The news about humanity is never very good when it comes from Reddit, is it? Today’s contribution comes via an editorial at WIRED. Its authors, Elena Glassman, Neha Narula and Jean Yang, are scientists at MIT. They described the gendered horror show that was their Reddit AMA:
Within an hour, the thread had rocketed to the Reddit front page, with hundreds of thousands of pageviews and more than 4,700 comments. But to our surprise, the most common questions were about why our gender was relevant at all. Some people wondered why we did not simply present ourselves as “computer scientists.” Others questioned if calling attention to gender perpetuated sexism. Yet others felt that we were taking advantage of the fact that we were women to get more attention for our AMA.
The interactions in the AMA itself showed that gender does still matter. Many of the comments and questions illustrated how women are often treated in male-dominated STEM fields. Commenters interacted with us in a way they would not have interacted with men, asking us about our bra sizes, how often we “copy male classmates’ answers,” and even demanding we show our contributions “or GTFO [Get The **** Out]”. One redditor helpfully called out the double standard, saying, “Don’t worry guys – when the male dog groomer did his AMA (where he specifically identified as male), there were also dozens of comments asking why his sex mattered. Oh no, wait, there weren’t.”
“Oh, it’s just Reddit,” you might be saying to yourself. As a seasoned 4chan conspiracy theorist myself –at this point I think “4chan prank” whenever some weird story begins to break, at first even wondering if the whole Sony leak could be a 4chan hoax, if they could have made up the whole document stash – I understand the impulse to brush this sort of thing off as trolling. It is that, and undoubtedly some of these comments come from the sort of pure unmitigated jerkery commonly found in the underbelly of the internet.
But it’s also something else. Because their comments aren’t all that far from ones I have heard myself, said with utter sincerity. Men don’t respond very well, still, to the notion that gender might be relevant. They might be a little meaner about it in anonymous spaces online, but you can see the problem everywhere.
One of the slim, ephemeral benefits of being publicly identifiable as a feminist is that I don’t tend to be in male-dominated or even male-only spaces very often. There is one giant exception to that. Years ago, I spent some time in a journalism school. An admissions fluke had me in a class that was overwhelmingly male. There was one other woman, but she dropped out early.
I knew I was in for it when in a very early class, one of the other students starting waxing philosophic about fact-checking and John D’Agata. And towards the end of this digression, he referred to the magazine The Believer. And then he referred to its editor as “Ben Marcus’s wife.” Full stop.