Question for Female Readers: What Could Be Done to Increase the Participation of Female Readers in Online Discussions of Origins?

I raise here, as a topic of its own, a subject I have raised incidentally under other discussions. That subject is the apparently low participation of female readers in blog/website discussions of origins (evolution, creationism, origin of life, multiverse, intelligent design, etc.). I have been involved in discussion about origins for about 15 years now, on a large number of sites, and overwhelmingly, the contributors to the discussions appear to self-identify as males. Only in a few cases are female writers regular contributors over periods of months or years. Female writers do appear, but often seem to vanish from discussion after only a few exchanges. I’m wondering what might be the causes of this, and whether female readers and writers here could help us to understand this.

Over the past few decades, the number of women trained in the various natural sciences has increased by leaps and bounds. A large number of women hold PhDs in astronomy, biology, biochemistry, and other subjects relevant to origins questions. As well, a large number of specifically Christian women have science qualifications, and as Christians presumably believe that God had something to do with origins. One might expect, then, their voice to be heard more often on sites like this (and BioLogos, and Uncommon Descent, and Panda’s Thumb, etc.) where origins are discussed and theological and scientific concerns meet. Yet the overwhelming male dominance continues.

Is the subject of origins less interesting to females than to males, or to female scientists than to male scientists? Or is the level of interest equal, but something about the mode of discussion on these sites acts (even if entirely unintentionally) to deter female participation? If so, could the mode of discussion be modified so as to make female readers more interested in participating?

I’m open to replies from males as well as females, but am particularly interested in hearing from the female readers. What can they point out to us that most of us, being male, are perhaps failing to notice or think about?

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I share your experience here and have been wondering about it myself.

I’m not sure this is even restricted to topics such as evolution vs creationism. In my own experience having argued and debated online, about anything and everything in between politics and sports, to video games and entertainment these last ~20 years, I generally find very few women interested in online debates at least on topics I have found interesting myself.

I some times suspect it might have to do with the fact of the medium itself: It’s online and thus somewhat impersonal. You stare at a screen and type words. Perhaps that’s a factor?

I’d be interested to hear whether that experience is an outlier or not.

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I strongly suspect it is because women are smarter than men. :wink:

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I can only speak for myself, but I don’t participate much in online discussions because:

  1. Many of them are a waste of time. Other than the posters at Peaceful Science, I haven’t found a lot of people online who are interested in a thoughtful exchange of ideas.
  2. I get tired of mansplaining. I deliberately use a gender neutral screen name to avoid mansplaining. I once did an experiment in which I posted to the same site using two screen names - one masculine and one feminine. Posters were much more respectful when responding to my masculine screen name
  3. Fighting with people online irritates me and then I’m crabby the rest of the day. I’m trying to work on inner peace. Limiting my time online helps with that.
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That’s really sad. I’m sorry for this.

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Thanks I must say I haven’t had any issues at Peaceful Science. You guys are cool.

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Idk if it’s because I’m not a scientist, but often criticism or discussion about the minutiae of how something was written or worded turns me off.

It’s probably a function of how men and women choose to use their free time. I’ve been hanging out with the ladies in my family for a few days. Our discussions have been conversational or about giving help or advice. My sister-in-law was mentioning a quote about not debating doctrine because it doesn’t affect our day-to-day lives. I think this is similar. Beyond what I think is useful or helpful to others, once I realized that little to nothing I wrote is going to change anyone’s mind, I stopped making those sorts of comments.

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Back in the 90s there was someone who posted frequently on the old talk.origins named “Julie Thomas” This was a pseudonym for a male ID advocate - I’ve got a strong hunch it was Stephen Meyer. Whenever JT would post most of the male posters - PZ Myers, Larry Moran etc would go out of their way to engage in discussion. I mean it was conspicuous how much the males were going out of their way to engage when the place was normally a free-for-all. Kind of reminds me of Marilyn Monroe singing “Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend” surrounded by tuxedoes guys.

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Thanks, Rod. It’s interesting to hear that in the case of Myers and Moran the usual testosterone-driven “Pistols at Dawn” attitude was tempered because of their perception that Julie Thomas was a female.

Of course, that’s not always the case. I remember that “Benkirk” (possibly under a different one of his many pseudonyms) drove one new female contributor to BioLogos to tears (so to speak), tearing apart her well-meaning attempts to articulate her thoughts on evolution and design, seizing on real or alleged technical errors in biology and making her feel like a scientific moron; she noted how unpleasant the treatment was at the time, in a comment, and soon was gone, never to be heard from again. She was there for an exchange of ideas, to explore possibilities, etc., not for a showdown with a swaggering professional biologist. Exit one female BioLogos contributor, due to macho insensitivity and a desire to humiliate.

By the way, while it would have been relatively easy to determine if “Julie Thomas” was an ID advocate, by the way she argued, how did anyone determine that Julie was in fact a male? Did Julie say so? Or was this an unproved deduction?

I enjoyed the movie reference. Are you a fan of older films generally?

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Yes, if you were on talk.origins you’d remember that it was kind of a free-for-all. People post and maybe you’d get some comments here and there. But when ‘Julie Thomas’ posted everyone on the site would address her arguments respectfully. And it would lead to lengthy discussions. I think you can still find some of them on the archives.
My reasons for thinking it was Stephen Meyer are

-I did extensive searches based on info provided but there seemed to be no one with that name who fit the description
-She was very informed on ID and presented state of the art arguments.
-She taught at a U in Texas
-At the time Meyer had been at a U ( I think in Texas)
-Meyer said he went on Talk.origins under a pseudonym to test out his arguments. He never said it was a female pseudonym but I assumed that was a stroke of genius on his part.
( IIRC a ID critic did the same thing on UD as ‘Mathgrrl’

As for movies…I dont think any good movies have been made since the late 80s early 90s so…yes.

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Amen!

And thanks for the clarification re the identity of Julie Thomas.

I kind of agree. The question is why? The recent piece below by Jonathan Witt might give a clue.

I wonder if fewer women participate because attempts to determine the underlying causes of their lack of participation devolve into guessing games about whether or not prominent women that do participate are actually pseudonyms for men and/or film criticism…

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I would also agree that there have been very few good movies in the 2000’s, but it has nothing to do with materialism. What total nonsense.

That article is astoundingly bad. Most movies made today are crappy copies or reboots of old franchises being re-made for younger generations (usually less competently), so any sense of novelty or curiosity is completely gone. Think of re-watching Alien for the 15th time and expecting to still be as scared as the first time you saw it.

That said, this is completely a matter of subjective preference. In my opinion it is simply not true to say there have been no good movies since the early 90’s. I could name a dusin or more movies from the last 25 years or so I consider good, from basically all genres. Fantasy, drama, sci-fi, action, thrillers and so on. And even better tv series. There’s definitely been a lot of excellent music made, and exceptionally good video games are still made.

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Female commenters are also much more likely to be harassed, Dox-ed, etc, They are more likely than men to feel that they do not have the option of using their real names.

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I find it ironic that I, an actual female scientist, received a lot of likes (which I really do appreciate), but only one response and no follow up questions. Meanwhile, a comment made by a male generated discussion, even if off topic.

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Obviously not. I dont think women are treated more harshly than men on most sites, but at least men ( who would be the ones treating them harshly) assume that they will actually be treated better to the point that at least one or 2 prominent posters have chosen female pseudonyms.
When Elizabeth Liddle first started posting on UD she was probably the most effective critic of ID I’ve seen. It took an unusually long time before the regulars got nasty with her - but thats probably in large part because she was so thoughtful, respectful and refused to return the nastiness in kind.

I was mostly joking about the movies. Although big-bucks special effects have replaced story telling there are still good movies made occasionally and many TV series are excellent.
As for music, I think there are objective analyses that show that songs are much less complex now than they were in previous decades.

I think you just blew my mind. Thanks for pointing that out.

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I can verify that @stlyankeefan in fact is a woman :slight_smile: .

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In my case, I found your reasons so logical that I couldn’t think of anything to add, so I didn’t offer any response. No slight to your contribution was intended. If I would have added anything it would be that recent slang terms like “mansplaining” aren’t transparent in meaning to everyone (the word didn’t exist for a good part of my lifetime, and even now I see it used differently by different people), and at least for some readers expressing the idea in more general language, without the trendy term, might be helpful.

I definitely have had the experience you are describing in #3. I think it has much to do with the fact that people who debate on sites like this generally have no prior knowledge of each other, and so arguments tend to become deadly serious quarrels where the opponents regard each other as incarnations of arguments or ideologies, rather than as people, and they go away angry with each other. If we all had grown up in the same town, gone to the same high school, etc., and therefore had some fun times together, we would probably tend to cut others more slack in debate, and read the best motives into what they write. Something about strangers debating ideas in cyberspace seems to heighten tension. (It doesn’t help that intonations of voice, twinkles of eye, etc., can’t come across well, even with the aid of emoticons.) And of course, probably the biggest factor is that maybe 80 to 90 percent of frequent posters on sites like this are already firmly committed warriors from particular camps, while only 10 to 20 percent of frequent posters (if even that) are there to explore ideas and have no strong leanings at the start of the discussion.

Most of the women I know prefer personal interactions – in person or over the telephone, where at least one can hear inflections of voice – to long typed interactions with strangers, and they tend not to think in terms of absolute winners and losers, but in terms of meeting in the middle and learning from the views of others. I also get the strong impression that for most women, it isn’t important to be seen as the victor, and that they don’t get nearly as much joy or self-esteem from demolishing the arguments of others as many men do. So it may not be origins debates alone, but any sort of “showdown” type of discussion over ideas (religious, political, etc.), that women on the whole find less attractive than men. Whether the causes of this are biological (male testosterone, etc.) or cultural (men have been acculturated to behave in one way, women in another), is of course one of those big questions that probably doesn’t admit of any simple answer.

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