What’s the deal with women and Bitcoin?
Anyone who’s spent more than 12 seconds browsing the discussions on the Bitcoin Forum, reddit’s Bitcoin subreddit or any other Bitcoin-related site could be forgiven for thinking the digital currency is inherently a guy thing.
There are Vinnies, Rons, Dans and Alexes galore, with avatars of dudes, battleships and fireballs. (Similarly, the "real-world" crowd at this past weekend's Bitcoin 2013 was also heavy on the testosterone.)
Why is that? On the one hand, it seems to make sense in that Bitcoin is a creation of the coder/hacker/tech community, which skews extremely male. On the other hand, bitcoins are just money … and no one designates GDP as boy- or girl-only. (Although some enterprises in the “real-world” fiat economy seem to think in those terms by coming out with ludicrous offerings like pens for women.)
“I have not noticed any relevance of gender in the Bitcoin community,” says Sophia Alonzo, a New Orleans-based jewelry-maker who sells her creations on her Etsy store, NBetween. A member of Etsy’s Bitcoin Team (merchants who accept the digital currency), Alonzo chalks up the lopsided demographics of bitcoin to the fact that, “there are just fewer women in technical communities than men in general.”
“I think that the idea of a currency that changes value so quickly is making other people hesitant to adopt its use because they're still comparing it to fiat,” she writes in an email. “Also, since it's so new, kinks in the system are likely to be found, and they sometimes take time to be ironed out. As with any new thing that is meant for public use, its success is determined by how many people are willing to use it. If fewer women were early adopters that probably means they either aren’t as willing to or don’t have the means to take a risk on such a new thing.”
Etsy crafter Maygin Theresa began accepting bitcoins as a way to broaden her market after hearing about the digital currency from her friend-roommate, who's been "following Bitcoin since its inception." She acknowledges the unfamiliarity of the idea does prompt skepticism.
"My experience is rather limited, in general, as I've only just recently learned about bitcoin," she notes. "But I will say that people seem to want to warn me against Bitcoin for reasons that don't seem to be based on much of anything other than the loosest grasp of the concept."
From a businesswoman's perspective, Bitcoin makes sense to Jennifer Longson of the Cups and Cakes Bakery in San Francisco.
"Adding the BitPay app to our iPad register was super easy, and the low fees and no chargebacks was a huge selling point," she says. While she acknowledges being "certainly one of the few" women in the Bitcoin community, she adds, "I haven't had any negative reactions, for sure."
Rather than simply bemoan the lack of ladies in the Bitcoin world, Pua Pyland -- aka “The Bitcoin Wife” – decided to confront the issue head-on. She kicked off her retro-looking blog-online store-review site in early May with a post titled, “Bits or GTFO”:
“Bitcoin Needs More Vagina.
And I’m not talking about GirlsGoneBitcoin. I am a wife and a mother. And I love to spend me some Bitcoin …
There must be other women out there like me. Right? Right?!?!…hellooo?
Ladies, this is a call to arms. I am on a mission to turn this sausage fest into the fabulous soiree that Bitcoin was born to be. Your boyfriend/husband/partner/brother/boss has been talking your ear off about decentralized currency … market volatility … or that Bitcoin town in Germany they want to visit … and seriously, what’s up with that french guy in Japan who loves the magic card game?
Cue the the eye rolls, and stroking of the air phallus, I get it.
It’s time to chickity check yo’ self. Spending Bitcoin is so easy. You can buy some dope things with it, and I’m not talking about SilkRoad. I’ve got lots of goodies in store for you from food to fashion to travel. These are exciting times, and the boys shouldn’t get to have all the fun.
Come along on this journey with me. I am The Bitcoin Wife.
Aloha, Misses P”
Pyland – who lives in Kailua, Hawaii, with her husband and four children, and works in clinical information systems – said she got into Bitcoin after her husband, Ta'a Pyland caught a “This Week in Tech” podcast on the digital currency in February 2011.
“He called me while I was work that day, beyond stoked about the mind-blowing potential of Bitcoin,” she recalls. “A decentralized peer-to-peer currency built on the strength of a worldwide network of computational power? Genius! We both knew right then and there we had to be a part of the movement.”
For a while afterward, Pyland said she “lurked on the forums and threads in hopes that a strong female presence would eventually grow organically as Bitcoin matured. I have yet to see that happen, so I'm glad The Bitcoin Wife has started a healthy dialogue.”
That’s one way of putting it. After announcing her site on reddit’s Bitcoin subreddit, Pyland found herself the focus of numerous comments, some positive, some not so much:
“(H)oly satoshi, what an entrance!" she recalls. "I knew my post was going to make some waves, but I didn't expect the site to receive 5,000 hits on its very first day.”
The occasional male poster questioned whether Pyland was in fact a woman, while “(m)any mistook the site as an intentional cheap shot to offend,” she says. Other female commenters happily noted they were also “Bitcoin wives,” and Pyland took all the responses in stride.
“The 1950s RedBook-esque feel to the site is an ode to the place I'm in at this point in my life, thanks to Bitcoin. Most of my adult life I have been a busy career woman/mother in the IT world. Bitcoin has afforded me the choice to kiss the rat race goodbye and take on a comfortable supporting role at home. I am embracing the hell out of that on my site, and having some fun with it.”
Pyland has so far seen less success with her subreddit group Bitcoin Ladies, which remained eerily quiet two weeks into its existence. The Bitcoin Wife site, though, has so far achieved what she wanted it to:
"I've been able to get in touch with other women out there who use Bitcoin, who accept Bitcoin, who are married to Bitcoiners like me, and that is exactly what I was hoping for," she said.
Over time, she expects the Bitcoin community to look different than it does today.
"Bitcoin's usability infrastructure is maturing fast and pushing us into a ... transformation stage in the game," Pyland says. "This is naturally changing the demographic of the user base. I think awareness is key for women to become involved and articles like Kashmir Hill's 'Living on Bitcoin for a Week' is the kind of positive female journalism we need."
Cups and Cakes' Longson also sees long-term change coming as the demographics of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions evolve.
"It seems to be changing slowly but surely, but encouraging women to go into STEM fields seems the way to go," she says.