Women, Entrepreneurship and the Internet

Due to my current levels of exhaustion, I have been hiding in code. Playing with the back end of any content management system is mind-numbing, time consuming and at the end of the day, absolutely rewarding when you’ve been able to create an architectural and graphical masterpiece out of text.
Sometime yesterday I read an article mentioning that women are a large percentage of Internet entrepreneurs. It’s not hard to think of successful women who have made their name and fortune online. Women like Arianna Huffington and Amanda Marcotte of Pandagonare some of the world’s most popular bloggers. Women who are responsible for so much of what we consider “web 2.0″. Caterina Fake, who co-founded Flickr, Meg Hourihan who co-founded the business that brought us blogger.com, Mena Tott who co-founded Six Apart, which created Type Pad and Movable Type, and Gina Bianchini who created Ning are just a few examples of women who basically created the Internet version of the printing press, content management systems.
As women once sought the cover of anonymity in urban streets in order to express their personal desires, I don’t find it hard to believe that women seek another great anonymizer. The Internet is/was a “new space” in many ways. No one was sure if the Internet was public or private (that debate is still going on.) There were no traditions of how the genders were to interact. Nor was there even a clear-cut way to know what the gender of another username was if the user didn’t identify themselves. This gives women a chance to participate in project-based computer programming in a safer and (sometimes, not always) more neutral environment than is still being found at most University computer science/engineering programs. Which is still odd to me, considering Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer back in the 1840s.

On the Internet, no one second guesses that maybe the boyfriend of the woman who claims to have solved the bug that kept crashing a platform- they’re just happy the platform isn’t crashing. When I express my programming nerdiness in “the real world”, I’m often instantly doubted and questioned about how much I really know. On the Internet, they just look at my portfolio.
I’m not saying the Internet is all roses without thorns. The same anonymity granted to women is also held tightly by human traffickers and organized criminal enterprises. The feelings of safety that encouraged me to read and enter into discussions with feminists well before I could ever say I was a feminist aloud to anyone have also encouraged the most hateful and predatory among us to feel safe in amplifying the rhetoric and calling for violence against women and other marginalized groups. It is impossible to socially shun or ban someone for their views from the entire Internet.
So, yes, on the one hand, cheers to the Internet for being a new space in which women are able to contribute and be recognized for those contributions. On the other hand, it’s proof that our culture hasn’t changed as much as we might pretend. Historically, women writers had to hide their femininity with gender neutral names in order to be published and taken seriously. Today, women still have to seek some level of anonymity in order to be taken seriously. I’m not seeing much of a difference unfortunately.

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One Comment

  1. Comrade Kevin
    Posted May 25, 2010 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    I think achieving a balance is about the best upon which we can hope. I embrace the internet because that seems to be the way things are headed from now on. Sometimes people rely too heavily on it, but I’d rather swim with the current than against it.
    As for the struggle to incorporate women actively and openly, well, that may be measured in inches more than miles. But I’m still fighting for it.

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