An organization intended to help women feel more comfortable in Wikipedia and wiki communities drew fire this week for its controversial policy of banning men from joining the mailing list and an external wiki. The mailing list's creator, trustee emeritus Angela Beesley, argued that such a policy was necessary to encourage women in the community to contribute and discuss issues that the traditional, male-dominated mailing lists do not handle well. In the end, the mailing list was moved off the Wikimedia Foundation servers, and onto Wikia's.
In an announcement on multiple Wikipedia mailing lists last Monday, Beesley announced the creation of "WikiChix", an organization for female editors to "discuss issues of gender bias in wikis and ways to encourage more female editors, and just as a place that females can feel more comfortable posting to." The organization was intended to be similar to LinuxChix and Ubuntu Women, two Linux-related organizations for women.
The announcement followed a late November discussion, started by Keitei, which discussed the existence of systemic bias with respect to gender. While the thread originally focused on systemic bias with respect to articles, most of the comments discussed issues with females feeling intimidated, both on-wiki and on the mailing lists. Keitei noted that "As far as women reading the mailing list, I know that there are plenty who do (like myself), but do not discuss much. I know that I also read more than I edit, perhaps this is the case with more females than just myself?"  KillerChihuahua, one of the more prominent female posters in the discussion, noted that "When I first started contributing to this thread I received a number of emails, all from women, all thanking me and encouraging me, yet none of them posted to the list."  Mindspillage, however, said that "I'm surprised to hear of so many women feeling intimidated over concerns of sexism here because I simply haven't experienced it -- or perhaps I have and am oblivious to it." 
Like the initial discussion of gender bias, the WikiChix announcement was controversial, and attracted a wide view of opinions. Matt Crypto noted that other organizations like Ubuntu Women did not ban men from its mailing lists: "I have to confess to being unhappy with the existence of an officially-endorsed *females-only* mailing list and wiki. Discussion isn't enabled by segregating the people who should be talking to each other about a problem, and I do not think Wikipedia should be in the business of excluding people from discussions because of their gender." 
Phil Sandifer spoke out in support of the group: "Is it useful to completely exclude us from the conversation? Probably not, but that doesn't seem to be what's happening. What's happening is that there's a desire on the part of some women to be able to have a conversation amongst the people who get to define the problem, instead of amongst the people who don't. When the problem is defined, some aspects of the solution will probably have to include men. But men don't get to define sexism. You can't both cause the problem and define it for the people you're affecting. ... one of the first steps in healing a community with broken gender relations is to give women (it is, sadly, always women) a forum where they can express things and get a response of 'God, yes, I know what you mean. I thought it was just me!' instead of some form of 'I don't think that's valid.'" 
Wikimedia Foundation Trustee Erik Moeller said, "This is a positive initiative. I have only one issue with it, which is that the mailing list is on Wikimedia's servers, while the wiki is not. While we all trust you, of course, to do the right thing, as a matter of fair play towards others with similar ideas, it might be sensible to either host the list separately, or to move the wiki to Wikimedia's servers." 
While most responses were friendly, the tone of many responses on both sides of the issue became increasingly bitter, a fact noted by Kat Walsh: "The question of whether a single-sex list is 1) needed and 2) appropriate for Wikimedia to host is a valid one. For discussion by everyone. Its existence does *not* affect only the women; it affects the whole community. (Those women who would at the present time like to discuss the issue in a more private forum can do so -- and have done so.) So I would like to hear discussion from everyone it affects, including you -- but if you're not going to raise the tone of that open discussion, don't join it. Which applies to everyone, including several others in the many spawned threads, but particularly those who would otherwise claim to value respectful discourse and consideration of others' needs." 
The mailing list was originally hosted on the Wikimedia servers; Foundation Chair Florence Devouard had given her approval to the initiative. However, due to the controversy surrounding the incident, as well as questions about whether the project was sanctioned by the Foundation, Devouard asked Beesley to move the mailing list; the list is currently located on Wikia's servers, where female editors may join the list.