Sexism in the Conlang Community
The original broadcast of Episode 2, 'From the Mouths of Snakes', contained brief speculation on the role of women in the conlang community and possible cases of sexism. We apologise for this and retract the statements; a re-uploaded version without the segment is available here:
A few thoughts from Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets on the subject:
“Now, while I cannot speak for the greater conlanging community (the community is fragmented into many Internet fora and areas, with only little overlap in between), I can definitely speak for the Conlang Mailing List and by extension for the Language Creation Society, which grew from it. And the Conlang Mailing List has always been, at least since I've been a member in 1997, the most welcoming and inclusive community I have ever had the honour to be part of. While its members have had their disagreements, sometimes very strong, and some people have crossed lines they shouldn't have (and been banned as a result), I am not aware of a single case where this could be attributed to sexism (or any other form of discrimination, whether homophobia, ableism, racism, classism, ageism, etc.). I myself am an openly gay man, and autistic to boot, and I have always been openly accepted by people on the mailing list, even those who are openly religious. And being openly gay and autistic didn't stop me from being elected President of the LCS by the LCS members. This community is very inclusive indeed.
“There are various reasons why this is the case:
- You have to remember that when the Conlang Mailing List was created, language creation was shunned by the general public as a stupid, crazy activity. We all experienced rejection in one way or another. Discovering people with the same love of language creation was so elating for us that we basically didn't care who those people were! Sharing the same hobby was a strong enough bond already that it transcended differences of gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, etc.
- The anonymity of the Internet, which feeds trolls, in this case actually helped inclusiveness. As many people joined the mailing list using pseudonyms (like I said, the "old guard" was very private), it was simply impossible to know who was who. Some, as it happened, were women, but we discovered it only much later, when things like the Language Creation Conference started happening and we met each other in real life. You simply can't discriminate when you have no idea what the other looks like :)
- The Conlang Mailing List, and by extension the LCS, has had since 1996 one very strong commandment on how discussions must happen: the so-called No Cross No Crown rule (NCNC for short). Basically, this rule bans any kind of discussions about real life religion and politics. These are not only off-topic, they are simply banned, as being too flame-worthy and troll-attracting, and breaking that rule is one of the very few reasons one can be banned from the mailing list. This rule even covers discussing the merits of artificial auxiliary languages like Esperanto: that's a politics discussion and thus forbidden. You're welcome to discuss about the structure of an auxlang, but not about its role. In any case, this rule has ensured a decade of relatively peaceful discussion and an inclusive atmosphere where everyone, no matter their convictions, can come and discuss created languages in a safe space. By extension, the LCS promotes the art and craft of language creation itself, and we refrain from promoting specific languages in particular, although we receive such requests regularly. We take inclusiveness very seriously.
“Now, I will be the first to admit that the conlanging community I know of and the LCS are populated by a majority of men. But I don't believe that it is because women are shunned in any way. Rather, it's an accident of history, of the way the Internet was set up and first used in historically male-dominated fields, and it just still hasn't caught up (although my feeling is that the conlanging Tumblr community, for instance, seems to be extremely diverse and maybe even close to parity, although it's difficult to know since people there do not always disclose their gender identity and other private details).
“And while women may be a minority in our community, many of our most celebrated members are actually women. This even showed up in your episode, without you realising it. After all, you mentioned Toki Pona yourself. Well, Toki Pona was created by a woman, Sonja Lang! And you may remember me mentioning a conlang named Teonaht (when I said that conlangs and natural languages cannot be distinguished by their features). I chose to mention this particular conlang because it's one of the first conlangs I discovered when I first came on the Internet, and it blew my mind when I discovered it. I still hold it as one of the best constructed languages ever created, far better than any of my own work. And Teonaht was created by a woman as well: Sally Caves, rightly one of our most celebrated members. Other members of our community that I, and many others, rightly admire and who are women are:
- Sylvia Sotomayor, who is also the Treasurer of the LCS and its backbone. The LCS could really never have become what it is without her dedication to it. She is responsible for most of it, from the website to most of the stuff happening in the background. She is also a fantastic conlanger. K?len (http://www.terjemar.net/kelen.php), maybe her most famous language, is always one of the first languages David Peterson and myself mention when we are asked which conlangs have inspired us.
- kaleissin/taliesin (I only know her by her pseudonyms) was already a respected member of the Conlang Mailing List when I first joined. It's only when I met her in real life that I discovered she was a woman, a prime example of how anonymity in our community works :)
- Amanda Babcock Furrow, another person I truly respect and admire, and a member of the LCS's Board of Directors
- Christine Schreyer, professor at the University of British Columbia and creator of the Kryptonian language for the movie Man of Steel (http://www.christineschreyer.ca/Kryptonian.html)
- Even our unofficial patron saint is a woman: Saint Hildegard von Bingen, the first known language creator, from the 12th century! (although few people even know she created a language)
and there are many others whose names escape me right now, so I hope they'll forgive me for not mentioning them here. You know who you are!
“So, I hope I haven't sounded too defensive. Our community is indeed male dominated, I'll give you that. But I truly believe it is one of the most inclusive communities I have ever had the honour of being a member of, and I do hope more women will want to join us as we continue to grow.”
For more info check out this post by David Peterson: