The NY Times article that blithely ignored the vast number of women in the history of computing is just the latest event that had me thinking about the invisibility of women on the internet. Wikipedia editors are overwhelmingly male*. The vast majority of tech blogs and photography blogs that I read are written by men. And the media as a whole is overwhelmingly male.
But I wonder how much I’m contributing to this invisibility. I make no conscious effort to hide my gender online. My website has my full name. I often sign blog comments as “Becky” or “Rebecca”. I talk about all sorts of topics online, from politics and sports to breastfeeding and natural birth. Depending on what day you’ve caught me, it could be pretty obvious what my gender is (if you happened to care).
However, my username on Twitter and Flickr and other commenting services is simply “rstanek”. If I use an avatar online, it’s typically a square crop of this picture of the roof of the Pantheon in Rome, not a picture of myself. I have a few other pseudonyms not attached to my real name — including, yes, on Wikipedia — and they’re also all gender-neutral. This was not a conscious effort to “hide” anything — it was just what I felt comfortable presenting online. I’ve rarely had to deal with online harassment, which I’d always attributed to keeping a low profile online and hanging out in forums that are explicitly women-friendly. I hadn’t realized until lately how much of it was probably due to people assuming I was a man in many instances.
How much am I contributing to the invisibility of women online? And how should women balance the visibility issue with the personal comfort and safety issue?
* By the way, that could spark an entirely separate post about how people dismiss online spheres that are female-dominated, but online spheres that are male-dominated are considered a normal part of everyday life.