No Girls Allowed: File Sharing Culture and BitTorrent

July 20, 2010

Created for and originally posted at Bitch Magazine’s Mad World Virtual Symposium

Every time I go to download files from a BitTorrent tracker site I am constantly bombarded with ads for sex/dating sites or straight up pornography and I’m sick of it.  Women and people of colour are engaging in online technologies as well and we are repetitively told that we don’t belong.

BitTorrent (n.): a file sharing protocol used to distribute large files
BitTorrent tracker site (n.): is a server that assists in the communication between peers using the BitTorrent protocol

UPDATE: The YouTube version of this video was taken down due to apparent “Inappropriate Content”, with the help of New Media Rights, I contested the take down and had it reinstated.  You can read all about how I had another Feminist Frequency video taken down from the video hosting site and eventually reinstated.

Related Links and Articles:

** This video is available to be translated into other languages by volunteers like you.  Please visit the subtitling page on Universal Subs and click TRANSLATE to get started.



music lyrics “computer love computer love” I’m so sick of porn with my file sharing.  What the hell bit torrent tracker sites.  BitTorrent is a file sharing protocol used to distribute large files.  So instead of sending the file from one computer to the other which is known as peer to peer.  What’s happening is everyone whose downloading the file is sharing with everyone else so we’re all taking little bits of information and that will eventually be compiled into a full file on our computers.

It’s a really efficient decentralized way of downloading files, it’s actually really ingenious. But as with most geeky technology BitTorrent tracking sites fill their ad space with ads directed at young men, not at people who look like me.  One way that I can tell is because the ads are either how to get ripped in 4 weeks or porn directed specifically at heterosexual, young males.  The images are of women being debased and dehumanized to sell advertising for sex sites or online dating sites.  Some are straight up pornography and others are just using pornographic images to entice young men to visit their sites.

For example the Evony MMO uses ads like this which clearly is using women’s bodies to attract boys to come play their game except I think their game was like a strategy MMO, like, it had nothing to do with the women in the advertisements.  And then these ads are clearly for porn except they’re trying to pretend that it’s like the “classiest collection of nude art.” All of these ads are just using women’s bodies to appeal to geeks and gamers.  People that look like this [cut to an image of the cast of The Big Bang Theory].

I just want to file share without being bombarded by naked women and offers to meet ladies in my neighbourhood.  I also don’t want to download a virtual stripper who takes her clothes of on my desktop.  And frankly, I’m horrified at the thought of someone turning their computer on and having a virtual stripper do a little dance for them everyday.  That falls under the fembot category and y’all know how I feel about that.

There are plenty of techno-geeks who are women so why do these sites insist on advertising only to men.  That was a rhetorical question, I actually know the answer to that. Women are systematically left out of techno-geek culture.  It’s a boys club that’s reinforced socially and culturally.  It creates a space that is so undesirable for women to be in that they don’t want to or they aren’t given the opportunity to participate.

Just look at the fact that less then 3% of open source programmers are women or how about the fact only 13% of Wikipedia contributors are women?  It’s not that women aren’t interested in technology, it’s that there are very real barriers for women to get involved and engage.

Having ads on the BitTorrent tracking site targeted at a very specific demographic of young heterosexual males alienates and discourages women from participating.  And these ads are only a teeny tiny little fraction of the intentional and unintentional barriers keeping women out of the boys club.  I like technology and coding and science fiction and open source software and all sorts of other geeky stuff, so why am I told I don’t fit in?  And I’m also told that the only place for women in this subculture is to be the hot chick or maybe the booth babe at a convention.

We want to be full participants in geek culture and the only way that’s gonna happen is if we dismantle the boys club and tear those barriers down.

music lyrics “computer love computer love”

17 Responses to “No Girls Allowed: File Sharing Culture and BitTorrent”

  1. I don’t disagree with anything your saying but Wikipedia in no way shape or form fits into this argument. It does not advertise or in any way shape or form so I don’t see how Wikipedia is prohibiting women from contributing. Yes there is an overarching message in the techno/geek culture but Wikipedia in now way reinforces or can be considered responsible for the problem. Love the site.


  2. I actually do not know a single female that has contributed to wikipedia other then myself (and only once). Women aren’t given the encouragement and empowerment to help shape what is now a widely accepted social encyclopedia that many people use as a reference. That means one of the most popular places to attain information on thousands of topics is being created, framed and shaped by men. The issues around women’s participation in wikipedia are quite complex however it is an example or rather a symptom of how women are not encouraged to participate.


  3. The few times I have contributed to wikipedia, anything I have added gets removed right away. I have tried to edit some feminist-related pages but there are obsessive anti-feminist types that monitor the pages and revert edits. It feel like whoever has the biggest axe to grind (and most time to spend) wins. I gave up.


  4. YES! Exactly!

    I had a friend that was trying to include a discussion of racism on the Hurricane Katrina page and it was literally a war because every time he put something up it was immediately taken down. It is very privileged to have the time and confidence to spend all day trolling wikipedia.


  5. I can not comment on the people who monitor Wikipedia because I am not one of them and I don’t know any personally but indeed you are probably right I would not be surprised by an anti-feminist bias at all. Gender and sexual preference are the biggest social dilemmas currently going on (not to say things like race aren’t but there is more current progress on that front). Since the internet culture is indeed geared towards straight white men its almost a guarantee that they are majority of Wikipedia monitors. I personally have never met another guy friend who would ever say that they are a feminist so it is an almost certainty that pg’s issue is rightfully so. Majority of straight white men are afraid of the term feminist not realizing that I doesn’t mean women hate men and want to take over the world, but really just about equal gender rights developed because of the fact that most straight white males don’t understand the inherent privileges in being such.
    In terms of the Hurricane Katrina argument I can’t really agree with that. My idea of what Wikipedia should be is an objective encyclopedia made by the culmination of all human knowledge. Obviously when you have such a thing you need moderators and with them they bring their own prejudices meaning that it can never be purely what I want. But I don’t think Wikipedia is the place for ‘discussion.’ I may be reading too much into your use of the word discussion but I don’t want the moderator’s opinion or random guy’s opinion in my encyclopedia because its not the proper forum for that. I feel race is an important thing to be discussed in Hurricane Katrina’s history but more fact oriented not opinion oriented. Again if you simply mean having race as a topic in the Hurricane Katrina section then absolutely but if you mean discussion like opinion based back and forth then no that includes too much bias and should be discussed in the proper forum which is not an encyclopedia (also not saying Wikipedia is perfect, plenty of opinion exists but in all cases where it can be minimalized only adds to Wikipedia’s credibility).


  6. Race was CLEARLY a factor in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and how the residents of New Orleans were treated. And I could probably give you a dozen concreted examples off the top of my head. This absolutely should be included in the “knowledge database” of our generation and not white washed as with most of the history books.


  7. The great the about the internet is the freedom it enables. If you are so displeased with porn in your (illegal?) bittorrent tracker sites, perhaps you should start your own porn-free tracker search engine. Given the tools available, it is pretty trivial. Then, instead of whining about porn ads on a site that is largely used to distribute porn, you could be contributing something useful to society.

    Failing that, you might enjoy adblock plus.

    I certainly acknowledge that women are underrepresented in IT and open source. However, I’ve been involved in many open-source projects, and I’ve yet to see anyone give even a hint of male chauvinism on project mailing lists or work areas. Doing so would likely result in the group shunning the developer. I’d love to hear about these open source projects that are actively or subtly excluding women.

    If you want something done in open source, build it yourself. If you ask good questions, you will likely find eager help, regardless of sex or gender.

    Your video was very well edited and your message was well delivered.


  8. Not a hint of chauvinism to be seen, even though your post is condescending and characterizes a woman’s complaints as “whining.”


  9. I would agree with Anita in that women don’t contribute and it is definitely an issue of encouragement and male dominance but not an issue of anything Wikipedia itself has done wrong. I also somewhat agree with Heath Borders. Whilst I dont think this article is about whining but I do think that in terms of marketing porn ads aren’t that crazy. The only way to see this change is if women force the change because porn sites dont really cater to the female market anyway so why would they worry about what few women use those sites. Women should make their own not complain about obvious facts. Men use a site to download mostly porn so your going to get porn ads. It doesn’t mean its right but the only way to change it is to create an alternative that encourages female participation.

    I need to come back to this site more often its good information worth debating on a forum (the internet) that doesn’t offer good debate and criticism of feminist issues. Keep the posts coming.


  10. It is not inherently anything that Wikipedia has done but keep in mind that most of the “big” sites that millions of people engage with such as Wikipedia and YouTube were developed (predominately) by men which means they never thought about what it would be like to engage in these spaces as anything other then men (mostly privileged white, heterosexual men). So, it’s not some big conspiracy to keep women out it’s just ignorance and being blinded by privilege. For example, as a feminist videoblogger, I often get threats of violence and sexual violence which is disturbing, but I have no recourse for that other then to personally block the user, which does nothing to deter him from doing it to someone else. That is because the people who developed it probably never receive those sorts of messages and never thought to build in some sort of anti-harassment function into the website.


  11. Whilst I would agree with the idea that it is possible that the straight white privileged men who designed the site (Jimmy Whales and Larry Sanger) do have a lack of perspective, I think that it is a pretty big leap to accuse them of never thinking of what it would be like for other people other than them and their ‘kind’ to use the site. I don’t think its possible to make the assumption that these guys are racist chauvinist homophobes who make sites only for men like them, is a bit of a stretch. It is certainly possible that they do let that influence them but the site itself gives no indication of that type of bias. I just don’t think assuming that is completely useful in these discussions. All I’m saying is that we can’t assume to know the beliefs and intentions of the creators. As for the anti-harassment features I would say your right because the farther away from straight white male you are the more you are open to ignorance and violence (its so difficult to write that knowing in many cases its the truth). Since most people that created these sites are not far from that base I would definitely say that type of problem is not something they considered whilst making the sites. That is something that absolutely needs to be changed because its a little ridiculous in 2010 that we don’t have any sort of deterant from threats of violence of any kind for that matter on websites used by millions of people.


  12. I think you are underestimating the power of privilege and how it renders other experiences invisible. Here is a very clear example of how the creators of a technology were blinded by privilege: I can give you many more, including a recent one with Google Buzz and privacy concerns.


  13. I feel like you are misunderstanding what I’m saying. I completely agree that privilege especially amongst straight white males renders so many problematic experiences of ‘everyone else’ completely invisible. Living vicariously is something most of the privileged don’t care to do. All I was pointing out was that the two men who created Wikipedia could not be blamed with 100% conviction of being blind to privilege. Could many contributors and moderators be blind to that absolutely and I think many of them are. I was only saying I find it troubling to assume that those two guys are absolutely blind of privilege all they did was create a forum people with biases and privilege filled it in. But I am completely on the same page as you with how much privilege is taken for granted and invisible to those who have it.


  14. Ad Block Pro? Okay, that’s not your point, yet I’m still surprised how many people suffer through those, yes insufferable, ads for want of a plug-in.


  15. […] No Girls Allowed: File Sharing Culture and BitTorrent. While Anita and I don’t have the same viewpoint on pornography, she does make some good […]


  16. I couldn’t agree with you more on this one. I find it highly inappropriate to use porn images to sell anything other than porn. Unfortunately most of this stuff is paid advertising and probably so lucrative to the site that any self-policing would hurt their “bottom line”.
    I still see much of the internet as still in an infant stage. As time goes on legitimate advertisers (hopefully) will crowd out the trashy ones.


  17. Thank you for this video! THIS like times 100!!!
    Gosh, can I so relate!
    This also spills over into articles and the ads on major webs sites like Yahoo and MSN. The ads and articles assume I’m a white male. There are more articles that reads: ‘How to please your man’, ‘what men really want from women’, ‘what men love women to wear’, ‘what men can’t stand on women’, etc. But rarely the reverse.
    Even the obnoxious spam I receive in my Yahoo account assume I’m a white male looking to enhance myself and looking for a Russian or Asian bride! Wow…Just wow…I guess once I log onto the internet, I automatically transform into a white male without even knowing it.O_o



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