Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 23 Number 1 2006 pp. 87-128

Web Documents' Cultural Masculinity and Femininity

Zahedi, Fatemeh, Van Pelt, William V, and Srite, Mark

ABSTRACT: As online information dissemination and e-commerce transactions become globally popular, understanding the cultural aspects of Web site documents will gain critical importance. Hidden cultural dimensions could facilitate or inhibit the usability and communication effectiveness of Web sites. However, few studies have investigated the existence of cultural dimensions in Web sites. This study identifies cultural signifiers of Web documents as they relate to the masculinity-femininity dimension. We adopt an interpretive approach for investigating, identifying, and categorizing masculinity-femininity signifiers. Comparing and contrasting Web sites aimed predominantly at either men or women, we use grounded theory for constant comparison and categorization of data. The interpretive analysis is carried out within a framework of hermeneutics. Drawing from the literature of signs (semiology), we identify the signifiers and myths for the masculinity and femininity of Web documents, and report on the possible presence of masculine and feminine androgyny. Following the dictum of grounded theory, we present support for our results from theories and findings in diverse fields of study. We then report on the contributions of our research in three ways. First, the knowledge of cultural signifiers raises managers' and researchers' awareness of cultural contents of Web documents, and may lead to improvement in the clarity and communication effectiveness of Web documents..Second, our work brings forth contrasts and contradictions inherent in masculine and feminine modes of Web document development, raising questions about cultural messages within Web documents that could distort communication and promote cultural values not shared by members of the targeted community. Third, we introduce the concept of androgyny as playing a possible role in reducing such distortions.

Key words and phrases: activity theory, critical social theory, cultural dimensions, feminine lateral convergence, grounded theory, hermeneutics, knowledge interest, masculine upward divergence, myths, semiology