Cross-posted at Restructure!
There is sexism in tech culture. However, I continue to love tech, because I think of the sexism as a separate, unnecessary appendage to pure tech. I cannot think of sexism as intrinsic to or inevitable in tech, because then I would be either self-hating, or I would have to give up my love for technology. Maybe my personal ontology is compartmentalized thinking in order to survive as a woman in tech, but I think it’s also true.
Some people argue that for tech to “attract” women, the culture needs to be broadened to include humanistic aspects. However, this proposal may derive from the implicit sexist assumption that men really are better at tech, and women really are better at the humanities.
Actually, what I hate most about tech news sites is that when I go there for technology news, there are off-topic comments about love and relationships. It’s typically men discussing being single; having trouble with women; being Nice GuysTM; giving advice about what women really want; talking about how women have it easier; bragging about how even their grandmother/mother/wife can use technology X; and other sexist generalizations about women. In other words, the idea that pure tech scares away women, that tech culture is currently free of human influence, is a product of male privilege and the inability to recognize that the state of being male is not the state of being neutral.
By pointing this out, of course, I too am talking about social issues surrounding tech instead of pure tech. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s just that I think of technology as fun, and I don’t want to be reminded about how I am oppressed 100% of the time, or whenever I try to immerse myself in geekery to escape from life’s troubles. I wish there was a general tech news site that is just about tech, not tech bundled with sexism. Hacker News is not this. Ars Technica is not this. Reddit subreddits are not this. Slashdot is not this. Digg is not this.
More women than men discuss sexism, and it is not because we find the topic more fun, entertaining, or enjoyable than men. It is because sexism gets in the way of our freedom. I blog about sexism in geek culture not because it’s my passion, but because it gets in the way of my passions. My struggle against my marginalization is not my hobby.
Whenever I see “Restructure!” at the head of a GF post, I am pretty sure that I will like that post. :) This post rang really true to me on multiple levels, even though I don’t seek out tech news in particular.
Definitely true of Wired, too, although that isn’t exactly the best place to go for pure tech news in the first place. I didn’t renew my subscription after I realized last year just how male-focused (and off-topic) they were. I really need to finish doing my stats on that.
I followed Wired via twitter for a while and the feed for one of their columnists is frequently off-topic. Not in a thought-provoking wonky sort of way, just a banal pandering to the masses. I think of Wired’s target audience like Hollywood, men from 15-45 years of age with disposable income. Male-centric but not tech-centric. And therefore not worth my time and attention.
The sexism in the comment threads at Slashdot is only one of the many reasons to avoid them. Every now & then I’ll read one of them, I’m reminded of why I stopped reading them in the first place.
I wish there was a general tech news site that is just about tech, not tech bundled with sexism.
Can we build it? I’m imagining a user-generated tech news feed in which all the posts are screened by a pool of “trusted” moderators. I can think of two major obstacles:
* Not enough users with enough time to generate enough content.
* Not enough moderators with enough time to screen enough content.
I still think there’s some hope, though, because the obstacles sort of cancel each other out. In the beginning, when there’s not much content being generated, it won’t take many moderator-hours to screen all the content. If the site manages to grow, and the flow of content increases, it might be possible to convince some regular contributers to become moderators.
If the obstacles above can be overcome, I’d imagine the biggest remaining problem would be trolls. If trolling is too heavy, malicious submissions and comments will vastly outnumber honest ones, and the moderators won’t be able to keep up. The site would essentially succumb to an unintentional (or intentional!) denial-of-service attack. I don’t have any idea how to defend against that, other than faith in the basic goodness of humanity. (Ha!)
I would love for someone to set up a site like this, and I wish I could pledge to submit to and/or moderate it. Unfortunately, I’m not terribly interested in or knowledgeable about tech… and I’m pretty stingy with my time as well. So I guess I’m quite a hypocrite! :)
I think crowdsourced tech news sites were invented, partly, to avoid that kind of manual work by site owners. Maybe a better system for keeping stuff on topic would be a word filter that filters out comments and news items with the words “women”, “girlfriend”, “mother”, etc.
That reminds me. (Sexist-quote warning for the rest of this comment.) I shouldn’t have looked at the comments of an article that was already off-topic, but this is an example of comments that are stylistically reasonable, but sexist and othering in content:
He even uses “we” to refer to men, and “they” to refer to women.
(BTW, there is a criticism of the study mentioned in that article.)
This comment reminds me of why I sought out a site like this. Not long ago I had a conversation at work with another male co-worker. We were gossiping about another of our co-workers as one does who we both consider very annoying, but then he suggested that her being a woman could explain why I had been more sympathetic to her before because women are innately better manipulators. (Which really doesn’t make a great deal of sense in the context of this person.) Hearing this sorta squicked me, and I followed up by describing “Dr.” John Gray’s extra-terrestrials theory of the sexes to confirm whether my buddy was just pulling my leg or if he actually believed that sort of BS. To my disappointment he assented that he did.
So I have direct evidence here that another geek of my generation is sexist, and I wonder how to I process this fact. Is it wise to continue to talk with him, to attempt to persuade him that his attitude is lazy, unjust and a handicap to any relationships he has with women? Or is better not to associate with him, to prefer time with guys who may genuinely appreciate women?
I think it depends on the individual person. I have had coworkers and friends that I think I could have this conversation with (much like we are having this conversation with you right now). And I have a brother who simply will not understand, and so I have had to minimize my association with him.
It’s one of those things that we learn about through trial and error. Give people a chance, or a few chances, and see how they respond.
I think this is a really interesting question: could you come up with a crowd-moderated system for a feminist blog? On the face of it, crowd-moderation would keep out obvious trolls but wouldn’t keep out sexism. But suppose you had a really clear commenting policy that outlined all the sexist behaviours that weren’t acceptable, and started out with a pool of trusted mods, and as the site got more traffic gave moderation priviledges to other users only after they submitted a comment that was ‘liked’ or ‘up-voted’ by mods, and only if they read the comment policy and promised to abide by it.
… whut? The comment you quoted doesn’t even begin to make sense. How is parallel processing less logical or mathematical than sequential processing?
When people know little about the topic at hand (sexism in tech or the association between functional programming and parallel processing), they just fall back on tropes. Would commenters pay attention to a note asking them to pretty please make sure they know what they’re talking about before commenting? On second thought, given that men tend to overestimate their expertise while women tend to underestimate theirs, that kind of notice might just make things worse.
Seems like all the comments here are some variant of ack, keep back the masses! Perhaps some kind of NPR style of user support scheme could make this work on a larger scale?
Many bloggers solve this issue by not allowing comments at all.
Sadly I think most blogs about feminism (and also racism and LGBT issues) do get more than the usual amount of trolls, haters, and off-topic posts, and so unfortunately ‘keeping back the masses’ is actually necessary to an extent – otherwise you would never get to have a decent conversation. The biggest feminist blogs (I’m thinking Feministing, Feministe, Shakesville) all have fairly restrictive comment policies and teams of moderators putting a lot of hours into comment moderation.
A counterexample that comes to mind: a while back Rape Crisis Scotland ran a very cool campaign raising awareness that no-one is responsible for rape, but they created a forum that was either not moderated at all, or very lightly moderated, and this forum was quickly filled up with comments saying that, actually, if a woman dresses a certain way or gets drunk or walks alone outside, then yes it is her fault that she got raped. (That forum is gone now afaict). So I do think a feminist site faces some particular challenges with regard to comment moderation beyond those that would be faced by, say, a tech site.
I remember that.
Just to be clear, they weren’t saying rape isn’t anyone’s fault, but that it’s not the victim’s fault based on what she chose to wear etc.
And yeah, the comments box immediately filled up with ‘that’s all very well and good in *theory*, but in *practice* but if she *chose* to wear a *really short skirt*…’ with no sense of irony whatsoever.
Re-reading my comment I realized I didn’t explain that the money from the user support scheme would be used to hire staff to moderate comments. That way the site wouldn’t have to rely on the free time of dedicated moderators. Unfortunatly, any website seeking to moderate comments for sexism needs a very solid plan to do so.
I agree with everything you see in this article. And while I can’t offer much in the way of help to build it, I can promise it would become my main tech site in short order, if only to not have to see ‘Put the iPhone down and make me a sandwich!’ again, ever.
Trigger warning: This comment paraphrases a sexist remark that some readers may find offensive or hurtful.
I’m a woman who doesn’t work in tech, but subscribe to this blog because (1) I am a geek in my own field and (2) I am a feminist. (And of course (3) because the quality of the writing and commenting on this blog is very high.)
I very much identified with the final paragraph of this post:
“More women than men discuss sexism, and it is not because we find the topic more fun, entertaining, or enjoyable than men. It is because sexism gets in the way of our freedom. I blog about sexism in geek culture not because it’s my passion, but because it gets in the way of my passions. My struggle against my marginalization is not my hobby.”
I spent a good chunk of time this weekend discussing and analyzing a sexist remark by a police officer in my city (during meeting on safety at a local university plagued by sexual assaults, the officer said that women would be less likely to be assaulted if they avoided dressing like sluts…a remark apparently made in good faith).
No, discussing sexism isn’t a hobby. It’s an unfortunate necessity, a tool for psychological and sometimes physical survival. It sure as h*ll isn’t fun.
It’s tricky. On one hand, I totally agree that many comments about relationships and women on tech-sites are not only offtopic (which I don’t consider so bad) but offtopic AND sexist. (which is bad!)
On the other hand, most sites about -anything- are *also* social arenas, that is, though they have a primary topic, which isn’t socializing, people *also* hang out there to be social. A site that strongly enforces no-offtopic-messages would to me be less pleasant than one that allows some chatter in the background.
It’s not specific to tech. It’s not as if golf, motorsport, knitting and cooking-communities are *without* elements of socializing in their online or offline meeting-places.
Most such communities consist of people with a common interest. It doesn’t follow that they want to talk *only* about the interest. People do play golf and talk about politics, or exchange knitting-recipees and discuss boyfriend-troubles, or discuss girlfriends and instruction-sets on the same forum.
I don’t think that, generally speaking is a bad thing – and I think if there was a “pure” tech-forum (or pure anything-forum) it wouldn’t be popular. (there are some that come close: I’ve seen very little off-topic content on StackExchange, for example)
A lack of acceptance for *sexist* and *racist* and *homophobic* threads would however be an *excellent* thing.
When Hacker News was a small community, it was awesome, because it wasn’t sexist. I said to myself that HN was different from other sites, because HN consisted of mature adults who were laser-focused on creating startups and startup survival. Unlike immature mostly-male geeks at other sites who were concerned about boys being better than girls, people who are serious about startups aren’t going to let (male) ego and gender stereotype maintenance get in the way of their economic success and survival.
Before I was a GF blogger, I prevented myself from mentioning HN on this blog and elsewhere, because I didn’t want it to become popular and have the quality go down. (There is nothing wrong with the GF community in particular, but I didn’t want to advertise it anywhere and have randoms come into “my” HN community.) Eventually, people found out about Hacker News, and now the sexism level is so high that I’m not reading it that much anymore.
I like StackExchange, and I hope it stays focused on code.
Anyway, it’s not just web sites like that. Even when I’m immersed in a pure coding session, I come across reminders that I’m a woman. For example, when I went through a CakePHP tutorial, at the very end of the tutorial, it said, “Creating applications this way will win you peace, honor, love, and money beyond even your wildest fantasies.”
I found this jarring, because it is not my experience that creating apps, or displaying intelligence in general, makes teh menz flock to me. I found this controversial, and I looked at the comments to see if other people took issue with it, and then I found out that it used to be even worse: “Creating applications this way will win you peace, honor, women, and money beyond even your wildest fantasies.”
I was just trying to learn CakePHP.
Yeah. Agreed. Stuff like that is so very *pointless* it’s entirely irrelevant to the issues at hand – and creates the strong implications that nobody whose romantic interest ain’t women could possibly be doing this. (and the added implication that women are prices to be awarded as prices for doing good things…)
On the positive side, if I understand you correctly – the comment was atleast updated to be non-sexist, thus atleast some of the contributors to CakePHP *do* see the issues, and work at getting them fixed. (though offcourse the fixer could be female)
But see, that’s the original point – it wasn’t updated to not be sexist. It was updated to not be glaringly sexist. (Which is almost harder to deal with in some ways. bc then even normal seeming people are more likely to call you crazy and delusional for pointing it out.)
As Restructure! pointed out when talking about the modified message, the entire idea that being good at technical things can win you love is very much rooted in the assumption that the reader is male as well as sexist ideas about who we choose for mates and why. No one tells women that having a good career will win them love – quite the opposite, in fact. The inclusion of that simple idea is yet another reminder that men are considered the default, especially in tech. Changing “women” to “love” makes it…better…but what it does NOT do is eliminate the sexism.
Thank you, jennygadget.
I dunno. I see a good-faith-effort to remove a sexist comment and replace it with a more neutral one. Offcourse it’s possible to interpret just about anything as sexist, but I think this is stretching it.
The claim that doing things “The Right Way” will give you “peace, honor, love, and money beyond even your wildest fantasies” is fairly obviously tongue-in-cheek: using CakePHP correctly doesn’t typically achieve any of these things, you cannot take the statement literally. Instead I read it as “good things will happen”.
And how exactly is promising “peace, honor, love and money beyond even your wildest fantasies” assuming that the reader is male, or who we choose for mates ?
I agree it was sexist in the original form, with “women” in there instead of “love”. But I think the change was a good-faith effort at fixing the sexism, and the result is ok.
It was already explained twice, so I doubt that explaining it a third time will make you understand.
Please read Derailing for Dummies again, because you are making a similar argument.
Oh, I should have replied to your earlier comment after all:
I’m not attacking open source, I’m attacking sexism, so I do not see why you feel the need to rush to defend whatever it is you are trying to defend.
(Further comments on this topic that sound like arguments from Derailing for Dummies, even if you are using different words to say the same thing, have a low probability of being published. However, if anyone wants to explain a third time why it’s sexist, they are welcome.)
I found it pretty jarring too, despite my possession of a Y chromosome. As much as I wanted it to happen, I haven’t been able to find love (or women) through technical programming expertise. I’m sure women look for lots of different things in men, but that has never been one of them in my experience. The original made more sense in its way, equating “women” to other stereotypical status symbols of the successful male.
Given that most geeks seem to find a lack of good news resources on the internet anyway, this idea seems like it might have a lot of potential. However to make is successful it seems very important to indeed keep the content and comments truly gender neutral.
Perhaps such a place could simply be an arrogate for news where the content is sifted and displayed free of discriminating content or comments.
This world is changing and despite of men, women are getting more important to the financial, productive and social activities, so we (women) are INTO everything now. A long time ago it was very “unnatural” to find a woman into a “man place” like medicine, ingenniering and of course tech. And it seems most men tend to have some problems to face changes. So some men could feel like they are getting less important and this could generate some self-estime issues and the consequence to feel a “natural” reject against women who like “men stuff”.
Of course none of this is a reason to accept this kind of behavior, i think it is time know to face the facts.
PD: of course not all men are like this, so i hope, this kind of reasonable and mature men (i have known some of them) are the ones to have the opportunity (and the courage) to spreed this kind of behavior
With the recent success of IBM’s Watson, perhaps over the next few years we might start getting better automatic moderation.
I have, in the past, participated fairly regularly in several “crowd-sourced” online communities. Some have paid moderators, some have volunteer moderators, and some are unmoderated. Some have policies that forbid trolling, and others only have policies that forbid certain types of language.
I spend virtually all of my online social time on a forum that has volunteer moderators and a policy that forbids trolling. Whether or not I *agree with* the other commenters, virtually all of the comments are *actually comments*, and not attempts to hurt/anger/inflame/derail someone.
Kirby Bits recently posted a thing of beauty on her wonderful feminist/tech blog “Here Is A Thing.”, an analysis of the comments to some recent posts she made about rape jokes and geek culture: http://kirbybits.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/here-is-a-project-troll-data-analysis/ Trigger warning: lots of triggers down that link, particularly about rape, trolls, dismissal of women in geek culture, etc.
Of many valuable things I found in that post, one of the big take-aways is a formalization of something I’ve felt for a long time: troll comments are *objectively distinct* from non-troll comments. There really is a difference, a measurable difference, between people who are trying to be flaming jerks, and people who are trying to communicate.
Reading this post, I found myself wondering how much of the problem is sexism in geek culture, and how much is that sexism is one of the preferred guises of trolling. I am certain there are elements of both. But I have a gut feeling (and am prepared to be shown that I am mistaken) that most of what makes geek sites unpleasant is trolling, not non-trolling sexism. And I think that the trolling is a lot more addressable than the non-trolling sexism, at lower cost, and with volunteer moderators (it’s certainly proven to be that way on my favorite online hangout).
Would there be interest in/value in a geek site that did not explicitly address or ban sexism as such, but that had a strict “no trolling” rule, enforced by volunteer moderators? Such a site would avoid the inevitable additional trolling inspired by advertising a site as sexism-free, and follows a demonstrably practical/effective model. As such, I think it might be a good starting point.
And, of course, in a troll-free environment, it’s a lot easier to point out, discuss, and resolve the unintentional and thoughtless sexism of a “Creating applications this way will win you peace, honor, women, and money beyond even your wildest fantasies.”
Disagree. I actually find so-called sexist non-trolling (even if unintenional) much more aggravating than simple trolling. Bonafide trolls you can just write off. But the on-purpose-not-on-purpose sexism of people who are supposed to be “your people” is disturbing. Even more so because they are just as unlikely as trolls are to “get” why they are offensive.
Yet the sexist quote I mentioned earlier is non-trolling sexism. They really aren’t trolling women, because they think that there aren’t any women reading the comment or in the community.
Have you thought of opening your own?