I have recently been considering the issue of gender as it affects a residents experience of Second Life. It could well be that the thoughts and conclusions I have arrived at have been thought of before or even superceded, but as far as i know they are original to me.
My consideration has led me to the belief that in terms of the depiction of gender in SL there are two functions performed by anatomical parts of the avatar. These are the sexuality component maleness and femaleness and the more identity-related femininity / womanliness and masculinity / manliness. While thinking up my theory, I mentally referred to this latter component as the 'Emblem'.
Both male and female initial avatars are devoid of any features in the crotch region other than a little pubic hair on the skin texture. This elimination of detail obviously greatly simplifies the addition of clothing layers for pants for both genders.
This presents no big problem for female residents in my theory since the vulva represents only the sexuality component of gender and the much more important identity component of gender is catered for by the female avatars breasts which are quite easily handled with clothing layers. Anyone who doubts the basis of this conjecture may care to reflect on women that they know / have known who have had health problems such as cervical cancer and those who have had breast cancer that might require mastectomy and recall which women were the more devastated and felt their identity more threatened.
Unfortunately for male residents the penis serves double-duty (yet again!) and represents both the sexuality and identity gender components and there is no alternative external physiology that can really substitute the masculine identity function so the intentional omission of a penis (etc) is at a probably sub-conscious level a source of distress for male residents. It’s not that we want to have it there all the time, but it never being there is just a constant ‘not quite right’ feeling.
I believe that this emasculation is probably the root cause for observed compensatory male avatar characteristics, unrealistic height, geeks with builds like Olympic athletes, strong "5 o'clock shadow" (since the avatar obviously shaves every morning). I am not in the least criticising any male avatars who evince any or all of these features, on the contrary, I understand completely. I think that this might even be behind some new male avatars eagerness to acquire the infamous ‘freenis’ with the justification of using it for sex, maybe it is really just an attempt to put something that they know is wrong to rights.
It's not even that any kind of 'funtionality' is necessary, but I can't help but wonder how many male residents have been lost due to the the choice of living a SL life with a neutered male identity or be thought of as a sex-fiend and get a penis
In closing, I would ask female residents who have female avatars to ask themselves: If the default female avatar was as flat as an ironing board, how long would it be (in minutes) before you went looking for boobs? ‘Frewbs’ anyone?
I welcome all comments and alternative viewpoints.