Women at Comment is Free & CiF trespass

greentrolls.gifToday is CiF trespass. In response to the commenting atmosphere at the Guardian’s debate site, Comment is Free, Rowan Davies came up with the proposal:

The idea is that people of mild temperament will shuffle gently onto CiF threads throughout the day, expressing their views in a thoughtful and respectful way. If nothing else, it will confuse the hell out of the regulars.

You can follow the progress of this effort today – on CiF presumable, but also via the #ciftrespass Twitter hashtag.

By complete co-incidence, a survey of who is commenting at Comment is Free, suggests that the “below the line” comments might be dominated by male voices.

A reader wrote into the Guardian with a spreadsheet, breaking down the gender of commenters on a couple of CiF posts – based on how the commenters identify themselves in their profiles. Of course, this has some potential pitfalls as a methodology, given that many commenters do not identify their gender in their profiles. Just for starters, the commenting atmosphere at CiF might disincline women in particular to disclose this information, or might encourage them to create profiles identifying as men.

So, the results have to be taken with a pinch of salt. However, there is an established pattern that the letters pages in the newspaper itself publish disproportionately more letters from men than from women.

Readers’ editor Chris Elliot quotes from the letter:

“The article, On rape, the left still doesn’t get it, of 27 December, highlights this. In the first 50 comments, ie the front page, there are 28 identifiably male and five female posters. I have included only those who have stated their gender in profiles or posts. However, unless one looks to the profile archive, the anonymous nature of posting hides this disparity. It is not obvious that there is no substantive contribution to this discussion by women. Many of the posters are habitually sexist commentators … the hostile culture women face on Comment is free must encourage their absence.”

Whatever the actual numbers, the “hostile culture” on CIF is so well known it’s hardly worth me mentioning. I’ll just refer back to Cath Elliot’s straw feminist bingo in 2008, based on responses to one of her CiF posts, and zohra’s three part series on the problem, also back in 2008. The topic also came up again on Saturday, during a workshop I was part of at Netroots UK, during which the panel and audience was largely bemused to be discussing again how to get women engaged online. Check out Lisa Ansell’s posterous for more on this, as she’s cross-posting responses to the debate from some of the women who attended.

“Above the line” at CiF, which is edited by Natalie Hanman, the site features loads of interesting posts by women, about gender related issues and everything else – you might notice how often we link these up at The F-Word. But the fact that Rowan felt inclined to propose #ciftrespass in the first place suggests that the situation “below the line” hasn’t been completely reformed since 2008 – in her taxonomy of CiF trolls, the first point is:

The misogynist who isn’t getting any, and hasn’t for some time Who are women anyway? I’ve never met one. When did they start having opinions and stuff? Why don’t they just fuck off?

Photo of hedge sculpted to look like troll faces by tsparks, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons license