I was happy to see another woman attending this IndieWeb popup event, but would like to figure out how to bring more women into the IndieWeb sphere. There are usually many fewer women than men at the IndieWeb events I’ve been to over the past year or so. (Two of twenty at yesterday’s event unless I missed someone… it is a small sample size though… 🤷♀️) Is it a lack of awareness, a perception issue, a lack of interest or perceived value, or another barrier that could be overcome to welcome more women to the community? Figuring out barriers is key in social marketing to help people adopt better behaviors.
Lack of Interest
I can’t imagine other women are uninterested in critically thinking about the online spaces we use; women are major users of social platforms. Social sites put a lot of mental burden on women by inviting comparison and making them feel bad about what they have — there’s a lot to be gained from moving away from toxic, draining systems and reimagining them. Yet as Oliver Burkeman pointed out in Four Thousand Weeks, we are complicit in our own submersion in social media, and Anne Helen Peterson highlights that we often don’t have mental energy for anything more. Maybe the thought of creating a new system seems hopeless, too much work and no promise that it wouldn’t just devolve into more toxicity? Or, people want to keep what they have, feeling they would lose something without the feedback and interactions of social media, even if they often make us feel worse?
Are women generally more interested in other social causes besides online surveillance and the negative cultural impacts of social media companies? Given limited time and energy, there are only so many groups anyone has time to get involved in. Perhaps this particular issue isn’t a top priority issue for most women?
Is it linked to women’s lower participation in STEM fields? A worry that they won’t fit in because they’re not programmers, or fear that they’ll “look dumb” by not knowing things and embarrass themselves? (I haven’t found this to be true but could understand a perception that it’s “meant for” programmers — I was a bit concerned before I went to my first event.) Maybe feeling like they have nothing to contribute to the movement? Worried it’ll be too hard to start a website (or just too much work)? Or simply down to an identity mismatch where they don’t see getting into this world something “people like them” do? (One of those chicken and the egg things where you can’t attract new folks until you have new folks who are like them already participating?)
As a variation on that thought, do women assume (or see in photos) that it’s mostly men at events, and they don’t want to get involved in a group that’s dominated by men? There’s a bit of cultural eye-rolling about dudes “in power” I’ve seen in recent years. (Even though the Indie Web doesn’t have a traditional leadership structure, it could be a perception.) Or maybe just want to spend their free time with other women, so are more likely to seek out groups of mostly women?
Lack of Discoverability / No Critical Mass Barrier
Mommy bloggers and influencers are a thing (with their own maybe toxic subculture), along with plenty of woman-led reading blogs, home design blogs, craft blogs, and cooking blogs, so I don’t think women are less interested in blogging — though potentially I could see that limited time might be spent more on making content and worrying less about how it’s posted? Maybe it feels like there’s no way around posting to these platforms because that’s where the people are, and there’s no solution to discoverability yet, and if you need / want to make money off (or get your personal validation from) posting then you need to go where the people are? (Especially in recent years that revenue from blog advertising has mostly gone away in favor of sponcon which often has social media posting requirements.)
After the Facebook and Instagram outage this week, Tantek commented that those most likely to be open to the IndieWeb were those who had the strongest emotional reaction. I then saw Meg Conley’s defense of Instagram. She shares how much of a community she’s built on Instagram, and that’s why she keeps going back. Her commitment isn’t necessarily to the platform but the conversations it engenders, and the ability to meet and connect with people. After seeing how locked in she is to connecting with her community there, and how much an outage (or Instagram’s closure) affects her ability to connect, I bet she would be open to an alternative. She already has her own website, but doesn’t seem to have comments enabled. (It appears she offers a paid subscription Discord channel that probably does a good job keeping out trolls — though may also limit others who would have participated.) If the women in her Instagram community had an easy way to interact directly through her website, to know when an update was posted they should chime in on, would they?
She also echoes my thoughts above about women using Instagram to start making money, as a low barrier to entry. Her proposal for an internet that’s less centered around social media monopolies is founded on building equity: supporting caretakers financially (UBI please!), building systems of mutual aid, and fostering racial and environmental justice. It makes sense that these would be key drivers for people to keep using social media aside from community: making money (to pay for childcare), getting support in personal emergencies, and organizing for activism. So it’s an interesting perspective to come at escaping social media from the other side, to see the barriers in the economic systems that drive the need to stay on these toxic platforms.