Computer underground Digest Wed Apr 21 1993 Volume 5 : Issue 29
Editors: Jim Thomas and Gordon Meyer (TK0JUT2@NIU.BITNET)
Archivist: Brendan Kehoe
Shadow-Archivists: Dan Carosone / Paul Southworth
Ralph Sims / Jyrki Kuoppala
Cyop Editor: Etaoin Shrdlu, Senior
CONTENTS, #5.29 (Apr 21 1993)
File 1--LTES article and Gender on the Nets (Re: CuD 5.18)
File 2--LTES article and Gender on the Nets--Response to Larry
File 3--LTES Article -- The author Responds
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Date: Wed, 10 Mar 93 18:46:59 CST
From: larry@DUCKTALES.MED.GE.COM(Larry Landwehr)
Subject: File 1--LTES article and Gender on the Nets (Re: CuD 5.18)
Some comments on the "London Times Educational Supplement" article
Written by Larry Landwehr
Overall, the "London Times Educational Supplement" article (LTES) had some
interesting points to it - a little bit of net history, some examples of
the growing importance of the net to the academic community, and some of
the problems encountered by newcomers to the net.
After you've been on the net for a while, it is easy to lose sight of just
how wonderfully amazing the net is. If anything, the article deeply under-
stated just how profoundly the net will change the future of humanity. It's
like trying to predict back in 1910 the impact of the automobile on society
- the highway system, gasoline refineries, motels instead of hotels, new
dating patterns, increased social mobility, commuting to work, the impor-
tance of the rubber industry, smog, drive-thru restaurants, mechanized war-
fare, and on and on. The net will bring more than quantitative changes, it
will bring *qualitative* changes. Things that were impossible will now be-
The LTES article is to be commended for pointing out some of the new uses
for the net, but somehow, just like in a conversation with a religious
zealot, the feminist dogma just had to surface and this is where the arti-
cle does a disservice to its readers. Instead of sticking to verifiable
facts and projecting from that into reasonable speculation, the article
wanders into the morass of attempting to apply feminist theory to human in-
teraction on the net.
This attempt to view and understand the nature of the net through the re-
fractive, narrowly focused theology of a fringe group flaws the article
very badly and it is done rather poorly as well. Facts that support the
author's view point are proudly held on high. Facts that do not fit the
author's world view are glossed over or not even mentioned. Even worse,
the author descends to the level of denigrating those whose behavior the
author does not like. Let's examine the article point by point:
The author states that the majority of the people on the net are men, which
is almost certainly true at this point in time. There is even an attempt to
supply some evidence to support this conclusion although the evidence is
somewhat anecdotal and the sampling methodology is rather skewed. Still, an
attempt is made:
> For these assumptions to be true, you're quite likely either to be a
> member of an academic institution in a Western industrialized country,
> or very well-to-do in world terms. You're also likely to be male. And
> the public area of the news system bears this out. An high proportion
> of messages -- over 90% in an unrepresentative sample of discussions
> of physics -- comes from the USA. An even higher proportion (of those
> with identifiable senders) comes from men.
In the next paragraph, the author's feminist leanings start to show:
> "Women in science worry that these 'private' network exchanges of
> research results serve to reinforce the 'Old Boy Network' in
> scientific research circles, especially given the overwhelmingly male
> demographics of e-mail and news-group users," says Ruth Ginzberg,
> Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Wesleyan University in the US.
Apparently "women in science" are worried about being shut out of the main-
stream of scientific communication by a cabal of scheming men. What's next
- eastern bankers, the tri-lateral commission, the red menace, or the
international Jewish conspiracy?
Has the author ever thought that maybe some men feel more comfortable talk-
ing to other men? Has the author ever thought that many men have esta-
blished working relationships with other men that predate women's entry
into some scientific fields? Has the author ever thought that as the "new
kids on the block" that it's up to women to make the first move if they
want to get involved? Or does the author assume that women should be wel-
comed with open arms just because they have lately decided that they want
in? Do "women in science" expect to get everything handed to them on a
Next the author goes on to try to explain why there are so many more men
than women on the net:
> Why should there be this preponderance of men? Sarah Plumeridge is
> research assistant on a project to study women's use of computers at
> the University of East London. She comments that "A lot of research
> suggests that women prefer computing when it's for use, as a tool,
> when it's not taught as an abstract science." It's clear from the tone
> of messages in the public news-groups that the _boys_ see them as a
Here the feminist bugle really starts to be heard. First of all, someone
studying "women's use of computers" is cited as an authority. What!? Does
this "expert" (research assistant) only study women's use of computers?
Isn't this person (not a personal friend of the author, one hopes) at all
interested in how men use computers? Is this myopic, hyper-specialized in-
vestigator with a one sided interest to be considered an expert?
What is especially revealing in this paragraph is the "expert's" derogatory
use of the word "boy" to refer to men. The mere fact that the author uses
this offensively toned quote shows how entrenched and pervasive the femin-
ist dogma has become in the author's mind. Either the author doesn't care
that the quote is offensive or, even worse, it may even be that the author
isn't even aware that the quote is offensive. At this point the article
starts to lose credibility, but an even more egregious paragraph soon
> There are more serious issues too. Cheris Kramerae of the Department
> of Speech Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana is,
> working on the issue of sexual harassment on "the net". This happens
> in very specific ways - men sending abusive messages to women, often
> having obtained their electronic addresses from the electronic
> "personals column". There is also the problem of socially retarded
> students abusing the system to distribute digitized pornographic
> images: the direct equivalent of the calendar on the workshop wall.
> Kramerae concludes, however, that "Obviously it is not the technology
> but the policies which are presenting particular problems for women."
First, why is it that every expert cited is a woman? Is the author engaging
in a bit of "Old Girl Networking"? Could it be that the author prefers to
converse with women? Could the pot be calling the kettle black? Hmmmm?
Now let's deal with the sexual harassment part of this paragraph. Frankly,
the author's reason for bringing this up is rather unclear. Does the author
contend that sexual harassment is wide spread on the net? Apparently not,
because the author states that it only occurs "in very specific ways"; i.e.
in response to placing a personals ad. Apparently the author's intent is to
warn women that men can harass them on the net. Whether or not women ever
harass men on the net is apparently of no interest to the author. The au-
thor of what you are reading right now can personally attest that it does
happen, but the author of the LTES article seems to only be concerned with
problems that *women* face on the net.
Next, the author uses the wonderfully worded phrase "socially retarded" to
refer to people whose actions the author doesn't like. This is really out-
standing journalism - if you don't like what someone does, then call them
names. This style of writing may be understandable in a heat-of-the-moment
flame, but not in what purports to be an objectively written article in-
tended to educate the general public on what the net is like. Such personal
bias, such a judgemental attitude is totally uncalled for.
The fact is that men (or "boys", the author's preferred term) like to look
at women. They always have, and they always will. Apparently this biologi-
cal fact of male human nature distresses the author greatly, either for fe-
minist theological reasons or because of an inherent dislike of the male
sex drive. One can't help but suspect that the author would be greatly in
favor of censorship to stop this affront to the author's sensibilities. The
author's use of the phrase "abusing the system" and referring to it as a
"problem" speaks volumes about the author's unspoken bias.
The quote, "Obviously it is not the technology but the policies which are
presenting particular problems for women", is plain, flat out wrong. The
net has virtually no policies because it is so deeply decentralized. It is
not "the policies" which are presenting particular problems for women. It
is the net culture. And the net culture presents challenges (not "prob-
lems") to *all* newcomers. This quote reminds me of the old Saturday Night
Live skit where this guy comes on and says, "And I suppose you're all
wondering how this is going to affect Al Franken." The author's viewpoint
seems to be, "Now how is this going to affect women?", which is extremely
Finally, let's briefly examine the following paragraph:
> Kahn's list is, then, exactly an invisible college. Given the vast
> space occupied by anti-feminist men in the open news-groups which are
> supposed to discuss feminism, it can only operate if it remains
> private and by invitation.
The most notable thing about this paragraph is the author's unspoken as-
sumption that feminist groups can only operate if the only posts allowed
are those in favor of feminism (i.e. the only good post is a favorable
post). Such an attitude might be said to display a rather closed mind and a
propensity toward censorship.
The LTES article is anti-male. If the overwhelming majority of CUD's
readers are male, then why does CUD publish articles that attack men?
The LTES article is one of those pieces that will be seized upon by those
who want to establish censorship on the net. Sexual harassment (why don't
they call it "gender harassment"?) must be stopped! Men must be prevented
from looking at pictures of nude women! Let's clean up the net and make it
safe for women! Take back the net!
It's coming folks. Censorship and governmental restrictions are right
around the corner if articles such as the LTES one are propagated. The
next steps will be letter writing campaigns to system administrators, law
suits against companies, and new governmental laws - how about two
years in prison for an improper post? It's coming.
Here's a word of advice for the women on the net:
If you can't stand the heat, ladies, then get out of the kitchen!
Stop whining about how unfair the world is. Stop hiding behind paternalis-
tic (maternalistic?) governmental laws. Stand on your own two feet and
*earn* some respect!
Sexual harassment on the net, with no possibility of physical contact, is
nothing but another type of flame. Learn to handle it. Learn to give as
good as you get.
Use a little common sense and realize that much of what you think of as
sexual harassment is simply unclear communication. Why do you think that
"similies" have become universally adopted on the net as a means of
The feminist lemma that "men suppress women" should be known as "The Great
Forget the fact that men enjoy technology because they like gadgets and na-
turally gravitate to the net. Forget the fact that women are late comers to
this and many other fields. Forget the fact that men are naturally adven-
turous and are usually in the forefront of exploration. Forget all these
logical reasons. Let's just say that men are oppressive. Let's not talk
about paying your dues and taking your knocks until you manage to ensconce
yourself on the net. Let's not talk about getting a thick skin so you don't
get blown away by the first flame that's directed at you. Let's blame those
rotten, bad, insensitive men, instead.
The net is a beautiful anarchy, just about the only one left on the face of
the earth. Don't kill it with censorship, laws, and lawsuits.
Women of the net, conduct yourselves professionally, and, over time, you
will get the respect you want and will then deserve. Don't subscribe to
the false religion that simple human nature can reasonably be ascribed to
the pervasive misogyny of men. Don't expect immediate gratification as
the feminist movement so glaringly expects (the name "NOW" is no coin-
If CUD truly believes in "electronic freedom", then it should stop publish-
ing articles that lay the groundwork for censorship and governmental res-
trictions. Instead, it should use its editorial discretion to promote posi-
tively written articles that will benefit the net and lead to its further
expansion into the mainstream of human culture.
Date: Wed, Apr 12 93 19:59:35 PST
From: Jim Thomas
Subject: File 2--LTES article and Gender on the Nets--Response to Larry
When CuD ran a special issue on gender and cyberspace in 1991 (#3.00),
it generated the most feedback of any issue to date (see #3.01). The
responses were passionate, sometimes well-reasoned but more often
highly emotional, and few were middle-ground. Supporters of the issue
commented on CuD's "irresponsibility" in not addressing gender issues
more often and more strongly, expressed frustration at the
unwillingness of (especially males) to not take gender issues more
seriously, and wanted more posts on the politics of on-line gender
issues. Critics accused us of being taken over by lesbian "femi-nazis"
and "selling out" to the PC ("politically correct") crowd. Some even
cancelled their subscriptions with comments like "CuD has outlived its
usefulness," or "this type of discussion has no place in CuD!"
The CuD editors strongly believe that such issues are directly
relevant to cyberspace. Men and women exist. They exist in a state of
inequality. Discussing whether, and how much, the gender issues that
exist in the physical world are imported into cyperspace falls
explicitly under the CuD mission of presenting a *diversity* of views
surrounding computer culture. So, we welcome Larry Lanwehr's post
(above) for the opportunity to again raise a few questions. Although
we are in substantial disagreement with Larry, we appreciate his
willingness to articulate a position probably shared by most Cud
readers. We also recognize that his concerns are not intended as
inflammatory, but are sincere fears about the possibility of
over-control of the nets resulting from self-imposed or
In his post, Larry comments on an article originally published in the
London Times Educational Supplement (See CuD #5.18, file 4). The
author of that piece, Mike Holderness, presented a summary of the
Internet as a backdrop to suggesting that the net typifies an
"invisible college" (as developed by Diana Crane). The LTES article,
as I read it, makes several interesting points. Three of these are
relevant for cybernauts. First, electronic networking poses the
potential for circumventing the conventional publishing mechanisms in
the scientific community, creating an INVISIBLE UNIVERSITY (or in U.S.
terms, an "invisible college"). Second, the "old boy" networks that
create barriers in conventional science and technology may also create
similar barriers in the technoculture. Third, there may be gender
differences that make the nets a more valuable resource and a more
comfortable community for men than for women.
The value of Larry's post is that, while displaying considerable
suspicion for these conclusions, his comments suggest (and his private
mail affirms) that he is in essence saying, "Perhaps, but show me the
data." He has a point: Little hard research exists to substantiate the
claims, and that which does exist is heavily anecdotal and
inferential. Nonetheless, even though we lack hard data, we can begin
looking at some of these issues in a way that suggests some fuzzy
potential hypotheses. Perhaps they will provide insight for groups
such as PROJECT-H (a Bitnet research group examining on-line
interaction), and researchers of computer-mediated-communication (CMC)
or cyber-culture in examining the issues. Let's take a few of the
1. DOES THE NET POTENTIALLY CIRCUMVENT CONVENTIONAL PUBLISHING TO THE
DETRIMENT OF WOMEN?
This question is probably of least relevance to most CuD readers. It
does, however, bear on the growing importance of electronic
communication for scholars. The list of electronic journals is
rapidly expanding, and most disciplines are represented in the
collection. There is even a Bitnet group for discussion of electronic
publishing (ARACHNET). It's not clear that this expansion, of itself,
operates to the detriment of women. There is abundant research
indicating that although women are under-represented in
academically-oriented journals, this under-representation appears to
be the result of factors in academia rather than the consequence of
significant gender bias in editorial gate-keeping procedures.
Further, most college and university peer review committees and
procedures do not recognize electronic publishing as particularly
valuable for men or women. Although this will undoubtedly change in
time as peer review procedures become established, as professional
associations sponsor electronic periodicals, and as a new generation
of cyber-committed scholars come on-line, there is currently little
reward for electronic publication. At best, it is likely to
supplement, not replace, conventional hard-print journals. Therefore,
the current impact of any circumvention, if it exists, would seem to
have little discriminatory impact on women.
2. Does the Net simply recreate an "old boys' network" in cyberspace?
Perhaps. But I've seen no significant evidence of it. If anything,
electronic communication seems to have the opposite effect. The
democratization of the Net, albeit imperfect, helps reduce many of the
gender-based characteristics of face-to-face communication that put
women at a disadvantage in communication. The "old boys" no longer
control the terrain. There are a number of groups and topics,
especially on Bitnet, in which women rather than men set the topics,
mood, style, and discussion flow. In the aggregate, men still
dominate, but electronic communication dramatically challenges the
power of the "old boys." Women who were formally isolated can more
easily network with others with similar interests, share experiences
and ideas, and support each other while more easily (but by no means
without some difficulties) interacting with and challenging men.
Those investigating these issues ultimately must carve out the issues
with considerable clarity. For example, if the nets circumvent
conventional publishing, how should we measure the gender impact? What
counts as an "old boys'" network on the nets? We're not talking here
simply about male dominance, but about a form of bonding that enhances
the careers of some while putting others at a disadvantage. My guess
is that even when clarified, the evidence won't support the claims.
This stills ignores the central question, which is the third point
that Larry raises.
3. DO THE NETS RECREATE MALE DOMINANCE IN ELECTRONIC FORM?
The fact that we might answer the first two questions negatively does
not mean that male dominance does not exist on the Nets. Nor does the
absence of significant impact in some areas mean that there is no
significant impact in others that ultimately makes the Net less
hospitable for women than men.
The Bay Area Women In Telecommunications (BAWIT) group produced an
interesting paper called "Gender Issues in Online Communications"
(Available on the CuD ftp site in pub/cud/papers/gender-issues). It's
available in the CuD ftp sites or can be obtained by dropping the
moderators a line. The authors write:
The experiences of women online are both personal and
political. To a certain extent, their causes are rooted in
the physical world --economics and social conditioning
contribute to the limited numbers of women online.
Additionally, online environments are largely determined by
the viewpoints of their users and programmers, still
predominately white men (p. 1).
While recognizing the on-line influences that may mitigate against
women's full participation in cyberspace, the BAWIT collective
relocates the focus of the problem to off-line factors. A few
examples drawn from their paper and elsewhere illustrate how gender
influences might operate.
a. Access to the Nets
In principle, electronic media are available to everybody. In
practice, however, the reality may subvert open access. The BAWIT
collective argues that, because women are generally lower paid than
men, economics may restrict access. Women may simply be less able to
afford access than men. Economics may be a special factor for single
or uncoupled women without a university or occupational net-link. Women
are also underrepresented in the technical and related fields in which
electronic communication is valued. The social division of labor may
also be a restriction: Women who assume primary responsibilities for
domestic responsibilities have less leisure time than those who do not
for participating in on-line interaction. And, as Arlie Hochschild
argues in "Inside the Clockwork of a Male Career" (which is actually
about women's careers), women's career paths tend to be delayed, which
contributes to deferring participation in activities, such as learning
computer skills, that would facilitate net access.
None of this would necessarily prevent women's access to on-line
communication, nor is anybody (to my knowledge) claiming it does. The
value of the BAWIT paper is that it reminds us that access cannot be
automatically assumed to be equal for everybody, and that the barriers
to access may be subtle and complex.
b. Access to discussions
Once on-line, are women as able to break into a thread and contribute
as men? Are women taken as seriously by men as other men? Are there
differences in male responses to posters with a female logon or handle
that are uncommon when addressing posts with a male handle? It depends
to some extent on the forum. There are considerable differences in
gender-based interaction between Usenet, The Well, Bitnet, or
Compuserve. And, not all differences are necessarily bad. The
question, an empirical one, is simply this: Do men communicate on-line
in a way that puts women at a disadvantage in gaining access to a
topic? Many women have anecdotal experiences that would suggest the
answer is "yes." But, the power advantage normally associated with a
"male style" of communication may be mediated by a "democratization"
effect. For example, Marsha Woodbury (U. of
Illinois/Urbana-Champaign) conducted a small study on African-American
educators for use in training adults to communicate over networks.
Contrary to her initial expectations, she found that women may feel
more "equal" in communicating electronically. She concluded:
.....Clearly, for many women, face-to-face communication
could find them at a disadvantage, if they feel less
powerful or verbally skilled or even feel physically weaker
and smaller. In fact, they may embrace e-mail even more
enthusiastically than the men, because it is such an
Clearly, there are no simple answers to questions of gender
differences in net communication. The PROJECT-H group will be
examining these and related questions. The results of their study will
be a helpful contribution to the answer.
c. Gender games and harassment
When I first began using an electronic network about 1981, I had a
gender-neutral logon ID. Before I learned how to set "no-break," I was
habitually plagued late at night by young testosterone-laden males who
broke in wanting to know if I were an "M or F?" When I flashed "M,"
the sender departed, only to be replaced by another flasher with the
same question. Only once was the sender a female, as she later
revealed in person. On those occasions when I was feeling malicious,
I would send back an "F." I was amazed at the simplicity and
coarseness of the pickup lines. In discussing this with female
students, I learned that such interruptions were common for them, and
"no-break" was the second on-line command they learned ("logoff
intact" was the first). Is sexual harassment common on the nets? It
seems probably less common than in the face-to-face world, and
certainly there are more built-in safety features in net harassment.
In the face of unwanted behavior, one can more easily send "leave me
alone" cues or log-off. Further ASCII leaves a paper trail that
facilitates remedial action if harassment persists.
Nonetheless, harassment can be a problem for women. Some women report
using gender-neutral or male-oriented logons, and some of my female
colleagues report hesitance to engage in online public discussions out
of concern for their privacy and peace of mind. Perhaps their fears
are justified, perhaps not. But, these women remind us that--whether
their concerns are legitimate or not--the concerns are something that
men rarely, if ever, need give a second thought.
The gender games and fears of harassment seem of sufficient concern
that some universities cover it in their computer and other policies
(see for example the voluminous discussions over the past year on
academic-freedom-talk and the variety of papers and other documents,
such as the UBC report available through: anonymous ftp from
ftp.ucs.ubc.ca in /pub/info/ubc/report). Women can confirm or reject
the pervasiveness of harassment and gender games, but the point is
that there is strong anecdotal evidence suggesting a barrier to
women's on-line communications.
d. Participation in discussions
If, as Carol Gilligan argues, women speak in a "different voice," and
if, as Pamela Fishman claims, women do most of the "work" in mixed-sex
interaction, then we would expect some evidence of different on-line
communication styles. From my own experience, women seem less likely
to engage in mortal argumentative combat, less prone to slip into
white-hot flame mode, and more likely to attempt to negotiate and
compromise in on-line debates than males. Perhaps my experiences are
a-typical. The fact remains that gender differences in communication
seem likely to place women at a disadvantage in discussions dominated
by men sufficiently often to raise questions about the nature and
impact of these differences.
What are some of these differences? As preliminary rough hypotheses,
we could suggest that men tend to be more confrontational and more
inclined to focus on the ostensible issues at hand rather than on
issues they see as tangential. Men tend to argue more
"logically"--which is not to say that they in fact *are* more logical,
but rather that they employ a style of talk that appears logical.
There are compelling arguments from a range of feminist-oriented
writers (such as Julia Kristeva, Sandra Harding, or Dorothy Smith)
whose critiques of the relationship between gender power and
knowledge--both in the "talk" and in the topics of talk--illustrate
the silencing power of symbols. Such works, despite an occasional
extreme position, *DO NOT* mean that men are the enemy, that men
should be silenced, or that men's "voice" is not legitimate. They
simply remind us that there are differences in how we communicate, and
that by recognizing and appreciating these differences, we can
communicate and interpret more effectively.
This brings is back to Larry's comments. He suggests that
over-reaction to gender differences risks the imposition of policies
or self-censorship that have the ironic outcome of suppressing that
which they are intended to protect. This is a legitimate concern. Few
of us want to have others impose on us "Politically Correct" ways of
thinking or speaking. Imposition and silencing are neither desirable
nor required. But, the evidence on the extent of gender variables in
suppressing communication remains scanty, the consequences unclear,
and there is evidence that if electronic communications recreate some
forms of gender power, they also subvert others.
If there are in fact gender barriers that work to the detriment of
women, the first step is to recognize that they exist and then to
identify the ways in which they operate. This is nothing that should
threaten males. Hard evidence one way or the other would define the
nature and extent of the problem. If, as many of us believe, there is
a problem, what then should we do? The next step is simply recognizing
that differences in style of talking are often reinforced by
differences in styles of interpreting. We speak as if "talk" were
simply the speech we use. But, talk implies an audience, and an
audience implies some interpretative framework that makes sense. When
different styles of speaking and hearing collide, as they may if they
are gender-shaped, then communication problems can occur. As often as
not, the dominant style "wins" and the subordinate style loses--not on
the bases of content of ideas, but by the overpowering style of one
way of talking that silences the other.
So, to Larry I would say: I accept your fears, but I'm not convinced
that denying the problem is the best solution. Let's take a step back
and ask women how *they* feel in engaging in online interaction.
Perhaps we can learn from each other. I don't think that appreciation
of difference is a bad thing.
Date: 16 Apr 93 14:16:40 BST (Fri)
Subject: File 3--LTES Article -- The author Responds
BACKGROUND: An article of mine was published in the Times Higher
Education Supplement, a London-based weekly newspaper
largely for people working in UK universities, earlier this year. It
was made possible partly by the generosity of net-people with their
comments and feedback; in return I mailed the text which I had
submitted to people who had requested it. A copy was
incorporated in the CuD digest without my knowledge.
I make this clear purely as a legal caveat, because I am now in the
embarrassing position of having inadvertently breached my own
copyright. Indeed, next week (Apr 22) I shall be sending the THES a
piece on the implications of electronic publishing for copyright and
the ownership of intellectual property. Brief (1k?) comments on this
would be extremely welcome. Please indicate whether they may be
published with attribution, without, or not at all, and in the
first case give your full name, post and institution/location.
I am told that there were a large number of responses to my
piece, and that many took exception to my humorous quotation of
the lite Xmas _Economist_ piece, which described the Internet as
a "conspiracy" alongside the Masons, Opus Dei and such. The only
responses which I have actually seen were those from Larry
Landwehr and the response to this from Jim Thomas, who invited me
The article itself:
I began drafting a net-style response to Larry, with quotes:
> ... just like in a conversation with a religious zealot, the
> feminist dogma just had to surface ...
-Oh dear, I thought, reading this. The "men-are-persecuted-
by-feminists" dogma, so tediously common on the Net, just had to
This exercise in turn became tedious.
I am a freelance writer on science and technology, with a special
interest in the social and political implications of the new
communications technologies. So please bear in mind that my
writing is quite different to academic writing or to net
articles. I was asked to write specifically on the "invisible
college" issue, and originally to do exactly 1500 words; I got
this extended to some 2300.
It is extremely interesting as a writer to compare the responses
to the printed article and to the electronic version: indeed, I
destined to appear on paper, to keep the temperature down.
_If_ the net is an invisible college, who may it exclude? Last
year, for a quite different article in _New Scientist_, I counted
the apparent geographical location and apparent gender of some
300 news-group articles (most in sci.*). Some 97% had US
addresses and over 90% of those with identifiable given-names
were male. Many fewer than 97% of all scientists work in the US
and fewer than 90% are male; empirically, there's an issue to
I made it clear that this was not a scientific survey. Last week,
before being asked for these comments, I was working up a
proposal for just such a survey: run the "From:" line of every
news-group posting for six months or a year past the ISO 3166
country codes and past _Naming Baby_, and see what falls out.
Would people on the net object to this? Please take it for
granted that I understand the statistical limits on
interpretation of the results. Please tell me if someone else is
already doing this.
It is extremely interesting that Larry complains: "why is it that
every expert cited is a woman?" I count seven women quoted, seven
men, and two anonymous (one of whom I know to be male, and one of
whom is an _Economist_ journalist...).
In a 2300-word article, 500 words discussed possible reasons for
the under-representation of women on the net. All the people I
quoted on this specific issue were women. I did what I usually
do to find commentators: call busy people whose work I respect,
selected regardless of anything except their work, to suggest
other researchers who will have time to comment. All those I came
across working on the issue were, for some reason, women. I
always welcome further contacts.
I suggest that Larry's complaint points to a "threshhold"
phenomenon -- the subject of an extensive sociological
literature. For example, when a neighbourhood is changing racial
composition, up to about 5 black kids in a grade-school class of
30 are fine; over 10 in 30, and the class is perceived as being
It is plain daft that Larry calls on CuD not to publish pieces
such as mine. I am not, for the record, in favour of censorship.
I did not call on anyone not to publish anything; and I've so far
resisted the temptation to publish on paper the proportion of net
resources devoted to distributing flesh-GIFs. I did consider
Cheris Kramerae's concerns about harassment worthy of quotation
as one view among several.
My personal view is that "the calendar on the workshop wall" is a
form of harassment, the effect of which is to contribute to the
exclusion of women from mechanical engineering and so forth. I
admit I should have made it clear that the "direct equivalent" I
was writing about was leaving flesh-GIFs on women colleagues'
screens -- but I was already over-length and past deadline when I
realised I needed quotes to substantiate that it does happen. And
had I obtained those quotes, the tabloids might have run off with
the story... and then...
So, in Larry's view, for me to quote women suggesting that the
under-representation of women on the net might possibly have
something to do with puerile activities here is to invite
censorship; therefore he demands that my piece not be published.
Shurely shome mishtake? (Sorry, Americans, that's a Brit journos'
I appreciated Jim Thomas' thoughtful and tolerant reply to Larry.
Jim clearly has more patience than I can muster these days. I
regret that he and I have had to put effort into explaining that
it is appropriate for articles to appear on the net which are
critical of some features of its current, and I hope temporarily
aberrant, state. I find it deeply ironic that we have had to do
so in response to an article which so vehemently invokes the
If the net is, as Larry hopes, and as I hope, to expand "into the
mainstream of human culture", it will be forced to recognise that
there are many cultures out there which are quite different to
the various cultures now reflected in here.
I'd like to conclude by provoking a new argument.
One issue which CuD readers in particular will have to face up to
is this: the First Amendment concept of an _absolute_ right to
freedom of expression is, in my experience as a citizen of the
rest of the world, grasped by very few people out here. Only in
the USA, that is, is there a widely-held belief that it's worth
a person's effort to struggle for anyone's right to forms of
expression which that person finds repugnant.
I have been flamed before for asking "why is stupid speech
protected?": this frivolous question was a serious attempt to
raise the issue of protecting the _content_ of speech. I repeat:
I am not in favour of censorship. I have no personal oracle to
inform me what content is worthy of protection: the point is that
the question _makes_sense_ in many non-US cultures, where
relativism is less rampant, where there is a residual sense of
community and of values (some of which I do find repugnant).
I have heard reports that the US tobacco industry donates large
amounts of money to the ACLU to promote the "pure" First
Amendment position. I have no reason to believe these reports,
but their _existence_ and the fact that some clearly give them
credence intrigues me. I live in a country where the Prime
Minister is suing two magazines for libel because they reported
and thoughtfully analysed the existence of rumours that he had
had an extra-marital relationship -- rumours which had been
alluded to repeatedly in the daily press, so discreetly that many
uninformed readers will have believed that there were two,
separate, mini-scandals. If the Prime Minister succeeds in his
suit (and thereby closes the irritating magazines), the ACLU will
be in a position to sue me in the UK for libel over the first
sentence of this paragraph.
It is issues such as this -- the suppression of political comment
-- which the drafters of the Amendment clearly had in mind and
which exercises people out here. Few here really bother about the
free expression aspect of the Mappelthorpe (sp?) exhibition in DC
or the current attempt to suppress "adult" (i.e. puerile) movies
beamed into the UK by satellite. To be honest, no-one's getting
very publicly worked up about the Prime Minister either.
And, to start another row:
(C) M Holderness 1993. By which I mean: I've spent four hours
writing this; writing is how I pay my rent. I reserve all rights
to sell any of these words for reproduction on paper or in any
other form; it may and will be freely distributed as an Internet
article. My feminazi witch friends are cooking up a special hell
for anyone selling my efforts for personal gain: in the alpha-
test Hades you spend all eternity in an IRC session with Dan
Quayle or Fidel Castro, whichever you detest the more.
M Holderness; firstname.lastname@example.org; I speak only for myself.
End of Computer Underground Digest #5.29