Consequences of this imbalance are apparent at Wikipedia, where it may lead to disproportionate coverage, such as the under—representation of women on its front page, or their overrepresentation among missing biographies RMJ, ; Reagle, ; Headbomb, ; Lam, et al. Beyond the issues of participation and representation, gender imbalance may affect knowledge production itself. Sandra Ordonez , former communications manager at the Wikimedia Foundation, also touched on this when she argued that women should be encouraged to participate at Wikipedia so as to improve the quality of information and strengthen the community.
In sum, there is evidence that social context affects female participation and that content and collaboration can be enhanced by more balanced participation. My argument is based upon a naturalistic inquiry Lincoln and Guba, ; Thomas and Jones, into gender and sexism in the free culture movement since Hence, as a researcher, user, and peripheral participant of Linux, Ubuntu, Debian, KDE, Python, Web development, and Wikipedia, I collected every instance I encountered of public discourse about gender and sexism in these communities.
Sources for these discourses include specific community related e—mail lists and Web sites e. The arrival of the Geek Feminism blog in , further identified it as a community related to FLOSS, hacker culture, and wikis in which gender and sexism was salient. Drafts of this analysis were shared with members of the community for corrections and feedback.
Despite the values of freedom and openness, the free culture movement exhibits the same or worse imbalance in female participation as the computing culture from which it arose. That is, the geek stereotype and discursive style can be unappealing, open communities are especially susceptible to difficult people, and the ideas of freedom and openness can be used to dismiss concerns and rationalize the gender gap as a matter of preference and choice. Yet, another member of the AI Lab found this to be disturbing.
After sleeping on a cot near the computer, they return to their consoles. Beyond a passionate intensity for computers and unkempt appearance, geeks are sometimes known for a rigid and argumentative discursive style.
For instance, Stallman is also known as an ideologically passionate and consistent advocate who sometimes puts people off. Nerd and geek identity have historically been understood as being both white and masculine [ Eglashrs; Nakamurarci]. Behavioral traits associated with this identity are similarly, traditionally, circumscribed. And not only women felt this way. While 69 percent of the female students reported feeling different from the majority obsessed with computers, 32 percent of male students felt the same.
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While some of the exaggerated depictions are likely ironic, it also signifies a masculine—only space e. Consequently, scholars and community members wrestle with the question of what does it mean to be a geek and female? In linguist Mary Bucholtz coined the term geek feminism to identify a perspective that acknowledges the concerns of feminism while preserving a commitment to geek identity. Here, and elsewhere in the community, people are co—opting or countering stereotypes and articulating and claiming a female geek identity.
Unfortunately, about a year later Sierra was subsequently the target of virulent gender—based harassment. Steampunk is a fantasy genre set in the nineteenth century that is characterized by steam power and clock works. However, the history of associating geekdom as a male space and its defining enthusiasm has implications beyond identity. Some typically masculine styles of discourse and an intense focus may obscure broader human interests and interaction.
While the option to use a pseudonym is appreciated by some women, it typically does little to change the power dynamics or styles of discussion Selfe and Meyer, These issues of focus, passion and typically masculine disursive style are also germane to the free culture context.
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Similarly, much of the discussion about the study reporting on the gender gap at Wikipedia i. On this point, participants often stress that virtues like friendliness and patience are useful for everyone in that it is less likely to alienate some, and otherwise makes the environment more productive. Yet, obviously, there are challenges to realizing this insight in the context of an open community.
At first, the claim that community openness can contribute to a gender gap seems nonsensical as there are no formal restrictions on participation. However, as Freeman argued, implicit structures and dynamics still exist in the absence of formal ones. For example, a computer science department may not have an exclusionary policy towards female students, but privileging a narrow and obsessive focus might miss female candidates.
Similarly, while some might argue any effort to block problematic users is a step away from openness, a chaotic culture of undisciplined vandals would equally disenfranchise those who wish to make a positive contribution [ 12 ]. Hence, following Freeman, one might distinguish between formal and informal forms of discrimination.
While an open community does not formally discriminate, alienating behavior can still manifest from difficult people and sexist behavior.
And while bad apples and poisonous people might at least be well intended, open communities are especially susceptible to trolls. What can a community do in response? And while this dynamic of the bad apple is true regardless of the form of antisocial behavior, such behavior often seemingly inevitably takes a sexist tone. Women report receiving unwanted attention as sexual or mother—like beings [ 14 ]. In a female Wikipedian was interviewed about her online experiences. It has happened a lot.
Some of these comments were, no doubt, anonymous. Online anonymity is an enduring practice; it can be positive in allowing those who are otherwise silent to speak, but negative in inhibiting civility and good sense Nunamaker, et al. Anonymity, then, is a mixed bag, but it seems particularly salient in the context of sexism, as can be seen in an incident in the Ubuntu community. Ubuntu is a free software distribution named for the African ethic of interdependence. The incident began with a joke to an e—mail list that implied women were inscrutable because God could more easily build a road to Hawaii than give a man the power to comprehend women.
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The challenges of stereotypical geek identities and the dynamics of open content communities are exacerbated in the context of the free culture ideology. An anarchistic—libertarian ethic permits speech which can be alienating to many, especially women.
Furthermore, this ideology can be used to dismiss concerns since the communities are claimed to be open and free. Sixteen years ago scholar Bryan Pfaffenberger considered how the culture of radical free speech developed on the Usenet, an early massive collection of discussion groups. This personal-freedom ethic is not only intact in the free culture movement, the movement is now its most vital and popular manifestation. Eric Raymond, famous for a number of technical and cultural contributions e.
Yet, the anarchic—libertarian ethic requires a significant tolerance for adversariality that may be alienating to some participants. Such participants may actually feel freer to participate under a more structured form of community governance, including community leadership or conduct guidelines.
And a preference for a friendly and civil environment is not limited to women. Additionally, the libertarian—anarchic ethic is susceptible to hypocrisy and sexism. By sexism I mean an attitude of inherent superiority and exclusive privilege towards one gender, perhaps with demeaning or derogatory displays towards the other. Such reactionary responses also occur in the free culture movement.
Matt Zimmerman , an Ubuntu contributor, noted that raising the issue of sexism frequently leads to a sexist backlash. While I believe what was reported about these incidents, there was much debate about what was said and I was not able to verify recordings. The belief that openness and freedom necessarily rule out discriminatory behavior may be a consequence of androcentrism in the free culture movement.
By androcentrism I mean an assumption that the male perspective is the natural one. This can manifest in assumptions that a predominantly male space is accidentally so i. In their study, Nafus, et al. Furthermore, the presumption of equality, meritocracy, and freedom are especially salient in the free culture movement wherein the identification or protest of bias is sometimes responded to with claims of gender blindness resulting from a supposed meritocracy or from anonymous participation and non—discrimination since these communities are open and free.
However, as discussed, anonymity does not preclude gendered or sexist behavior. For example, John J. This sentiment is not limited to political commentators as it can be found in FLOSS communities themselves. However, if this sentiment was ever true, it no longer seems so in the twenty—first century. Within the free culture movement each is relatively progressive: Wikipedia has numerous good—faith norms and Ubuntu has a code of conduct; both communities have fora and activities for discussing concerns and furthering diverse participation.
Yet some argue that to focus on gender is beside the point. Kat Walsh, longtime Wikipedian and Wikimedia Foundation board member, wrote that we should be careful of generalizations and instead focus on behavior and culture:.