Women and online/tech communities

Two bloggers I read regularly (Patrick and Darren) pointed to two interesting blog post/article about women, technology and online communities. They are both written by women and represent two different point of views. I found myself agreeing with both of them at different times.

1. Let’s All Evolve Past This: The Barriers Women Face in Tech Communities, by Gloria JW.

Destructive criticism is the best way to keep a site predominantly male. It implies that there is no concern about whether a person can learn from a response or not, or whether they would find offense. It is an outward display of ego, a territorial “pissing rite” in which most women do not and will not participate.

That being said, there are many men who flock to women-only groups for the same reasons as women. They do not want to be subjected to the predominantly male style of communication where there is no sense of community, or even just simple accountability. They grow tired of the “pissing rite”, the absurd declarations of false boundaries, the outward display of insecurity through harsh criticism, implicit claims of “my way, my expertise, my right, never yours”, and poor display of ego. This mode of communication is an unproductive waste of time, and many men realize this as well.

2. The insidious danger of danger, by Tara Hunt.

I’ve received endless emails from women who mention the incident (re: Kathy Sierra), telling me that they are ‘more careful’ of how much they participate in online discussions. They blog less. They make their twitter’s private, their flickr photos ‘friends only’ and they limit their openness in the variety of social networks out there.

And then we wonder where the women are?

Man, it sounds as if they are cowering in the shadows of the most empowering medium I’ve ever encountered! But where do you think those “invincible young guys” get all of their attention? Cowering? Hiding? No. Blogging. Forums. Being open. Out there. In their posted work on the social networks.

By Martine

Screenwriter / scénariste-conceptrice


  1. What is this nonsense about « male » forms of expression being outwardly expressed, over-confident and egotistical. It implies that a woman is acting « masculine » if she expresses herself this way. That’s the kind of bullshit which only supports the sexist myth that women are naturally diplomatic and altruistic morally superior martyrs. She then says « most women do not and will not participate » in territorial « pissing rite » type discussions but women do participate fully, it’s just done in a stealthier and more politically adept fashion. Personally, I prefer honest and direct insult to the subtle back room slander of a « polite » community participant.

    I agree only with the second quote. Women are now cowering in dark blog corners, even women like me. We’ve been given little choice. If we’re bold and overt women attack us for it (and label us « masculine ») then men attack us under the pretext of defending the women we’ve allegedly attacked, or re-attacked as we dared to defend ourselves. They label us « masculine » too and imply that we are woman-hating deviants within our own gender. There’s no winning. It’s primal tribalism and women who don’t play by established social/gender rules are still getting burned at the stake at every turn.

  2. Actually I’d say the « pissing rite » is not a masculine thing per se (or if it is, I prefer it slightly to its cliché feminine manipulation/martyrdom equivalent). And I don’t know about « most women », having never been « most women », but I know *I* do not and will not participate in that kind of « discussion ».

    I’d rather have insult than hypocrisy, but I’d much rather have neither. I’d rather interact with people trying to make me understand their point of view (granted that if our views are opposite, we will never see eye to eye on these issues! doesn’t mean we can’t learn things from one another — I like to understand how people’s minds work, why they behave and think the way they do, since it’s such a mystery to me, even if I don’t come to their conclusions or end up finding their entire belief system somehow « wrong »), trying to teach me something I am lacking (and vice versa, in all receptiveness) than even think about dealing with « the absurd declarations of false boundaries, the outward display of insecurity through harsh criticism, implicit claims of “my way, my expertise, my right, never yours”, and poor display of ego ». I guess the « problem » is how few people, men or women, are willing to let their social boundaries down and simply listen and speak their truth. I’m not all Christian with the « do not judge, blabla », but I do think a lot of people, myself included, can be dead wrong about many things and can turn around if they’re just willing to learn (and admit the possibility that they could potentially be wrong! Ouch!). Sometimes it helps to meet somebody willing to explain as well, rather than build a wall and say « pfff, you’re so stupid… »

    When someone slams me down just because they can and they feel like it (or they happen to disagree and it’s easier to attack me than disprove my claim), I don’t know how to react and don’t really want to. I figure it’s pretty clear that person is behaving like an idiot. And if others don’t see it, well, perhaps the shoe fits them too. I find the pissing rites useless and dumb. Pathetic, really. I’d rather let it seem like they « won » and know for myself how dumb they were than play on their field.

    I’m just not very confrontational, and don’t really enjoy people who are. I’m able to discuss without slipping into a fight (but then I sometimes later find that our calm discussion has been taken as an ATTACK by the other person, go figure!).

    I’ve never cared about gender rules (it’s like I missed many many classes at the « being a girl » school: nobody told me about it!), never applied them to myself much (those I did, I got over!). If anything, I’m a non stereotypical woman who only/mostly gets along with non stereotypical men (same for women, only I find fewer with whom I can get along genuinely for long and who don’t end up screwing me royally!). So this whole « community » concept, be it tech related or not, is in and of itself not something I’m likely to be comfortable in. Other people’s rules, consensus, compromises… all required in a community, and I’m allergic to them. These days I’m finding that I can get something from communities and give back without being fully involved and without checking my soul at anybody’s door – I’m not leading every woman’s life, just my own, and this suits it wonderfully.

  3. Thanks to both of you for sharing your thoughts on this. (God, I sound like such a girl. ;-)

    It’s hard to touch this subject without making generalizations, and generalizations don’t take us very far, it’s true. The first woman was speaking from a very particular perspective (a « techie » woman who often works in predominantly male areas) and she seems to have found a more supportive environment in women only groups. I’m not so keen on the concept, personally, but I can very much see why it works for a lot of women.

    Humans are quite flawed as a specie, whatever the gender… That why I like cats a lot. ;-)

  4. See, we’re cootie girls. No one’s gonna touch this comment thread now. H and I could settle down and live here now… hang curtains, build a bread oven. :)

  5. What’s « cootie girls »?

    I love the idea of starting a female commune right here, right now, in this comment thread. I’m going to try to do the ni vu ni connu logo in macramé while you make pillows out of cat hair (from shedding, of course).

  6. Actually, Rachel… the plan goes as follows: if childless by 40, buy old house with all-around balcony (it’s important) and sit on a rocking chair all day on the balcony, surrounded by hundreds of cats. Then should a man or boy approach, carefully lower rifle and shoot salt. Repeat. There’s also random yelling of profanities included. Nobody takes this plan as seriously as I do. Which is fine, because then when they are incredulous I can shoot them from up close. Salt, of course. I hear it burns something bad:-)

  7. Oh cootie girls are just girls like us, who are weird and expressive, so we have cooties. No one wants to catch cooties so we make a leper colony of most comment threads. We’re da comment thread killas. We be squatting now. :)

    I love macramé! Already determined to remain childless, I have a similar plan which involves drinking vodka out of a chipped teacup while I lounge around all day in vintage lingerie and way too much make-up. There’s also something about riding a horse around town while completely naked and covered in nothing but my own long white hair.

  8. Oooh… I like! Just let me know when Rory moves out, I’ll fill his spot! (we can add the balcony later – or perhaps he could build it before leaving?) I like vodka, but could we get some tequila and scotch too? (Proud lush here, but we’ll just say it improves my aim!) Oooh, and moonshine! I’ll leave the make-up to you… but can I help in applying too much?

    Also… I think the leper colony next door moved because it wanted to be further away from me :-(

    Sorry Martine: you’ve been cootified! :-)

    To go back to the topic… Y’know why I feel uncomfortable in a pissing contest? (I’ve been thinking…) Because I actually like to think about things before I blurt them out. And think and weigh and think again. People who get opinions on the spur of the moment and are prepared to fight to defend them when they’re still wet… frighten me. (People who never change their mind also frighten me. In fact a lot of people frighten me. I don’t hide from them, though. I listen. And make up my own mind and do my own thing. They think they’re winning and they’ll think they’re winning… until they feel the burn of salt! ;-) See, if I think white and someone says black, I’ll take the time to wonder how they could possibly believe black, evaluate it for myself, dig, dig, dig. After that, I may say grey or I may still say white, but I need that time, that research and thought. And arguing my point without knowing everything from a to z seems stupid to me (though so many can fake it), possibly because I’m pathologically honest and am likely to start a point by saying « well I don’t know everything, but… », which is a sure way to lose the pissing olympics.

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