4

So, a cursory glance of the Food & Cooking Users reveals a lot of men and few women. What's the deal?

  • Does this site generally reflect the SOFU gender mix?

  • Are there aspects of the UI/moderation which are off-putting?

  • Is the scope of the site biased towards younger singles? Does it matter?

  • Is there anything we could do to make the site more attractive/accessible to a broader audience?

  • Should we reach out to female cooking blogs in addition to general sites (chowhound, seriouseats)?

User demographics from Quantcast via this MSO post:

* 78% male
* 68% Caucasian
* 79% No Kids (aged 0-17)

As I've tried to make clear in the comments, I don't care to stereotype any group. I just want to build out from the underlying bias of the SOFU community so we can attract a broader range of cooks.

locked by hobodave Aug 20 '10 at 8:34

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    It's reasonable to talk about reaching out to a broader audience but I am going to remove any specific names called out in this thread. It is not fair to those users, in this context. – Robert Cartaino Aug 20 '10 at 2:37
  • @Robert That's fine. I only asked because meta appears to be mostly conducted by males, so it would have been good to hear their opinions. Tough to get ideas about attracting a broader audience if you're not able to ask people how they would do it. – Ocaasi Aug 20 '10 at 3:54
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    The feedback received regarding this discussion has included: creepy, weird, stalkerish, and inflammatory. The entire approach taken is just tacky. If were going to discuss broadening our audience let's do it without targeting people by race, religion, or sex. – hobodave Aug 20 '10 at 8:34
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I don't believe there's a gender problem with the site. In fact, had you not brought it up, I might not have noticed.

Regarding what to expect as the site grows,

  • Most kitchen professionals, as Aaronut noted, are male.
  • More men (21%) than women (11%) cook as a hobby.
  • More women (21%) than men (9%) are in charge of cooking the family's meals.
  • About 50% of each gender enjoys cooking

(Source)

As the membership of this site increases, I don't see why we'd be any different. You can probably expect to see more male than female professionals here, and a few more male than female laypeople, due to the tech connection (edit: as in due to the connection with the other Stack sites).

I have not found any part of the site to be biased one way or the other.

I do not think we should try to recruit new members by gender... that itself would be off-putting.

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    Fixed your link, and +1 for the statistics! – Aaronut Aug 16 '10 at 23:36
  • I appreciate your statistics. Knowing those numbers, do you think it would be possible to appeal to some of those people cooking family meals, and to those women who may be left out 'due to the tech connection', or to those who cook as a hobby but perhaps approach it differently? I like the site, enough to ask if it's missing anything. Part of the reason that more women don't cook as a hobby is because of a lack of resources like this site. I want to make sure they find it and feel comfortable using it. – Ocaasi Aug 17 '10 at 0:23
  • That may sound patronizing, but I'd rather be patronizing that have people miss out on using the site. Part of the reason that cooking family meals is such a pain is that it often fails to bridge the divide between chore and craft. I want the people who cook as a chore to be able to glean the benefits of the same knowledge that those who cook for craft (or hobby) can. Sorry to bring attention to the issue, and I could have asked the question differently, but the issues are still there. Whether we wish to spend any particular effort to change them or not, is why I asked the question. – Ocaasi Aug 17 '10 at 0:25
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    @Ocaasi I disagree with your assertion that "[p]art of the reason that more women don't cook as a hobby is because of a lack of resources like this site." Home cooks don't lack resources (there are cookbooks, friends and family, cooking shows, and many other cooking-related sites available to them, as well as their own knowledge of cooking); what home cooks lack is time. – Iuls Aug 17 '10 at 12:11
  • @Ocaasi To continue: In general, home cooks aren't just feeding their families but caring for their children and homes, as well, often while working outside them. Should they look online for cooking assistance, however, the site as it exists would be useful to them because its Q&A format and search capability make it perfect for people who haven't much time. – Iuls Aug 17 '10 at 12:12
  • @Ocaasi And yes, I am assuming that most women who don't cook as a hobby are home cooks; this is because, in my own life, I find it to be true. People who enjoy cooking tend to not have to do it as a chore (I'm exempting chefs from this because they most likely didn't view cooking as a chore when making it their profession), and more women than men take up the responsibility of cooking in the home. – Iuls Aug 17 '10 at 12:21
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    @Iuls I agree that home cooks lack time. I also think there is a lot of intimidation involved in cooking, a lot of uncertainty, which a site like this can help resolve. Many home cooks have a limited repertoire and don't feel comfortable branching outside of it without some specific ideas from people they trust. That's one of the things this community is great for (and why recipe requests will be sought so frequently, despite attempts to moderate otherwise). – Ocaasi Aug 17 '10 at 14:26
  • @Iuls I'm glad you can discuss the reality that women take up most of the responsibility for cooking in the home. (It seems uncontroversial even if unfair). Perhaps the way I phrased it, it wasn't okay for me to acknowledge that that demographic might have different cooking priorities due to their family circumstances. I appreciate an internet that doesn't care about or make assumptions about people's gender, sexuality, race, the whole bit. But in terms of people's practical needs, I hope it's okay to acknowledge different groups of real people, by their differing needs if not by their gender. – Ocaasi Aug 17 '10 at 14:29
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I think the current perceived male dominance is primarily due to the SOFU crowd. Many of the new users I've seen have female usernames. I see this as a sign that we are expanding, and are at least minimally capable of attracting a female audience. One of our most prominent members and moderators is female. I know she has expressed some consternation with referrals to the MSO site for FAQ questions, but I don't think that has anything to do with her gender, but rather her "non-geekness" (my words).

Regarding seed questions, I'm a little skeptical that a bunch of men making up questions that we think would be interesting to women would be very effective. Reaching out to bloggers is a great idea, but we should be doing that anyway regardless of gender.

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    I'm getting my husband a shirt that says "I <3 my non-geek." :) – JustRightMenus Aug 16 '10 at 17:27
  • +1 I just got here from stackoverflow yesterday. – Dave Aug 19 '10 at 16:18
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Promoting the site to people who aren't familiar with Stack Exchange sites is a good idea. Seeding the site with questions about "family-style cooking, budget-cooking, quick-cooking, children, [and] incorporating store-bought ingredients" as a way of attracting more female users is not; not all women are concerned about such issues, and it would offend many women to be reminded that some people feel they are. If my husband had recommended the site to me because of such questions, I would never have registered here because my Sexism Alarm would have rung too loudly to allow it. The idea that an interest in cooking has something to do with one's gender identification or sex is old-fashioned at best, so I'm in favor of making general recommendations of the site to people who are interested in finding answers to their cooking questions rather than making assumptions about what sort of questions would be of interest to them.

  • Yeah, I anticipted the susie-homemaker objection. It's certainly not the point I'm trying to make, that women somehow cook differently or only for their families, or that they don't work, or that they can't grasp complex interfaces, or anything. Simple point was: where are the women, how can we get them here? – Ocaasi Aug 16 '10 at 13:33
  • Removed. Should turn off the alarm, but let me know. – Ocaasi Aug 16 '10 at 13:43
  • Edit: where are the women, how can we get them here {so they can participate in the site, not be our dates} – Ocaasi Aug 16 '10 at 15:45
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    @Ocaasi Stop worrying about who is or is not female on the Internet. Just focus on building a good site and people will come. – Chas. Owens Aug 16 '10 at 15:51
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    @Chas.Owens Chas, you're right. But if they're all men, does that not mean we're doing something wrong? I'm not trying to complicate things or make this political. It's just a persistent bias on SOFU and one I don't think would benefit this site. So, I will focus on both, or at least ask about it. Bias has a way of remaining if you can't discuss it. – Ocaasi Aug 16 '10 at 16:08
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    @Ocaasi I'm not suggesting that you're a chauvinist, only that your previously suggested seed questions could be read as sexist if presented to women as a reason for their participation here. I'm here because I like the Q&A format and focus on reputation over gender identification and sex; gender identification and sex have nothing to do with competence in the kitchen, so I don't think we should worry about the current male-female imbalance in membership. As the site is promoted beyond the heavily male-represented Stack Overflow community, more women will join it. – Iuls Aug 16 '10 at 16:39
  • @Ocaasi As well, and I should have mentioned this before, I like that you're being mindful of the male-female balance here; I'm just leery of promoting the site to women in such a way as will make them assume they wouldn't really be welcome here. – Iuls Aug 16 '10 at 16:42
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    @Ocaasi The imbalance exists on SOFU because of a larger imbalance in the tech world, not a problem with the format or content of the sites. – Chas. Owens Aug 16 '10 at 16:42
  • @Chas. Owens That's half my point. It's not just a male-female issue--the entire site is biased to whatever the SOFU community happened to be like. So I'm asking how we can correct any bias if it would make the site more useful or accessible to new users. Despite the deep connection to SOFU, this isn't a tech-site any more, and perhaps we would be better not treating it as one. Or at least trying to fil in the gaps. – Ocaasi Aug 16 '10 at 17:03
  • @Iuls As I commented to Aaronut, I combined females in general, non-tech savvy users, and family-cooks in the same question. I didn't mean to equate all of them, but it was open to interpretation. If there's anything to be gained from the overlap of those categories, it's just that that group of users isn't here yet (I presume). But if the chance of stereotyping anyone persists, its not going to come out well. Maybe I'll rephrase the question more broadly. Bias is tricky--you can't talk about it without bothering people, but if you don't, it often continues. – Ocaasi Aug 16 '10 at 17:10
3

Several points to make with respect to this question:

  1. The site was "seeded" with the SOFU/Area51 membership, which is overwhelmingly male.

  2. Most internet forums and Q&A sites have a somewhat "geeky" audience, and the geek contingent is overwhelmingly male. Even though cooking is a significantly less geeky subject, and even though the interwebz themselves are becoming less male-dominated (largely thanks to the advent of Facebook and other "social networking") - it's still nowhere near 50/50 yet.

  3. Unless a lot has changed in the past few years, most people who actually work in kitchens (those whom we would want to make up the core "expert" audience) are male. Not all - I used to work with a female ex-sous-chef - but there's a certain attitude inside a typical kitchen that is, shall we say, somewhat more male-oriented.

  4. I don't think the current "stats" actually signify any problem. Having fewer females on the site doesn't mean that they're reluctant to join, and our current membership seems to reinforce the point that the ratio of men to women and/or the topics being discussed on the site aren't going to dissuade anyone - male or female - from joining the site (unless their primary interest is in recipe swaps or some other off-topic subject).

  5. I really don't think that it's a problem either way. We're a Q&A site, not a dating site. As long as the site is getting a steady influx of new users, new questions and new answers, who really cares about the exact gender balance?

  6. In my experience on a few other forums, coming across as trying to actively recruit women is a surefire way to end up with fewer of them. It tends to be viewed as either stereotypically indiscriminate male horniness or worse, sexist in its subtle implication that a woman can't survive in a male-dominated field or area (a concept that was proven wrong decades ago).

Many of these points are just my opinion/experience, but I'd prefer not to see this subject discussed at length. It's ultimately irrelevant to our mission and can come across as creepy.

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    Okay, for the record. This had absolutely nothing to do with seeking women for dating, conversing, flirting, or anything of the type. It was an observation that we have a massive gender imbalance which is indicative although not proof of a problem in the advertising, scope, moderation, or design of the site, or of something in "reality". I'll let you decide which, but my point was to make the site more known/accessible/useful to more potential users, not to get laid. – Ocaasi Aug 16 '10 at 14:55
  • If everyone on the site was in high school, or Norwegian, or left-handed, it'd be the same thing. Just a conspicuous leaning that may be worth trying to improve on. – Ocaasi Aug 16 '10 at 14:57
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    @Ocaasi: I didn't say that was your motivation. I said that's how it could be interpreted. Pretend (as hard as this may be) that you've joined a forum or activity that's composed mostly of women and find them having lengthy discussions of how to get more men. Wouldn't the first thought that enters your mind be, why are they so concerned about this, or even noticing it at all? This "imbalance" is hardly conspicuous to me, I think that everybody's being judged on their contributions and that's the way it should be. We need to be promoting to everyone, period, not special groups. – Aaronut Aug 16 '10 at 16:11
  • When I think about the user interface, I wonder if grandparents could use it. If the focus permits restaurant management but not snacks, I wonder if non-professionals will be excluded. Focusing on improving the site for everyone doesn't preclude asking about specific groups; they're part of everyone. I grouped women, non-tech savvy users, and family-cooks together, which was open to misinterpretation, but the point was to get people here, of all types, especially those that for whatever reason don't know about the site or don't feel comfortable using it. – Ocaasi Aug 16 '10 at 16:32
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    @Ocaasi: The question "Are there any factors that make this site unfriendly to women?" is very different from the question "Why don't we have more women / what can we do to get more women?" They may seem similar, but they're really worlds apart. For one thing, you can answer "no" to the first. I apologize if it sounds like I'm criticizing you; I'm not, I don't think you had any motives other than curiosity and a desire to grow the community; however, it's nigh on impossible to answer this question without stereotyping, which can only amplify the problem (if you consider it a problem). – Aaronut Aug 16 '10 at 23:37
  • It was just a mixed question, different components. I am concerned that we don't have that many women, for no particular reason. I am also, separately aware that this site has a professional bias which might overlook some family cooks. Unrelated to either group, but just to non-techy users in general, I am aware of the interface, particularly the current lack of accessible documentation which explains the site's scope, community wiki, communication and search functions, and tagging. None of those have anything to do with women in particular, except some women will fall into those groups. – Ocaasi Aug 17 '10 at 0:11
  • I was aware when I asked it that some women won't fit into any of those categories... but they're in part the ones we already have. So it was a how to fill in the gaps question, though perhaps it gave the wrong idea to ask it. It would have seemed equally odd to ask how to attract african americans or dyslexics and then relate particular types of questions. So, I see the confusion/reaction. But, I still have all of those observations relating to the site in general, and to groups that are persistently ignored or whose interests may be unaddressed, female or otherwise. – Ocaasi Aug 17 '10 at 0:15
  • @Ocaasi: That presupposes that the reason for a group's smaller demographic is that the group is being ignored or their interests are unaddressed; and that presupposition presupposes that there is actually a "group" to speak of and that they have specific "interests" that can be addressed. While JustRightMenus has presented a few illuminating statistics, I don't think they're quite dramatic enough to justify any serious generalizations about females as a group here, or how we would market the site to them. I could be wrong, but that's how I see it. We're walking a fine line here. – Aaronut Aug 18 '10 at 3:17
  • @Aaronut. Nonetheless, I think it's worth trying to attract the full community of cooks, not just the subset of SOFU members who happen to cook. Part of that, intentionally or not, will involve appealing to and attracting people who don't already know about SOFU, or might not feel intuitively comfortable with it. – Ocaasi Aug 20 '10 at 4:02

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