Sex and Digg

Melinda Casino points to this longish, well documented essay, Why are there so few women on Digg by Academic Pointillism. The author is a Digg subscriber who wonders at the lack of women participating in the site.

One of the possible reasons given for the lack of women is that many of the stories are male centric. I checked today, and found about half the stories interesting and only one really being male centric. The one I found most interesting is the site with the babies swimming and not because I’m into the maternal thing, but because I found the photography to be really excellent (the site has since been taken down–see below). There was also a fun Google images game that reminds me of a Flickr game that Scott Reynen created.

Other reasons the author gives have to do with sexism, racism, and homophobia in the comments, as well as objectification of women. She has a couple of suggestions, one of which–get more women involved in the development of the site and how it’s architected–I can get behind completely. By women, I mean women in technology–not marketing, not human resources.

What was said about Digg could be same about Slashdot, as well as the sites like Techmeme, Tailrank, and Megite: it’s rare for a female voice to be heard in any of these environments.

I can agree with some of the author’s opinions, but not all. Objectification of women is an issue, but I think the idea that women can’t go online and express a strong opinion without getting sexual and violent threats has been badly overplayed lately. Is it a problem? Yes, but not as pervasive as others. I think women’s biggest problem is we’re not heard, or when we are, not always given equal respect. There’s few things that will discourage a person more than feeling like we’re not heard, and I include getting dismissive and demeaning responses in the ‘not being heard’ category.

Then there is the question: are women as interested? I find sites like Digg and Slashdot to be occasionally interesting, I tip into Metafilter from time to time, I rarely read mailing lists, and only read the tech sheets once a day to see what the artificially inflated stories are. I just have better uses of my time. Now, I don’t know if I’m representative of women (or older techs) or not–all I can do is give anecdotal data.

Regardless, it’s a thoughtful, well researched, and objectively detailed writing and I’ll do my little bit to try and get this on to the tech sheets.


The Academic Pointillism post has been dugg.

Second update

The item with the swimming babies does provide a good demonstration for Academic Pointillism’s point: in the comment thread, cries of child porn soon rang out. These were no more porn than the pictures of my cat. They were beautiful photographs.

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10 Responses to Sex and Digg

  1. Slashdot / Digg / MetaFilter are data-mining of the demographic around them – this point is often missed in the fairy-tale told about them (the one which usually has buzzwords like “democracy” for “unpaid labor). As a distillation, that picks the most prominent aspects. A feminist sensibility is not among those aspects. So all that’ll happen is another go-around of the cultural-feminism aspects of society in general.

  2. Shelley says:

    Probably true, Seth. I doubt we’ll even be able to get this pushed, however briefly, into the tech sheets, much less effect any kind of intelligent dialog about this issue. Unless kottke picks it up.

  3. Melinda says:

    Ah, this is beautiful, thanks for your thoughts.

    I almost included a bit about Metafilter, as I had listened to their podcast for the first time last week. They had a male and female team hosting the podcast, and one of the stories had to do with street harrassment. But I’d only listened to half the podcast so left it out..

    The “are women interested?” is a chicken-or-the-egger.

    Seth: yes, a feminist sensibility may be asking too much. However, there are degrees of inclusivity. So, while there may not be a feminist sensibility, there is a “macho sensibility”, and it has a sliding scale. A casual fly-by visitor picks up on these things in her assessment of the community, and whether it is a place where she’s willing to invest her time.

  4. Melinda says:

    (Damnit I can’t edit the comments anymore…)

  5. nikkiana says:

    I’m not a regular visitor of Digg…. I don’t really think it’s because of any of sexist reasons or anything, it’s just that I guess it doesn’t particularly interest me in the gripping “I want to visit this site daily” sort of way…. It’s more the kind of site I visit once in a blue moon when I’m really bored and the sites I normally read aren’t being updated fast enough.

  6. Amyloo says:

    Oh dear. Don’t read the Digg comments on the article. Way too depressing. Mostly denial. I’d like to think they’re mostly young, but, well, then that’s depressing too. Back into my coma.

  7. Shelley says:

    They were awful — the photographs were lovely…and completely innocent.

  8. Bud Gibson says:

    As we discuss the male/female balance on the web, this post is interesting. On your site, run by a woman, you’re using the male third person pronoun 61% of the time. On a site,, that until recently I had run with a female, the percentage for that same pronoun is 52%. Now that my partner has left the site, my guess is that the site’s “male pronoun” percentage is going to grow.

  9. Shelley says:

    Bud it has little to do with being a man or a woman. That really was flawed. As one commenter mentioned, we tend to use the masculine when referencing an unknown or generic individual. In addition, it really does matter what you cover. I cover tech. Most techs are male. It makes sense that most of the people I reference are male.

    I did get an email on this, and that my site was used. I suppose to what, make it seem like I’m not putting my blog where my mouth is or something.

  10. Bud Gibson says:

    Shelley, you’re right, the world of fitness is different. But, I’d say it tends to run the same dichotomy. There’s male fitness and female fitness. Furthermore, since fitness also tends to be highly correlated with looks and attractiveness, female fitness (and to a lesser extent male) frequently falls into the trap of “Am I hot or not”. One reason I think we wound up pretty balanced was that I would frequently author posts about what she was doing and vice versa.

    I don’t buy the argument that pronoun frequency doesn’t matter. Pronouns are frequently used to mark gender and people interpret misuse of pronouns as gender confusion.