be on the editorial staff; it is difficult to assess how many actually write and report for the paper. The content focuses on SL news and entertainment, leaning strongly toward the sensational and lauding a muckraking attitude. The news beat is set in a virtual environment; so what are the guidelines for a virtual newspaper? As for other newspapers, The AV star, a strong advocate for Linden Labs, has recently closed down, following SL Reuters News Service’s departure from Second Life. Adam Reuters was the primary SL reporter for the online news service that connected its viewers to its RL Web site. The Reuters news agency reported minimal traffic to its in-world site, as the reason for its pulling out of SL.

Coming into its second year is the SL-Newspaper; it can clearly boast of a mix of men and women on its staff, with a number of women reporters: Dana Vanmoer (fashion reporter), Connie McMahon (finance reporter), Firehouse Rearwind (fashion reporter and columnist), Alesia Shumann (business columnist; SL business owner; RL journalist), Gemma Cleanslate (reporter), Dashwood Dayafter (entertainment reporter, RL media personality), Delinda Dyrssen (freelance reporter), Breezes Babbii (columnist of Breezes Thoughts), Covadonga Writer (SLOOP columnist, RL writer/journalist), Penance Sautereau (reporter), and Song Bremer (reporter and columnist, The Audacious Explorer).

Seven males are on the editorial staff as well, in addition to the 11 females featured. SL-Newspaper covers SL business, art, fashion, music, and entertainment news, and keeps track of trends in SL. The newspaper is online, available both in SL and RL. Fashion magazines appear targeted to women, but I have not been able to ascertain the major publications and gender of the owners in this category. One magazine, Avenue, made its debut in SL on October 1, 2008, and promises to cover lifestyle and business issues in-world, while doing so with a keen appreciation of the importance of fashion, design, and architecture inside SL. One of its key photographers is a female avatar, but other than that position the gender of the staff is not evident. The magazine is an outgrowth of the Avenue model agency.

SL Live Radio (Radio Cher)

On any one night,
particularly weekends,
more than a dozen live musicians perform at various venues throughout SL. One radio station features live, often unheard outside of SL, music of these artists. Some are rising stars; some are seasoned professionals. But all offer a world of entertainment, from oldies to pop to alternative tunes, to virtual listeners.
SL provides its musicians an opportunity to try out new material, to reach new audiences with niche styles, and to test their talent on the virtual crowds that gather for many of these events.
In general, there appears just as many women musicians, as men, perform in this second space. SL Live Radio was designed to create a home for these SL artists. 24/7, SL Live Radio plays the music of SL artists exclusively, and the station is available freely as a URL on an avatar’s property or as a Web stream online in RL. The owner and programmer is Radio Cher (Cher Harrington), and she posts one of the most detailed SL live music event calendars on her Web site. Her site states that the station has 2,500 unique listeners per week, representing 60 countries. As of August 2008, 190 artists are represented on her station. The artists have agreed to share their music under the Creative Commons License. Cher, a dj for five years, and a former promotions director for radio, also runs another streamed station that airs soft rock.

Looking Toward the Future

Certain production areas, like machinima, have not attracted many women. Some major in-world companies include Ariella Languish that has produced a variety of features for SL that can be accessed on the Web []. The identity of the owner and creative crew is not revealed online. Perhaps some women are experimenting and their works have yet to surface to the Web or mainstream attention. Many women artists work on projects that stay hidden within educational sims, and some of their work never rises beyond the eyes and eyes of their local groups. Partly, this might be attributed to a lack of self promotion. A number of educators, like Angela Thomas, are involved in creative sophisticated builds, such as her virtual reenactments based on literature. She has been interviewed by Paisley Beebe. Thomas is a prominent RL lecturer, author, and conference speaker on virtual worlds.

Overall, women content providers appear to gravitate toward fashion and entertainment content, yet increasingly women appear interested in making media that addresses SL business and finance sectors, as well as ways to bring RL education into alternate worlds. Educators are experimenting with media technologies in Second Life, even if they have not readily done so in their real classrooms. In fact, women owners are major contributors to its virtual economy and education. SL runs on a virtual economy that can connect highly educated women with each other (in RL and SL) and mentor those females who would like an opportunity to have careers in SL (when it is not possible in RL due to family obligations or physical disabilities). Second Life allows women to fly beyond the glass ceiling of RL, and these moments are increasingly and dramatically captured by women making media in Second Life.

References and Web Sites

Ludwig, Fiend (2008, Nov. 6). “Something Wicked This Way Come.” Second Life Herald

Mistral, Pixeleen (2008, Nov. 1). “ The BILD’s AvaStar: Game Over.” Second Life Herald

Reuters, Adam. (2006, December 12). “Study on SL and the pursuit of happiness.” Reuters Online, Second Life.

Vanmoer, Dana. (2008, October 13). “Fabulous Fashion: New Show to Air on SLCN.”

Cybergrrl (2008) Blog sites:

Real Biz (2008) Blog sites:

SL Live Radio Station (2008)
Web site:

Angela Thomas (2008)
Web site: