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The website design and formatting of Stack Overflow is very gender neutral, but most users (arguably) come to the site for user content.

So a question (or two) to ALL fellow users: When posting a question/answer/comment do you try to keep your post gender neutral (by thinking about correct pronouns, not sharing sexist jokes, etc.)? Is there an assumption that questions are mainly being answered by men (even if this is true)? If there were an equal number of each gender at every level of involvement on the site, would the way you personally post content change? Do you even think about this at all?

This is purely just out of curiosity and I would love to hear/read some honest opinions about this! I'm from Canada and am super interested in how opinions differ internationally as well.

A little background on myself: I am a 20 year old female CS student at a Canadian university where females make up less than 10% of the CS student body. Every female programmer I know uses Stack Overflow, but very few (including myself until recently) ask questions or are involved in the community in any way.

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What does it mean to "to keep your post gender neutral?"? –  ypercube Feb 19 at 15:19
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Based on my experience, the assumption is that most participants are men. Most people that I interact with assume that I am male and are surprised when I correct them. –  bluefeet Feb 19 at 15:19
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@LowerClassOverflowian You have no idea some of the comments that I have received when people are clued in to the fact that I am a woman. They range from shock to very sexist. –  bluefeet Feb 19 at 15:22
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I use 'he' 95% of the time (rather than 'they'), it's shorter and I bet I'm yet to refer to a girl as a he. Most of the time I'll say OP if applicable, and the username if I only need to say it once. –  OGHaza Feb 19 at 15:31
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It's hard to use gender-neutral pronouns in English because AFAIK the only gender-neutral pronoun is 'it' and it is used for animals and things, for people it could be offensive. It's sometimes hard to guess the gender from the profile, if it doesn't contain a photo. Heuristics such as that nicks ending with consonant are male and those ending with 'a' are female are not working in 100% cases. –  РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ Feb 19 at 15:31
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Well, we make an effort. Sometimes we make mistakes, and if you feel there are issues - speak up! How can we know there are problems, unless people speak up? So voice your opinions. Be loud & proud! As a man, I can only try to see things from a woman's POV, but at end of day - I would really want women to speak out if they feel left out. And you will find that we will be open to constructive criticism :-) best of luck, & welcome to Stack!! –  Adel Feb 19 at 16:07
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I find amusing when people start a Question/Comment with Sir. If not mistaken, it's kind of a south-asian clique. –  brasofilo Feb 19 at 19:55
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@bluefeet FWIW, given your substantial contributions to the site and your likely soon-to-be-mod status, I would be pretty interested to read a more detailed answer from you documenting what sexist reactions you've received and also your general perceptions of the significance (if any) of gender in your interactions with the site. –  Mark Amery Feb 19 at 20:17
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@MarkAmery I will try to set aside some time later (when not at work) to write something up. :) –  bluefeet Feb 19 at 20:19
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This study by EU-funded scientists of the impact of gender on Stack Overflow participation (yes, really, this is a thing that exists) may be of interest to some people here. –  Mark Amery Feb 19 at 20:40
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@Łukasz I use the "singular they" quite extensively. Such as "if a person wants to compile a file they should click compile". I'm so used to this that "he" in the same place sounds bizarre –  Richard Tingle Feb 19 at 22:11
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I don't think about it at all. I don't post sexist jokes, because, why would I? That has nothing to do with gender. If I were pressed, would I assume that people answering my questions were probably male? Yes, I would, I expect there are more guys answering than girls, but I can't think of any reason why that fact would affect anything I did one way or the other. But I do like the singular they. I use it just in general; I don't think about it specifically or on a per-site basis, I just use it. –  neminem Feb 19 at 22:35
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SO isn't a place where gender matters. Most jokes - targeting any class of humans or not - don't really belong on SO, and I will avoid them in my own content and may edit them out if I see them. I prefer the dogmatically incorrect "they" to "he" or "she" when writing. I don't think about gender when interacting with the site. –  KatieK Feb 20 at 0:08
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I was going to add an answer, but there are 12 already. This is much more interesting on The Workplace where we have many female top users, and the content is such that it involves third parties of unspecified gender a lot ('my boss' or 'my coworker', etc.). I wonder how this works on some of the other SE sites, like Parenting, or Cooking, which may have a different core audience than SO with less assumption of maleness (and perhaps even the reverse). At any rate, on The Workplace, I gave up trying to be gender neutral because it gave me headaches and made my writing less clear. –  jmac Feb 21 at 3:58

15 Answers 15

I think if I'm honest, when I instantly imagine the person I'm talking to on SO (or most internet spaces) I assume it's a (youngish, white) man.

But that's lazy and wrong.

Stack Overflow should feel equally welcoming for all programmers. Even if you assume that a majority of them are male, that's even more reason to work hard to ensure that we don't reinforce a sense that it's less important to include women (or any other group).

Diversity of users means diversity of experience; diversity of experience means more complete knowledge.

Every now and then, we get an email in the "contact us" inbox from a female user, thanking us for making a space where women don't have to deal with harassment and other nonsense. Which always makes me feel proud... for about a second. Then I feel a little sad. It's actually a sort of depressing reflection that simply not being a sexist cesspool is something I feel like we should get credit for. It really should be table stakes.

As to pronouns, it's typical in English writing for genderless pronouns to be assigned the male form ("he," "his," etc.) But that doesn't mean it's a good idea. I personally often find using the genderless plurals instead ("they") to be a bit awkward, so I'm working on avoiding pronouns or mixing them up. (Some "he" some "she".)

Here are the key guidelines I'd recommend:

  • We all should be responding to the content and the poster's intent, not their gender
  • When in doubt, err on the side of being more inclusive/welcoming/encouraging
  • If you encounter (hopefully constructive) criticism, don't be too quick to assume it's based on personal traits (like being female). We're a bit ornery with everybody.
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I like this answer, and .. yeah it is a bittersweet feeling I'm sure - thanking us for not being sexist. Sheesh it reminds me of Reddit, where I am no longer active. But yeah, the internet is very rough and unfriendly sometimes. And I'm glad Stack is a safe place, overall –  Adel Feb 19 at 16:17
    
It's that first sentence for real! You are either sucking up, or live in a strange world? Surly in you normal day to day life most people you meet are not that? –  TFD Feb 19 at 19:35
    
I tried to incorporate the genderless plurals for the first time since the post was going to gain a lot of views. It felt so awkward to use them as a non-native speaker, it's definitely not something I am going to use in regular content. –  Jeroen Vannevel Feb 19 at 19:35
    
@TFD Working for startups in the UK for the last couple of years (and having nerdy friends), I've met a couple of dozen programmers in real life, and not one of them, ever, has been female. I've seen the CVs of over a dozen programmers who have applied to work at the businesses I work for, and there hasn't ever been a single female applicant for a programming role either (although our non-tech staff - data entry, marketing, and the CEO herself - are nearly exclusively female). I'm sure I'm far from the only professional programmer who has never or rarely met a female programmer in real life. –  Mark Amery Feb 19 at 20:53
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Surely you use other SE sites other than SO? Yes few female programmer, but last time I checked more females active on the net! –  TFD Feb 19 at 22:41
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@TFD, I think I wasn't clear - I'm not saying that I think or assume that everyone on SO (or the internet) is a young white male. I'm saying that when in envision a generic user without thinking at all, the image I start with tends to be that. My point was that I'm embarrassed to admit it, but but if someone said, "Quick - think of an image of a developer in your head. Now, describe them to me," my description would start with, "he's about..." –  Jaydles Feb 19 at 23:20
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I like this answer because it actually speaks to the statistical demographic. It's probably consistent (though entirely irrelevant to the question/answer) to assume that the person you're talking to is a young white male, because that's probably exactly who you're talking to. What I like is your distinction between assuming who someone is, and caring/acting if they're not the statistical demographic. –  Emrakul Feb 20 at 2:15
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The phrase "sexist cesspool" hurts to read out loud. Although, I'm a unicorn - what do I know. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Feb 20 at 14:20
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This answer is good, but you should get over stigmatizing the 'Singular They'. It was good enough for Shakespeare, and Chaucer, and it's good enough for the greatest writers of today. Prescriptivist 18th century schoolmarms should not dictate modern pronoun usage; now more than ever. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Feb 20 at 14:21
    
@LessPop_MoreFizz, I mostly agree with you. It's not that they're wrong so much as that today, they just feel a bit detached. Still, you're right that they're totally correct and should do anytime there's not an easy other genderless option. –  Jaydles Feb 20 at 15:35

Gender neutral is very difficult especially when you are dealing with users online because while you don't know who is on the other end, as Jaydles said I think most of us assume person is a man. Is that right, no? - but it is just what happens.

Personally, when I am dealing with users, I typically try to keep my posts gender neutral because I don't know who is on the other end. I'll use the @username to refer to people but I'm sure there are occasions when I have called someone "he" without thinking about it. As others have pointed out, I think this happens because the tech industry is predominantly male which will of course lead to a higher percentage of male users on the site.

While I consciously try to make the effort to not use "he", I'm not sure others do the same. As a woman, I can't count the number of times that I have been called "Dude", "He", or "Sir". Does it bother me? Of course, it irks me a bit but that is the way things are.

I can be honest enough to admit that when I started using Stack Overflow I specifically chose to hide the fact that I was female. I chose a username and gravatar that wouldn't show my gender (not that you can 100% trust these anyways). At that time, I was working with all male-counterparts and it was obvious that my opinion wasn't valued as much as theirs was. As a result, when starting on asking/answering I wanted to provide quality content that spoke for itself regardless of who provided it. In the early days, I rarely corrected people when they called me "dude"/"he" or referred to me as "Sir". Right or wrong, that was my decision because I personally felt that I would be treated differently if I didn't keep this private.

I vividly remember the day that I finally corrected someone (it happened to be Aaron Bertrand) and I was incredibly nervous how he would react, but he was wonderful and many people have been. The few that have known, will typically do a lot of the correcting for me. As I stated in my comment when people get corrected I have received a wide range of responses. Here is one of the memorable ones that occurred on one of my answers (these comments have been deleted, but here is a screenshot):

enter image description here

I remember reading the underlined comments and thinking "Wow, Is it really that difficult to run across a female developer" and "Why is it surprising that I'm smart aka clever?". This wasn't the first time this happened and unfortunately it won't be the last time. I can't speak for the other women in the community but I would bet that the experience is similar.

Do I correct everyone who calls me "he"? No, not always. Do I wish that people didn't always assume it was a guy on the other end? Yes, of course. I know this happens to plenty of other female users because I've seen it. I did a quick search using the Data Explorer for comments containing "girl"/"i am a girl" and I found a few samples of users correcting others who assumed they were male:

Thank you everyone .I will check JNI out .Thank you:) p.s. i am a girl:) – user1720616 Oct 13 '12 at 8:53

She is a girl :p not a "dude" – Ankit Srivastava Aug 28 '13 at 9:36

@AdilSoomro Pssssst man, it's a girl. – NSAddict Oct 1 '13 at 7:39

Plus many others.

I try to to approach others users with the same courtesy and respect that I'd want for myself. When you are positive that the other person is a certain gender then feel free to use the proper pronouns. If you are unsure, then I would use a more generic approach because you never know who is on the other side. You stated that every female programmer you know uses Stack Overflow but doesn't actively participate, hopefully that will change and you'll dive in to the community.

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oh wow. Didn't know you a human ;) –  user221081 Feb 20 at 11:54
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"lol is she wow" I did not know that some of the users of Stack Exchange are dogs. "clever very clever girl" Not sure if awesome compliment or insult that you're a reptile. –  Time Traveling Bobby Feb 20 at 12:05
    
Thanks for writing this answer, it's in interesting insight into the "other" side. I lately realized that and try hard to stick to gender neutral formulations for this reason, though I fear I fail sometimes. I'd also like to note that I don't think that the phrase about woman in software development is meant in a sexist way. It sounds more like the observation from someone who did not bother to look beyond their own nose, like people are saying that no one uses Java these days or that Linux is only used by geeks in their parents basements. –  Time Traveling Bobby Feb 20 at 12:11
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@TimeTravelingBobby WHAT IS INSULTING ABOUT BEING A REPTILE? –  Bill the Lizard Feb 20 at 12:33
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@mehow I said I was female but never said I was human. I may or may not be a smurf or a blue footed bobby –  bluefeet Feb 20 at 12:50
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Do not listen to this user as they further attempt to conceal the fact that they are a smurf. The human is a lie, a lie! –  Tim Post Feb 20 at 13:16
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@TimeTravelingBobby I think everyone fails at using gender neutral sometimes, I know I have done it myself. BTW none of those deleted comments above are mine, I just got lucky to have this take place on my answer. –  bluefeet Feb 20 at 15:32
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I actually get quite miffed when someone calls me "dude" or "bro" - I am male, but I do not like to be called "dude". I expect it is some ill-informed non-native speaker that thinks it sounds cool. I am gender agnostic btw. I use "OP" a lot –  mplungjan Feb 23 at 10:34
    
@bluefeet: Easy enough, use "they". (OP said they're willing to...) –  Second Rikudo Feb 26 at 10:35
    
@bluefeet My experience on SO is very similar to yours, so I guess it's common for all females - ducks and smurfs. –  Infinite Happiness Jul 1 at 18:04
    
I've used "dude" on forums where I know the other person is female. I don't see it as a male-only term. And "dudette" just sounds awful. –  starsplusplus Jul 4 at 12:38
    
I appreciate this answer so much. It bothers me when people assume I am male. It's one of the reasons I lurk instead of post most of the time. It's not the fact that the person thinks I am male, it's the fact that the person just ASSUMES I am male without even considering I could be female. –  emKurr Aug 5 at 20:10

I'm speaking for myself on this.

I don't care about gender.

There are two areas of my life where I care about gender, and that's in deciding a mate (and getting a massage). I've already done the former, and I don't do the latter on the internet, so the gender issue is settled for me.

With that in mind (and probably to the chagrin of modern feminism), I use english constructs for gender. When the gender is unknown and I'm referring to someone in the third person, I'll use 'he'. Don't blame me, blame english.

Does that mean I think of the person as 'he'? No. It's a language construct. English is not the only language to have it (think of your Romance languages that take this to another level by ascribing gender to nouns).

I don't go out of my way to use gender pronouns, and I don't go out of my way to not use gender pronouns. I just don't think about them.

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Comments under this answer were getting wildly out of hand, bordering on pointless and treading on insulting. George has an opinion just like everyone else, comments aren't the place to discuss the finer points of metacognition. –  Tim Post Feb 21 at 13:51

I really do try to be very conscious of this, but I admit I probably forget once in a while to not assume the asker is male. It's an extremely unfortunate (but rather realistic) stereotype. I try to always say "they" or "his/her" instead of just "his" or "him" though it is sometimes quite natural to just assume the OP is male.

In general, and this is merely casual observation, I think most male users assume that all of the other people they interact with on this site are also male. Especially when usernames / avatars do not obviously indicate otherwise. My good friend bluefeet, who is running in the moderator election by the way, is assumed to be a man more often than anyone else I know on the planet. Two of the best developers I have ever worked with are female, and it is kind of sad to see that most folks still think that the industry is all male and/or that only men can excel.

In fact, I suspect that many female users of Stack Overflow go out of their way to not make it obvious they are female, just to avoid any type of special or different treatment.

Some general discussions about singular pronouns and gender neutrality can be found here:

http://english.stackexchange.com/search?q=gender-neutral+singular+pronoun

My preference is to avoid the use of things like "he" just because English says that's ok. But again, this is a preference. If you choose to say "he" and it ends up you're talking about a female (or the opposite), you need to be prepared to back-pedal. Or just not care that the person is offended because they believe - rightfully so - that you made an assumption, rather than that you used that pronoun because that's what English class taught you was ok. I'd rather simply avoid those misunderstandings, even if they don't lead to conversations (which can sometimes be worse, building unspoken resentment).

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I also use "s/he" a lot. Sometimes I visit the user's profile looking for a name and I've occasionally googled an unfamiliar name to see whether it's typically "masculine" or "feminine". I think I'm in the minority, though. –  JDB Feb 19 at 15:29
    
TIL bluefeet is not male. But it doesn't matter, does it? :) –  Amal Murali Feb 19 at 15:37
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I would dispute your last paragraph. I have no doubt that many women avoid making their gender obvious, but I don't think that it's to avoid special treatment. (Unless you include discrimination, insults, etc in that. The way you phrased it reads to me like "special treatment" as in "preferential treatment".) –  Anna Lear Feb 19 at 17:02
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@Anna no, I meant special as in different - in any way. –  Aaron Bertrand Feb 19 at 17:02
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"Why are you calling me a 'they'. Do you think I have multiple personality disorder or something?" –  Sam I am Feb 19 at 22:06
    
FIY: In Sweden, the debate about gender neutrality comes and goes and every time it does people go back to using a invented pronoun which is admixture of him and her (in Swedish the word is "hen" (a mix of "han"(♂) and "hon"(♀)). Somehow it cough and you can even see big newspapers use it. We had a discussion about this at work (where we have a lot of English speakers) and found out that the English language has a similar invented pronoun which is "hir" (him + her). However, I'm not suggesting that anyone should use it. It's a terrible made up work :) –  David Rönnqvist Feb 19 at 22:30
    
@AmalMurali TIL the same thing. Does it matter? Not to me ;) –  David Rönnqvist Feb 19 at 22:35
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When talking about OP you call them OP, when talking about other people you call them THEM or THEY. Why the need for he? –  TFD Feb 19 at 22:43
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@TFD Why are you asking me? I'm not the one proposing that. –  Aaron Bertrand Feb 19 at 22:44
    
I actually assumed bluefeet was female. Now I'm wondering if I read it somewhere or really did come to that assumption by myself. Though I probably saw the name on another SE first (maybe Pets?) before on SO. –  starsplusplus Jul 4 at 12:42

In the US (where I'm located), female participation in university undergraduate level CS work trends generally downward of late, and currently sits at ~10-20%, though the employment ratio is marginally more even 1*,2. This is on the same order of magnitude as Canada's numbers 3, so I'm going to take the liberty of assuming things are more or less the same north of the border.

Don't read in to the lack of involvement on SO/SE by you and your female colleagues, as the sample isn't statistically significant or representative. All it means is that you're not involved in the community, and that's easy enough to change (and you should get involved; it's a wonderful place). I have plenty of male coworkers who read SO for research and troubleshooting, but don't have accounts and will never contribute anything. It would be quite interesting to see hard data regarding SO usage by gender, but I doubt we'll be able to get reliable numbers.

Tech is a male dominated field, both in education and employment, so as Pekka mentions, use of male singular pronouns in the general case or when gender is unknown could be a statistical hedge. I largely disagree with Aaron Bertrand; I think that most people here who use "he" as a generic pronoun aren't thinking about it, but might be subconsciously making the assumption that the other party is likely to be male. And of course there's George's linguistic convention position, which I can't really fault. I've read plenty of scholarly articles which use "she" as a generic third party pronoun. Really, when you get down to it, the pronoun thing is just not worth getting worked up over.

I won't pretend to be able to guess at why CS participation by gender is so skewed (in the US and Canada, anyway; I didn't bother to check elsewhere). I wish more women were involved in the field. This will probably sound callous, though I don't mean it to be, but as a practical matter, the gender gap is something you'll have to learn to deal with if you want to make this your career. Try to develop a thick skin about it. This is not to say that you shouldn't try to improve things, but institutionalized societal changes are extremely slow and difficult to effect. The notion that a woman can't be just as insightful or skilled in CS as a man is sexist and patently false, but taking the generic use of male pronouns as a personal affront (I'm not saying you're doing so, mind) will lead to frustration and stress, and damage reputation and networking ability.

To answer your questions directly:

When posting a question/answer/comment do you try to keep your post gender neutral (by thinking about correct pronouns, not sharing sexist jokes, etc.)?

Usually I don't consciously make effort to do so, but it has become an ingrained writing habit. Sometimes I notice it, because it feels clunky to repeatedly write "the OP", "the asker", etc. rather than using a simple pronoun. Singular "their" doesn't feel correct to me, dual gendered pronouns ("[s]he", "he/she") read awkwardly, and "it" would come across as dehumanizing and thus rude.

Not sharing sexist jokes has a lot more to do with being nice than keeping things gender neutral.

Is there an assumption that questions are mainly being answered by men (even if this is true)?

Honestly, this is a fairly safe assumption to make. If you grant that SO participation rates are more or less statistically in line with CS as a field, then the majority of the users are male.

If there were an equal number of each gender at every level of involvement on the site, would the way you personally post content change?

No.

I think having an equal number of men and women is a quite inappropriate goal. Women and men have inherent differences in physiology and psychology, though I don't know to what degree they are responsible for the gap. If, for whatever reasons, there are significant disparities in interest levels between the two, then we as a community should not attempt forcing the exclusion of men or inclusion of women to make things numerically even. That would be just a subtle form of gender based discrimination, which is not something we should be doing in any way. If you have the interest and desire to participate in the community, and can do so according to the rules laid out, then you should be welcomed; if it's not your thing, that's cool too. It's as simple as that.

Do you even think about this at all?

Generally, no. Unless users have a name and avatar which clearly indicate gender (eg you, Andrew Barber, Jon Skeet, Anna Lear), I'm very unlikely to sex them. Frankly, this is unfortunate, because it means that I'm seeing only numbers and screen names, making it harder to remember that there are real people on the other end of my magic glowing box. But at least it makes it less likely to offend someone by using the wrong gender.

* - I'm lazy and cited Wikipedia. Yes, I feel dirty.

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+1 bug suggest changing the wording of "unlikely to sex them" to, well, something else. :-) –  Aaron Bertrand Feb 19 at 22:11
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I was waiting for someone to make that comment :). "Sex" as a verb is a technical term meaning "to assign or determine sex (ie gender)". Sexing chicks, for example, is a totally real and legitimate occupation. –  Esoteric Screen Name Feb 19 at 22:17
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I'm well aware of what you meant and how it is technically correct, but I'm also well aware of how many people will read it differently because it is ambiguous when you consider slang. –  Aaron Bertrand Feb 19 at 22:21
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You're absolutely correct. I was attempting in both the post and comment to inject some subtle levity into the discussion, because I think that social conventions, such as slang, are often quite silly when viewed objectively, and this is a topic often taken far too seriously by all involved viewpoints. But this medium makes it all too easy to communicate poorly. –  Esoteric Screen Name Feb 20 at 2:47
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I got what you were saying, and I don't think it's that you communicated it poorly, I just think that there are going to be plenty of people who don't get it (or just naturally go to the gutter). –  Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 at 2:50
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Wait; so, you are saying you are likely to sex me? Well, you've just made my dreams come true! Errr... did I type that out loud? –  Andrew Barber Feb 20 at 18:24

I had to think about this for quite a while before answering.

To directly answer your question, yes - I think most of our more prolific users see themselves as gender ambivalent and try to not be clods. That's easy enough to say, what remained was a bit of a nagging curiosity that I had to resolve; given my answer, why did reading this question make me feel a bit uncomfortable? It was your last question:

Do you even think about this at all?

The answer is pretty simple. I'm sufficiently evolved and intelligent that someone's gender is meaningless to me outside of figuring out what pronoun I should use. Being reminded that so many people aren't like me in that respect makes me uncomfortable. My view of this world is based heavily on my view of my self in it, and I need that to be a happy place in order to function. This brings it home, a bit, because gender was never an issue for me; it never affected how I view others. I have to concede that it probably heavily affected how others viewed me - oblivious or not, and the realization that smarts didn't get me everywhere I've been is disconcerting to say the least.

That opens a bit of a gate, making me even more uncomfortable when I realize that reports from people indicating they might have been treated poorly due to their race from both genders far outnumber reports from people indicating that they might have been treated poorly because of their gender alone. The fact that we as an industry still struggle with racial equality literally turns my stomach - we're supposed to be smarter than that.

This consciousness that I wake to every day is in fact a Disneyfied walled garden where I can put such things out of my head. I'm glad that there are people with the strength to choose not to do that and fix these problems instead, I wish I could be one of them, I don't have the personality for it.

Maybe living immersed in a language that doesn't have gender specific pronouns reinforced this a bit, sya or siya simply refers to 'that person' - distinguishment at least conversationally is an exercise for the listener. Tao being a direct reference to 'person' with a similar lack of gender distinction. While I'm still but a learner, language does change how you think. Of all the words English borrowed, why not ...

I digress.

Stack Overflow has always mirrored the state of the industry as it is at any given time, that's one of the reasons why researchers are so keen to get their hands on our data. It's not just the technologies that people are using that one could find, you might also notice a bit of hostility pointed at off shore developers, comments that capitalize on someone's gender, people horrified at Internet pioneers taking their own life, and everything else that shapes our industry.

For the most part, you're going to find helpful people with a love for their craft that just want to share what they know. If you give them some indication that you love this craft too, as evidenced by the effort that you put into your question, you'll generally receive exceptional treatment and find yourself addicted to the largest MMORPG in history.

We came into existence as the anti suck - we're supposed to be ang mabuting tao and I think we're poised to be more effective at affecting change in this industry than other developer communities. I think we have a social responsibility to do things as things that can be done are identified.

When we're jerks, we're usually jerks about quality. Try to focus on what we're probably focused on, which is whatever you just posted. While I'm convinced that we are the best place for developers to learn from their peers, we're not a gated community - as much as I hate to say it, there's no true haven from variances in evolution.

However, I do believe we're pretty far ahead of the pack.


Credit to Blue Post for sanity checking my language references.

This answer is my opinion, as a long term prolific user, moderator and someone behind the scenes with a bird's eye view. But it's only my opinion.

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Just an editorial comment, I did mean to use the word affect, not effect. –  Tim Post Feb 21 at 8:44
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+1. I really like almost all the points here. One quibble - I disagree with the implication that if one is intelligent and evolved enough, they'll mostly ignore gender in spaces it where it shouldn't apply. I'm not disputing that you can - knowing Tim personally, I actually think it's true. But, in my experience most people you would think of of as intelligent and evolved are meaningfully influenced, usually sub-consciously, by things like gender and race, and it takes hard work to watch out for where that may be happening and avoid it. –  Jaydles Feb 22 at 16:31
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@Jaydles I tend to consider intellect and emotional intelligence together when forming an opinion of how 'smart' someone is, so that might be why people I consider to be intelligent also tend to be ambivalent when it comes to gender / race / sexual orientation. You could be the top programmer in the world, but if I detect a whiff of misogyny, homophobia or racism, I'm likely to categorize you as under-evolved (or perhaps simply immature, depending on my belief that you really do know better and your age). I tend to have rather unique perspectives, though. –  Tim Post Feb 23 at 1:00
    
The word under-evolved is appropriately demeaning :) –  Tshepang Feb 25 at 16:03

Definitely not. The community's sexism is inherited from the rest of society. The best analogy I have for this is the following:

A young boy and his father are in a car accident. The father dies at the scene. The boy is transported to the hospital, taken immediately into surgery... but the surgeon steps out of the operating room and says, "I can't operate on this boy - he is my son!"

The question: Who is the surgeon?

Aside from that, being in IT there's very few females which makes the presumption stronger. I try my best to refer to individuals as "users" or "OP" instead of he/she.

As a fun experiment, remove your avatar and change your username to something gender neutral. Wait to be called a male. On the other side, a male user can have a female avatar picture and you will see a large number of profile views.

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+1 I was trying to find one of those people who use famous women as their avatar. –  Aaron Bertrand Feb 19 at 15:30
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I'm not sure whether I agree with people tending to address a user as if they were male "sexist" though. It's simply a question of likelihood. –  Pëkka Feb 19 at 15:32
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It only proves that some members of the community refer to others as "dude" or "guy". It doesn't prove anything about all the community. –  ypercube Feb 19 at 15:35
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@FreshPrinceOfSO should they assume everyone is a female and it would be better? Or just use random pronouns? It's a hard options for people whose native languages are strongly-typed ;) –  РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ Feb 19 at 15:36
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Labeling the mere assumption of gender in an anonymous online community as "sexist" trivializes the term. I get your analogy, but it just doesn't hold here. –  Pëkka Feb 19 at 15:37
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@ŁukaszL. "They" works just fine. So does "the OP" or "the asker." You can also say "you" and be speaking to the audience as a whole. Please show me an example where he or she had to be used and there were no valid alternatives. –  Aaron Bertrand Feb 19 at 15:43
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Take an ethnically almost completely homogeneous backwater province somewhere in the world, and put somebody from a different ethnicity in it. Give them a Q&A site where they can opt not to show their faces, or any other differentiating attributes. Most people will likely assume, by statistical probability, that you share their ethnicity. Does that suck for that one person? Absolutely. Do they have the right to challenge other users when it happens? Totally. Is the assumption alone racism? No. –  Pëkka Feb 19 at 15:44
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@ŁukaszL. "they" is absolutely fine there. Or "he/she" to make it obvious that you're not making gender assumptions, at the agonizing cost of typing a couple of extra letters. Some English.SE questions that may be useful. –  Aaron Bertrand Feb 19 at 15:49
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@Fresh at this level, it's the same principle. As said I get your hospital analogy, and it's a very revealing thought exercise. But to me, assuming a fellow user in an online community is male (because of the overwhelming perception that most are) is a far cry from actual sexism. It's rude, and it's important to be reminded that we should never make such assumptions, but sexism to me begins where a fellow user's gender is known, and they are treated differently because of it. –  Pëkka Feb 19 at 15:53
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... and to be clear, I'm not saying sexism doesn't exist on Stack Overflow, its user base, or in me. I have very rarely seen instances of it in my 5 years here, but then, moderation hides the worst stuff from us, and being a man, my perception is biased. –  Pëkka Feb 19 at 15:54
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@Pekka I agree that that form of sexism is worse, but if the lesser form is avoidable (and trust me, females on this site do get offended by it), why should it be treated any differently? –  Aaron Bertrand Feb 19 at 15:55
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@Pëkka Perhaps I should rephrase. I don't mean that the perception that most users are males should cascade into the community. My point is that sexism is inherit, whether we choose to use different nouns to address users or not, it will always be there. –  Kermit Feb 19 at 16:02
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Consider taking this discussion to chat. –  Shogging through the snow Feb 19 at 16:13
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Everyone, drink a little coffee and be happy today is hump-day –  Adel Feb 19 at 16:19
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@LowerClassOverflowian - hey, I first saw this long ago, spent 30 minutes .. and got it wrong, so don't feel bad. But oh i remember that guilt –  Adel Feb 19 at 16:28

Do you try to keep your post gender neutral?

In my questions, I don't think I ever use any pronouns.

In my answers and comments, I try to always use gender-neutral language. I use the word "they" as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun.

Many sticklers argue that this is incorrect, because "they" is a plural pronoun. A message to those people: pound sand, sticklers. "Singular they" is increasingly accepted in newspapers and other formal publishing. Here is a PDF on the topic by established linguist John Lawler.

Is there an assumption that questions are mainly being answered by men?

In my head, yes. But in my writing, no.

Summary: It is cheap and easy to write with almost no gender bias by embracing "they" as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun. Do it.

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Yeah, they can just pound sand. lol. –  fredsbend Feb 21 at 18:20

Your question has a couple of questions (but I don't mind). I'll answer them all in order of appearance (including the title):

Does the SO community view itself as gender neutral?

I think that the Stack Overflow community is very focused on factual content. That alone makes it more gender neutral than many other software / programming related websites / forums that are out there. In general I rarely think about or hear about gender on Stack Overflow, which I think could be a good sign (or maybe I'm just ignorant).

When posting a question/answer/comment do you try to keep your post gender neutral (by thinking about correct pronouns, not sharing sexist jokes, etc.)?

I try and be gender neutral when I post comments or answers (using terminology like "the OP" or directly addressing a person as "you") and I definitely want the community to be more gender neutral and welcoming to all who love programming.

As a reaction to your question I searched through all my answers to see if I forget myself and use "he" and "she". I had 6 results for "he" and 0 results for "she".

Out of the 6 "he" results, 3 were referring to male people (authors of books, bloggers), 1, was a reference to a cartoon buy in the OPs question, 1 was a substring (two first letters) of the word "Hello", and 1 was a pure typo.

Also, I would say that sexist jokes doesn't have a place in any serious community. I certainly hope that there is nothing like it in this one.

Is there an assumption that questions are mainly being answered by men (even if this is true)?

I don't know. I don't really care who answers the question and even less about their gender, (sexual orientation, religion, etc.). I care about the answer, and I believe that a large part of the community feels the same way. If the answer is correct, easy to understand, and generally helpful and good. That is what matters.

If there were an equal number of each gender at every level of involvement on the site, would the way you personally post content change? Do you even think about this at all?

I haven't though about it and now that I do, I don't think it would.

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When posting a question/answer/comment do you try to keep your post gender neutral (by thinking about correct pronouns, not sharing sexist jokes, etc.)?

Yes. In fact, earlier today on another SE site where the OP was discussing their manager, I had to use "they" through most of my post because the OP didn't specify their manager's gender, or their own. I ended up changing the sentence structure used in some places so it wouldn't sound awkward.

I'll often use the third person, "one might consider, for instance, ..." when the sentence structure can't be easily changed.

Is there an assumption that questions are mainly being answered by men (even if this is true)?

Yes, but that is not necessarily an artifact of the site but of the culture the site is in, and the culture and experience of the viewer.

If there were an equal number of each gender at every level of involvement on the site, would the way you personally post content change?

No. The site is meant to convey technical information, and so far as I can tell my writing style doesn't include elements that will support or undermine any person based on their gender.

If it did, I suspect I'd be getting a lot more flak on sites such as Parenting.SE.

Do you even think about this at all?

I do, but it's probably not necessarily because I'm aware of and interested in how others might perceive my message. It is more that I feel a strong need to use precise language based on information I know, and my own attempts to cast aside assumptions.

I have actually tried to deal with this in the past, in some limited way, but as a father of seven boys I have to admit I don't give as much thought to it as perhaps I ought.

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"They" or "You" would sound a lot more natural, and a lot less pretentious, than "One" IMHO. –  Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 at 2:34
    
As long as pretentiousness is gender neutral, it's fine, though, right? ;-) –  Adam Davis Feb 20 at 16:12
    
I guess, my point was that it isn't really necessary to avoid "they" or "you"... –  Aaron Bertrand Feb 20 at 16:16

Alright I'm going to answer from my perspective. For a little background I'm 27 and have only been working in IT for a little over three years.

When I answer a question it is incredibly rare that I think/try to keep my comments gender neutral it just sort of happens. I use the @UserName the majority of time when talking to someone and tend to not make assumptions about who is on the other side of that @UserName. It's just not something I think about as as a rule of thumb I don't care what gender you are. In the scope of answering SQL questions on the internet there are few things that matter less.

As far as sexist jokes go I'm not entirely sure SO is the place for that sort of thing either. I've been known to make some snide comments from time to time to a user. However even those are strictly on point. SO is a tech answer site if you're making jokes(which I highly encourage) keep them on the topic at hand.

If there were more women on SO would I change my behavior. No. Absolutely not. People are people and that's how I treat them. For all I know 90% of users are women I doubt that's true but in all honesty I don't know or care.

With all that being said there is one difference between men and women in IT, on SO, and in nerd culture in general. The difference is a few complete tools think that nerd girls or women programmers are fake or that they don't know programming and are in general just pricks towards women. @BlueFeet pointed this out in her answer to this question. When I see this sort of behavior it drives me into a fury as and I will berate anyone I see exhibit it. I would encourage anyone reading this to do the same.

If you are one of those people know this Women in IT aren't as rare as you think they are they are popping up all over the place and they are kicking ass! I would learn to get used to it.

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Maybe it's because I am an old woman, 65+ years on this earth. retired, received the bulk of my education before the first computer was invented, I've never thought of gender on here before you asked. I think in terms of age and appropriateness. I know the depth of my ignorance with this culture and it's language. Not one person I graduated with from college does anything more with a computer than play on the Facebook and text on Twitter, and shop.

As for sexist jokes and being politically correct, I am very seldom correct, and survived the 1960's, protest marches, and the flash forums. Not much can be said that bothers me.

I'm researching an issue on stackoverflow atm, hopefully it is something I just overlooked, if not, I'm posting a question tonite. I just hope some brilliant young mind takes the time to point me in the correct direction, or suggests where i can get the information I need.

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I'm not sure I can truly understand what would qualify as a gender-neutral website. However, do we strive to focus on the content material; and do we avoid drawing attention to a user's gender? Overall, yes that is true.

I do like the idea of striving towards gender-neutrality. StackExchange is about helping as many people as we can. Technical stuff is naturally gender-neutral, so we should also aim to be gender-neutral :-)

But we are social creatures, and we are aware that we're statistically a male-dominant group. Sometimes you see a few small traits of masculinity, but overall it seems like a neutral place.

We really focus on the content, though.

Ok, so you ask:

: When posting a question/answer/comment do you try to keep your post gender neutral (by thinking about correct pronouns, not sharing sexist jokes, etc.)?

We don't joke except in nerdy-ways ;-) I'll be honest, when I post a question, I post a question for getting a solution. I am thinking about just that - a solution. I rarely need to use anything gender, but if I do I make a story and use "he" because I'm just used to it . But i'll aim to use "she" more.

If I had it my way, and I won't, I would advise that we all try to use gender-neutral themes in our badges. And to avoid any usernames that may make the opposite gender uncomfortable(or your gender, for that matter). I know I have seen cases of inappropriate avatar pictures in the past, and this can make an unhealthy environment.

Without specifics, though, we can't do much here. So , please highlight specific instances of inappropriate activity. Overall, we're workin on it.

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Life is enough complicated without constantly guessing other people's intentions and constantly being heavily burnt trying.

Is there an assumption that questions are mainly being answered by men (even if this is true)?

It's surely much more that assumption, but a fact. I generally don't care. Why should I? It's the content that matters.

Before using "he" or "she" I look on the photo, ev. name of the poster to use corect pronoun. However, if someone doesn't care about giving enough information how he or she should be addressed, why should I care? I don't want to browse internet looking for rare/exotic names in order to use the only correct pronoun. I want to concentrate on esencials and when I don't have enough information, I turn usually to default, so to he.

Why he is default for me? Because user is masculinum in my language? Because nouns ending with -er usually indicate masculinum in English? Why should it matter? Just use your default as you want, it could be she in your case. It doesn't matter. Just don't mistake pronouns on purpose. Live and let others live.

When posting a question/answer/comment do you try to keep your post gender neutral (by thinking about correct pronouns, not sharing sexist jokes, etc.)?

What does it have together? Sexist jokes are neither gender neutral or not. They just don't belong here. And they usually suck. I have no idea when they should be appropriate here and how have you come to the idea they would. They just don't fit Q&A formula.

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Because nouns ending with -er usually indicate masculinum in English - no nouns have gender in English. None. At all. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Feb 20 at 14:30
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@LessPop_MoreFizz: "actress" / "stewardess" / "hostess" / "princess"? The thing is, for those English nouns that do have gender-specific variants, the unmarked case is normally the male: you can (in modern language, at least) speak of a female actor, but there's no such thing as a male actress. –  Ilmari Karonen Feb 20 at 15:34
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@IlmariKaronen Nouns that refer to a person of a gender != gendered nouns. English as a language does not have gendered constructs like European Romance languages (or many many others for that matter). It just isn't a thing. At all. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Feb 20 at 22:31
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'However, if someone doesn't care about giving enough information how he or she should be addressed...' is a pretty harsh way to look at it, especially given that just before your answer, a certain someone said that she purposefully hid her gender because she was treated differently because of it. Not because she didn't care, but because she does. Other than that part, I wholeheartedly agree with you :D –  Joe Feb 21 at 4:18
    
@Joe I've adapted my behaviour. If someone hides her gender, I assume it to be random. I won't discuss about my source of randomness. Consider it a coin. Or last-consonant based guesing. –  РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ Mar 19 at 8:37

First, if you've taken this long to get involved in the SO/SE community then you've been missing out. It is by far the best collection of communities and sites I have ever seen, hands down!

Yes, I automatically assume that I am speaking with a man, unless the name or profile picture gives it away in some way that the person is actually a woman. This just stems from the simple fact that most users here are men. You just get used to seeing a man here, then when it turns out to be a woman, you're surprised.

Take you for example. I assumed you were a man until you told me in the post that you are a woman. I was a little surprised. I did this again with bluefeet's answer.

Is it sexist? No. I'm just acting according to what I see most commonly. Does it affect my language of the site? Sometimes.

Without assuredly knowing whether a user was a man or a woman, I have given a thank you comment (I know, not allowed) that said something like "Thanks, man." Again, I just assume the user is a man because that is the most common by a wide margin.

Should we attempt to be gender neutral and react with each other without regard for gender? You can try, but that is going against human nature. There are three things that people try to determine about a person when they first meet them: gender, age, and race. If you cannot determine which one a person belongs to you will likely find it unsettling and even disturbing. I don't really know the reason for this, but it is true of human psychology.

So here we are in an online community where determining those three is nearly impossible without being told, explicitly through interaction, or implicitly through profile pages or unrelated interaction. So what do we do? What every human does best: guesses and suspends disbelief until told otherwise.

As another answer said here, that means most people are going to just pick one for each of the three, that that is typically a young, white male. That's what I usually imagine, but maybe that's because that's what I am. I do occasionally imagine an Indian (usually a username convinces me of that), but almost always young and male.

This has bled over into the other sites, too. I participate mostly on the Christianity site. Again most users are, in fact, male. I also assume that most of them are white, but I have been corrected (not because I asked, but because they divulged the information for some other reason). I have been correct most on age. Quite a few there are actually middle aged, and some are old, at probably 60 or more years. Still, despite this, when a new user rolls in, I go to my default: young, white male.

Personally, I think this is actually just projection. I'm young, white, and male, and I assume that people I've never met are like me, therefore, they are young, white, and male too. We do the same thing for Jesus and Santa Claus. I don't think it's wrong. It's just human psyche at work. The fact that most users are male is a coincidence. As far as young and white goes, I admit that I really have no clue what the demographics are in the IT industry.

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