Open Codex HISTORICAL entry

2012 Jun 06 | Female Internet pioneers: A history yet to be done

Legal scholars have a saying that hard cases (i.e., unusual/confused) make bad law (i.e., legal decisions). The recent lead in a story about sexual harassment in IT venture capital is probably a poor case for me to write something sensible. But the claim that “men invented the Internet” prompted an interesting discussion on the AIR list that is worth pointing out. Among the many excellent posts:

  1. Deen Freelon notes the lead really has nothing to do with the story.
  2. Burcu Bakioglu, Charlie Breindahl, Jeremy Hunsinger and Meelis Ojasild note the idea of invention is a simplification of complex and interrelated events.
  3. Steven Lovaas notes “the” Internet is actually a network of networks.
  4. Tara Conley notes a number of (now) famous women who contributed to information technology.

While these are valid and interesting points, I confess I find them unsatisfying. If we stick with the commonsensical understanding of the lead, without recourse to unpacking “invention,” expanding what we mean by the Internet, or invoking Grace Hopper and Ada Lovelace, what can we conclude? What if we purposefully looked for women pioneers of the Internet and found that only 10%, or 1%, or even 0% of them are women? I would claim this is more a reflection of society than the worth of women. (Though, I admit, this is not the inference most people draw, and is not as potent tactically in mainstream discourse.) In any case, who were some of the notable female contributors to the Internet?

Virginia Strazisar

Sadly, around 10% is a common figure when it comes to women in some IT-related endeavors. (Of the 9 women listed, 56% (5/9) have Wikipedia pages atleast!) In any case, unfortunately, the contributions, perspectives, and history of these women have simply not been captured yet – to the best of my knowledge of course.

Posted by Valerie Aurora at Thu Jun 7 12:35:54 2012
What this story meant to me was that the suppression of women in science by ignoring their contributions is alive and well, even in a article that appears to be taking a pro-woman stance.  The actual percentage is not particularly meaningful, it's the fact that the percentage is non-zero but people present it as zero, thereby making women's contributions invisible.  Ignoring women's contributions is a great way to discourage women's participation, as I'm sure you know.

Obviously, one way to improve the participation of women in science is to document women's contributions to science on Wikipedia.  Your list is a helpful step towards that goal.

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Thu Jun 7 17:11:36 2012
Thanks for the comment Valerie. I added these names at WikiProject_Feminism as well.

Open Communities, Media, Source, and Standards

by Joseph Reagle