A couple of months back there was interesting discussion about sexism and wikipedia I never did get round to replying then, but I was thinking about and so I thought I’d write about it now.
It started when m from scribblepad compared the definition of ‘women’ with the definition of ‘men’ on wikipedia and pointed out that the differences were sexist. She got a whole bunch of replies that critised her for attacking open source (I got all this from Feministe which had a nice post on the issue). She responded
I understand there are several people out there who seem to think challenging wikipedia amounts to challenging open source, something that shouldn’t (according to them) be allowed at any cost. one, it isn’t about “wikipedia versus feminism” or “wikipedia the last stand of free source”. Nobody can force that kind of trade off, and even if they do, as much as I support free source, damned if ill continue to do so when the project abuses me.
I wasn’t at all surprised. I expect wikipedia to be sexist, racist, and supporting the existing class structures. I expect the same of indymedia, and any other ‘free’ space.
I’ll explain what I mean a little more by talking about something that happened to me a few years back. I protest quite often (I have a personal goal of protesting outside every embassy in Wellington). One day I was happily protesting and someone took a photo. It was the best photo of the day, so I became the face of the demo. Someone posted my picture with an article onto an Australian indymedia site. The comments went like this:
1. “The bird in the red has big tits I’d like to suck them”
2. “Fucken Leso give her some fucken meat”.
3. Some long diatribe on how we shouldn’t objectify women because it distracts us from the class struggle
4. A reasonably long post about how much the writer liked our protest and how he should do something like that where he lived, and then he ended it with “PS they’re not that big”
There were no further comments. The original article was hidden, but no-one, including the person who hid it, or the person who forwarded a link to me, made any further comment on the way they were talking about my body.
I was on the fringes of the local indymedia collective at the time, and wrote to the e-mail list talking about this post, and the concerns I had about indymedia in general. A couple of people responded, and the one I remember was from a man who asked why I hadn’t posted a response, as that was the whole point of open communication.
So to recap: a photo of me was taken at demo, this led four men to make a series of comments about my body, including rape threats, some of which came from men who were supposed to be comrades. No one spoke a word against it, including people who thought it was wrong. When I raised an objection in a slightly safer space I was told I was the one who was supposed to do something about this.
Our society is sexist and misogynist. What this means is that if we create a supposedly free space for communication it’ll replicate the sexist and misogynist patterns found in mainstream society, unless we take conscious action to change those sexist and misogynist patterns. The same is true for all other power structures in our society, they will all be replicated in the free space.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that those who want to build a new world need to give up on open communication spaces as a tool (I am writing this on the internet), but that if we’re going to use them we need to set up structures to challenge those power systems we’re fighting against.
Also posted at my blog.