One Reason MIT Isn’t Getting Maker Portfolios from Women: It’s in the Comments

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One Reason MIT Isn’t Getting Maker Portfolios from Women: It’s in the Comments
Photo by Corinne Warnshuis
Photo by Corinne Warnshuis

Back in 2013, MIT started encouraging applicants to submit a “Maker portfolio” in addition to their application. The portfolio is meant to showcase projects that they’ve built or been involved with in some form. What they found was that there was a fairly large gender imbalance in terms of who was submitting these Maker portfolios.

Gender disparity in the Maker Movement isn’t a new topic here. We’ve seen this and do attempt to take action to rectify it. We’re not without our faults though; we recently missed a fantastic opportunity to support women in the Maker Movement when we overlooked Ada Lovelace day. I will personally admit that sometimes the imbalance slips my mind. Not only am I a middle class Caucasian male (read: I don’t want to be guilty of “mansplaining”), I work at a company that is packed full of women in charge.

To me, this was the most interesting part of MIT’s report:

“In that survey, 30% of respondents identified as “Maker,” and the rate was the same for both men and women who responded. “

This points out that even though there were fewer submissions from women, the amount of people that identified as Makers was the same. Why weren’t more women submitting their portfolios?

Anna Waldman-Brown concludes in her breakdown of this data that “MIT ladies are just as intelligent as MIT gentlemen. They just may lack the confidence.”

I think she’s hit the nail on the head, and I have a suspicion that internet culture plays a big role in this. I call it the Confidence Crushing Machine, and we have to look at the way we respond to female Makers who share their projects online to see how it works.

Schadenfreude as a staple of internet culture

People on the internet can be (and often are) jerks. It was famously put into an equation by Penny Arcade (NSFW language) when talking about an online game chat:

Normal person + anonymity + audience = total F*&%$wad

This may be humorous and anecdotal, but it has actually been studied and has a name: Online Disinhibition Effect. It is something I’ve battled for years. I recall how much my heart sank when I, running Hackaday at the time, saw this tweet from Jeri Ellsworth.


Thankfully the actions we took back then helped that site considerably, and at that point, Make: was already a step ahead in these terms thanks to Gareth Branwyn.

One solution, as Branwyn points out, is to remove anonymity. I personally use my real name wherever possible and I’ve found that I do, in fact, behave differently. If you Google my name, you’ll find projects I’ve been involved in, but also forum threads, Reddit comments, tweets and more. I’m accountable for what I say, and that’s good.

The nicest jerks in the universe

The surprising bit is that this doesn’t always manifest as someone being overtly vile or offensive. If you’ve ever ended up on a blog post about a cool project that a woman has done, you’ll find “compliments” appearing en masse. These are typically things about how beautiful and smart this person is, or how they are potential wife material.

We all agree that compliments are good. The problem here is that the focus shifts almost entirely away from the project and onto the person. This typically doesn’t happen with men.

Constantly being judged by your looks or desirability as opposed to your knowledge and skill erodes your confidence in those skills. It makes you feel marginalized.

The confidence crushing machine in action

DIY Can Crusher
The can is the importance of the project, and the Maker’s confidence. Source: DIY Can Crusher

Lets go on a thought exercise for a moment. Picture yourself posting something online that you think is awesome. For example, a flaming sword.

The comments start rolling in and you’re immediately assaulted with insults about your physical appearance and threats to your safety. Yes, this happens. Anyone who moderates comments will back this up. You can imagine what the comments would be if I were a woman. “She needs to lose a few pounds to look like the character from the game” and things of that nature. I don’t even want to give an example of the kinds of personal threats that would appear. I’ve seen them (again, only as a moderator) and they’ll make your stomach turn no matter how jaded you think you might be.

While you’re reeling from the onslaught of personal attacks, you see some seemingly nice comments appear, coming from the opposite direction. However they’re all focusing on you, not your project. Sure you’ve got pretty eyes. Sure it’s super hot to see a woman with a sword, but WHAT ABOUT MY PROJECT?

In the end you’ve got tons of misdirected interactions, both positive and negative, but so little of it has anything to do with your skills or project that you’re left feeling like there was no point in sharing in the first place. Confidence = crushed.

You might still be proud of what you’ve built, but your desire to engage the community is diminished considerably. I suspect this is the source of the disparity that MIT sees between those who identify as Makers and those who submit Maker Profiles. By the time many women post a few projects online, their confidence gets systematically crushed to the point that they see very little merit to their Maker profile in the first place.

Safe places vs controlled chaos

I really struggle with this concept and this whole area of thought. I absolutely abhor the idea of censoring people. I tend to fall toward the opposite end of the spectrum, where the solution is just to get more opposing voices heard. An uproarious cacophony of varying opinions and views sounds great to me. I realize it isn’t for everyone though.

The fact is that I don’t have a good answer about how other people should be forced to behave. All I know is that in my own interactions with others, I do my best to lead by example.

So here’s your challenge. Next time you’re about to comment on a project or video, ask yourself: “Would I say this if the project creator were a man?”

117 thoughts on “One Reason MIT Isn’t Getting Maker Portfolios from Women: It’s in the Comments

  1. morphoyle says:

    You can’t control the behavior of others, only your own reactions to it. As a man, I deal with criticisms and insults on a regular basis, and have since grade school. I don’t see why women should be given special treatment. Women are entitled to be treated the same as men. This means taking the good with the bad.

    1. monkat says:

      I believe you need to re-read or at least re-think the article, sir.

      At no point was it stated that delicate lady people just couldn’t withstand general criticisms or insults that are part of normal human interaction. The point is that women are subjected to ridiculous amounts of “special treatment” — the very negative kind. As in threats of physical harm, discussions of sexual attributes or proclivities, etc. which are, needless to say, completely off-topic when the thing under discussion is, say, trash can robot they built.

      The point is that this response, which I admit is hard to wrap one’s head around even after seeing proof thereof, is so disproportionately “special” that it is a more-than reasonable reaction to do one’s best to avoid the whole thing in the future by never again posting something about a trash can robot or anything else. Unfortunately, making women shut up and go away is the purpose of this abhorrent behavior on the part of the commenters.

      The very point of the article is in fact the writer’s suggestion that we NOT give women this “very special treatment” a.k.a. comments in the form of a flaming bag of poop, and rather address their projects (and dare I say them) as we would any human’s or maybe how we’d like to be addressed ourselves?

      tl;dr Thanks for playing, but you missed the point.

      1. morphoyle says:

        Please reread my comment. I stated that men deal with trolls online (and offline) just as women do. I would like evidence that it is disproportionate (or special, as you put it) please.
        I know in my own life, when I post online in many communities, it’s likely there will be trolls in the group. I’ve received death “threats” for disagreeing with someone else’s opinion. It happens to everyone. Most of us ignore it, because we realize that there are people in the world that get a kick out of harassing others. The only real difference is that I get relatively few attacks against my appearance (though there are almost no public pictures of me online). I’ve been called neckbeard, loser, and retard more times than I would care to count. In that, women being trolled isn’t negative special treatment, it’s negative normal treatment.

          1. s_f says:

            I don’t see any comparative studies that would show any disparity between female and male harassment. All I see is reporting bias, and I can tell how bad it goes, because I observed the Gamergate scandal and the harassment members of minorities in #notyourshield fraction by the feminists – never mind rabid defense of scammers who happened to present themselves as feminist activists. There are horrible people on both sides of the barricade but the media focus is on one side. Press articles are utterly meaningless in the political climate where a publication critical of negative trends in the feminist movement will mean medial death of the journalist. The only purpose of press articles nowadays is to attract visitors and show them commercials, and this is easily achieved by biasing them in such a way that they evoke strong feelings in the readers – objective truth be damned, so please, post any relevant peer-revieved papers but take propaganda elsewhere.

          2. monkat says:

            Propaganda? You’ll need to take that up with Google’s search algorithm. The results are as they appeared with the search parameters I listed. Read them or don’t, agree with them, or don’t. They were offered as a way for another commenter to quickly get an overview of the issue under discussion, as it’s a topic which has appeared a lot of late. If you’d like to suggest other search parameters or links to peer-reviewed research papers you deem worthy, assuming they are not behind a pay-wall, please do.

          3. s_f says:

            While the study, conducted by the British think tank Demos,

            was limited to a fairly small sample of British celebrities, journalists and politicians whose Twitter timelines were tracked over a two-week period, its findings are
            nonetheless interesting. On the whole, 2.5 percent of the tweets sent to the men but fewer than 1 percent of those sent to women were classified as abusive. Male politicians fared especially badly, receiving more than six times as much abuse as female politicians.



            The more serious forms of harassment are less frequent: 10% of men and 6% of women said they had been physically threatened on online platforms and similar shares said they had been harassed for a sustained period
            of time, stalked or sexually harassed.


            Sorry, yet again – selective reporting vs comparative studies. The “vulnerable” women arise more compassion, more attention and as result more ad impressions, so the number of articles concerning their abuse is higher – and Google search naturally reflects this, being impartial in selection of articles and not considering the bias within them when making the selection – faithfully reflecting the image of the media, not the image of reality.

            The Gamergate was the most blatant image of this – since it was crooked journalists who were attacked, the press smear campaign was truly impressive. And if the gamergaters attacked a crook, thief and a scoundrel who happened to be a feminist celebrity – oh, the indignity, the sexist pigs!

          4. David Key says:

            Thank you, random internet hero.

          5. Amy says:

            Thanks for all those studies. Everyone else is right, citing a huffington post article (and other news souces) doesn’t count as evidence.

            I’ve always thought bringing the “threats of bodily harm” argument onto the table, especially to support the claim that women face more of that brand of online harassment than men, is somewhat of a distraction. Both men and women receive those kinds of threats and neither should be taken more seriously than the other, since neither group of people has a higher value in society than the other.

            Everyone is focusing too much on the threats portion. I think we can operate under the assumption that everyone on the internet, regardless of gender, receives hateful and threatening comments on the internet. That way we can focus on the problem Caleb presented: women receive comments about themselves, sometimes in the form of compliments, when what they were asking for by presenting their project to the general public was feedback on their work.

          6. Amy says:

            Google just presents you with what it deems most relevant to what you searched, it doesn’t claim to present you with the truth or facts. You can type in “vaccines cause autism” and get a whole host of “proof” in the form of articles from “Dr. Mercola” and Jenny McCarthy, but that doesn’t make them true.

          7. Ran Dome says:

            To be fair, when I google for bigfoot, I get an astronomical amount of hits as well. I’m not sure that’s a valid benchmark.

          8. David Key says:

            These articles aren’t evidence for your claim.

  2. fstedie says:

    Morphoyle – I think most people would agree with you but the point of the article is that women get a disproportionate share of the “bad”.

    1. morphoyle says:

      I understand the point of the article. I need to see some actual statistics to back up the premise. Isn’t it also possible that women are more vocal when they feel they are being treated unfairly? Isn’t it also possible that some women take these online “threats” more seriously? Who among us hasn’t been threatened with violence online? Most of us don’t take it seriously because we realize that they are immature online trolls and wouldn’t follow through even if they could.

      1. Caleb Kraft says:

        As a person that moderates comments, I can tell you at least anecdotally that there is a massively obvious difference in the comments on projects. The difference is so huge that it isn’t even a matter of opinion or possible misperception.

        1. David Key says:

          Are the difference in negative comments measured in volume or type?

      2. monkat says:

        Your suggestion that women are hysterically over-reacting to standard verbal/written abuse to which we all are subject online, is, frankly, insulting as well as ignorant.

        Try googling something like “women threatened online” and enjoy the many fine articles chronicling, with both individual examples and gathered statistics, the number of death threats, rape threats, and other abuse women encounter online. It makes me sick to know that any segment of the population suffers such treatment in the course of daily life. The only thing worse is someone else calling them whiners for complaining about the treatment.

        1. morphoyle says:

          You are putting words into my mouth, and you are being dismissive and condescending. Since this is an online conversation, I can choose to ignore you.

      3. Shawn Kovalchick says:

        Yes, I know this is anecdotal, but I have NEVER seen a comment insisting that a male should bulk up to look like He-Man or any other buff comic book character. The same can not be said of the comments on female posters’ posts–even when the post has nothing at all to do with physical appearance. The evidence is rampant in tech posts, game posts, etc.

        1. David Key says:

          Is it possible that men and women are typically offended by different things?

          1. Cypherpunks (a public account) says:

            It’s not merely possible, it’s probable, but it’s irrelevant. Why do people keep ignoring those commenters who are in a position to know, who say there is a massive and obvious difference in both the number and character of abusive comments toward women vs. men? You demanded “statistics,” yet you ignore the evidence when it’s posted. This isn’t a peer reviewed scientific journal. Such standards in this conversation are unreasonable. It’s reasonable to take the mods at their word when they insist this is a glaring trend they themselves have observed. Furthermore, why don’t you do your own research? You can Google just as well as anyone. If this was so easy to disprove, wouldn’t somebody have already posted more than just the one survey in England? Men are far more likely to stalk, harass, harm and murder women than each other or the other way around. Why is it so hard to believe that men are far more likely to engage in the online equivalent? Are you in denial about male aggression? This is all like arguing with someone who doesn’t believe in hats, and when three people show them a hat, they pretend not to see it, or claim that it’s not a hat, that hats are made of moon cheese and worn on the feet.

          2. Amy says:

            I disagree completely. There is always a place for (good) science. Always. We had this problem with the person who typed a loaded search term into Google and grabbed the top results as Gospel truth. And if we just take someone at their word, man there is so much we would have to believe. Unless that person has literally read every comment on the internet, I’m not going to take someone’s limited exposure to certain corners of the internet as the end-all be-all state of the net. “Massive and obvious” is not a good measurement.

        2. morphoyle says:

          That’s because the insults hurled at men are different. I’ve seen neckbeard, loser, and virgin countless times. Trolls try to focus on what they think will rustle you the most. It’s the whole point of trolling.

    2. s_f says:

      In one hand: Trolls target these who react to them. Since women tend to react, feel crushed, complain – they come into focus of the trolls. Articles like this one serve against the intended purpose: “Hey, wolves, this deer is wounded, it’s unfair to attack it, pick a fight with someone your size!”

      And on the other hand, what is the rest of us to do? Should I sugarcoat my comments on projects of given makers because they happen to be girls? If a project sucks, am I to only tell it sucks if it was made by a guy? Isn’t this a form of sexism too?

  3. s_f says:

    Maybe – just maybe – “One solution, as Branwyn points out, is to remove anonymity.” – this is the problem. Too much focus on the person, too little focus on the project. Instead of “cool Maker project” it’s “cool Girl project”. Instead of focusing on the gender role in creation, focus on the creation. Anonymity is good for that.

    It’s a harsh world out there, with many jerks of any gender, and demanding for the world to change instead of adapting to it is a long and arduous mission, harder by strides than just doing your way and dealing with inevitable jerks calmly.

    Especially that once the shielding of the university ends, you’re thrown into this harsh world head-on and have to deal with it on daily basis. Many jobs just are stressful. Many positions demand mental fortitude, and if little things like unwelcome compliments unnerve you to a level that cripples your ability to progress, you just won’t be able to deal with adult life. Developing a thicker skin is the easiest solution.

  4. Chuck Stephens says:

    I was at a women in tech conference with some of my students last year (I’m a man in my forties). As we were setting up I noticed a middle aged woman come into the busy hall and make eye contact with me. She walked through the crowd of able-bodied young women and came up to me to ask for help carrying some boxes. I gladly helped, but afterwards it started to bug me. Singling me out to carry boxes seemed just as sexist as me asking one of the women there to make me a sandwich.
    Also, the term ‘mansplaining’ is divisive, sexist and dismissive. Would you call Black Lives Matter ‘blacksplaining’? Are the writers on Jezebel ‘chicksplaining’? Is Make just a platform for ‘nerdsplaining’?
    TLDR- sexism and anachronistic gender roles are not something that men
    force on women, it’s a deep-rooted social mechanism that we all need to
    confront and labels make that much harder.

    1. Amy says:

      Re: mansplaining. I think you misunderstand the term. “Mansplaining” is when a male explains something to, typically, a female in a condescending or patronizing manner. It usually means the man in question is assuming that the woman doesn’t know something because she’s a woman. The best examples are women who are specialists in X field and a man who is not a specialist in X field feels it necessary to explain so basic concept the woman specialist can’t possibly not know because she specializes in it.

      So no, I don’t think the Black Lives Matter movement is “blacksplaining”. They’re not being condescending, they’re not explaining something we don’t know, they’re fighting for equality and better treatment. Jezebel is often violently angry about things, but they’re not womansplaining (thanks for belittling women by making it “chicksplaining”, by the way). And no, Make isn’t nerdsplaining because no article I’ve read has sounded as though they’re talking down to non-nerds. They’re very approachable.

      However, I think it’s a very fine line and some women are constantly on the defensive and expecting men to mansplain things, so they see someone explaining anything as mansplaining, regardless of intent. I find that with my female cohorts in software development. They take offense if a male developer explains some piece of code or what have you, but in my opinion, there are so many different frameworks and ways to write things that assuming everyone knows about all of them is also hurtful (especially if they dismiss you for not knowing something). I think if it is a consistent occurrence of that person assuming they have to explain everything to you, or using a “big” word and stopping to say, “Do you know what that word means?”, then you can count it as mansplaining.

      In your defense, though, I’m not entirely sure why Caleb felt the need to mention mansplaining in the context he did. I paused at that and re-read the sentences before and following and couldn’t figure it out. Can you splain that to us, Caleb? ;) (seriously, though, I’d like to know what you thought would be mansplaining)

      1. David Key says:

        Do you think that your explanation of what mansplaining is justifies the offensive term?

        1. Amy says:

          Because the term was bred out of offense, it is inherently offensive. It was meant to be so, I think, especially when used in the manner I describe below. Whether or not the explanation of the term justifies its offense is, therefore, irrelevant. I was neither arguing for nor against its use, just clarifying its definition. The original use of the term in Caleb’s article was unnecessary. I saw no reason to use it in the first place.

          Too many people (mostly women) use it to be dismissive of men themselves. When someone halts all discussion by accusing you of “mansplaining”, you may as well stop right there and part ways. It is equivalent to someone calling a woman advocating for some right a “feminazi” (whether they exemplify the term or not). It is an ad hominem attack that completely derails discussions and allows the user of the term, be it “mansplaining” or “feminazi” or any other attack, to dismiss the point (correct or incorrect) of their victim and feel as though they “won” the discussion (though they obviously view it as a battle).

          The above usage of “mansplaining” is what causes men like Caleb to feel the need to qualify what they say. Because he is an advocate and does not want to be dismissed for being a man talking about “women’s issues” (which he couldn’t possibly know anything about, because he is a man [sarcasm]), he feels like he has to say, “I am a man about to explain something, I promise you I am not being condescending or patronizing”. The people (women) who vitriolically throw it out are only making themselves look bad and ruining civil discourse just as much as the handful of jerks who dismiss women in discussions.

  5. WinstonSmith2012 says:

    You really should have linked to the video by the guy who built it rather than the thief who copied and re-posted the video. Here’s the original:

    1. Caleb Kraft says:

      thanks! Fixing that now.

  6. Mungo says:

    The overall level of snark and just plain adolescent meanness is really astonishing right . The redoubtable site, a bunch of “fix the world” tinkerers, had to take the board private because of the overwhelming wave of sexism and just plain nasty language. Now its entirely anonymous, and you have to ask to get onto the board. Go over sometime to one of the “steampunk” boards like TheSteampunkEmpire. The formal language of the Victorian era means everyone there is relatively civil with one another, and it’s refreshing.

    I don’t know how we fix this–especially with misogynist trolls so abundant–but if we cease to be tolerant of them, maybe they’ll shift their twisted little minds to politics or sports and leave those who are actually building the future alone.

    . . .but then, that last comment was, in and of itself, a bit snarky. Sigh…at least I was aware of it.

    1. morphoyle says:

      You don’t fix it. You ignore them. I doubt that most misogynistic trolls even believe the insults that they hurl at others; they just want to make you angry.

    2. David Key says:

      Please identify one misogynist comment in this thread.

      1. Mungo says:

        David, I never said there was one in this thread. I was referring to the comments cited in the article, as well as experiences with my own blogs.

  7. Ran Dome says:

    Why is the solution to enact promises from every entity that they will applaud every effort politely and positively? Seems impossible at worst and inefficient at best. Rather wouldn’t it be better to instill in makers (and just about everyone else for that matter) the idea that not everyone is going to be impressed with every project you make? So what if some random person on the internet calls your project dumb. If you’re happy with what you made and confident about your effort, why take the opinion of someone who has less knowledge about the situation to heart? If you cant stop taking the criticism to heart, why not only share you projects with people you know will be supportive rather than cast them out to the masses where some harsh critique is inevitable? You can’t dictate others behaviour, but you can choose how you react to it.

    1. Mungo says:

      I don’t mind anyone criticizing my work or words, Ran, but there is, flatly, no excuse for rudeness or cruelty. Usually I just ignore the trolls, but to be honest, on some boards, they’re becoming debilitating. Perhaps if we keep ourselves to a somewhat higher standard, the web will shift and follow suit, I dunno. I do know it makes me sad when good ideas….or even bad ones….are shouted down with demeaning language. That same rudeness, misogyny, and casual racism seems to be infecting everyday personal interactions as well, and I admit freely, I find it both upsetting and utterly unproductive.

      1. Ran Dome says:

        Rudeness is subjective. Again, not a very efficient variable to work with. If the comments have nothing to do with the project and instead are taunt based, shouldnt they be easier to dismiss? The cockroaches in my garden probably have negative views of my some of my practices, but I don’t consider them viable sources of feedback, so its not really an issue that weighs on me… internet trolls arent much different.

        1. Elise Azam Mravunac says:

          Stating subjectivity isn’t an efficient variable and therefore we should ignore/dismiss social issues says more about your own psychology than it does about the measurable social phenomena we’re discussing here. I understand that it can be hard for people who struggle with understanding other people. You may find reductionist, abstract arguments comforting and easier to grapple with. Unfortunately, failing to exhibit empathy or acknowledge the validity of someone else’s experience doesn’t make you more logical. It makes you a solipsist.

          1. Amy says:

            Ad hominem warning.

          2. Jen L says:

            That’s not what ad hominem means. For it to apply, it has to additionally be unrelated to the argument. For instance, if a convicted serial rapist posits that it’s not rape if you know them, it is valid to bring up the convictions as a reason that their stance may be biased or otherwise unreliable, which is not an ad hominem attack.

            Criticising someone’s argument and using that as a basis for making conclusions about their ability to argue isn’t an ad hominem attack. When you criticise an argument, you are, in fact, discussing something relating to the argument.

            I can’t quite tell if you’re suffering from internalized misogyny/”cool girl syndrome” (former sufferer here), are young and less experienced than the people complaining, or are a man with a female profile pic. In any case, women can and do have valid arguments on this topic even though you personally have not faced the problem in question.

            Why is it that you believe that other women’s opinions on this topic are inherently less reliable than men’s?

          3. Ran Dome says:

            “I can’t quite tell if you’re suffering from internalized misogyny/”cool girl syndrome” (former sufferer here), are young and less experienced than the people complaining, or are a man with a female profile pic.”

            You’re still attacking people, and its still unbecoming and quite hypocritical considering the topic. Honestly at this point you seem no better than the trolls you’re condemning.

          4. Ran Dome says:

            I don’t think a social movement to keep people from stating honest if albeit negative opinions of things people have willingly put into the public forum is a dire need for our society.

          5. Jen L says:

            Right, because you are part of the problem, not part of the group that faces the problem. Of course it’s not a pressing problem to people unaffected by it… unless they believe that women’s word can be believed on the topic of the treatment that they receive online.

          6. Ran Dome says:

            I’m part of the realists who understand that if everything hurts your feelings, that’s something you’re going to have to work on personally. Just in this discussion you’ve gotten upset and personally attacked me several times, which might be a good indicator that perhaps you get a bit too emotionally invested to have a civil discourse when all parties aren’t in agreement with your viewpoint. I would call that as much a barrier to communication as negativity.

      2. David Key says:

        Cry more.

        1. Mungo says:

          Well well, David, just had to get your snarky little middle school comment in, didn’t you. Thank you. Now we can all stop taking you seriously since you apparently have no intention of entering into this as an adult discussion.

        2. John Daniels says:

          Wow! The perfect example of the problem discussed in the article.

          1. Ran Dome says:

            Honestly I dont think its a perfect example. Was there a more polite way to phrase this? Sure. The point made is that perhaps the problem isnt with the trolls, but with the sensitivity to the trolls. I think its a valid observation that some people are too sensitive about online comments, and I dont think David Key should be villainized for making it.

          2. John Daniels says:

            He villainized himself by making a villain-like comment. This is a topic about people making rude comments unnecessarily, specifically gender biased comments. “Cry more.” Fits that bill.

          3. Ran Dome says:

            The article is about people who consider not producing because they may receive negative feedback for the display of their production. If the type of “abuse” these people are referring to causing them to stifle their creativity is akin to one person posting something akin to “cry more” then I think it would illustrate there is an issue on both sides. Perspective is a helpful tool, and if you only allow one type of feedback (positive) than you’re diminishing your ability to see all facets of an issue. Some people ARE oversensitive, and pointing that out should not be abusive. If one person can decide that “cry more” is out of line, why can’t another decide that an over-reaction to that statement is also out of line? It has to work both ways if its to work at all.

            Honestly, its the job of the forums these projects are being posted on to set up an environment that is supportive to the types of users it wants. Some can be for the more delicate types where every project is regarded as a marvelous wonder, and some can be on the harsher side for people interested in identifying and resolving shortcomings in their works. I dont think its fair however to say we have the right to ask the opinion of 9+ billion people on the earth what they think of something and then get upset when we don’t get 9+ billion positive responses.

          4. John Daniels says:

            You’ve really read a lot into my words. I’m not sure we’re having the same conversation. You seem to be using my replies as a jumping off point for your sermons. I am in no way saying that some people aren’t oversensitive, nor am I saying that *constructive criticism* is something that should be banned. I think we all appreciate constructive criticism and suggestions for improving things. Especially in some forums, it’s expected. However, flaming for the sake of being an ass is never helpful and never wanted. Can I make that any more clear? “Cry more” does nothing to help the conversation. It sets it back by causing tangents like THIS one. It doesn’t offer any suggestions on how to improve your arguments, it doesn’t offer any insights into anything other than the apparent truth that the poster is an ass.

            Here’s a bit of constructive criticism. There are no where near 9+ BILLION internet users. There are only 7.125 BILLION people on the earth at present estimates. says that about 40% of the world has internet connectivity. That’s around 3 billion people potentially viewing your work if you manage to get it to the front page of every website anywhere. A more realistic number would take into account the number of makers that actually frequent websites such as this one. Let’s be generous say a few million? Accurate figures will make your arguments more believable and cause fewer people to disregard them out of hand.

          5. Jen L says:

            Right, because someone is acting “female” by “crying,” where “crying” is defined as “complaining about an actual issue that someone else wants to cover up because it benefits them.”

      3. Amy says:

        It seems to me if said boards are so rife with trolls and negativity, they should be abandoned for greener pastures. That’s not all there is on the internet. There are plenty of happy places to hang out with like-minded, civil human beings. And if not, start a happy place! There are so many better things to do with your time than continue to wallow in the troll mud. And if everyone abandons the negative boards, they’ll just be left with no one to taunt but each other.

        1. Mungo says:

          Amy, I think that’s a splendid idea.

        2. Laura Truxillo says:

          I think for personal boards, etc, that’s fine, but when it’s a question of: “Participating in this particular space can drastically boost your education/career” then “find somewhere better” isn’t the best option.

      4. John Daniels says:

        Where are you guys posting your work? I recommend a change of venue. I never run across these types of comments. I don’t post anything to Instructables, because it seems very adolescent, in my opinion. The comment sections on there are as bad as YouTube at times. I mostly stick to Thingiverse and Facebook. I have been thinking of finding some new sites that are maker oriented. Any suggestions?

        1. Laura Truxillo says:

          I never run across these types of comments.

          But…you’re also a guy? Which means it’s less likely that you’ll have to deal with those comments, unless you’re also a moderator.

          1. John Daniels says:

            Sorry, I wasn’t referring to the sexist comments here. I meant the rude people who just like to crap on everyone’s hard work.

          2. Laura Truxillo says:

            Oh, sorry, I misread that.

            Although, to be honest, I’ve sure seen that too. But more in the arts than the sciences. (But there are a-holes everywhere, so…*shrug*)

        2. sophiacamille says:

          Caleb mentions Hackaday. The comments section there is notoriously bad. Or was at one point.

    2. Amy says:

      The problem is that people are not saying anything, good or bad, about the project. Instead, they’re commenting on the person. It’s one thing to hear, “You could have hooked that up to X instead of Y and it would have made it N times cooler” (or even “Your machine SUCKS”) and another entirely to hear, “Man, she’s hot and smart”. That’s not a critique and, as Caleb stated, focuses the attention on the person, not her project. When we post projects on forums, we want comments, good/bad/neutral, on the projects, not ourselves.

      Edit: clarification

      1. David Key says:

        I don’t know that there’s a technical solution to this problem. Unlike Kaleb, I use my real name when trolling. I reserve my malice for those who earn

        1. Amy says:

          Short of censorship, which I don’t think is an answer, I think you’re right. There are jerks in the world (male and female), always have been, always will be. I’ve had my fair share of taunts, but I don’t let them stop me. I’m proud of that thing I made and I’m going to show it off.

        2. Jen L says:

          I just got the impression that you didn’t read the article before commenting.

          It’s not about trolls insulting women’s appearance. It’s about a deluge of comments, good and bad, about the woman herself in response to a post about her invention.

      2. Ran Dome says:

        Not everyone in the world is here to help you or offer conscience constructive criticism. We can fantasize about shoulds and woulds and wouldn’t it be nices, but its not going to affect reality. If you make something and someone calls you hotlips, so what? They obviously aren’t interested in your project, and if you aren’t interested in the personal commentary ignore and move on. I don’t entirely buy the argument that people don’t want personal recognition. The entire social media experience basically mirrors that kid on the playground yelling “Hey hey hey guys hey look at me hey hey look at me”. There are ways to display a project that show little of the creator and all of the creation if that’s truly an issue.

        1. Amy says:

          Certainly. I don’t expect approval from everyone. I flick the trolls away like the gnats they are.

          I think posting a project you’re proud of is 100% recognition-seeking. I wouldn’t post a thing online if I didn’t want people to see it and know that I made it and I think it’s the coolest thing ever. And sometimes I am a part of that project and I post it because yes I do look awesome in this costume or that wedding dress I made. I did get an “are u single” comment on the dress and I ignored it because that guy was obviously stupid. It was a wedding dress. Duh.

          And you’re right, if you don’t want comments on yourself you can find a way to display it without yourself in it. If I didn’t want comments on how I looked in said dress, I could have put it on my dress form (but I didn’t, because it didn’t look as good on the form as it did on me :P).

          1. Jen L says:

            So no things made for women should be encouraged.

            I get flack for using a name that sounds female. I get comments, good and bad, for using a profile picture. I’ve been online since ’93 and the 20+ year deluge of misogyny is pretty old at this point.

          2. Ceci Pipe says:

            “is 100% recognition-seeking”

            Which is funny because I can’t tell you the names of most projects I’ve loved. I can tell you about the projects, but not about the people.

            You might post as part of your personal validation but some people really do post to help people out or just to share a cool project

        2. Elise Azam Mravunac says:

          “…but its not going to affect reality” Oh really? Than explain to me the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the movement to protect sexual minorities. Socially shaming bad/discriminatory behavior is exactly what is needed if you want people to change. In fact, it’s one of the only things that does work. Talking about “should and woulds” loudly enough and long enough demonstrably affects reality.

          Also, did you even read the article? It’s not about someone just not liking your project, and when Amy brought that up, you continued with “uh well its not like everyones gonna be nice!! People really do want comments about their faces/bodies in a Makers forum after finishing a complicated engineering project even if they say they don’t!” What exactly are you trying to fight for here? What do you find so threatening about people illuminating a problem and asking for each others support in calling it out when they see it?

          1. Laura Truxillo says:

            Folks who are comfortable with the status quo sure do love to tell other people that any attempt at change is ineffective.

        3. Jen L says:

          And if you want people like that in your community, you support them instead of telling them to move on if they don’t want to be harassed.

    3. Jen L says:

      “Why is the solution to enact promises from every entity that they will applaud every effort politely and positively?”

      Who proposed that? I haven’t seen that proposed. You seem to be a bit unclear on the difference between “an unfair criticism or two” and “harassment.” Yes, you can dictate that users cannot harass others and must comment solely on the topic and not the attractiveness of the presenter. And no, you don’t really get the choice in how you react to harassment.

      Tell me another thing based on a strawman! I love it!

      1. Ran Dome says:

        As a crusader for civil discussion on the internet you’re sorely lacking in practice.

    4. Ceci Pipe says:

      If you think asking people to be polite is too much to ask, then you’re part of the problem.

      And if you think the article said anything about people posting negatively about the project (at least they’d be posting about the project!) then you are totally the problem. Like, all of the problem.

      1. Ran Dome says:

        Take a look at your post and measure it against your own nice meter. If I were to make a post with nothing to add to the discussion other than calling you a problem, (or like all of the problem), would you think I was being polite?

  8. Doug Johnson says:

    Good thoughts…and your eyes are dreamy. There…balanced out.

  9. Richard Ankhara says:

    Thank you for the well informed and carefully articulated article. To understand the problem you describe, one need only read the comments on this thread, sadly.
    If I post a rad project, no one will say to me, “You should lose a few pounds then post again”, no one will ask me to marry them or threaten my life. It just does not happen. I might get some half assed insults, which more likely than not will be targeted at *the project*, the most personal of which would be along the lines of, “OMG u r so dumb.”

    This is an entirely different kind of reaction than the type women experience, an incomparable difference in order of magnitude. And clearly, there are men (I can only hope they’re a vocal minority) who read this blog/zine who have no idea what women, especially intelligent, creative, vocal women, experience on a day to day basis online.

  10. datch says:

    So many comments. So many men denying that they’re part of the problem.

    Voila. The article’s point is made.

    1. monkat says:

      It’s interesting that several comment threads went off into debating if there IS a problem, rather than debating how we might go about beginning to fix the problem. Hopefully those wiser than myself have ideas on that. Me, I’ve got soldering to do.

    2. s_f says:

      So many women claiming only women face the problem and implying women have no part in the problem. Solutions? Why? Pin the blame on one group and live in smug satisfaction that “it’s their fault, and their duty to fix it.”

      So stereotypical.

      1. Jen L says:

        Oh look, some dude on the internet lying about women! So stereotypical.

      2. Ceci Pipe says:

        Actually it wasn’t women claiming they’re the one’s facing rampant sexism and discrimination, that was in the article. You know, the one you’re commenting on.

        1. s_f says:

          @cecipipe:disqus: Oh, I’m not claiming women don’t face that problem! I’m only saying that NOT ONLY women face that problem, and NOT ONLY men are the jerks that cause it.

          Are you going to claim I lie?

  11. Susannah says:

    I think something else that would be helpful is if we could stop making a division between “crafting” and “making.” Things like sewing an original pattern, planning an art project, etc, require skills similar to engineering and should be commended and counted.

    1. Sherrie Ricketts says:

      Agreed. “Crafting” is traditionally seen as something women do while “making” is seen as more masculine. I’ve noticed a pattern of minimizing the value of things women that are traditionally oriented toward women. This needs to change, as does the focus on the woman rather than on her work in these posts.

      It’s going to be a long, difficult slog because there are no easy answers.

    2. John Daniels says:

      I agree. Strangely I do make a difference even in my own instances of crafting versus making. However, I feel like the more traditional it is, the more I consider it crafting, and the more technological it is, the more I consider it making. I don’t avoid either. However some crafting IS considered more masculine, for example brewing or woodworking. Some is gender neutral, like crafting cheese. Then some certainly skew feminine, like sewing. I grew up sewing with my mother, so I’m actually looking to buy a sewing machine sometime soon. I do recognize the gender biases, but I try not to conform to them or judge others based on them. I don’t know how to change these biases in myself very well, let alone others. I’m just going to keep trying to stay aware of my own reactions and police myself. I believe everyone who is truly committed to the maker movement will do the same.

      There will be some people who just occasionally stop by to see a cool project will probably only hang around to make a biased comment or two and then never be seen or heard from again. These people will always exist and are unlikely to change. We shouldn’t allow those people to reflect on us and we shouldn’t reprimand ourselves for their actions, either.

      1. Ceci Pipe says:

        “some certainly skew feminine, like sewing”

        According to who?

        1. John Daniels says:

          According to my own biases. I’m referring to how I view my own crafting. I do believe that people in general have the same views. I learned by biases from society, I didn’t just pick them out of the air.

    3. Molly Glenn says:

      Personally, the new word “maker” gets under my skin. There was already a perfectly good word, “craftsman”. I wonder if these issues are related.

      1. Ceci Pipe says:

        Several reasons, 1) craftsman has man in it, we want craftswomen as well, and 2) craftsman was generally for professionals and used less for amateurs. It could be, it can be, but generally refers to skilled workers, usually professionals.

        For something similar try “artisan”.

        Hence maker, amateur hobbyists doing cool things in their spare time.

  12. Lisa Thierbach says:

    I have to admit to being uncomfortable with the leap that “women not posting to maker sites” = “they have lost confidence in themselves.” As a 50-something female electrical engineer I can tell you that most women in tech are fairly confident in our abilities no matter what comments get thrown at us, both in real life and online. I will say that we have better things to do than put up with some of the crap that gets thrown around. Plus, there is a very real danger that the online threats will lead to stalking and real life repercussions. We want to build cool things, not get inundated by BS — and defiantly not fear for our safety — but that doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty of confidence.

    1. Amy says:

      Perhaps the conclusion of the article should be clarified to “they have lost confidence in showing off online”. Even that is a bit of a generalization, but I’ll let it stand. But I think what you said about the worry that online threats might seep into real life is telling. So while we remain confident in our abilities, some of us forego the online forums to avoid this whole mess entirely.

      While I think comments such as “Are u single” (I got that one on a post showing off my hand-knitted wedding dress) are obnoxious, I don’t let them stop me from being proud of something I made and showing it off. That guy can go get stuffed.

    2. Paloma Juanita Fautley says:

      I think that the lack of confidence is more referring to women who are just entering STEM and making and feel a strong barrier to interacting with the community that isn’t just skill level. Women who are already established within the STEM fields have already beaten the odds and stand as a really important example for those of us starting that these issues are not insurmountable.

      1. Lisa Thierbach says:

        I do agree that for those just getting started it is different. My best advice is to find a small group of people who are supportive and excited about doing creative stuff and listen to them. Realize that it is more difficult for a woman in tech than it is for a man. It just is. My personal opinion is that it won’t get better until more women fight the fight and stick with it. I’ve always treated the negative stuff like I do dog poo I’ve stepped in, I just have to wipe it off and keep going. You can’t let it define you. It is a battle worth fighting because the career that can grow form the hobbies are so worth it. I just landed the best job of my life (and I’m in my 50s, remember) working on self-driving cars at Ford, and our team is almost half women.

    3. Sherrie Ricketts says:

      It might be more accurate to say that some of us get discouraged or frightened by what we see happen online. I know that I don’t always post everything I might want to because of a certain level of fear of the ***holes out there. I’d like to share more online, but I don’t want to deal with the BS.

    4. MathisMagic says:

      To be fair, I don’t think that leap of logic is being made solely due to this statistic, even if it’s framed that way in the article. I’m an MIT student right now, and I’ve seen them collect, analyze and discuss a lot of data that does suggest the ‘less confidence’ thing. For example, one thing they told us when I first got here was not to feel like I got in ‘because I’m a girl.’ It’s true that more many more men than women apply, that the acceptance rate is about 55-45 men/women, but MIT says that all applicants are held to the same standard. The disparity is explained because many more less qualified boys apply than girls, presumably because they’re more over-confident, on average, than the girls. Combined with results from other studies on Women in STEM/society/after engaging with pop culture, and that conclusion looks increasingly reasonable.

    5. Molly Glenn says:

      I agree that the thing these women have lost is most likely the desire to share their projects on maker forums.

    6. Jen L says:

      I am confident in my skills. I am not confident about posting my work under my name to a public forum, since I know in advance that it will be judged for me, not its quality. I therefore cannot use public forums to further my career, but dudes can.

  13. Michael Clark says:

    So many men denying there even is a problem!

    1. s_f says:

      Oh, no! The problem is there! It absolutely is, and nobody denies it. It’s just more broad, reaching wider than the article presents it – not limited to one gender.

  14. Aristarco Palacios says:

    What about putting the jerks skulls in that cool crushing machine? XD
    I hate when a**holes criticize other people projects in the way described in the article, laser-focusing in topics completely unrelated. Sadly, it’s not only seen in women’s works. I’m a fat guy and sometimes I get criticized because of that and my projects get lost in the ether. I remember the first time I showed a workmate I made hand-bound notebooks. All she focused on was how incredibly stubby my fingers looked in the picture and said I should take a photo without me in it if I wanted to sell something. And she said she was my friend. Go figure.
    I’ve grown a thick skin since then and found that for any (large) number of jerks, male or female, there will be others with on-topic criticism and opinions. I’ve improved my work because of them.

    1. Jen L says:

      OMG did you have one woman say something not so nice about your size?

      Clearly that is exactly the same as posting something online and getting 50 messages about how fat chicks have no reason to exist, like I get. Totally the same. Thanks for alerting us.

      1. Aristarco Palacios says:

        No reason to-? I’m outraged!!! Outraged!!! Unbelievable. Some humans would be better only if made into something of use. Like fertilizer. >:(

  15. s_f says:

    I seriously wonder how often I’m being considered a jerk who attacks women.

    I often express critical opinions of various projects. I’m blunt about their shortcomings; I’m good at spotting hidden dangers and overly-optimistic claims and I call them out mercilessly. If a project can blow up in your face, break your wrist or smash your finger, it’s not a good project and I don’t use nice words to describe it. If the project claims to produce more energy than it takes, if it claims to be “green” while using quite environment-hostile materials, or if it’s a solution in search of a problem, I’m not going to be nice about it.

    I don’t think I’ve ever taken the gender of the creator into account or even related to it in any but most generic way (generic pronouns…). Nor did I ever focus on finding projects by a specific gender.

    I wonder how many dreams of female Makers I’ve crushed unwittingly…

    1. Bear Naff says:

      For the love of all sanity, please keep crushing.

  16. Ran Dome says:

    I dont think the greatest threat to makers is people saying mean things on the internet. The greatest threat is the idea we’re engraining that if you put it out there, everyone MUST be supportive; If you try, you will get a ribbon. Expectations are everything. Perhaps if we were honest that this crazy world is a mixed bag, instead of making promises we can’t keep, the makers would be better prepared for the inevitable negativity they’re going to encounter at some point. If you stop making because there are jerks out there who are jerks, the jerks win. Best way to show ’em is to keep on keepin’ on.

  17. Derek Tombrello says:

    I know I am going to get jumped for this, but… Has anyone thought that maybe a lot of girls just aren’t into making? I do not understand why we are told that the gender makeup of any given topic must be equal. Why? Men and women are, believe it or not, DIFFERENT. It is right their in our genetic makeup. To deny that is to deny millions of years of evolution – if you are in that camp – or millions/thousands of years of Intelligent Design. I have no problem at all with women being “makers” – if you MUST label it – but to actively advocate for “we need more _______ in the _______ field” is ridiculous. Let people be involved in what ever THEY choose. Offer them the opportunities. But stop telling people that “we need to get more women involved”. Let THEM make that decision and if the makeup of the “maker community” remain decided male, so what?

    By the way… women are not the only ones attacked online. Everyone is. It is the sad of this world that people run their mouths anonymously when they wouldn’t have the balls to say to your face 99% of what they type. This isn’t a male/female problem. It’s an indication of the new “social” world in which we live.

    By way of example… Let that attacks begin…

  18. TeslaN says:

    Make should Make not try to get involved in social justice. You got duped by Clock Boy and now this crap. My last visit to this site. Now call out all the flying monkey to spew hate upon me. Fly my pretties…Fly

  19. Victor_Gallagher says:

    They could have provided examples of the problem comments. This article borders on being incoherent.

  20. Jen L says:

    Here’s what I got from this article:

    Women who fail to uphold the “community standards” of male jerks online disappear from the community but if a community tries to adopt standards that apply to the aforementioned male jerks, it’s suddenly bad.

    Way to lament a problem and then give up on trying to solve it because somehow having and enforcing terms of service is “censorship.”

    It’s NOT CENSORSHIP to disallow harassing and threatening speech on a website. I’m so tired of guys deciding that harassment of women is ok because disallowing it is harmful to harassers. Is it really so difficult to grasp that censorship is government action, something that is completely different from the enforcement of community standards on a website?

    You should be counting articles that end like this as part of the problem, thanks.

    1. Ran Dome says:

      A lot of the problem comes with the definition of harassment.

      If someone is truly being harassed, involve the police. If the police tell you its not legal harassment, involve the site moderator. If the moderator tells you it’s not really harassment, either update your definition of harassment or leave to find a forum moderated by someone who agrees with your definition.

      You cant stomp your foot and hold your breath until everyone agrees to use your definition. Not every place online is a fit for every person, nor should it be (thanks goatse). Censorship does not only apply on a governmental level. People who own these sites are free to run or censor content as they see fit and you as a user are free to use the site or not; the relationship is as simple as that.

  21. Ran Dome says:

    Many of the comments below from people supporting the ideas presented in this article have resorted to personal attacks and name calling. I think that should illustrate how complex the issue is. Ideals often don’t translate well into practice. Even if everyone believed we should all be polite all the time, would that be a feasible reality? It’s a little disheartening to see how quickly and unashamedly some crusaders for a supportive online culture enacted the very behaviors they’re decrying.

  22. Moe G. says:

    We’re talking about internet comments, not banning books. With 99% of the internet already devoted to letting ignorant people anonymously be jerks, what’s the problem with keeping it civil and decent?

  23. FletchINK says:

    With regard to safe spaces, confidence, and obviously nasty personal comments: Toughen up, Buttercup. The world does not coddle, and the internet is the same thing with the volume turned up. If someone hurting your feelings makes you stop doing a thing, you probably didn’t want to do that thing enough to make it anyway. Being bad at a thing is the first step to being good at a thing. If you can’t handle being bad at a thing, you will never do anything. Posting your work on the internet, regardless of sex, will guarantee criticism, which is EXTREMELY helpful to perfecting your craft and extremely easy to ignore if the comment is the equivalent of “your dumb.” Your argument seems to be “women are soft, gentle creatures who can’t handle mean people,” which is… sexist.

    With regard to women being treated differently: The internet is anonymous, which you lament, yet the internet seems to know these female makers are female. How is this? I see your Greater Internet F*^&wad theory and raise you The Reason for T**S or GTFO This is the visceral reaction. There is a precedent of female writers using nom de plumes, so that option has always been there. It’s not a GOOD option, and it’s common for admittedly sexist reasons, but avoiding this bear trap is as easy as a name change and excluding yourself from project photos.

    As to gender quotas: I find it terribly sexist to suggest all women must be just as interested in things as men are to the point that quota seeking is seen as equality. You might as well find a woman doing what she likes, and chooses to do, slap her hand, and point her to the thing you (a man, bee tee dubs) think would be the most empowering for her. Truly boggling.

    Not even going to get into the idea of a man riding to the rescue of women who he thinks can’t defend themselves. Layers upon layers.

  24. Everett Vinzant says:

    I disagree with your use of the word censor. Assume I submit two projects. You like project B. So you stop and leave a comment on it in the thread for project A. If I were a forum admin, I would move this comment to the correct location. If someone commented on a project I had nothing to do with and left it in the forum for project A, again, I would expect this to be moved to the appropriate forum. If the appropriate forum doesn’t exist, the trash is acceptable.
    Maybe forums could make an “off-topic” comments place and have all off-topic comments dumped there. Then it can become a signal to noise thing. If more than 10% of your comments directed at any particular gender, race, etc are off topic, your account is suspended.
    I know the next comment is, “it shouldn’t have to be this way.” I agree. But until it doesn’t have to be this way, give forum owners a way to deal with the noise.

  25. Steve Shipway says:

    Next time I post a neat hack somewhere, I’m going to do it under a female pseudonym to see what happens.
    Note that I’ve received personal comments on other postings, but they’ve been more attacks on my not using Imperial units like an American, or the common “ha ha u r gay lol” trolls. Nobody’s ever commented on how cute I am. Maybe I’m not… :(

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I get ridiculously excited seeing people make things. I just want to revel in the creativity I see in makers. My favorite thing in the world is sharing a maker's story. find me at

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