Make Your Dude-Dominated Subculture More Accessible to Women
Yesterday, feminist sci fi enthusiast and From Austin to A&M blogger Courtney Stoker graciously agreed to answer this blog's questions on how to reconcile her feminist ideals with her geekier subculture interests. Today, it's time for the bonus round!
A while back, I heard from Joseph Hewitt—English teacher, computer game programmer, cartoonist—on the issue of dude-dominated subcultures. (Attentive readers may remember Hewitt from his Male Studies cartoon published on this blog). Hewitt is also the creator of GearHead RPG, a sci fi role-playing game set "a century and a half after nuclear war" that has spawned an active online community. Now, Hewitt is wondering how to address the dude-centric aspects of that world:
Do you have any ideas about what I can do to make sure that women feel comfortable and welcome in the small corner of a small counterculture that I personally manage? In addition to the comic, I'm also the lead developer for an open source computer game. We have an active fan community and forum. Most of the participants are male.
I think I have most of the inclusiveness basics covered: Don't be an asshole. Call out sexist behavior when it shows up. Don't fill the game itself with fair-skinned bikini-clad vixens waiting to be rescued. As far as I know we haven't had any problems with blatant sexism in the community. However, I know enough to know that I don't know everything. I also know that the sheer number of men on the forum must make it seem like a boys-only club.
It seems like there's a participation gap between the men and women who play the game. The bug reports and feature requests that I get via email show a much smaller gender gap than the forum membership would indicate. I spoke with a fellow developer about this subject and she told me some of her internet horror stories. She said that she's always been treated with respect in our community, but we didn't reach any grand conclusions about the big picture.
What to do when the members of a community are of all genders but the voices in the community are predominantly male?
I asked Stoker, who is also a gamer, if she had any ideas on making dude-dominated countercultures more accessible to women. Here's what she had to say:
I think it's great that this guy is asking this question and seriously implementing what he calls the “basics,” which aren't practiced in most geek spaces. It's difficult to make your space more inclusive, however, because geek women aren't stupid. We know what geek spaces are like, and it's going to take a community-wide shift to get us to feel safe there. Which isn't to say not to try, but only not to get discouraged when your efforts don't seem to be creating the influx of ladies on your forum that you hoped for. That said, here are two guidelines that I think lead to lady-friendly geek spaces (these are also equally applicable in trying to include more people of color, LGBTQI individuals, and disabled folks):
1. Advertise yourself as such. When looking for online communities, I tend only to join those that are either explicitly feminist or women-friendly. Let your community know that you are trying to create a more inclusive space as a reaction against geek misogyny. Make your purpose explicit, and you'll not only scare off the men that will hinder inclusion, but attract women who are more wary of geek spaces.
2. Take women's voices seriously. Ask the female members of your community what changes you should make, and listen sincerely to their answers. Do you have a blog portion of your community? If so, make sure it's equal opportunity. Ask women to participate and take their conversations seriously. Above all, be willing to listen, even if what women have to say makes you feel uncomfortable or challenges your privilege. (Actually, especially if that happens.) The best way to make a community feel welcome is to show that you care what they think and have to say.
Photo via the Library of Congress