Discourse, gender, and online forums

What did the women you spoke to say would help? It seems like it would be best to ask the people impacted how things can be changed to be more inclusive, in specific respect to Discourse. In the broader context, I’ve heard suggestions from women that boil down to:

  • Take women’s mentions of issues seriously, without judgment, and without attempts to “explain the problem away” or otherwise suggest that it isn’t something that needs to be dealt with by the community or those in a position of power within the community; and
  • Publicly call out and act upon bad behaviour wherever you see it, without needing to have anyone else make a complaint about it beforehand.

Discourse can help somewhat with that latter, I think, because of the extensive flagging and moderation powers, but the former and some of the latter are things that the individual forum community has to engage in, as a whole, and there’s not a lot I can think of, at least, that Discourse could do to improve the situation. However, I’m not the directly impacted group here, so my opinions aren’t worth much.

if someone who is the target of any sort of this kind of thing (women, LGBTQ, or any other racial/ethic/religious/etc harassed minority) has insights as to how Discourse could do better, that would be a far more valuable contribution than my opinions.


Thanks so much!

Indeed. I’ve been informed of a successful Buddhist forum run by a women (not on Discourse, sadly, no-ones perfect!) and I am trying to contact her for some feedback.

I agree with your two points, and would add a third:

  • Avoid a mode of discussion that degenerates into point-scoring, seeing who “wins”, rather than focusing on connecting and working towards a positive outcome.

I also agree that discourse does pretty well as far as the social engineering part of coding goes, and that can never be a substitute for community engagement. Hopefully we can find areas for improvement is both aspects.

Like i said earlier: what drew me to the discourse environment was the clear focus on the digital realm as a meaningful space for genuine human interaction. I just came across this beautiful and moving article, which says it much better than I could:



Sure, let us know what you find out.

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A crude analysis of our user profiles reveals a 60/40 male/female ratio on https://se23.life/ (a local community Discourse forum)

However the three real-life meetups we’ve had so far have been increasingly female-dominated:

Example post showing how we’ve worded our meetup invitation:


I’m going to keep my post short, because I know the PC police have taken over rationality in many domains… I don’t think this one is any different. Don’t you think consciously choosing to make all moderators women is in itself sexist? I don’t understand the logic of this at all.

Perhaps the reason there is less female participation has to do with the unspoken (or it may be too well spoken, I don’t know) way in which things present itself in your channel? You can’t force change, or equality, but you can sure attempt to mess with instincts and cause a lot of unease and tension in the process.

Eh, like I said I’ll keep it short. I’m certain this is something you’re very passionate about, and find no reason to spell this all out in detail (though it appears obvious).

There’s nothing to fix. If you can’t handle that men and women have different instincts, inclinations, and natural preferences in general, and therefore will tend to gravitate towards different things then you will find issue with much in this world throughout your journey.

Women may find a need to hide in the online world of tech, sciences, and mathematics because they are dominated by males. The reason should be very straight forward.


My understanding is that Discourse closely follows “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

That is, unless a forum adds a custom user field requiring personal information there is no obligation to provide it.

And even then, except for a valid email address what a member enters can range from entirely fictitious to entirely factual.

After reading this

I’m wondering if making the various profile settings more clear as to who can see them might help.

this info can be seen by all members
this by only you and Staff

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Yes, because they’re harassed and hit upon every time they don’t hide. While I’m fine with “men and women like different things, and therefore there will be different gender ratios in different places”, I’d say that until women have a free choice in deciding where they wish to be, rather than having awful behaviour drive them away, there’s work to be done.


If these things are inate, then we should be able to pin down the genetic factors that all of a sudden became very prevalent in baby girls born around 1965. It looks like there was a further influx of “doesn’t like computers” genes in 1980.

It is social factors that keep women out of tech, and those social factors are entirely in the control of the male majority in that world. If you are a man in technology and you’re not doing something (it doesn’t have to be much, acknowledging the problem and observing your own behaviour is enough), then I’m afraid you’re part of the problem.

Anecdata: Out of all my female friends, three are “coders” of one shade or another. Two have already quit the field and the other would like to. Reason? Unpleasant male-dominated/sexist atmosphere at work.


That graph looked familiar, I recall the planet money podcast about it:


This book by Jan Margolis seems to be referenced


When I started this thread, I took it for granted that gender bias (in online interactions generally and Discourse in particular) was a real problem and needed to be addressed. Perhaps I should have made myself clearer, but in any case let me do so now.

This thread is not for people who want to dispute whether gender bias exists and whether it is a problem. If you want to discuss that, please do so somewhere else. This thread is for those who want to address the problem and try to do something about it, if only to share experiences and support each other.


Thanks, Chris. It looks like you’ve got a vibrant and friendly community going, so congrats. It seems your community is not a tech-focused one, so it would be interesting to hear from the women especially about how they find using Discourse.

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If you are starting with the assumption that there are no gender differences that handicaps your investigation.

Gender goes back further than human history. You are writing off differences emerging from millions of years of evolution. Look at the different breeds of dogs, with such variations in intelligence, behavior, and temperament, which split from one species and diverged over just a few thousand years.

So what? You are blurring distinctions which inform us. What benefit is derived from this? It is just narcissistic virtue signaling.

The hazard of your approach, for example, is that we can’t ban fourteen year olds from driving because some of them would be competent drivers. This would lead to more road accidents.

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My forum is run by 2 women (and a guy that helps us when we need it) and we have about equal men and women that both participate in discussions and who both enjoy the discourse platform, how come you made sure the moderators were all women? it doesn’t need to be like that because its all about equality, your now making it something though, if you know what I mean.

  • Total users
    60 - 40 ratio

  • Last seen 60days
    55 - 45 ratio

  • Posters
    70 - 30 ratio

The worst problem in my board is posting it seens :thinking:


As one of the moderators on @sujato’s forum, I have never felt that his decision to include only women as moderators was a singling-out of female voices, but rather an elevation of our presence in a male-dominated environment.

On the basis of equality this might seem counterintuitive, to provide a platform on which women’s voices are featured; but I think this, in some sense, is what is needed in order to provide safe and productive online spaces for women.

This is not to deny the equality of men and women, but to recognize that in society (and particularly in online spaces) women’s voices are often not heard.

A solution (or a start) to resolving such issues on online forums, I think, is to have admins and moderators who are particularly sensitive and conscious of gender discrimination; and who, through their example provide increasingly safe spaces for women and people of all genders.


Specific to this forum, finding ways of encouraging more women to get involved with contributing to the code could help.

Not sure this directly contributes to the Topic, but I feel like sharing an observation…

In a home automation forum where I am a major contributor, members extremely frequently mention their challenges of adding technology to their homes due to the constraint of “wife acceptance factor” — so often, in fact, that it is abbreviated “WAF”.

I find the term off-putting, though not necessarily offensive; since it is, indeed, a real statistically prevalent situation (i.e., the non-tinkerer of the household resists home automation technology, and, objectively in the majority of cases that is that person in the wife).

In my household, the technology register happens to be my domestic who is the same gender as myself. But he is not my “wife”.

I made suggestions that a gender and family unit neutral term should be used (Family Acceptance Factor), but was accused of being “the PC Police”).

I cannot speak for the female members of that forum — they are a minority, I presume < 10% including undisclosed; so I don’t know how each feels about the “WAF” reduction. The very few who spoke up said it wasn’t a problem to them.


Speaking as someone who is not tech naive, the people doing the resisting are the ones that come across as sane. Maybe that comes from reading Risks for well over a decade (and it was old when I started), but newfangledness frequently means “many potential problems and issues have yet to be encountered or thought of”.

Anyway, that’s my long-winded way of saying, “WAF” and “FAF” are both wrong. It should be the RAF: realist acceptance factor.

In a more serious vein, I do agree that “WAF” sounds both sexist and likely to drive off women from participating, yet I can also see how the term could evolve naturally. One person says it and no one objects, then another, then another, and soon it becomes accepted convention among the group that wives are the objectors. This will lead to new members being self-selected for accepting that convention, and thus excluding the home automation tinkerers who don’t accept it.

Trying to change the tide after it has come in is not easy.


I admin for an esoteric quasi-religous society that has just switched from using a Yahoo Group email list (I know, I know) to discourse.

While I don’t think we have solved this problem, we are at about 60/40 for post authors and right around 50/50 for members. I think there are three reasons for our relative success.

  1. The nature of what we do - Over the last hundred years we’ve seen overt discrimination against women mostly disappear in the esoteric scene and woman have found a leading role in many such societies.

  2. Gender balance in the leadership - By unwritten tradition our core leadership team is half men and half women. It’s been the experience of many of our leaders that any organisation that is run by one gender falls apart after a while along relatively predictable paths. Having a balanced leadership means that we have women in power who will be ready to take action and inspire other women to speak up.

  3. Aggressive moderation - We have a forum Code of Conduct and a three strikes policy. One minor violation gets a warning, two puts you on permanent moderated status and a third gets you banned from the forum. Period. Major violations count as two and extreme violations count as three. We would much rather quickly kick out a disruptive troll than lose the quiet occasional posters or interested lurkers. There are always more trolls out there, while someone who has been around lurking forever might suddenly have a bit of insight to share.


What kind of minor violation are we talking about?