Leftist Techies and patriarchy

blue 17.01.2002 19:10
Leftist men are involved with struggles against many things, so they also fight against patriarchy. That’s what they believe at least. However,often, when we work together with these men, we observe patriarchal structures.That begins with a gender specific organization of work and continues with theway discussions are dominated by males. There have even been cases of sexualassault.

A particular imbalance can be observed since more and more leftist groups areusing the internet. In many groups only men do the technical work. In groups,whose only presence is on the web, few women if any at all are involved. Thissituation contains the danger of a Backlash in the fight against patriarchaloppression. After decades of discussions about sexism and patriarchy many mendeveloped a sensibility for the topic and changed their patterns of behavior.However, it was usually women who demanded such discussions. In many internetbased groups, women who could do the same are lacking.
An analyses of this situation is urgent, particularly since the internet isbecoming more important for political campaigns. Therefore I sent out a questionnaire to 60 indymedia-groups asking them about sexism and patriarchal structures in their groups. Indymedia is an interesting example for such an analysis, because it is a worldwide network of internet based and mostly local groups. This way experiences from different countries will be contributed to the discussion. Also, indymedia made anti-sexism explicitly part of it's program. Moreover, I hoped that groups had already discussed the topic and had developed solutions. This is a first evaluation of the answers.

Whoever wants to start a new indymedia, accepts the mission statement as aworkbase. In the mission statement in article 2, point 10 the indymedia network obliged themselves to fight against sexism. Minimizing patriarchal structures in the group itself is a part of the fight against sexism. However the answers to my questionnaire show that a lot still needs to be done.

Many indymedia groups are dominated by males, more so than in other political groups. About a fifth of the activists are females in many Independent Media Center (IMC), in some even less. In other leftist groups women make up around a third, at least in Germany. My assumption was that this inequality is due to the emphasis of computer-technology in IMC-groups. Computer technology is an areathat is dominated by males almost everywhere in the world. However, there aregreat differences. While in middle- and northern european countries and in Northamerica the percentage of women in computer sciences is hardly ever more than 30 % and in many countries around ten percent, there are countries in thedeveloping world where the proportion is almost equal. (statistics about women studying computer science in different countries you can find here. The paper is in German, but some of charts are in English)

The indymedia network reflects this situation in society. Almost everywhere a clear gender based work organization has developed: women write, takephotographs, make videos. Men do all of this too, but the computer remains their domain. In some places the genderspecific work organization is even more evident than in the rest of society. E.g. an activist from San Franciscowrites: "At workplaces where I worked recently in S.F., java programmers are about 80% male and 20% female. In some companies it has been 50-50 (...). In indymedia groups, antiwar groups etc. the gender balance for tech workers seemsa lot more male."

Different reasons are mentioned, why the work organization at indymedia couldbe so gender based. The activist from San Francisco believes, that indymediaattracts mainly people from sysadmin backgrounds - a field that is strongly dominated by men. Many women state, that they have difficulties to learn from men, because men can not explain well and have a different idea aboutcomputers. In one answer the hypothesis was built, that indymedia attractscertain type of men: those who like to build the revolution from the livingroom. While women like to be on the streets. Also the problem, that women, whenthey start working with indymedia, don't own the same hardware, was mentionedin many answers as a reason for the domination of men in technical things. Thatthe costs of computer-technology can be a problem for women and others has beendiscussed on indymedia.org as well.

Not surprising in such male dominated groups is that many women complain aboutpatriarchal structures starting from the silencing in meetings to respect towards individuals. In a few groups patriarchal behavior has been a topic. In some this was cause for confrontation, in others the indies found possibilitiesto deal with it, in others they are still discussing. There are even IMCs, in which no women exist, who could demand a discussion. Some women state a fear ofeven touching the topic.

But there were also positive answers to the questionaire. There are at least two IMC's with the same amount of women as men. There is, in one IMC a woman, who knows how to program. And there are many women, who wrote that they can discuss these questions well with the male members. There are also many men who wrote, that they have thought about the topic since long. At least in two IMC's mechanismshave been developed that can minimize discrimination.

The difficulty discussing patriarchy

I started this "study", because I felt that I couldn't cope with the patriarchal structures within indymedia germany. Unfortunately women always have to address this unpleasant topic in political groups. Then I often feel the same way like an indymedia-activist from Great Britain: "If we become angry about issues of sexism, we become "the nagging female" who always complains. We are the ones who have to raise the issue from time to time, complaining,accusing. I can't tell you how tired I am of that."

Also the fear to address the topic that many women mentioned, I can understand. Because discussions about patriarchal structures are always substantial. I mean that in two ways. First on the level of the group: peopleyell at each other, groups split, friendships break apart. Second on the individual level: the gender antagonism hits us personally. It is our fellow activists, friends and lovers, who hold up patriarchy. We must explain to them that their behavior sucks. Often though they have settled quite comfortably in patriarchy and they know that their privileges are in the gamble. We can not throw paint bombs at them like we might do with racist politicians. Or they are afraid - afraid to be unmasked as sexists.

So the fight against patriarchy intrudes into our private life. That makes the discussion so difficult. We can compose an antiracist program and nevertheless the racism in our heads and hearts further exists. As long as we don't have contact with immigrants, this contradiction doesn't come to our conscience, noone will unmask it. The immigrants have their own organizations. They sure fight racism every day, but if they aren’t our best friends it won’t touch us. We can sign a petition, that they hand to us or we can go protest with them. More we don’t need to know. But with the antagonism of gender it doesn’t work as easily. Maybe therefore people react so defensivly towards thetopic. I have experienced many times that people don’t want to call itpatriarchal behavior. A female activist from San Francisco writes: "I get thesense, that most people don't want to label things as "Gender discrimination" -but more people want to deal with it as individual dynamics. There is areluctancy for women to bring this up, I think for fear of being seen asreactionary. Also, I think the women want to be absolutely positive that it isgender discrimination before calling it that."

How emotionally the topic is filled, became clear to me just now in thediscussion with men from indymedia germany. I got the sense that the guysthought, I wanted to stamp them all as sexists. My sense was that only few havean awareness what patriarchal structures are and how they function. Howeverthere where also some who showed a lot of interest in this project and whosupported me.

The survey

I have sent questionnaires to all IMCs about patriarchal structures in theirgroups. Thirteen individuals and two groups have answered so far. Other IMCswrote that they want to discuss the questions in their groups, which will needmore time. Many have encouraged me and wrote how important they find thisproject. I want to thank all of you for your encouraging emails and greatanswers.

Men and women have answered. A stronger engagement speaks through the answersof the women. However, the answers of males show that there is a greatacceptance and sensibility to discuss the topic. Particularly I want to thankeveryone for the honesty the questions were answered. I think, that only if weexpress our thoughts and feelings in an honest way, we will come closer to theproblem.

One thing points out: They all come with two exception from Northamerica,Northern- and Middleeurope and Australia. One reason for this could be that Iaddressed the IMCs only in English. But maybe my hypothesis about ways ofpatriarchal behavior and therefore also my questions reflect a typicalnorthernamerican and european view, so that others can’t find themselves init. I hope to find out about that.

It becomes clear in almost all answers, that a “gender problem” exists. ManyIMCs also see themselves as mostly white and middleclass dominated. Besidesthese classic antagonisms it was mentioned, that older activists arediscriminated against concerning computer technology. An activist from St.Louis describes indymedia as an "elitist activist communication system". I havepurposely only asked questions about gender, because I assumed that other formsof discrimination are not internationally comparable: Racism in the US maybecomparable with racism in Germany, however in Israel, India or Southafrica suchquestions are posed differently.

In the next month and weeks I will write about different topics that arementioned in the answers. Here are my ideas for articles:

Women computing: “Tools not Toys”

Construction of female identities: “Way too complicated” (finished but only in German)

Male dominated behavior in leftist groups

How is Sexism and patriarchal behavior being discussed?

Solutions (They still need to be found)

Many more topics can probably be extracted from the answers. I hope that other people find interest in the answers and maybe come up with more ideas for articles. I arranged the answers by continents just to make things easier tofind.

Northern America

What I hope to accomplish with this work is to bring people to honest discussion about the topic. Therefore I wanted to do this project in a more scientific way, discuss certain aspects and reach a higher sensibility that way. I hope that my colleague from Great Britain isn’t right when she answers to the question, what could minimize gender discrimination: "Brain wash. Revolution."
Indymedia ist eine Veröffentlichungsplattform, auf der jede und jeder selbstverfasste Berichte publizieren kann. Eine Überprüfung der Inhalte und eine redaktionelle Bearbeitung der Beiträge finden nicht statt. Bei Anregungen und Fragen zu diesem Artikel wenden sie sich bitte direkt an die Verfasserin oder den Verfasser.
(Moderationskriterien von Indymedia Deutschland)


Excellent work

sara 17.01.2002 - 20:28
Many thanks for taking the time and effort for collecting facts about this issue. Keep up the good work :)))

greetz | sara