Gendered Spaces

The announcement of a “WikiChix” list for female only discussion has prompted a huge thread on WikiEN-l. As previously seen in discussion about an administrator only IRC channel or email list, proposals for separate spaces are particular troubling to communities with liberal egalitarian ideals. Formally excluding anyone from the larger community prompts questions of: is this fair?, is this discriminatory?, shouldn’t we ensure the common space is accessible rather than spinning off groups? Of course, the free speech ideals of the community would not permit the restriction of speech in the common space in any case and there will always those that would want to test any boundaries. (I’m fond of the norm of Do not disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point for this reason.) In my response to the thread I wrote:

… In my informal observation of similar communities, I haven’t perceived a decrease in female presence after the provisioning of a female space. A counter hypothesis is that: women who have a more supportive space to fall back upon will become more comfortable in speaking in the common spaces.

In any case, the presumption of equality and the objection to separate spaces – as this thread evidences – is quite interesting, and happens again, and again, and again! :) Wilson (2003) notes such discussions orbit a *presumption* of equality.

In order to defend their views of a just world and equality, three strategies have been adopted by the participants in the study:

  1. The situation is changing (and men seem to believe this)

  2. Men and women are seen as equal but different – women do not enjoy competing as much. This would be supported by the data from both the questionnaires and interviews where women were using computers less, have less confidence in their abilities, and are more attracted to the arts.

  3. There is a misperception that computing and technology is for males.

(Wilson 2003:138)

The interesting consequence is that even if there is gender bias no action on the part of females is taken because (1) those females who believe there are equal opportunities will see no reason for action; (2) those who believe there is a misperception or that women feel less confident will be tolerant of encouragement for women, but they are also content see the status quo maintained; and (3) the women who believe in their equal abilities do not want to be singled out for special treatment and may therefore “count themselves out and express ambivalence” (p. 138).

In the end, the WikiChix list was moved from being hosted by Wikimedia, which might carry the presumption of endorsing exclusive discrimination, to a non-Wikipedia host.

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