[iDC] Where have all the women gone?

Gere, Charlie c.gere at lancaster.ac.uk
Wed Jul 12 09:07:49 EDT 2006

Laura's post was an excellent reminder that participating in remote
kinds of interaction such lists still takes place in an embodied and
located context, which is likely to be different for different
participants. Furthermore the list itself as a form embodies often
hard-to-discern structures of power. I wonder if the 'color and gender
blindness' that supposedly operates in such contexts, rather than being
a solution to the question of gender in relation to participation,
actually tends to conceal it and make it worse. 

It might be instructive to compare participation in a list with that of
taking part in a conference. On the one hand conferences can tend to be
dominated by the loudest or most persistent delegates, which often means
men (and as a large and loud man I know I can be guilty of this). On the
other hand physical proximity can make these kinds of behaviour visible
and susceptible to being dealt with. For example a good moderator or
chair can notice that one person is speaking more than might be fair and
that someone else might want to speak but is not putting themselves
forward with sufficient force, and bring them into the conversation. 

I also wonder if lists, with their minimal rules and encouragement of
free debate, might suffer from what feminist theorist Jo Freeman called
the 'Tyranny of Structurelessness' in her 1970 pamphlet of the same name
<http://struggle.ws/pdfs/tyranny.pdf>. Her point was that in the absence
of an explicit and acknowledged structure, power will naturally devolve
to those friendship groups and elites that can mobilise themselves most
effectively. I felt that this was what happened during the organisation
of the recent node.l eventin London, which was modelled on FLOSS
principles (and thanks to Richard Barbrook for bringing the Freeman
essay to my attention).

Lists embody a powerfully utopian and redemptive notion of a free
community of equals, able to communicate without prejudice. But I wonder
if what is apparently their greatest strength, their freedom from the
restrictive and structured contexts of the material and institutional
world, is also their greatest weakness, in that it prevents them being
responsive to the limitations and problems of that material world.

As a teacher I am able to recognise and respond to the fact that someone
is not actively participating in discussion to the same degree as
others, maybe because they don't wish to, or because they are
intimidated by the nature of the discussion, or maybe they are not
native English speakers, or because, as in a couple of cases here at
Lancaster, they are severely disabled

Charlie Gere 
Reader in New Media Research
Director of Research
Institute for Cultural Research 
Lancaster University Lancaster LA1 4YL UK
Tel: +44 (0) 1524 594446
E-mail: c.gere at lancaster.ac.uk

-----Original Message-----
From: idc-bounces at bbs.thing.net [mailto:idc-bounces at bbs.thing.net] On
Behalf Of Hughie
Sent: 12 July 2006 03:39
To: ellis.godard at csun.edu; idc at bbs.thing.net
Subject: Re: [iDC] Where have all the women gone?

Is posting the only ?best? form of "participation"??

Why the assumption that making noise on-list is the only thing a list
can "contribute"?   Whatever happened to the power behind the throne??


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ellis Godard" <ellis.godard at csun.edu>
To: <trebor at thing.net>; "'IDC list'" <idc at bbs.thing.net>
Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 10:52 AM
Subject: RE: [iDC] Where have all the women gone?

Trebor asked:
> Women and men are fairly evenly subscribed here
> but it is clear that men post more often than women. How can
> we entice continued, and more extensive participation?

I'm asking these, not arguing them, and only raise them because it was
suggested by an implicit assumption in your question, but...

If women post/participate less often than men, why would you want to
them to participate more extensively? Do you want women to behave like
Do they need to? Want to? Multiple voices might benefit the group, but
extensive participation necessarily benefit the participators?

If someone is socialized to participate less, and/or is within a social
technological environment that discourages their participation, are
concommittant strengths and strategies that person has that equips them
effective communication (or communication effective to their needs,
expectations, contributions, etc.) through less communication, and/or
resistance or weaknesses that make more extensive communication? Is
artificial enticement to women (or any peripheral group) to participate
necessarily to their individual advantage?


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