Background: I participated pretty heavily in a topic-centered online community. I joined soon after it was created, so there were a lot of discussions about how to run the site, what's in-scope and what's not, and so on. Over time, the moderator and a couple other community leaders became increasingly hostile to me and nobody else called them out. The hostility seemed disproportionate; yes we disagreed on some key matters of site governance, but I behaved more respectfully and carefully than others who didn't get treated this way. Eventually I left.
I recently had a conversation with one of the users who stood by during this, in which he said approximately: "Well what did you expect? That's how guys work -- if a woman pushes back against a guy all the other guys are going to rally to his side".
It's true that I was one of the only identifiable women -- perhaps the only identifiable woman (don't remember now) -- on the site at the time. In the 21st century and in an online community not prone to attract teenagers (the average age was probably over 30), it never occurred to me that this could be an issue. Some of the ad-hominem attacks I received take on whole new meanings in light of this.
This is far from universal, of course; I participate in several online communities (like this one!) where this doesn't happen to me nor, to the best of my knowledge, to other women. Or so I think -- but I was active in that one community and didn't see it happening either, so maybe I'm insufficiently perceptive? For all I know, maybe half the "Joe"s and "Mike"s on my communities aren't who they appear to be, to say nothing of the pseudonyms.
So my question is in two parts:
Are women still at a disadvantage in online communities composed of adults? I'm looking for evidence, not anecdotes -- surely sociologists or others have studied this. What does current research say?
What can community members do to detect and minimize this kind of behavior before it gets to name-calling and the like? I'm part of well-behaved communities now; what do I and my fellow users need to do to keep them that way? What are the early warning signs?