Discourse, gender, and online forums

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?

We are pretty aggressive about it. Quoting from our CoC:

We do not tolerate posts that are flaming, political, intolerant, or critical of difference / diversity (in belief, interpretation or practice, gender, sexual identity, race, class, cultural background, disability, veteran status, or the like).

So, using @CosmicPuppy’s example, purposely using the term WAF would probably be a minor violation. On our own forum, we recently had someone discussing their beliefs as if everyone should follow their interpretation. “We should always do…” Their next couple of comments in the thread were very respectful of different interpretations, so I chose to interpret that as a minor violation due to poor choice of words rather than a major. If she had kept using those terms it would have been a major.

Yes, it’s nitpicky about words and phrasing, but since that is what we have on a forum, details matter.


As long as we’re erring on the side of caution when considering when people used thing purposely that makes sense. Details matter but people don’t like warnings for details they didn’t pay attention to.


Quite true! I find that a gentle forum-wide reminder of the basic rules every now and then tends to help.

One other thing that makes sense for us, but might not outside of esoteric discussions, is that beliefs, experiences and opinions should always be labeled as such. The analogy we quote is that beliefs, experiences and opinions are like dogs, they need name tags so you can tell the pets from the rabid strays.

The more I think about it, the more I find that WAF is such a sexist term the reinforces biases in tech that I would probably make any use of it a minor, except for a quick meta-discussion about its definition and better terms. But it’s not my forum.

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I haven’t had much to add, but I wanted to mention that I appreciate everyone’s contribution.

A thread on this was posted on a Buddhist forum with a large female presence, and evolved into a long thread, if you’re interested.

One of the posters on that forum mentioned a forum for discussing community interactions, including forums, at FeverBee, and that has some relevant discussions, too.

One concrete idea that I took away from this to introduce a dedicated “chillout” section, as a category I guess. This is no great innovation, it’s pretty common on forums. But we’ve never had one. One of the most frequently mentioned things was that it’s nice to have a space to just shoot the breeze, without being too serious or judgey. I suspect this relates to the whole question of patriarchal authority, aka “why men cite themselves in papers all the time” (to which I plead guilty!).


I am going to quote this again and again and again to everyone and everywhere from now on.

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Please stay on topic. As I said above: