Women and Wikimedian projects: Brianna Laugher

For the background of this series of interviews, as well as for other interviews, please take a look at the page Women and Wikimedia projects and its subpages.

Brianna Laugher helped me in making this research. She is mostly involved in Wikimedia Commons and as a long term Wikimedian she has some number of privileges/duties throughout a number of Wikimedian projects.

How long you are involved in Wikimedian projects?

Brianna Laugher: I registered at the English Wikipedia in April 2005. In October I registered at Commons. I now spend 90% of my wiki time at Commons and the other 10% between English Wikipedia and Meta.

Do you have some of the privileges on projects: admin, bureaucrat, checkuser, oversight, steward? (You don’t need to tell what privileges you have.) If you have some of them, do you think that you gain them easier or harder because you are female or you think that it was not relevant?

Brianna Laugher: Yes, I have some privileges. Some I asked for, and some others asked me to take up. I don’t think it has been relevant.

By your opinion, what is the main reason of small relative number of women on Wikimedian projects?

Brianna Laugher: The main reason? I think the main reason is that many women don’t have the opportunity to consider taking up a habit like wiki editing. So not that women come equally with men to the habit but fewer women keep it up; maybe that is true but a bigger thing I think is that fewer women come to it in the first place.

Do you think that your communication with the rest of the (particular and global) community is easier or harder because you are female or you think that it is not relevant?

Brianna Laugher: Not relevant, I hope. It is funny that for all the text, Wikimedians are not too great at communicating with each other.

If you were in some decision-making process, do you think that your opinion (not) passed easier or harder because you are female or you think that it was not relevant?

Brianna Laugher: Not relevant I hope.

Do you think that Wikimedian culture is sexist?

Brianna Laugher: Well. There is the Wikimedian cultural ideal, and then there is the Wikimedian cultural reality and practice. Ideally, Wikimedians all follow ‘don’t bite the newbies’, ‘assume good faith’, ‘wikiquette’ and other principles that suggest a meritocracy: only evaluate people on the basis of their edits. But it’s not surprising that the ideal is not always reached, as attested to by various dispute noticeboards. So, I don’t think the ideal if sexist, and as for the reality, I think it is as only as sexist as its individuals. So, no.

Two more comments about this ‘culture’. One, about meritocracy. Meritocracy is a favourite model of geeks and open source geeks in particular. I love it myself. But perhaps it is confronting for some women. I think it is not the primary message that girls in western culture receive about how to get ahead, how to succeed. So perhaps for some women it is very subtly confronting, when they are expected to get ahead only by arguing their position, and through text only, which makes it even more stark. (If this is true, then don’t worry – I don’t think Wikimedia should become less meritocratic. ;))

Secondly, Wikimedia culture extends beyond wikis, to IRC and mailing lists, and real life meetups as well. While the ideals seem fairly well ingrained on-wiki and in real life, they seem to be “suspended” on IRC and mailing lists a lot more. It’s almost like being on-wiki is like being on-camera or “ssh, the kids are listening”. But on IRC/mailing lists it’s “off the record”, or doesn’t count or something. But of course it does count. A lot of major, highlevel discussions take place on mailing lists (undoubtedly something to do with how god-awful wikis are for complex discussions with many
participants). Discouraging people from contributing to those channels due to cliquish or uncivil environments is as wrong as discouraging people from contributing to the wikis for the same.

I don’t know if it is sexist, but it’s “NQR” and reasonably often seems to fail to live up to Wikimedia wiki cultural ideals.

Have you ever been insulted on sexual/gender basis? If you did, how often is it happening?

Brianna Laugher: A couple of times by trolls back when I was very active in deletion.

By your opinion, are there some positive examples and positive trends in Wikimedian communities toward better involvement of females in contributing to Wikimedian projects?

Brianna Laugher: Given the whole lack of general-user-survey I think anyone would be hard-pressed to say anything specific or concrete about broad trends. See also above about why women edit less in the first place anyway.

What do you think that it should be done to change the situation?

Brianna Laugher: I don’t know that we can do much more than lead by example. Maybe some “reachout” initiatives.

It is worth, I suppose, reiterating why we should be concerned if fewer women than men keep up a wiki editing habit. Some say “that’s just their choice, we don’t need to intervene”. (As I hinted at the start I think it is not a ‘choice’ that men & women come to equally.) Even if it is a choice, we should be concerned, because if we are trying to build representations of ‘the sum of all human knowledge’, we must be aware about what a great gaping gap leaving out women’s experiences and knowledge will leave. What it means to be human, what it means to live, is not just about what men (and some women) go and do at work. It’s not just about what men talk about and think about and write about, and men’s activities and men’s rites. We fail at our mission if we think half is good enough.

By your opinion, what are the most important issues which should be solved to make better involvement of women in contributing to Wikimedian projects?

Brianna Laugher: We possibly need to learn to communicate with outsiders better, become more skilled at “converting” non-Wikimedians and instilling our values (once we’ve figured out what they are, anyway). But that is not something specifically for the benefit of women.

Do you think that there are some other important questions related to this issue? If so, please tell them and try to give an answer to them.

Brianna Laugher: Perhaps we need surveys and statisticians and analysts before we can say anything much more useful.

~ by millosh on October 29, 2007.

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