Tag: feminism

#WhosFirst – the Facebook Icon Experiment

Screenshot 2015-07-09 21.00.54

This will be a very outline-esque post because I have three other writing deadlines in the next week, but I just can’t resist getting some of this out there for all the other curious cats. Please – if you’re interested in doing something with this story, let me know; I will happily share the data/survey with you. I don’t have the time to write this up, but it clearly deserves to be out there as the “hurray” story continues to circulate. 

Intro: How We Changed the Facebook Icons was getting a lot of play

@JenProf wondered aloud if it was gendered – i.e. was the woman in front only for women?

Methods: We asked a few people….lo, it was at least not universally a woman in front.

We chattered and wondered and put together a short survey (afternoon of 7/8)

Results: We now have 45 or so responses with the following data: We now have 87 responses as of 8:30 p.m. MST 7/12 and a full 33% of people responding see the man first. This does look like it is gender and device dependent.
Screenshot 2015-07-09 21.00.04

Screenshot 2015-07-09 21.00.25

Screenshot 2015-07-09 21.00.14

Conclusion: that’s for later

Call for Proposals: Feminist Debates in DH

Colleagues, we invite your contributions to a proposed third volume in the Debates in DH series, which was inaugurated by Matt Gold and is now directed by Gold and Lauren Klein. This series will continue the first volume’s commitment to open access and peer-to-peer review.

In order to propose a piece, please send an abstract and a short (2 page) vita to Jacque Wernimont and Elizabeth Losh at jwernimo (at) asu (dot) edu no later than July 15th 2015. We know this is a fast turn around and we will accept revisions to accepted proposals until 8/15. Please write “Feminist Debates in DH” in the subject.

We invite abstracts that engage with the ideas/themes articulated in our proposal (below); we are open to collaborative and non-traditional authorship models and are committed to a feminist frame that is decolonial, anti-racist, and queer and trans inclusive. As with the initial Debates in DH volume, we welcome pieces in traditional and new media scholarly formats.

From our proposal
“A number of theoretical turns in media and technology studies in recent years have produced a fundamentally different model of computational media that draws the attention of critics to its material, embodied, affective, labor-intensive, and situated character. Rather than present digital culture as the realm of virtual, disembodied, and highly rational interactions predicated on labor-saving technologies and universal design, these critics emphasize how the slick interface of the two-dimensional screen may ultimately mask messy infrastructures and invisible labor.

As Lev Manovich has famously pointed out, the screen both displays and screens out. By following the conventions established by humanities computing in the seventies and emphasizing what could be called “the digitized humanities” rather than a broader and more inclusive “digital humanities” that encompasses every day born digital genres and interrogates the politics in which they are produced, it is possible to reify oppressive cultural norms. In other words, maintaining a focus on remediation of the page could also preserve the filtering mechanisms – the screens – of print culture.”

We are interested in grouping sections that might look like: “Code,” “Program,” “Access/Discipline,” “Archive,” and “Play” in order to provide an arena to facilitate dialogue and promote intersectional inquiry, but we are not limited by those topics.Topics could also include mobile computing, tracking/wearable devices, circuit bending, and other digital interventions that incorporate insights from human-computer interaction, critical making, and values-centered design.

Please keep in mind that following in the tradition of the first Debates in DH, the production time is relatively rapid. Our schedule is as follows and is subject to press schedules:

Accepted Abstracts due: August 15, 2015
Essay Submission Deadline: December 15, 2015
Peer-to-Peer Review: December 2015 and January 2016
Editor’s Review of Peer Review/Summary Letter: End of January
Revisions Due: March 1, 2016
Production-ready Manuscript to Minnesota: April 1, 2016.

Press review and production process
Book and open access publication April 1, 2017

Please remember that at this stage we are soliciting proposals for a volume that will undergo review through both the University of Minnesota Press (including outside peer review) and the peer-to-peer review process. Acceptance of a proposal is not a guarantee of publication – that said, we do have the enthusiastic support of the series editors and are confident in our collective ability to create a volume that is compelling. We look forward to hearing from you!

Addressing Anti-Feminist Violence Online

Too many people have regular and sustained experiences of violence, including efforts to shut down participation in work, civic engagement, and social interaction. Women and feminists have been targets for quite some time, but 2014 felt to me like a year in which the threats were particularly frequent and the injuries inflected acute.

I’m not interested in promoting hurtful actions algorithmically or otherwise, so I’m not going to name or link here – you can find examples without too much digging. I agree with Anita Sarkeesian’s observation that “online harassment, especially gendered online harassment, is an epidemic. Women are being driven out, they’re being driven offline; this isn’t just in gaming, this is happening across the board online, especially with women who participate in or work in male-dominated industries.” I’d add that anti-intellectualism takes some of its most virulent forms against not only women, but also people of color, and queer and trans people.

In addition to impacting women, the online harassment has spread to women’s defenders — so that the silencing of women has become what Ian Bogost has called a “Voldomortian” entity in which speaking about these harassment campaigns by name invites attention and similar harassment. Young adults and children who find themselves ensnared in harassment, whether through their own work or by virtue of being a woman’s child, are particularly at risk and in need of support.

Feeling uneasy and frustrated with the social climate, I reached out to colleagues in the FemTechNet network. From these conversations a set of related, but independent efforts were inaugurated including private community meetings, public discussions, curricular engagements, and some long range planning. Among which was a proposal to the DML Competition “Trust Challenge.” The fifth in an annual series of calls for proposals, this year’s challenge argues “trust, privacy, and safety are critical to learning in an open online world.”

With FTN colleagues and strong institutional support from ASU, I submitted a proposal titled “Addressing Ant-Feminist Violence Online.” We argue in the proposal “feminists are at risk and engendering trust or safety in digital spaces seems difficult at best. Nevertheless, we can help create and sustain resilient communities that can foster trust, reduce harm, and support those who identify, document, and combat harassment.” To these ends we have proposed to “curate a set of best practices, and educational content for communities responding to anti-feminist violence online.”

We plan to publish our curated collection as an open-access digital book, utilizing the Scalar platform. We’re also planning a yearlong series of events to support the creation and use of the collection. We’re hoping to build as broad-based a coalition in this endeavor as possible – engaging with industry, local and national non-profits, networked advocacy communities, and U.S. universities and colleges.

We’re delighted to have advanced to the finalist round in the challenge. You can read the proposal, comment and offer support, and vote up the project by clicking on the heart in the upper left corner. You can also contact us at AAFO@asu.edu.

The Women that “Category-Gate” Erased

N.B. – this piece was written as an Op Ed in May. After unsuccessfully making the rounds of several major outlets, I’m publishing it here before it becomes too stale. As my first OpEd effort, this piece owes debts to Adrianne Wadewitz, whose work on this same topic inspired these thoughts, to Alex Juhasz and Jessie Daniels, who helped with drafting and editing, and Amy Guth and Audrey Bilger, who both offered mentoring on the pitching process. The process has been a great example of the ways that feminist networks can help support new work by women.


Amanda Filipacchi’s April 24 New York Times piece opened up a public debate about Wikipedia practices and drew attention to the categorical and structural sexism made evident by John Pack Lambert’s editorial choice to create and use an “American Women Novelist” subcategory. Several pieces followed in the NYT, on Salon.com, Women’s News.org, NY Books, The Atlantic online, Motherboard, and an array of personal and professional blogs. While internal conversations about bias, including gender bias, date back at least to the 2004 launch of the WikiProject “Countering Systemic Bias,” Filipacchi’s piece and many of those that followed suggested that Wikipedia unthinkingly reflected a “universal bias” and that male editors were ushering us all in taking a “step backwards” in terms of gender equity.

Dubbed “category-gate,” the dust up has helpfully drawn attention to issues around gender, technology, and how we make knowledge. Unfortunately, Filipacchi and others generally ignored the ongoing work of women and feminists to address bias in Wikipedia’s content and structure, perpetuating the very kind of sexism they purported to unveil.

Wikipedia is a go-to destination for information and it is an ever-evolving resource of impressive size. A look today calculates the English language site with 30,119, 512 pages and the growth chart for articles is a steep curve. Use has also expanded; 476 million unique viewers have visited Wikimedia sites. Even professors, who once banned the use of Wikipedia in classes, make use of the resource. The English Wikipedia site is ranked as the sixth most popular site by Alexa, a web traffic and data analytics company. User demographics skew young, male, and affluent and for these users Wikipedia is a major source of knowledge.

What few people realize, even so-called “digital natives” who’ve grown up with the Internet, is that Wikipedia is authored by the same pool of people who most regularly use it; while anyone can edit Wikipedia, the majority of editors are young, white males. But this isn’t common knowledge. Jessie Daniels, Professor of Sociology at CUNY, working with teenagers (15-19 year olds), found that most of them didn’t realize they could edit Wikipedia entries. Nor did many of these users recognize that there isn’t a “Wikipedia” company to blame or praise.

Wikipedia is a community developed knowledge tool. Editors are volunteers who work together to collaboratively create the world’s largest knowledge resource.  While there is great democratic possibility for “anyone” to edit, the truth is that there is a relatively small percentage of total users who do. That’s not surprising really. It’s how most crowd-sourcing works, and in fact, how most volunteer organizations run  – your kids’ school bake sale or the food co-op.

Notably for “category-gate,” the volunteers at Wikipedia are mostly young men. This exposé noted a visible symptom but failed to take account of the fact that Wikipedia is community of editors self-governing under “five pillars”: a set of community policies that govern both the nature of acceptable content and community behavior. In addition to editing and researching content, the work of Wikipedians also includes participating in the discussions on the talk pages of categories, and self-governing in relation to community standards of behavior.

The point here is not that the self-governance absolves the encyclopedia’s structural sexism, but that we cannot possibly address the systemic bias of a resource that is fundamentally misunderstood.  People were up in arms about Lambert’s choice to create a subcategory of women writers and to move women out of the general American novelist category, thereby suggesting that only men are “American Novelists.” And rightly so.

But the response of Wikipedians was different; they discussed this controversial issue as they do all others on the site. The Talk pages for editors (which are easily viewable for day-to-day users, too) quickly filled with debate about the organization of the list of American novelists and of one editor’s choice to subcategorize by gender. The community ultimately chose a gender-neutral solution with “almost unanimous agreement” according to Adrianne Wadewitz, a Wikipeaida Ambassador who is also a feminist scholar of English Literature with a post-doc in New Media Studies at Occidental College.

Filipacchi’s article prompted Wikipedians to take a closer look at Lambert’s work and to discuss the issues. It also drew brief public attention to the craftedness, the incompleteness, and the collaborative nature of Wikipedia. Unfortunately, that attention was then redirected to the work of an editor known as “Qworty,” as juicy examples of what Andrew Leonard of Slate.com has dubbed the “age of revenge editing.” Leonard’s story drew readers’ attention to a sexier narrative: a story about rampant sexism in what is often mistaken for a corporate product, a digital product (mis)shaping how we understand the venerable novel. Such coverage riles up readers; it encourages shares, likes, and a lot of hand wringing. It was also an opportunity lost.

While communal agreement isn’t particularly sexy, the work and opinions of feminist Wikipedians is apparently even less so. Not only were reporters uninterested in the nuances of community and crowd-sourced knowledge production, those who contacted Wikipedians seemed to be explicitly uninterested in hearing the voices of female and feminist Wikipedians. As Wadewitz has observed in her own blog-post about the events, articles trumpeting “Wikipedia’s Sexism” or the encyclopedia’s  “Women Problem” took up a preexisting narrative that put sexist men at the center of Wikipedia and women on the outside.

This story excludes the important and longstanding work of women and feminists in the Wikipedia community, including WikiProjects addressing gender disparity in content and systemic bias. Nowhere mentioned were the WikiWomen’s Collaborative or the new Wikipedia Teahouse. Dramatic stories of revenge editing occluded as well the extensive work of the international feminist collaborative known as FemTechNet to initiate and support the training of women and students, many of whom come from underrepresented groups, to edit Wikipedia, and think about women’s relationships to technology, knowledge-production and internet community. Related efforts, like #toofew—another effort to write women into Wikipedia—and WikiStorms held at Feminist That Camps and through the fembot collective—indicate a productive, collaborative feminist effort at a much deeper, and dispersed level, than the questionable and questioned activities of one editor. 

Furthermore, the media’s first gloss on the story entirely failed to take account of the complex community of editors and the work they actually do. Such reporting also suggests that addressing systemic bias is a numbers game – add more women and you’ll get equity. Unfortunately, the systemic bias in this case isn’t just about who is doing the editing; it’s about what counts as knowledge.

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. Editors are creating a “tertiary resource,” meaning that everything that goes up on Wikipedia does so in the spirit of aggregating accumulated knowledge. First and second person accounts are generally not strong enough support on their own for a claim or change on Wikipedia. Published sources are the gold standard. What’s more, the “notability requirement” means that it’s not enough for an article to be verifiable, it also needs to be important. This means that in addition to worrying about the bias produced by a relatively homogenous editorial community, we should be worrying about the biases expressed in our collective sources of “important” “accumulated knowledge.” Perhaps even more important than the misogynistic work of particular editors, are the biases of print culture that Wikipedia is at risk of reproducing – silently.

Yes, women should be editing Wikipedia in ways that more accurately reflect our numbers in the population as a whole. But this isn’t enough. It’s too easy to focus on John Pack Lambert’s work and politics, to make “Qworty’s” obnoxious revenge quest the easy target of our (justified) anger, to think about the individual actions and not the structures of bias that continue to exclude women, people of color, and queer people from processes of knowledge creation.  

Anyone interested in how we come to know what we know should be concerned about the systemic bias of Wikipedia. But they should be equally concerned about media representations that hide more pervasive forms of bias by focusing on individuals. By ignoring the work of women and feminists currently underway, such stories argue that women don’t edit because the environment isn’t friendly enough or they are too busy tending to families, thereby perpetuating a popular sense that technological work is men’s work. Such reporting created the very kinds of gendered discrimination it purported to uncover.

As a feminist digital humanities scholar in the broader network of scholars and feminists concerned with issues of gender and technology, it is my hope that “category-gate” instigates a broader conversation about the manifold ways that women are still seen as a “subcategory.” More importantly, it should encourage us to acknowledge that we are responsible for crafting knowledge and that we all need to understand what Wikipedia is and how it is created. It’s the world’s largest knowledge resource and it’s a place where women and feminists are working every single day to ensure that it represents the world we want to live in.