Archive for March 13th, 2009

Shocking Demographics of The Oil Drum Revealed!!

Sharon March 13th, 2009

Ok, I know you are going to be stunned and shaken by this news. 

Apparently, readers of The Oil Drum are overwhelmingly men.  Even more shockingly, they are overwhelming white, middle aged and middle-to-upper middle class.  Lots of them are engineers.  Lots more are scientists. 

 Woah.  Let’s take a minute to recover from this news.  You mean the guys with all the graphs are actually talking mostly to other guys with graphs?  Gee, I’d never have guessed.

Now don’t get me wrong, I actually think that TOD is one of the best sites on the net.  I don’t write for a lot of other sites – I don’t have time and energy for it.  I have written for TOD, because I think what they do is truly important.  I am enormously grateful to those guys with graphs and penises for the work they do in sorting through an enormous amount of difficult data. 

That said, however, I think that while there are an enormous number of talented women now writing and working on Peak Oil and Depletion issues in one form or another, with a few exceptions (thanks to Leanan, Gail the Actuary and TOD alum Stoneleigh) they simply aren’t doing their work over at TOD. 

Some of this is the fact that women study engineering and the sciences at much lower rates than men, and that the material on TOD tends towards the technical.  Some of it is that the level of TOD discussion favors the initiated and one with some experience in the area – and while the number of PO aware women has boomed recently, a lot of them may not have been around long enough to feel comfortable on such a highly technical site.  Some of it is that a lot of us women (and plenty of men) are much more interested in what to do next, once we’re convinced, than in stacking up data that reinforces our older conclusions.

But some of it is the culture of TOD.  A long time ago, I wrote about going ASPO (which is not at all the same as TOD, but there’s some heavy overlap) and watching a presenter make a joke about the difference between “spending” and “investing” – he said that spending was when his wife went shopping, and spent his money on stuff that wasn’t of any real value.  Investing was when he bought his wife gold jewelry, because he was going to get a return on his money from her…. ha ha ha.  And the guys (10-1) all laughed, because, after all, it was just us guys here.

Now I later heard that the guy who said it kind of regretted making that joke, and “offending” me.  In fact, I wasn’t so much offended (the assumption that my reaction to this kind of stupidity must be “offense” is actually kind of demeaning in itself – the “oh, the humorless women are annoyed again) bit, as struck by how well this illustrated the underlying assumptions of the people at the ASPO conference.  What were they?

 1. We’re all guys here, or mostly.

2. We’ll all think jokes about women being whores are funny, because we’re all guys here.  And have you seen my fishing pictures?

3. The wives do like to shop, and spend our hard earned money, don’t they.  They wouldn’t be interested in this hard stuff, and we shouldn’t bother explaining it to them – we should focus on talking to *each other*  Meanwhile, they can shop.

Now this was one joke three years ago, but I still think it is so perfectly indicative of the boy culture that permeates the technical end of the peak oil movement.  And that culture is well…alienating to people.  Now if your goal is simply to talk to other upper middle class white engineers, that’s fine.  But if your goal is popular attention, you might want to think about talking to other people.

When I was asked to write _Depletion and Abundance_ it was because there was no single book about peak oil by a woman, who wrote for a more diverse audience.  And I’ve watched with absolute delight as the body of engaged, smart, funny, angry, brilliant PO and Depletion aware women grew and broadened – I read Kathy Harrison and Peak Oil Hausfrau, Chile, Crunchy Chicken and the rest with absolute delight.  Meanwhile, the women who preceeded me are out there too – Carolyn Baker has a new book, and Amanda Kovattna, among others, continues to write brilliant and thoughtful stuff.  But not, unfortunately, at TOD for the most part.

Personally, I’d love to see more women writing and commenting at TOD. I know why women don’t, and the downsides, but the reality is that it is a site that gets more mainstream media attention than any other, and one whose culture really could stand more people who do not start from the same assumptions.  And I’m hopeful that this will occur – TOD’s new “Campfire” series focuses on what to do about the future – a lot of the most original work on that subject is coming from women, and from men who don’t fit the model.  The two groups have a great deal to learn from one another, particularly as we move into a world where the primary tools for addressing PO and its related issues are not mathematical models, but ethical ones.  The question is no longer “when” (the answer being variations on “right soon now”), but “where do we go from here.”  And the best answers to this broad question come from a broad and democratic cross section of the populace.

The difference between the world of PO that I entered into public interaction with in 2003 and the present is huge.  The culture keeps getting more accessible and interesting, complex and diverse.  I’m delighted by that.  And I hope that some of you will make the effort to contribute (whether posts or comments) at TOD, so that the next survey results really do shock and awe ;-) .

 Sharon