My research, and subsequent dissertation, explored the impact of gender
on the experiences of women in geek
communities. I chose to focus on the issue of gender because it is the area most
familiar to me from my own personal
experiences, and where I had the most
relevant previous academic training.
However, there exist many other iden-
tities that can lead to marginalization
within these communities. Further-
more, while Debian is a global project
and has participants from around the
world, it functions primarily as an An-
glophone community and participa-
tion is somewhat skewed toward North
America and Europe. Thus the social
philosophers from the 1960s on-
wards. I realized the practical upshot
of these theoretical tensions was play-
ing out across almost every area of my
life, but most particularly within geek
communities. This prompted me to
change my focus. My studies in sociol-
ogy allowed me to research the effects
of identity, particularly gender iden-
tity, within a community that I know
and love—the Debian Linux project.
The process not only gave me the op-
portunity to gain insights into the ex-
periences of the women I interviewed,
but also allowed and encouraged me
to reflect on my own relationship with
gender and geek culture.
What caught my imagination was
the different experiences people have
within groups based on their visible
and invisible identity traits. That is to
say, the things other people use to define, or pigeonhole, you. These include
things like skin color, gender markers
like body shape or facial hair, or the
use of a wheelchair or hearing aids.
Also relevant are other more subtle
cues, such as accent and dialect, which
may be used to label the speaker in
terms of class, race, or native tongue.
While mode of dress and the amount of
gestures used when speaking may be
seen as indicative of particular genders
Aspects of one’s personal identity can change the way you experience
being part of a community, especially if you are in a minority group.
The author reports on her experiences of conducting research with
women who participate in the Debian Linux project.
By Lesley Mitchell
the Art of