Women on the Internet

In the last few months I’ve seen more and more discussions about gender in “mainstream” internet places.

I write “mainstream” as my home turf in cyberspace has always been dominated by women.  To the extent that unless you deliberately point out that you’re male, everyone will assume you’re female or transgender. (When I found people discussing interesting things on usenet in the very early 90s, I assumed they were gay males. It took some of them talking about pregnancy induced sickness and posting ultrasound pictures of their womb for me to finally get it).

Sure, I’ve had my experiences with male-dominated parts of the net as well. Especially of the Linux-kind. Let’s just say eventually I found it less frustrating to live with the bugs I couldn’t fix on my own.

To this day I’m hesitant to read comments on tech-sites when they refer to crap caused by a woman. You can easily fill a bullshit-bingo card with the references on women and technology  / politics in general, the alleged cluelessness of the partners of the male posters in particular and why the world would be a better place in general, if only women didn’t go anywhere near technology. (Of course, if similar crap is of male production, it’s the person, not the gender that matters.)

So it was a pleasant surprise that Kirrily Robert’s OSCON keynote speech was widely linked to and discussed.

Some weeks earlier the outrage over overly sexist presentations that actually had been around for years, hit an all time high.

With the web turning 2.0, many of the traditionally “female” ways to use the internet eventually turned mainstream. Often, when mainstream then stumbled upon communities and technologies that had been around since the 90s, they assumed that they were new and just happily embraced by women on the net.

Sure, boys.

Many of the networks that originally are centered around female fan activities (“fandom”) started when there wasn’t even an internet to connect to. From letters and photocopiers and snail-mail mailinglists, they eventually moved to usenet, from there to mailinglists (yahoogroups), from there to LiveJournal (LJ) (a blogging community) and chances are that Google wave will become the next stop.

These networks since have spread, in number, size and topics. They still are dominated by women – who see their history and achievements once again played down by the “dominant” more male dominated culture.

Among the fairly recent mainstream projects on female net activism the Organization of Transformative Works (OTW) stands out with its host of mostly female-run projects like the academic Open Access journal Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC) .

At TWC, you can find academic articles  like the one on fannish video clips which already existed long before the advent of YouTube in the female realms of fandom. Coming from that background these clips still have more of a commentary function on subtext than to just provide visuals to popular music.  Still, mainstream net culture assumes that with YouTube and social media, women “finally” got interested in the internet.

This misconception on the side of the “mainstream male communities” might not be much of a problem, wouldn’t there be the assumption that women are new to the game and don’t know how to play it properly.

Women have run and sustained international internet communities (actually, on- and offline) for at least 20 years. Some contacts have been lost, others lost and found again. But those communities have been there all the time, productive networks that eventually spread to a wide range of topics with the professional success and life experience of the women involved.

It’s no coincidence, that when recently Amazon deleted the “1984” E-Books, the storm of protest broke loose on LJ. While the fan communities are on the move, most members still lurk in LJ and/or visit communities there.

Those communities brim with writers, designers, academics and women who are politically engaged. Women with RL jobs and credentials – communities with vast experience in dealing with big (and small) corporations and activists bending the laws.

20 years of experience with flame wars, internet drama and asshattery have left their traces. When these communities eventuallly use their networks to take a stance, chances are that they’ll succeed.


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