Women and Citizendium

Leslie Brooks has a short piece up asking “where the hell are the women in the Citizendium project?” I’m not impressed by the tone of the piece itself, but I think it is a good question (we do have more male than female contributors). Really, I think the question should be expanded to women and wikis in general– I would imagine that Wikipedia may be equally or moreso biased toward male contributors, but it’s just easier to tally up contributions by gender when people are editing under their real names. Regardless, engaging both male and female contributors is something we really need to think about.

I’m writing this as a personal response to Leslie’s blog post, not an official rejoinder.

Dear Leslie,

You can criticize with the intent to help, you can criticize with the intent to explore greater philosophical issues, or you can criticize to produce a neat little snarky blog post. I feel your post straddles the second and third.

Honestly, I think you cover some interesting philosophical ground– maybe wikis can be (tend to be?) biased against women (why is that?). It could be that, by bringing in many academic experts, Citizendium brings some of the biases you mention. I don’t know– but I find these issues interesting and I’d like to hear more.

But you don’t do real dialog about these issues any favors by only linking to criticisms of us (most of which I consider long-since rebutted) and ignoring all the other interesting things and quality dialog going on at Citizendium, nor by ignoring the most valid point of comparison (Wikipedia), nor by not offering any suggestions on what to do.

So I ask you, Leslie– please show your colors. Either make some suggestions on what we can do to help attract female contributors (keeping in mind there are many constraints involved with building an encyclopedia), or don’t. With respect, I submit that- particularly when dealing with volunteers- it takes more to make a positive difference in the world than a snarky blog post.

In the end, I think we’re on the same side. We all want Citizendium to be a welcoming place for female contributors (for philosophical, practical, and moral reasons), and we at Citizendium have thought about the issue and take it very seriously. We’re a group of volunteers that are juggling a lot of initiatives, and sometimes worthy causes don’t get the attention we would like to give them. If you give us a good, easy-to-implement idea, we very well may divert some of our precious, finite resources into it. We would love to have more women editing at Citizendium and are committed to it! And so if you have suggestions on what we can do to bring this about, we’d love to hear them.

But if you do want to suggest changes to Citizendium (and this goes for anyone), please:
1. don’t try to hijack our deliberation process with name-calling like Kali Tal did– she did her cause (a good cause) no favors by her actions– and
2. keep in mind that the vast majority of us are volunteers, that we’re operating under many (and sometimes non-obvious, complex) constraints connected to our main goal, that of building an encyclopedia, and that assuming good faith, being respectful of those you’d like to influence, and meeting people halfway aren’t just platitudes– they’re an important part of effectively working with people and bringing about the change you want.

So, thank you for raising the philosophical issue, Leslie– and I mean that sincerely– but I wish you had put more meat and more respect into your article.

Update, 7-24-07: Interested readers, please see the discussion attached to my crosspost on the Citizendium blog.

1 comment:

Leslie Madsen-Brooks said...

Hi Mike,

I left a comment over on the Citizendium blog. Thanks for opening a dialogue!