[Foundation-l] encouraging women's participation

Gregory Maxwell gmaxwell at gmail.com
Fri Jun 18 05:00:19 UTC 2010

On Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 11:08 PM, Ryan Kaldari <rkaldari at wikimedia.org> wrote:
> I don't think scapegoating Wikipedia's gender imbalances to biological
> differences is especially helpful. And the suggestion that it may not be
> possible to dumb-down Wikipedia enough to attract women is ridiculous
> (and offensive). Regardless of our genetic predispositions, there are
> very real cultural issues that frequently drive female contributors away
> from Wikimedia projects.


I believe your post was unnecessarily confrontational.  I would expect
you to call me out on that kind of thing, so I'm going to call you out
on it.

I generally succeed at being thick skinned— but this characterization
of my words is hurtful and the witch hunts that sometimes accompany
responses like yours are outright frightening.  I'm also concerned for
other contributors who aren't as online-tough as I am... I know people
who wouldn't touch a gender-issues thread with a 10ft poll because
they are sure that they'll be misunderstood and burned alive.

We can't improve diversity if we create the impression that anyone who
disagrees with the group or shares a contrary view is "the enemy" and
fair game for an attack.  We should welcome contrary views, even wrong
ones, and treat all speakers with patience, respect, and a
healthy-helping of assume-good-faith— even when, and especially when,
our first impression of their positions is that they are ones which
might be harmful to some group or another.

After all, by ferreting out a wrong position and building a good
counter argument in a respectful discussion between colleges we build
knowledge and skills that help us see and correct the same wrongness
everywhere.  But that can't happen if we use language to address wrong
positions that reflect negatively on the character of the speaker.

... and to get real change on these kinds of pervasive issues we need
the broadest input and the broadest buy in. This can't be achieved if
the topic is one which people feel is open only to people who know the
right things to say and the right ways to say them.

The characterization of my mainstreaming suggestion as "dumb-down
Wikipedia enough to attract women" is exceptionally uncharitable and
contributed significantly to my impression that you were trying to
make a target out of me.   Just so there is no lack of clarity on this
point, I'm opposed to "dumbing down" in general and the idea that
anything would need to be made _dumb_ to attract Women is completely
unsupported by any information that I've seen.  Making things more
attractive to typical people doesn't mean making them dumber.

... In this case I wasn't even disagreeing with anyone. I'd take your
complaint, if not the tone, as a deserved response if I'd dismissed
any examples similar to the ones you provided in your post... but I
simply didn't.  I fully agree that there are "real cultural issues",
and that they should be addressed. (Though I would point out, the
author of that first horrifying diff-link has long since left the
project, so I'm at a loss as to what action I could take now to deal
with that particular case).

Any time you can point to clear articulatable problems, I'm all for
taking action.   Once you've taken care of them, however, it's also
important the you keep in mind that some of the imbalances are caused
by external factors or indirect non-discriminatory internal ones. By
keeping all possible causes in mind, and by maintaining a friendly and
positive environment for collaboration, we have the greatest
opportunity to get the most benefit in the shortest amount of time.

I apologise for giving you— or anyone else— the impression that my
post was intended to reflect negatively on Women.  That was certainly
not my intention. In fact, what I was saying arguably the converse
(and I used a fairly derogatory language to characterize what
Wikipedia selection bias that I'd like to see us temper somewhat,
"uber-obsessive techobibilo walking-fact-machines", something which
sounds more like a side show exhibit than a human being).  I believe
Wikipedia's form and practices select for weirdos in many different
ways, — some weird in 'good ways', many of then negative weirdnesses,
(and, I'm sure many more neutral ones).

Some of those selections conspired against including Women (and people
of many other backgrounds), ... fewer conspire against selecting our
existing majority population, because our existing population has done
a good job of removing the things that irritate them.

...and it's worth bringing up because it can lead to interesting
suggestions,  like the idea that making Wikipedia less appealing to
weirdos can improve diversity in areas which are not obviously
strongly connected to the specific weirdness since selecting for
extremes magnifies even small differences between groups.

There are plenty of ways that Wikipedia participation rewards being
weird— such as having the patience to write a novel defending yourself
when someone tries to paint a target on your back... or just having
the interest in dealing with an obscure series of commands required to
make a wikitext table.  By making Wikipedia more mainstream in any
area which are not essential to our mission (for example, I wouldn't
suggest trying to 'mainstream' our attention to facts) we can expect
improvements in diversity (gender or otherwise).

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't worry about fixing the existence
of bigoted jerkwads on the projects, nor does the existence of
jerkwads justify ignoring all other contributing factors.


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