Sexism: There's an app for that.
On Whistle, a service where anonymous users document harassment or discrimination they experience or witness in their everyday lives, you'll find a feed of comments like this:
— "My boss jokingly called me 'baby' in front of a bunch of the guys who report to me."
— "In a meeting filled with arguments and raised voices, I was the one accused of being 'too aggressive' for the single question I asked."
— "Why is it that because I am a female it's casual in society to grope me?"
It's a never-ending litany of despair. And that's the point. "When I say I want people to log them, I want people to log every single little tiny instance of what they perceive to be sexism," Ursula Mead, CEO and founder of InHerSight — the company behind Whistle — said in a phone call.
Whistle is not dissimilar to other digital platforms attempting to log as much data as possible about the day-to-day issues women face. Hollaback is an app that asks users to post specifically about instances of street harassment. The Everyday Sexism Project mirrors Whistle's goals to document everyday sexism, but these experiences are formatted as blog-post comments. Whistle builds on this idea with categories, locations and the ability to interact with other users. Users share their experiences in real time, and others can comment on their post and/or mark it with a little heart, the same way you'd "like" a tweet.
How Whistle created a comprehensive database of sexism
Rigorously documenting every instance of sexism in a public digital diary sounds like a sickening task. (In fact, it kind of is!) But it's indicative of a rampant issue that has largely gone unresolved.
"2016 provided a lot of public awareness about the issues that still exist," Mead said. "The time was right to start to understand this better."
And for InHerSight — a workplace ratings site aimed at improving the workplace for women — to better understand sexism, they're collecting loads of data. While users can post anonymously on Whistle, it still aggregates a lot of intel, which Mead sees as being largely valuable in developing solutions to sexism.
The data: When a user posts a whistle, it includes their geographical location, environment (i.e., public, work, media), the category to which they attribute the sexism (i.e., sexual harassment, stereotypes, boys'-club behavior) and the time of day it occurred. Mead said this metadata can be used to learn what women consider to be sexism, as well as how frequently and where it's happening — but that'll require mass adoption.
InHerSight has data from more than 150,000 women. Mead said that Whistle is going to need that kind of adoption to be effective on the topic of sexism in our everyday lives. She said they haven't been pushing the app yet — but they plan to promote it now, after the December holidays. It certainly isn't close to 150,000 users: So far, only 77 whistles have been documented. But the potential is evident: Imagine hundreds of thousands of users around the world flooding the platform with their stories.
Harassment could become an issue on an open platform.
As we've seen with Twitter, mass adoption leads to thrusting important narratives into public virality. It also leads to eggs and Nazi Pepe Twitter accounts inundating your mentions with hateful, misogynistic tirades. When I asked Mead if the company anticipated and planned for potential harassment, she said they want to approach the platform with optimism, but that they will "keep an eye on stuff like that."
The app has rules. They include being respectful (don't dox users), being kind (no bullying, defamation or harassment) and being tasteful (no spam or obscene content). Violate Whistle's policies, and you can get blocked or deactivated.
Some of the app's categories, like "double standards" and "stereotypes," may feel more vague for users, and Mead said it'll be interesting to see how those sections come to be defined by the users themselves. She also noted that they will continue to release more information on how researchers and experts define those categories.
"We do want to start to get more data and answers we can push out there so people can start developing solutions to problem areas," Mead said. "If it's around certain workplace issues, companies can start to create training that addresses some of those issues."
InHerSight was inspired by the book Lean In, Anne-Marie Slaughter's article "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" in the Atlantic and Ellen Pao's discrimination lawsuit against a major Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Mead said. Whistle's birth can be attributed to the misogynistic rhetoric emboldened under Trump's campaign, as well as the latest Olympic games and how men and women were talked about so differently within the media.
"In the case of sexism, the run-up to the election was one of those key events that lit the fire."