Women with opinions are seen as dangerous people. Be it an educated woman or a woman with a lot of experience in a particular aspect, it has been with scepticism that the society sees women’s contributions in knowledge production and the trend seems to continue. Joseph Reagle, assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, wrote an interesting research paper titled Free as in Sexist? which questions the minimised participation of women in the computing community, especially in the “free culture”.
He talks about how the online communities that are part of this “free culture” are not always welcoming of women. He says that, from his experience of talking to women, women who are interested in participating in such websites experience a lot of sexism. This may come from a minority of people but acts as enough of a discouragement for women to participate in such discussions for a second time. People have started to see the freedom that internet provides with, as a freedom to shout and scream their opinions, almost as if the last person standing is the winner.
This is not a problem faced by women alone. Men, equally, do not want to contribute to topics even when they are confident about them because they simply do not want to argue with someone for hours together. However, such a trend is not good for the general public in the long run. We end up having sources that are of poor quality as the ones who are knowledgeable and with genuine expertise in the fields hesitate to participate.
To say that gender discrimination is a thing of past is to live in a bubble and see a blurred vision. It is time we opened our eyes wide and recognised discrimination even in the fields that we take for granted as free and open.
N Malavika Mohan