Why it matters that the internet’s made by men

The amazing Soraya Chemaly has a piece up about the internet being made of bros and why that matters.

Tech’s institutionalised male dominance, and the sex segregation and hierarchies of its workforce, have serious and harmful effects globally on women’s safety and free expression.

This is what Soraya documents throughout the piece. From revenge porn to the kinds of abuse women face, that segregates it from the kind men receive.

Men and women are having very different online experiences. For women the spectrum of what we call “harassment” is much broader, multifaceted and sustained. One of the primary reasons so many social media companies struggle with responding to online abuse on their platforms is that reporting and complaint systems fail to appreciate these differences.

And they fail because of quite an obvious reason: “The [tech] industry is overwhelmingly male and labour is sex segregated.”

These statistics inform a profound epistemological imbalance that results in inadequate tech solutions to women’s user problems. This in turn affects the ways that men and women participate the public sphere. Online harassment of men is not as severe or sustained as that of women.

And it’s due to a system – not because sexists or misogynists or racists are “winning”. They’re not.

But we, to some extent, are losing.

gender and racial imbalances are shared by the venture capitalists that fund tech, which means that women and minorities are also inhibited from access to the resources that would enable them to innovate alternate solutions. [Emphasis added]

Solutions that work. Solutions that aren’t tone-deaf. Solutions that aren’t fearful of “free speech” violations, putting this caricatured concept above the very real concerns of women and other marginalized people.

The fact is: There is so much evidence to show there is an issue of diversity in many spheres of life and changing it also means changing the deeply embedded, male-focussed entitlement that comes with it. As Soraya highlights, tech isn’t special in this way. But it is highly prominent, since more of us are likely to be social media users than, say, scientists.

I’m a man. I’ve never experienced rape threats or online stalkers (kinda) or persistent abusers. I don’t know what it’s like to be constantly blamed for the failures of awful men, because of my wardrobe, or my face, or my words, or my existence. I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like being the target of anger and bullying because you’re more talented than men in a male-dominated field: games, science, etc.

What I do know is that I don’t want any sphere to function like that; what I really hate is that we can continue to have a booming tech industry, amazing user stats of social media pages, continual progress in games and comics and films – yet, all the while, allowing sexism to run rampant. It should worry us that such industries not only continue, but continue to do so well when their core is so rotten. Sexism starts to look like a feature, when it should be a bug.

It’s time for us to change that everywhere.