[Foundation-l] encouraging women's participation

Risker risker.wp at gmail.com
Fri Jun 18 08:18:09 UTC 2010

I've been following this thread and it occurred to me that Phoebe is the
lone woman posting to it, so I feel somewhat duty-bound to share my own
perspective as a woman editor on English Wikipedia. I don't intend this to
encapsulate everything that there is to be said on the subject, and it's a
topic I could probably write forever on, so I will only share a few of my

At the time I joined the project, many female administrators and editors
were experiencing serious harassment, both on- and off-wiki;while I won't
say that scared me away from Wikipedia, it was part of my motivation to
select a gender-neutral username and to not openly disclose that I am a
woman until a considerable time after I first logged in. (I think most
members of the community only discovered I was a woman during my Request for
Adminship, and I am still referred to as "he" on a regular basis.) Once my
"femaleness" was publicly known, I found there was a definite change in the
way that some (but not most) male editors and administrators interacted with
me. There's even a comment on my RfA by someone who apologised for teasing
me because he didn't realise I was a "lady".

At the same time, because so few women are participating in the various
projects, those of us who are visible are often asked to take on additional
roles over and above that of editor/administrator. This is both good and
bad. In my current role as an arbitrator on my home project, I rarely have
the time to do the work that originally brought me to Wikipedia, and I miss
being able to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon hitting "random page" and
wikignoming my way through a few dozen articles, or clearing out the "speedy
deletion" pages.  On the other hand, I know I probably have a
disproportionate influence on various policies and practices, and I hope
that my visibility encourages other women to step into leadership roles or
even, for that matter, to feel comfortable in self-identifying as female.

Reading through this thread, I understand Ryan's interpretation of Greg's
post and, to be honest, my own interpretation might well have been somewhat
similar....if I didn't know Greg. I've met Greg and spoken to him. Just the
other night, Greg and I spent the better part of an hour hammering out a
step-by-step guide for one aspect of the pending changes variation that is
currently undergoing trial on English Wikipedia, and I know beyond doubt
that our ability to work together wasn't affected in any way by the fact
he's a "he" and I'm a "she".  I don't think it's particularly healthy to
expect everyone to write in a way that causes no offense to anyone, but I
think we all need to be cognizant that *anything* we say can be misread with
best intentions.

Eugene hits on an important point: the unintentional seepage of the locker
room, which to me includes the use of aggressive language, into various
communication channels. I moderate several other mailing lists, and from
time to time I've had to step in and point it out fairly bluntly ("there's
too much testosterone in this thread"); to be honest, I think this mailing
list could use someone saying that a little more often. I can't be bothered
investing my valuable time into reading a lot of chest-thumping and
finger-pointing, so worthwhile points made in those posts aren't hitting
their target.  It's my observation that women participants are less willing
to invest their time and energy into the endless and circular debates that
masquerade as consensus-seeking discussions, and they just move on to
something they feel is of greater value. (Many male participants also do the
same thing, I should note.) For those who are aware of the endless
behavioural debates on various projects, I need to point out that this isn't
about civility. I've noticed that experienced wikimedians are very talented
at throwing insults at each other without once crossing the civility

As I say, these are just a few of my own observations. They've all affected
my own participation in the project, and I know they have, to varying
degrees, affected the way that other women participate in various projects.
I don't know whether there's anything that could change most of them,


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