Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

A short confession. After participating in this forum for a few years, I never thought this was an actual problem. Watching this whole thread of conversation has been very enlightening, and not in the way I had hoped.

So, on behalf of those of us who had not seen these attitudes before so blatantly on parade, my sincerest apologies.

For me that moment of realization came about three years ago, on an entirely different forum.

I came into a discussion (on a topic similar to this) between a female friend of mine and another guy a few hours after it started. Every post of his had me nodding: I probably would have said just the same thing if he hadn't beaten me to it. So it was frustrating and confusing to see my friend getting increasingly hurt and angry as they went: why couldn't she see how much this guy was making sense?

I was pretty intensely annoyed with her by that point. I decided that if I was going to be able to get through to her about why she was being unreasonable and this other guy was right, I'd have to dig through some of the links that she'd shared so I could make a convincing case that her position was unfair.

I read the articles she'd linked to, and I still couldn't figure out why she'd been so upset. Confused, I read them again. Then I read some of their links, and theirs, and began hunting for more. What had begun as a determined mission to convince my friend that she was blowing things way out of proportion gradually turned into a dawning horrified realization that I had been solidly and unthinkingly on the wrong side of this whole range of issues for years (despite thinking that I was very committed to gender equality).

Only those few hours of delay before I'd seen the original conversation had saved me from being the one saying totally insensitive and hurtful things to my friend, and I can still think of times in years past when I did say things that make me cringe today. Ever since, I've taken it as a sort of penance to try and share what little of this stuff I've started to understand whenever I see people talking about these issues the way I used to. I hope that it occasionally plants a seed of understanding for someone, even if it doesn't take hold right away.

Thank you. That's all; just thank you -- for putting in the work, for being willing to be wrong, for fighting the good fight. This stranger, at least, appreciates it.

This attitude is a clear echo of what a Pentacostal girl said to me when I was 15, hoping/expecting I would take up her religion later on when I originally thought it was stupid.

Conversion experiences never do translate well to other people, do they? :)

But seriously, I hope that a 35-year-old coming to an unexpected new understanding of a concrete issue with measurable consequences for many other people whom he knows personally as a result of reading extensive rational arguments might be judged a little differently than a 15-year-old's enthusiasm about a personal faith experience.

One likely difference: I don't expect my account of coming to this realization to be what changes anyone's mind. (I'd be uncomfortable if it were.) I shared it here just to illustrate that a more or less rational person can make the shift that I did. Whether you make that same transition tomorrow or ten years from now or never isn't something I can control. It depends on how well you listen, and to whom, and how well you relate to what you've heard at any given time.

I had a similar moment of realization about gender equality once. I used to believe that IRC was a very nice medium because the gender of the participants was not revealed (unless they wanted to), so (I thought) it was entirely free from gender prejudices.

Then, I discussed with someone on the channel of a hackspace I used to go to (but had just started attending so I didn'n know the people well); I had never seen the guy IRL but he said he would attend the next session so I could figure out who he was in real life.

But when I come, none of the participants were him. And then a female participant shows up and a while later it turns out that "he" is her, and I was shocked to see how unexpected this felt.

I'm not implying that the IRC user being female was in any way shocking, nor did I believe that the women who had joined us (and, this time, the only female participant around) could not be a "real" participant to a hackspace. It's just that, while I had wondered of every participant whether it was that IRC guy or not, I just hadn't made the connection for her.

And, thus, I realized that, without even noticing it, no matter my opinions about gender prejudices, I must have had a pretty strong mental image of that IRC user being male, for me to be so surprised when she turned out to be female. IRC wasn't gender-neutral. It was male by default.

I'm not sure how related to the discussion this is, but for me this was the moment when I realized that prejudices weren't just something that stupid people did, and that I was also influenced by them even if (especially if) I didn't notice.

It's a problem I have with hacker news comments as well...

Are there any statistics how many participants here are male, female, etc.?

I just assume something about 95% male commenters so I automatically assume a boy or a man on the other side of the conversation. Which probably is a rather bad assumption :/

IRC is gender neutral.

You made a foolish assumption. Not everyone does that, or even cares in the slightest what a users gender/age/cultural background/disability/whatever is.

All you have done is reveal your own past personal prejudice. Congratulations on getting over that.

> IRC is gender neutral.

So you read about someone's experience proving otherwise (I have had similar experiences on IRC, getting treated shitty for being a woman) and you stated something else in an authoritarian fashion, without feeling the slightest need to prove your point. How... interesting.

Saying his personal experience proves anything about IRC as a medium is a stretch.

No requirement exists to give your gender or a name that may reveal a gender. That, by any definition, is 'gender neutral'.

If someone makes assumptions about other people it's their own issue, it has nothing to do with what is essentially an anonymous medium. I really didn't think it needed 'proving'.

Of course you didn't think that. I think your confusion stems from the fact that, when speaking about IRC, one speaks also about the community that uses IRC -- without the people using IRC, it would be useless, since its aim is to make communication possible. I'm a bit surprised this wasn't taken into account.

> That, by any definition, is 'gender neutral'.

No, because women receive shit and most users are considered male by default.

> Saying his personal experience proves anything about IRC as a medium is a stretch.

His experiences are not the only ones that exist. At least a couple female IRC users I know carefully chose handles that do not reveal their gender, because they wanted to spare themselves all the negative comments they received before the handle change.

Why do you need to tell people your gender on a communications medium that doesn't require you to? I don't consider anyone to be male or female on IRC, they're just users.

The thing I always loved about IRC was that even when I was 12 years old, people took me seriously, not because I was male, or white, or an adult, but because I was thoughtful and intelligent - age in this case being the key differentiating factor.

Disgusting sexist people exist. If you tell them your gender they may well attack you for it, because they are terrible people. What are we debating here? The only assertion I've made is that IRC is inherently gender neutral by definition.

So the thing you might be missing is that even when you think you're being appreciated for your intelligence, people have still been assuming that you are both white and male (and on IRC back in the day, probably a teen or young adult).

It's folly to think that you are free of prejudice with the only basis that you don't consciously hold these prejudices, because we (humanity, science) know for a fact that biases are much more deeply ingrained in most of us.

This is particularly hard for our demographic (programmers et al) to hear, because we consider ourselves rational. We like to think that we do things because we have thought them through. But all evidence points to the fact that we are just as susceptible to biases and prejudice as everyone else. Indeed, nobody seems to be free of it, but there is a silver lining: with an analytical approach, it is possible to examine biases and become aware of them, and eventually work through them.

How can you possibly make this generalisation? On IRC, people can assume whatever they like. Everyone might as well be naked running around doing the tango, if that is how that person chooses to see those users.

Why would a person even give a microseconds thought on whether or not I was white, black, male, female, whatever, and even if they do -- why is it _my_ responsibility as person putting the content out there to be one or the other?

It's not.

You're right one one point - programmers do consider themselves to be rational. IRC is one place where biases simply don't exist by definition, because why would they? Nothing defining anything exists unless you explicitly want it to.

I find it extremely irking that you keep trying to insinuate that literally every person on IRC thinks of each other as a 'white male' like you describe. This reveals a problem, not systemic, but in yourself.

I don't think he's saying that there's anything fundamentally not neutral about IRC as a technical product. I think he's pointing out that the fact that it is gender neutral from a technical point of view does not mean that the experience is gender neutral in practice, because, as you've pointed out, people bring their own biases to the medium.

I believe his point is he realized that technology alone does not obviate sociological issues, after being confronted with his own bias in an unanticipated way.

Yes, this seems like a very clean way to phrase what I intended to say.

(Yes, of course, I'm not claiming that this is a flaw of IRC, or anybody's fault but mine.)

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact