It seems that the Internet, like any technology, should be perceived as an impartial instrument and characterize it as “sexist” - an absurdity. But this kind of animation can be quite justified: after all, the online space reflects the beliefs of the people who create it. And as long as sexist sentiments are alive offline, there will also be a place for them online.
Text: Daria Gavrilova
author of the telegram channel "Patriarchy, burn"
How people taught discrimination algorithms
Developers are inevitably influenced by both the private preferences of content creators and generally accepted language rules, often discriminatory. For example, in Russian, with its concept of grammatical gender, about people of a gender unknown to the reader, by default they say “he”: “When an author works on a book, he must be disciplined” - so, inevitably, we represent an abstract male author, simply because the language does not imply otherwise. This kind of process occurs in different languages: for example, in English cowards are called "pussy" - a euphemism for the word "vagina" - automatically equating someone "bad" and "weak" with a woman. In Spanish, the gender of a group of people changes to masculine if there is at least one man there.
The way we speak influences thinking: language clichés, by repeating themselves, "teach" the brain to think in a certain way. This also happens with self-learning online translators: the larger the volume of text passed through them, the more often they memorize standard phrases. For example, Google Translate stereotypically translates gender-neutral phrases from Turkish: in Turkish, third person singular phrases can be about a man or a woman, but Google translates “O bir mühendis” into English as “He is an engineer”, and “O bir hemşire”as“She is a nurse”. Injustice can also be hidden in the algorithms of search engines: for example, for inquiries about the cast of the movie "Detroit" or the TV series "How to avoid punishment for murder," Google is the first on the lists of white male actors - with Viola Davis, the leading actor in Murder comes the second.
Studies have repeatedly confirmed that digital systems adapt to the manifestations of discrimination, imprinted in the structure of our communication. One of the high-profile cases is a twitter bot, which, after three hours of its existence, began to send women to the kitchen and urge them to support Hitler's cause; Many of the tens of thousands of tweets, including overtly racist or misogynistic ones, were simply copies of messages from users who decided to troll the system. Without planning it, the teenagers, who began to teach the bot incorrect statements, conducted an important experiment. “Language is like a mirror - it reflects everything that happens in reality. Our love, hate - in a word, relationships. And if we tell each other that the boys are smart and the girls are beautiful, then sooner or later it will be possible to hear this from a seemingly harmless robot assistant,”says the developer-linguist Asya Boyarskaya.
Why women don't feel safe online
We all want to feel safe - it doesn't matter if it's a family environment, walking down the street in the evening, or taking public transport. The Internet is no exception, but, unfortunately, in social networks, forums and just random sites there is always a chance to run into derogatory content. Some of the resources are, in principle, built on controversial ideas that make them at least unpleasant, and sometimes even completely unsafe for women.
A study by Jasmine Farduly of Australia's Macquarie University found that subscribers to fitness and beauty blogs are more likely to be dissatisfied with their appearance than girls who do not use Instagram.Moreover, under the influence of social networks, teenage girls, in principle, tend to value themselves primarily for their appearance. And this already leads to psychological and eating disorders, as shown by a study by scientists at the University of Essex. Based on a sample of nearly 10,000 British families with children aged 10 to 15, the researchers firstly found that teenage girls use social media more often than their male peers (3% at the age of 10 and 12% more at fifteen), and second, found an inverse correlation between social media use and satisfaction with life and psychological health in girls, including an increased risk of developing clinical depression.
It is even more dangerous that girls are also looking for a "solution" to their problems (in particular, ways to lose weight) online - in addition to the harm from lookism, we can talk about radical changes in the diet, which can be undertaken only after consulting a doctor (if it is not available, it is worth follow the WHO nutritional guidelines based on research and expert advice). Popular diets from weight loss accounts are often based not on scientific data, but on the principle of "weak": "Instagram diets" usually look very attractive, but often turn out to be simply unsafe.
In the United States, 76% of women who died at the hands of a current or former partner were previously cyberstalked by them.
Another of the main dangers of the internet today is free porn available. Even if we leave out the ethical problems of the industry (workers have practically no professional protection), experts agree that porn itself creates unrealistic body standards and ideas about sex, including normalizing violence. Some feminists believe that porn videos contribute to the growth of violence against women in real life: a number of studies confirm these fears, but while most countries do not consider them sufficient to introduce new regulatory policies, some researchers insist that it is too early to draw conclusions.
By the way, about violence - it is much more unpleasant for women on the Internet to use dating services. According to a study by Amnesty International in the UK, one in five girls has experienced virtual sex-related violence. Often, in applications and on sites, users are expected to offer sex work, unsolicited dicpics, familiarity, graphic sex suggestions, rudeness in case of refusal, and sometimes harassment. So, in the United States, 76% of women who died at the hands of a current or former partner, before the tragedy, were subjected to cyberstalking on their part (we wrote here about how to protect yourself online).
The “culture of violence” on the Internet is also reinforced by intrusive visualization. Many sites sell space for banner ads, the content of which is the responsibility of those who buy it. So, often on sites there are banners calling to play an erotic game or go to the site of "guaranteed sex dating" - and almost always they are illustrated by hypertrophied eroticized female images. Needless to say, online games and the gaming community as a whole are another area in which the problem of objectifying the female body is acute.
The gaming community has a notorious reputation for sexism at both the industrial and gaming levels. For a long time, female characters, as a rule, were deliberately sexualized, and professional athletes were not taken seriously here - Gamergate, which began in 2014, only highlighted urgent problems. But the easiest way to face sexism and objectification is still on social media. As recent examples show, Russian SMM marketers still rely on derogatory content from time to time: take Burger King, which used the image of a raped girl in its advertising, offering a “second burger for free”.And journalist Anastasia Krasilnikova runs a telegram channel almost entirely devoted to the analysis of sexist advertising.
While the majority of employees of companies that shape the landscape of the Internet are men, moreover, of European or Asian origin (if in general there can be about 20% of women in IT companies, then there are usually no more than 10% of managers among them), it is their individual experience that usually affects on a product, be it a search engine or a social network.
“Now, after trying on femoptics, I look back and wonder how much longer and harder my hi-tech journey was than a man’s standard journey,” says Gillian, who works in the field of automated software testing in Israel. “How many times have I heard phrases from teachers like 'programming is not for women, look for another profession, you still can't do anything and you won't learn anything.' Now, twenty years after graduating from my high school programming group, out of ten girls in this industry, I'm the only one. At work, I am constantly confronted with mistrust from clients due to the fact that I am a girl. There was a glaring case when a client rolled updates to their server and several services crashed. To my letter that everything needs to be fixed, the answer came in the spirit of “Girl, you are imagining! We didn't change anything! “When the chief sent a copy of my letter from his mail, he was immediately promised to fix everything. I ended up asking for a neutral version of my name, Gill, in my email, similar to the common Israeli male name Gil."
In the development of games, including online games, women were also few for a long time (3% as of 1989), and even now about 75% of developers are men. “The mythology around game creation is trying to convince women that working in game development is a great privilege, for which you have to endure endless harassment, overwork and low wages by the standards of the IT industry,” says Alexandra Korabelnikova, head of game development studio EggNut. She also talks about the recent scandal around the studio Riot, whose bosses for many years harassed and discriminated against their employees, because they are "not enough gamers."
While the majority of employees in companies shaping the Internet landscape are men, it is their individual experience that can influence the product, be it a search engine or a social network.
According to Gillian, women in IT are still almost always paid less than men in the same position, and the atmosphere at work is often not conducive to professional growth and achievement. Natalya, a systems analyst from Russia, notes that because of sexist jokes and wishes for “home comfort and female happiness,” she also experiences discomfort: and distributed a video about diversity, but the attitudes in the minds of the employees did not change. It becomes even more interesting if you are not shy about calling yourself a feminist. The reactions are priceless: the jokes are getting more and more, and some annoying colleagues deliberately try to get under the skin."
Natalia, however, emphasizes that stereotypes no longer have such a serious impact on the process of getting a job as before. “As a rule, employers - probably, except for the most dense, but I am not interested in such employers - are interested in you and in your development. Whatever one may say, there are still not so many good specialists, so companies have to expand their horizons. I cannot say that it is more difficult for me to make my way at work than for my male colleagues,”she says. Olesya, HR manager at an American IT company, agrees with this: “It seems to me that there is less gender discrimination in the IT sector than in other areas. It has to do with progressive thinking and a focus on results, not adherence to formalities. "But false social attitudes work: according to Olesya's experience, women often do not risk working in IT themselves and do not send applications, which is why they are eliminated when hiring.
Systems analyst Natalya recalls that at the university she faced stereotypes every day: "At the university, students were divided into smart and beautiful, and the students were given more attention - it was believed that they had expectations of them and they were threatened by the army, and the girls only had a decree." HR manager Olesya is not sure that it is possible to influence recruiting if the final employer adheres to traditional views. “On the forums, people often write about nasty recruiters who weed out candidates because of age, gender, eye color, and so on. But the recruiter, as a rule, has nothing to do with it - the hiring managers set the restrictions not related to the candidate's business qualities. If they refuse to even glance at the resume because there is the wrong gender or “too old” age, then the recruiter will not be able to do anything. When it comes to the selection of highly qualified employees or rare specialists, it is especially offensive - you can hardly find one person, and the manager refuses to consider a candidate, because “he does not want a woman for himself in the department”.
Who worksover changes
There are 1.5 million biographies in the English-language version of Wikipedia, and only 17% of them tell about women - 90% of the content here is created by men. Employees of the online encyclopedia tackled this problem and compiled a list of reasons why women edit articles less often. Among them are “lack of free time” (women still devote 60% more time to household chores than men), “self-doubt: women tend to believe that their edits will be rejected or removed”, “tendency to avoid conflicts and unwillingness engage in lengthy edit battles "and" the misogynistic atmosphere on Wikipedia in general. " The company has organized a series of wiki marathons around the world to introduce women to editorial tools and create new articles about women.
They also deal with the problem of discrimination in the field of online video games. “Right now there is an active struggle for the unionization of female workers in the games industry, which will allow demanding and achieving better working conditions: pay at the industry level, social insurance, jobs for marginalized groups and no overwork,” says Alexandra Korabelnikova. She says that as an indie studio leader she is trying, among other things, to change the industry for the better, starting with at least creating a healthy work culture: “I would like more women to create their own studios and work in them, but for this the industry has to become comfortable environment”.
Channels have appeared where women publicize the rude behavior of men on dating sites: for example, Bye, Felipe in English and ITOMP ("And then he writes to me …") in Russian. Commentators, however, themselves often suggest responding to rudeness with insults, but the fact that women are tired of taking neglect for themselves is good news.
On the English version of Wikipedia
1.5 million biographies, and only 17% of them tell about women - 90% of the content here is created by men
British Charlotte Webb, who created the Feminist Internet collective, says their mission is "to achieve equality on the Internet for women and other oppressed groups through creative and critical action." Feminist Internet engages in and sponsors Internet research, has speakers at schools and universities, and offers consulting services for business organizations looking to promote equality. Feminist Internet has a workshop on developing applications and technologies, such as an internet-connected device trained to report domestic violence, or an update for online helpers that kicks off the process of combating internal sexism. Charlotte Webb's group will launch a podcast soon.Webb believes that online sexism is harmful to both men and women, and we need to look for ways to make online life more enjoyable for everyone. “The best way is to negotiate with tech giants, because they are here for a long time,” she told the British edition of Standard. "We are trying to establish a dialogue with companies with huge influence, so that they take responsibility for content in social media, pay attention to inequality."
Some companies themselves set themselves the goal of making the IT sector and the Internet fairer. Facebook, for example, publishes reports annually on reducing discrimination. According to the 2018 document, women in engineering positions in the company are now 22%; in 2014 there were only 14% of them. Facebook is trying to eliminate ethnic discrimination as well, but so far 92% of its employees are white. An employee of the London office of Facebook from Russia, on condition of anonymity, says that “the difference in work between Russia and England is huge”: “In the Russian companies where I worked, many believe that gender equality has long been established in the world, and all manifestations of injustice are either proof the fact that women are objectively unable to cope with the work, or just a "joke". And these "harmless jokes" surrounded me every day. In London, people are generally more open to the Femp Agenda. All major companies run courses on how to maintain diversity, combat discrimination and cognitive biases. I have hardly seen sexism in the working environment, and it is strongly condemned."