The trouble with Slashdot

This week in my column, I talk about whether popular geek blog Slashdot is evolving away from its all-boy, sexist roots. I discuss a couple of incidents where my articles have been Slashdotted and huge chunks of the comment threads have been taken up with discussions of whether I’m hot or ugly.

A lot of readers have already written to me to say that they think men are just automatically sexists — or that geeks are so sex-deprived that they can’t look at women without thinking about fucking them. I don’t think either of those things is true, and that’s what I argue in my column. There are a lot of feminist men on Slashdot and elsewhere in the world, as well as men who wouldn’t call themselves feminists but who still value a woman for the content of her character instead of her hotness.

I’m a fan of Slashdot, and I hope my column encourages more women to join the debates on the site. The best thing we can do to stomp sexism in the geek world is to join that world and challenge all those guys’ stereotypes of women.

49 thoughts on “The trouble with Slashdot

  1. So let me get this straight: If a man looks at a woman and thinks about having sex with her, that is “sexist”? If so, call me and every other man on the planet sexist. Apparently, men are supposed to ignore and overcome millenia of evolution, merely to fit into your PC paradigm. I thought this sort of Victorian, sexless feminism had been discretited by the likes of Camille Paglia long ago.

  2. Isn’t it possible that it’s not one situation? In other words, perhaps nobody is questioning whether or not you’re a brilliant journalist, because they believe you are. Perhaps the comments on your looks are fair. You ARE in the public eye and everyone who is in the public eye (whether niche-y or not), gets comments made about how they look. It happens to males AND females. It just does.

    Now… what would happen if you were posting anonymously with no picture attached? Surely, that wouldn’t affect your journalistic integrity. Once you attache a picture, you’re up for grabs, so to speak.

    Now, all this being said, I did NOT read all the comments, so I can’t comment on any specifically. I just get concerned when we appear to be talking more about sensitivity vs. real prejudice.

  3. 1. Would you expect any better in a female dominated subculture? There are idiots in both genders, please don’t judge us by the lowest members.
    2. Yes geeks in general are fairly sexually starved. While that is no excuse, do you think rugby players etc are better behaved?
    3. A lot of the comments are probably by fairly immature/drunk/high young men, the few not in this crowd probably actually like you for apparent self but the depersonalisation of the net distorts matters. And then there are some sexist men. There are still racists in even the “best” parts of the world and no amount of education seems to change matters. The best you can do is rise above it.
    5. A geek is a geek, i don’t care if your a black jewish paraplegic(?) woman or a white male christian, if you know computers that’s all I care about.
    4. Yes the mind is by far the most attractive part of a woman but men still retain their biology which disagrees. It sometimes wins, apologies from all men.
    Summary: The geeks on slashdot are fairly immature and crude but the rest of male society is no better and usually hides its true feelings. Considering the lack of women in IT there are far worse parts of society, AND should you actually speak to these people in person you will find most of the sexist comments cover up a great deal of fear of women.
    We are far more scared of women than you need be of childish geeks.

  4. just wanted to let you know that i for one am not a sunken-chested, pasty slob sitting in my mother’s basement furiously clicking the jump button on my game consol to watch lara croft’s breasts wiggle. i’m a real man in the real world. and real men are of course attracted to real women (in most cases), that’s nature’s way (again, in most cases). i personally have never seen a picture of you, and i dont think i’d even care if i did. i like your writing, because you’re a writer, and a good one at that. it’s never really entered my mind to check and see if you’re “hot” as well. but in all fairness the guys who’re writing the sexist comments have more than likely just noticed the first hairs on their balls. it takes time to devolpe real respect for anyone, and everything these kids know comes from this extremely repressed culture of ours (ooooh, nipples!). just have a look at our president. give them time to realise how fucked over they are. they’ll either grow up, or die virgins.

  5. I hate to bust your bubble, but I no longer go to Shashdot because the place is overrun with gremlins. My last year checking in, I had hardly had a single intelligent discussion with anybody there. When I *did* find somebody who knew a computer from a hole in the ground, they seemed out of place, like a business suit at a Grateful Dead concert. It is home to geeks no more.

    Trust *actual* geeks to adhere closer to a more civilized set of conduct.

    PS I’m married to a geek wife and am raising geeky kids. Some of us did eventually grow up and leave the comic books and games behind.

  6. I think that some of the sexism that exists in the geek world will erode if there were more women in the technology related fields.

  7. It’s sad that such antisocial behavior is considered normal among Nerds. I’m not sure exactly why it is that way. It may be a variant of Macho behavior in an arena where such things aren’t so obvious. I wish it were different, but it isn’t.

    For all I know, it may be related to the very same reasons why so few women choose to study science or engineering. And then again, it may be related to the way most people perceive nerds in school. I can speculate about all sorts of causes and effects, but definitive answers are hard to come by.

    As for Slashdot, I’ve been watching it for many years. It’s been heading downhill for a long time. Regardless of moderation, there is still an awful lot of noise to contend with. The more attractive a forum is, the more idiots it attracts. Eventually such forums, like Usenet before it, begin to implode under their own weight. A new forum will be built, and the uber-nerds will find it first. Then, as it gets discovered and publicised, more and more kids will play. You can wish all you want. But I think there is much much more to this story than you might first suspect. It’s not going to change easily.

  8. Like you said, we’re not all like that. Like with all the Slashdot trolls, the sexists are the most vocal, not necessarily the most numerous.

  9. Well, the sad truth is men are screwed up freaks, for the most part. Where I work, at a major newspaper, whenever a female reporer or columnist writes a good article or column, the next day, a night, after work, the “guys” discuss whether Amy is fuckablle or the wonder of her legs and breasts and other things. and these are educated 20-40 year old male babies. Men just don’t grow up, sorry to report the bad news. but you are so right, and I salute you for taking this issue on. Do more. Men need to learn to grow up, and they won’t until they learn how. It’s like racism in the old days, only now is sexism. I hear it all day, behind the women’s backs, mano a mano, locker room talk all day about Amy’s legs and boobs. And this is one of our sharpest writers on board. Sad.

  10. Having worked in the IT field for nearly 25 years I have worked with some fascinating (and plenty of idiots as well) people. I have had the opportunity to see firsthand how female techs are treated compared to male techs. It is a sad statement that out in the “wild” female techs are seen as less competent than their male counterparts.

    While working at a large aerospace company in the Seattle area (not Boeing by the way) I worked with a woman that had come up through the ranks. She started in data entry, worked in operations, and by the time I arrived was in charge of the Exhcange servers for the entire site.

    She was not only one of the most competent female techs I have ever worked with, she was one of the most competent techs period. She made me reevaluate how I treat others. Having seen her treated as less than people who knew far less about her job than she did just turned my stomach. I would stick up for her every chance I had and so would the other men and women in the department.

    I hope she feels as lucky to have worked with me as I did with her. In the long run her experiences made it much easier for the newer female employees at that company. Because the people who might think to look down their noses at them simply because of their gender knew that our department wouldn’t tolerate it.

  11. I read the original Slashdot post, and was sad to see the comment threads devolve into what they did.

    At least within the world of online gaming, I see the “hot or not” trend on the rise, despite the harm that it does to the industry. “Hot” female gamers are attached by bloggers such as Kim Rom (who unfortunately has a rather large following) as using their fem charms for unfair advantages, while “Not” female gamers are derided and dismissed in the same manner you were.

    I agree the stereotypes need to be challenged. It’s often painful to do so because (at least in my experience) the blowback can be nasty and hurtful. But you’re right, it needs to happen.

  12. Just saw your blog via Boingboing.

    I read slashdot regularly, and sites like it and digg are both full of the sophomoric, badly-grammared posturings of sexist idiots.

    I think that a lot of the comments you recieved might be due to the habitual use of pornography by the geek population at large. It makes sense to think that if these guys are regularly getting their sexual pleasure from objectifying two-dimensional images of women, treating them like videos at a rental store or oranges at the supermarket, then they will become accustomed to viewing women on their computers in this way over all.

    I’m sorry that you’ve been objectified by the supposed “smart” crowd, who are often nothing more than thirtysomethings acting like junior highschoolers wanking it to hentai manga in their parents basements.

  13. Thomas Allen Publishers recently put out a book called “What I Meant to Say”, edited by Ian Brown. It may not be available outside of Canada, I don’t know; but it’s a collection of essays by intelligent, articulate male writers on post-feminist, post-gay-liberation male subjectivity and viewpoints.

    In this book is a remarkably honest essay by J.M. Kearns called “How Men Choose Women”. The purpose of the essay is to describe what goes through a man’s mind when he interacts with a woman, in terms of how he evaluates her, and what factors come into play when he does so. This might seem like sexist/objectifying language, and for that I’m sorry, but it’s the best I can do right now. Anyway, it’s quite possibly the only genuinely open account of the process I’ve ever seen, and while Kearns intends it to represent what happens in the context of looking for a mate, some of what he says (a lot, actually) translates into other contexts. As Adam Greenfield suggests in his new book, the amgiguities of certain social relationships become painfully unambiguous when mediated through a computer, and this might be one of them.

    Kearns breaks down his ideas (confessions) into six parts, two of which might be useful into understanding why this sort of thing happens. They are:

    4. Men’s relentless scrutinizing of women is just as much *a screening out of that which is intimidating* as it is a judging of whether someone is up to part.

    6. Qualities of character are often in play from the beginning. Men may seem to be judging solely on appearance–but in fact *they see in appearance many other levels of humanity*.

    (There is a lengthy case study involved, and I would recommend you track down a copy of the complete essay.) This may or may not be helpful to you, but as a man I can say that when I read these things stated as plainly as this, things clicked inside my head into the “yes, that’s exactly how it is” position. As I said before, these kinds of processes, whih are essentially ambiguous and internalizd in most face to face social settings, may become painfully public and explicit in more mediated, digital settings.

    It’s not to say that focusing on your appearance is right. But there are internalized process at work (which the Kearns essay gets into in more depth) that go beyond easy and traditional notions of sexism.

  14. Hi Annalee,

    Why is a discussion about your attractivness sexist?

    If this is a sexist activity then women’s magazines are hotbeds of sexism on this count alone.

    You peddle steriotype too (the sex-starved geek), you refer to all men in the debate as dicks (“or every sexist dick, there was at least one feminist dick talking back to him”). In this post you imply that something all male is ipso facto sexist.

    This is all sexist bigotry.

    It seems to me that so many people who are quick to brand other bigots, exhibit extreme bigotry themeselves.

    In you broadside against the sexists of Slashdot you have advertised your own biases. Time for you to enroll in a gender sesitivity class?

    Kind regards

    Jonathan (a dick)

  15. Hey I called the feminists dicks too, so I was an equal-opportunity dick-talker. I’ll say here what I said to one of the Slashdot posters privately via email.

    I think there’s a big difference between being comfortable with writing about sex, and being comfortable with Slashdot folks evaluating my work based on my sex appeal. Sure, I think sex is an interesting topic, and I like sex in real life, but I want my writing to be evaluated for its ideas. Even if I’m writing about sex, I do it in a very idea-driven geeky way, and I still expect people to get some food for thought out of it.

    It’s true that I’ve been written up as “sexy” on BoingBoing (which was actually a reference to Violet Blue’s “sexy geek” contest on her blog). I have to admit I wasn’t entirely crazy about that either, but it didn’t bug me as much as the Slashdot posts because of the context. First of all, Violet included both men and women on her list of sexy geeks, so I didn’t feel like I was being targeted for my gender. And second, BoingBoing is a blog that posts a lot of things about gender issues and sex, which isn’t true of Slashdot. Slashdot editors only post about tech and science (and occasionally about pop culture related to those topics). So it’s a very different forum than BoingBoing. And those comments about my looks came in response to an article about DRM, which has absolutely nothing to do with my looks at all.

    So the context on Slashdot was: my looks came up in response to an article unrelated to my looks in a forum that never deals with issues about sex appeal; and my looks came up solely because I was female. That’s why I thought it was a problem. If Slashdot readers routinely evaluated the hotness of the boys running the OpenSSH project and doing slick Linux kernel mods, I wouldn’t have minded a bit. But they don’t.

  16. Slashdot is a forum for smart people who aren’t girls. girsl should have thier own communities for talking with each other, like for example – at bake sales. Girls aren’t the same type of smartness as boys are – so you should stay away, probably because they arent smart enough they don’t realize that hotness is important to discuss and relevent to everything girlz do, especially if they have some pix that really ferments a good discussion about the most important things that girls is to dum to understand very good.

    P.S. Hot chicks are hot.

  17. Hi, I just stumbled upon your blog through a link on Boing Boing and I must agree with people who tell you not to be bothered by these comments. For a very long time the s/n ratio on slashdot has been way to low.

  18. “A lot of readers have already written to me to say that they think men are just automatically sexists — or that geeks are so sex-deprived that they can’t look at women without thinking about fucking them.”

    That’s about as stupid as sexist comments, I’m afraid. Being a man or a geek is no excuse for being an idiot. I’m perfectly fine thinking with my brain instead of my dick, and I sure do know a lot of male geeks who are too.

    And I really hope most comments to this post are made by trolls, not people who actually think (if that’s the word to use) that way.


  19. For those who suggest that it isn’t biased to refer to her looks on Slashdot… Can you point to places on Slashdot where male writers are casually introduced as “the hunky Om Malik” or “the handsome Andy Abramson”? I couldn’t find any, but I’m not a big slashdot reader. Still, if they genuinely aren’t there, then maybe there’s something going on here beyond just general interest in sex and people’s looks?

  20. In the one corner, a woman who, when facing heterosexual men, doesn’t want to be evaluated as a potential sexual partner.

    In the other corner, going on four billion years of evolved instinct.

    When you think that every single one of your ancestors had sex at least once, and was probably motivated by “hotness” at least in part, you begin to see the scale (and in fact, ridiculous counterfactuality) of your quest.

    Every single feminist man (not gay or closeted) who says he never evaluates your hotness, is lying to you and possibly himself. At least the MCPs have their cards face up on the table.

    Deal with it and move on.

  21. I’ve been following your stories for the last few years, since I was mentioned in an article a few years back on wired by yourself.
    While on the topic of sexism it is peculiar that in the tech culture an overwhelming majority of the technoliterate are either gay or extraordinarily sexist. As if some sexism is an accepted part of our culture?
    Slashdot is an entity most techs can hardly avoid due to its overwhelming draw and subculture. Most times I find myself reading just for the comments. I found myself dismayed, regarding the comments posted on your article.
    Good for you for standing up to the bullshit.

  22. I love articles about sexism where premise is far more sexist than the thing it rails against.

    Saying “A lot of readers have already written to me to say that they think men are just automatically sexists… I don’t think either of those things is true, and that’s what I argue in my column” followed by a metaphor for the male readership of ./ evolving their way out of slime is perhaps the most sexist thing about this debate. Not only that, it is couched in such a passive-aggressive way it would be difficult to rate this above iterant screed on a scale of unintelligible rant to thoughtful article.

    Your argument is not that there is a minority of sexist posters on /., and boy is that ever annoying. It is, categorically, /. a sexist because a few people engaged in a puerile debate about your looks. What’s worse is that the only evidence you offer in support are these few insulting comments, made about you, that are indirectly sexist. The word sexist is only truly appropriate if you think they did not take you seriously because you were a woman – being judged on your looks is not synonymous with having female parts and being discriminated against because of it. Bringing up your looks when it was not relevant to the article is far more horny and infantile than it is sexist. /.ers could have been and frequently are infantile about lots of other things. Sexist is someone refuting what you wrote because you are a woman, because women don’t have the capability to say anything cogent about technology.

    The way I read this – despite what you say- is that it is acceptable if it complimentary, but unacceptable if it is not. Not sexist if you control or are comfortable with the context of the message, but sexist if you are not. Not only is that inaccurate, saying that it would be OK if /. did this for the men posters is contradictory. Sexist if it is about you, not sexist if it is not.

    Finally, if you are going to have the stones to talk about your sexuality publicly, you need to have thicker skin as people will see fit to comment on it. While vibrators and porn are not mutually exclusive of technical aptitude, if you are going to write about both, be prepared to defend both.

  23. Oh, honey, HOW I empathize. I have found, however, that within every jagged edge of offensive behavior lies a handle for opening a person’s mind. We are all bestowed a different set of keys and handles at birth; you are most generously endowed with keys, and you use your gifts wisely. All my best.

  24. -get over yourself. guys are going to be guys, online and offline.

    1) geeks are predominantly guys
    2) you are not a guy. (perhaps you wish you were?)
    3) guys will, almost before anything else, determine whether or not you [a woman] are attractive and discuss it amongst themselves.

    so, your options are (some combination of)
    1) suck it up and soldier on
    2) write a column about it on your blog
    3) …
    4) profit??

    whatever you do, please do so keeping foremost in your mind the serenity prayer. especially, note the [first] line about accepting things you cannot change. [that would be guys]

  25. For the sake of fact-checking, as news of the column spreads to other blogs, could someone link us to the offending Slashdot thread? I took a gander myself and all I found was a thread discussing whether or not “gorgeous” was an appropriate word to be using in the post about the article itself— it was not about whether or not “gorgeous” was an appropriate term to use for a description of Annalee. Some of the real meaning of the thread may have been lost in the subtle brand of sarcasm that Slashdot commentators are prone to…

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  27. Been there, done that. The personal comments about me were really horrific. I’m sorry but I really don’t “love Slashdot” and I technically should since I write about Linux. To me, the place is “Lord of the Flies gone Wild.”

  28. To clarify, the main reason why I considered the comments about my looks on Slashdot sexist — whether complimentary or not — is because they were aimed at me solely because I’m female. One of the most common forms that sexism takes is men refusing to take women seriously because they deem the women sexual before anything else.

    I have no problem with men or women thinking about sex when they meet me or read my writing. But, as my friend Elly would say, those are “inside the head” thoughts. What people say out loud in a public forum for debating technical issues should not reflect every unedited thought that pops into their heads. This isn’t about thought crimes, people — it’s about how we treat each other in the public sphere.

    Often I find myself admiring the hotness of somebody I’m interviewing in a professional capacity about biotech or computer security or whatever. But I don’t make the mistake of thinking that my personal opinions about some hacker’s cuteness are relevant to his latest security exploits.

  29. First of all, I’d like to apologize to Annalee for encouraging her to turn on her comments… The bad spelling and grammar alone is making me cringe. Lord knows what would have happened if you got picked up on Digg, where the level and tone of the discussion makes me worry about the future of humanity.

    I think the point you make about the fact that Slashdot isn’t a forum where feminism, sexuality, sexism, gender theory and the like are routinely discussed is key. I’ve seen comment threads hijacked by politics, too, and between the right-wingers, libertarians and sheltered leftists it gets just as ugly if not uglier — and by ugly I mean uncivil, ill-informed and poorly written.

    Personally, I hardly if ever even read the comments on Slashdot because, frankly, they’re not very useful or interesting. I go to Slashdot for the tech, and that’s it. There are so many other places for hott chicks, sci-fi fankids, politics and humor that treat their topics with the kind of detail and insight that Slashdot covers tech with. Broaden your horizons, people! And be nice.

  30. I am a woman and have worked in IT and Security for almost my entire career. I experienced all the things that women in technology experience: not getting that promotion, having my ass grabbed, comments about my boobs, getting a feelsky under the table at a company meeting, bla bla bla.

    It used to make me angry. All I was trying to do was my job. I didn’t dress in any way that could encourage the behavior I experienced.

    I’m older and wiser now, after raising 3 boys and 3 girls into adulthood. As a mother, and with the help of my husband, I hope that I have raised men who love and respect women. I hope I have raised daughters who love and respect men.

    You have to realize that not all boys, now men, had the benefit of “being raised right”. It sounds so Pollyannish to say that when I encounter a guy who is rude and crude towards me or other women, I just think about how sad it is that he wasn’t raised right. I actually feel a sense of compassion now rather than anger.

    Having worked in a man’s world for all these years, I have had the wonderful experience of meeting and making lifetime friends with sensitive smart geeks – all men. Yes, there were a few dicks along the way, but they don’t represent as large a population as it seems from Slashdot.

    I don’t even frequent Slashdot any more. There are plenty of available forums where smart sensitive geeks know how to behave.

  31. “One of the most common forms that sexism takes is men refusing to take women seriously because they deem the women sexual before anything else.”

    I don’t understand. Why are the two mutually exclusive? I can’t take women seriously if I deem them sexual? That doesn’t compute. I’m not allowed to think “Man is she hot and smart too!”?

    Please clarify.

  32. Hmm. People write and post/email all sorts of things with anonymity that they would never think of saying to your face. Some fail to develop what psychologists call “observing ego.” It’s similar to the social dynamic one sees at play with inconsiderate drivers, safely esconced in their steel shells, cutting us off, making the streets more dangerous. I try not to let it bother me (and hope the price of gas will keep climbing). I suggest you find a way to ignore this spewnatic fringe. Having had a mentally ill, verbally abusive spouse, I have grown a rather thick skin. I for one will continue to enjoy your writing, which seems intelligent and cogent to me.

  33. Certainly women can be taken seriously and deemed sexual at the same time. But considering a woman sexual *before anything else*, which is what I wrote, is to diminish her identity and reduce her to a function of her sexuality.

    Like I’ve said already, this is all a matter of context. Viewing a person as sexual while on a date with them is obviously great. Thinking privately to yourself that a woman is hot while talking about security vulns is fine and won’t hurt anyone because it’s only happening inside your head. But reading a woman’s article about DRM and turning it into an opportunity to comment *publicly and out loud* on her looks is an example of sexism.

  34. I really don’t get your objection. You seem to be saying that in an online context it is the ordering of the presentation that matters – we should provide comments *before anything else* that are relevant to the topic of discussion. Is it then OK to make a comment about appearances? That’s a little meshugga. I’m comfortable keeping a discussion on an intellectual level, and I deplore sexism, no matter which gender it is directed towards. Slashdot is an open forum, with a moderation system. Do you have an alternative proposal for open online discussion?

  35. I’m saying that in a forum where technical topics are discussed, it is an example of sexism to turn discussion to the hotness of a given writer simply because she’s female. And that’s the context on Slashdot. My proposal is that we identify sexism when we see it and point it out.

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  37. “3) guys will, almost before anything else, determine whether or not you [a woman] are attractive and discuss it amongst themselves.”


    That’s simply wrong. Unless American guys are far more sexist than Europeans, of course, but I don’t really want to believe that.


  38. funny how many men tell the female *not to take it so seriously* *don’t worry about them* how many excuses can we come up with for the behavior and how many ways can we tell the female to stop feeling what she’s feeling 🙂

    hahahhahaa, i love it…it bothered her, and yet, let’s tell her why she shouldn’t feel that way. cause you guys know what it feels like to be objectified waaaaaay more than women…right?

    hehe, it’s sweet.

  39. Yeah, we do. Based on thekind of car we drive, the type of job we have, the expense of our clothes, etc.

    Don’t worry, oui, you’re still a victim, so everyone will still pay attention to you.

    I am sure the Title IX people are just around the corner, ready to put Slashdot out of business. Oh well, the feminist thought police have to do something with all that government money…

  40. I think yer hot. Wanna make out?…

    Wait, what was this article about again?

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