As the autumn colours pass their peak, which here in Indiana tends to be just about mid-October, the weak spots in the insulation reveal themselves again after being forgotten for the summer months. The geranium that we forgot to water in summer finally produced one pretty but lonely pink flower two days before tonight's first freeze. So it goes. As for you, you are still expected to come to my house, eat my damned bird, and ravage my liquor cabinet (but leave my daughters alone) this Thanksgiving, US/Eastern. Oh, and read above for the quest to fix a slice of the site's front page. Also, take your last chance at the Horrorquest and this year's Secret Santa or it's coal and curtains for all. Then sharpen your keyboards for yet another IRON NODER. OK, I'm done plugging stuff.
The Gender Gap
A few months ago I posed the question whether the manifest disparity in both the number and average tenure between male and female staff members had a particular cause. This resulted in some interesting exchanges, including more than one "I didn't ask for a fucking dialogue STFU and listen". Such is the fate at the hands of some species of feminist of any male who dares to address gender issues with anything other than the utmost deference to their viewpoint. Having more than a passing acquaintance with the social sciences, I managed to emerge bruised but undaunted.
What prompted me to ask the question was that my periodic suggestions that staff members who think of themselves as idle make way for new faces once again resulted in only women offering to step aside. I won't bore you with the lack of a scientific method but a survey of my respondents and my analysis suggest that it is more benign than institutional sexism. My conclusion is that the two dominant factors in having fewer women serving on the staff and their shorter tenures are the continuing (though reduced) imbalance in numbers and the fact that the second shift extends to recreational endeavours such as E2. I see the seeds of a paper in that for Dr. Clampe's students.
The women of E2 are not a minority in the sense in which sociology treats them. They're a minority in numbers but not disenfranchised or disempowered. I do not believe that our community discriminates against or panders to them. It may have done the latter in earlier days since it evolved directly from a bastion of geek culture at a time during which women were only just approaching parity in internet use and were still a bit of a rarity in many settings. This is largely gone, particularly as our user distribution has shifted away from the (pre)dominance of the hormonal single college student demographic. At any rate, this is a brief, non-scientific analysis until I get an NSF grant to make it a scientific one. Mark me down for an egalitarian bias if you disagree with me.
A hostile environment?
A point that was raised during this same discussion was whether there exists a hostile environment. Outright harassment is easily recognised and is strongly discouraged by the userbase and the management. The vaguer notion of a hostile atmosphere is unfortunately not conveniently obvious like harassment is and is subject to all sorts of sneaky undercurrents and cultural biases but I do not think that sex or gender is a significant factor in the general atmosphere. If you asked me which demographic on E2 has the most hostile environment to contend with, I'd tell you it was political conservatives. I'd be right, too. I think E2 caters to an audience that does not subscribe to creating a hostile environment for a particular class of people, though. Although we are basically as much (or even more of) a mostly male, lily-white, Anglo community as, say, 4chan is, we don't casually throw around pejoratives and -isms as an integral part of daily speech. It's not in the nature of the people we attract to do so.
The content of the catbox was cited more than once as an example of a hostile environment. I'm afraid that argument will not persuade an ancient chat warrior. If you're of the view that sex talk and flirting are inappropriate and unappealing, let me tell you something as someone who has been around many, many virtual blocks: all empirical evidence points to the fact that this form of perceived hostility is not caused by a preponderance of male participants and is near universal in casual chat rooms. In fact the bawdiest of channels, going all the way back to #hottub circa 1992, were invariably the most evenly mixed ones.
Sometimes we have virtual punching matches going on in the catbox. At some point someone might consider it too much and will step in and do something but heated exchanges are not unnatural or unhealthy. The catbox may be considered hostile towards people who dislike the sort of exchanges that go on but then we can get into the other argument--inhowfar the catbox is a vital and representative part of E2 and why the hell aren't we writing as much as we're yakking away there. I cannot say that I approve of some things that go on in the catbox but in some ways it's not mine (or yours) to disapprove or sanction.
Another topic that was made much of (too much of, in my opinion), was IWhoSawTheFace's Bitch Quest 2009. Some people, it appears, were not comfortable with the official approval of this idea as a quest in combination with the terminology employed. One of the complainants was a staff member, to whom I said that the same buttons that let another staffer bless that node as a quest would also have allowed this staffer to nuke it. See below for the policy on quests in general. I'm not accepting lack of opportunity as an argument since the quest sat for several days without anyone putting a god-stamp on it. Personally, and I've told IWho as much, I did not think much of the quest. I understand the tongue-in-cheek attempt and spoke with the lone major contributor but I still feel that the whole quest idea was asking for trouble like setting down a ticking black bag in the middle of O'Hare and walking away.
Sometimes the idea of a hostile environment gets tangled up with interpersonal relationships. And sometimes people do feel uncomfortable around others. There are people of lesser social skills who don't know when they're creeping someone out. We have people on various points of the spectrum who can't even read the cue that constitutes more than a hint among neurotypicals. One noder, the anecdote says, could be located at a nodermeet by listening for a cry of "get your hands off me". I, and you might laugh at the idea, have been come onto a few times, sometimes clumsily. I'm not saying that I was pleased or flattered. Sometimes I was not. But we're big boys and girls. This sort of thing happens in a social setting and does not constitute a hostile environment. No means no. Sometimes it needs reinforcing.
We're hypocritical in the way in which contemporary western society with its edicts of political correctness expects us to be. A misogynist is a pariah in a way that an overt man-hater is not. One is excoriated by the community while the other is justified. I can't say that I approve of this condition. Frankly, there are people even on E2 who make me want to wear iron pants because I can't detach my vitals before I go near them. But that's all about individual people and individual conduct, not sex and gender. I think E2 has a strong tradition of judging people based on their individual character and not on their membership of a social or demographic group. My conclusion is that any prejudices involved in creating a hostile environment based on gender are insufficient to actually create such an environment. If you'd like to dispute this claim, go ahead.
Having mentioned one somewhat contentious quest, here's the deal with quests. Anyone can call a quest for a type of content that they think we should have more of. Administrative approval is not required. You only need an admin to hand out any rewards that you'd like to present to the participants. As far as the admins who approve these quest by agreeing to do this for you go, it is entirely at the discretion of each individual admin whether to do so. It's probably the only time you're welcome to shop for an admin until you find one to do your bidding.
After ten years, we will be retiring the mentoring system. These days virtually all new users in need of help are being intercepted and advised in a very timely way by a sharp and willing informal corps of editors and other experienced users.
Internal staff affairs generally don't get much space in these ed logs but there may be more shuffling and reshuffling in the near future. Among other ideas, I've decided to revive one of Lord Brawl's ideas from his time as Editor-in-Chief and require that staff members also be noders. As in, they node. Brawl was suggesting a quota of something like a writeup a month but, hell, I could not meet that one myself. I've announced that staffers with less than one writeup in a year should hand in their badge at the end of this year. This requirement will increase later. Coders will be exempt for now.
The idea is that folks who can't cough up as much as a day log (though I can't say a single day log would make me terribly happy either) should acknowledge that they've lost their drive to contribute to our number one mission: content. I realise that this may result in the retirement of some very, very good people but, while I value experience and wisdom greatly, right now we have no room for more staff and have a greater need for action, enthusiasm, and leadership by example.
This month saw the retirement of kthejoker from the coding department and anthropod from the admin department. We thank both for their services and have no immediate plans to fill those slots. Aerobe will replace anthropod as Queen of Canada and wertperch will take her place as Pollmaster.
I would like to add a few words about one of these retirements. Anthropod was one of the people most able to set me straight when I was wrong and I'll miss her wisdoms and sensible arguments. I'd like to go on the record saying that it was a privilege to serve on the staff with her. She was one of the longest-tenured staff members and was one of the few people left from a cohort that started out around the same time, had similar visions for the site, and ultimately rose through the ranks together. Man, this makes me feel old. I do hope that both she and kthejoker find some time to write again, even if it's another five years on.
Until next month...
"I see little glory in an Empire which can rule the waves but is unable to flush its sewers." --Winston Churchill