Responses to “Free as in Sexist?”

It’s always gratifying when people read something I’ve written and point out shortcomings or issues that could be further explored. (This is far superior to not being read at all – and even receiving empty platitudes.) I also wish I could amend a publication with links to those responses and the resulting conversation. Since I can’t do that, I do want to recommend the following.

Sky Croeser points out that I conflate anarchism and libertarianism when I speak of a free speech ethic that favors potentially alienating speech over inclusive participation. I agree they are not the same. Her description of the difference is an excellent gloss of my own movement from identifying as a libertarian in my teens to an anarchist in my twenties.

Libertarians tends to privilege an extreme individualism, failing to acknowledge the role of structural oppression in creating inequality, and seeking to diminish (or extinguish) the role of the state in favour of more freedom for the market. Anarchists, on the other hand, tend to place individual freedom within the context of community, acknowledging the role of structural oppression, and critiquing both the state and the market as systems for allocating resources.

My intention was not to say they are the same, but to build upon earlier scholars who note a particular speech ethic that exists within both constituent strands of Net culture and the effect that ethic can have on participation. Indeed, as I note in the paper, it is kind of crazy to place the political ideologies of Richard Stallman and Eric Raymond alongside one another. But I think you can when you ask if their conceptions of “freedom” act similarly with respect to permitting alienating speech, or, at the least, in not recognizing this possibility. That said, I’d love to see a comparative analysis of the political philosophies of Richard Stallman, Eric Raymond, Bruce Perens, Mitch Kapor, Esther Dyson, and Jimmy Wales. (Following Fred Turner’s studies of counterculture to cyberculture, I think there is an interesting east vs west coast divide.)

I also agree with Croeser that I pass lightly over possible remedies to the problems I identify. This is a limitation of space and focus for any given piece. For instance, in discussing online communities I – and others – frequently make use of Jo Freeman’s seminal The Tyranny of Structureless. However, the latter part of her essay on “principles of democratic structuring” has largely been ignored in the online context and much more can, and should, be said. For myself, I do plan to focus more on “geek feminism” interventions in future work.

Over at Geek Feminism Tim Chevalier has posted a thoughtful reflection. A hesitation I even have in discussion the “gender gap” is the implication of a binary, essentialist gender. Again, for reasons of space and focus, I removed my discussion of this, but I greatly appreciate and recommend Tim’s perspective.

Then I try to imagine what it would be like for me if on top of all of this, I felt like I had to conform to a vaguely woman-ish gender role. I didn’t know I wasn’t female until I was 18, and didn’t know I was male until I was 26, but I never felt much pressure to be what girls or women were supposed to be. On the other hand, if I was a cis woman, or even more so, if I was a trans woman (since trans women get expected to conform to gender stereotypes for women even more so than cis women are when their trans status is known), working in the industry I work in, I would have an almost impossible set of constraints to solve. As Reagle shows, success and status in open-source (and even in non-technical “free culture” communities like Wikipedia editing) are correlated with adopting a (superficially) overconfident, aggressive, argumentative persona. Women get to choose between being socially stigmatized for violating gender norms, or being ignored or mocked for violating open-source cultural norms. It’s a double bind.

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