[personal profile] mjg59
John Scalzi recently wrote a piece on straight white male privilege. If you haven't read it already, go and do so. No rush. I'll wait.

So. Some facts:
  • Women are underrepresented in free software development
  • Those women who are involved in free software development are overwhelmingly more likely to have been subject to sexual harassment, belittling commentary or just plain ignored because of their gender
  • When asked, women tend to believe that these two facts are fairly strongly related

(If you disagree with any of these then that's absolutely your right. You're wrong, but that's ok. But please do me a favour and stop reading here. Otherwise you'll just get angry and then you'll write something ill-tempered and still wrong in the comments and then I'll have to delete it and why not just save everybody the time and effort and go and eat ice cream or something instead)

I know I've said this before, but inappropriate and marginalising behaviour is rife in our community, and at all levels of our community. There's the time an open source evangelist just flat out told a woman that her experiences didn't match his so she must be an outlier. There's the time a leading kernel developer said that most rape statistics were basically made up. There's the time that I said the most useful thing Debian could do with its money would be to buy prostitutes for its developers, simultaneously sexualising the discussion, implying that Debian developers were all straight men and casting sex workers as property. These aren't the exceptions. It's endemic. Almost all of us have been part of the problem, and in doing so we've contributed to an environment that has at best driven away capable contributors. You probably don't want to know what it's done at worst.

But what people have done in the past isn't important. What's important is how we behave in the future. If you're not angry about social injustice like this then you're doing it wrong. If you're reading this then there's a pretty high probability that you're a white male. So, it's great that you're angry. You should be! As a straight white male born into a fairly well-off family, a native English speaker in an English speaking country, I have plenty of time to be angry before going back to my nice apartment and living my almost entirely discrimination-free life. So if it makes me angry, I have absolutely no way of comprehending how angry it must make the people who actually have to live with this shit on a daily basis.

(Were tampon mouse able to form and express coherent thoughts, tampon mouse would not put up with this shit)

The point isn't to be smugly self aware of our own shortcomings and the shortcomings of others. The point is to actually do something about it. If you're not already devoting some amount of your resources to improving fairness in the world, then why not? It doesn't have to be about women in technology - if you're already donating to charity or helping out at schools or engaging in local politics or any of the countless other ways an individual can help make the world a better place, large or small, then keep on doing that. But do consider that many of us have done things in the past that contributed to the alienation of an astounding number of potential community members, and if you can then please do do something to make up for it. It might be donating to groups like The Ada Initiative. It might be mentoring students for projects like the GNOME Outreach Program for Women, or working to create similar programs. Even just making our communities less toxic by pointing out unacceptable behaviour when you see it makes a huge difference.

But most importantly, be aware that it was people like me who were responsible for this problem in the first place and people like me who need to take responsibility for solving it. We can't demand the victims do that for us.

Re: AP

Date: 2012-05-22 07:17 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Well, let's see.

One of the projects I'm in has a domination of Europe-based contributors with a hint of New Zealand.

Do we need a USA Outreach program? An Africa Outreach program? Maybe an Asia Outreach program?

How do you decide whether starting an outreach program is a sensible thing to do to counteract the massive imbalance in contributors?

Re: AP

Date: 2012-05-22 12:57 pm (UTC)
maco: pink sakura (Default)
From: [personal profile] maco
Ubuntu's Local Community Teams are an attempt at broadening the geographic user base. There was a goal at one point to get one team in each US state, and there's probably been other such goals for worldwide coverage.

I'd add that it'd be nice to see more ethnic minorities joining in. It's a bit depressing to go to an event with 700 people and count the people of color on one hand, the women on two hands, and folks with disabilities on one hand as well. That last one really can be fixed with code... if a person can't try your software due to a11y issues, they're not terribly likely to contribute.

Re: AP

Date: 2012-05-22 01:10 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
“if a person can't try your software due to a11y issues, they're not terribly likely to contribute.”

Well, obviously I can't speak for everyone, but the guy who did a lion share of the work on screen reading support in Audacity was a husband of a blind user. The next important contributor there was blind himself. And the team actually has a dedicated mailing list for blind users.

YMMV, I'd say :)

Re: AP

Date: 2012-05-22 01:41 pm (UTC)
maco: pink sakura (Default)
From: [personal profile] maco
I think it depends how far your program lets a user get. If it's kinda accessible, but not all the way, then usually a text editor is at least workable enough to find out what the code's doing to make this set of buttons here not work right, or whatever, and fix that. Canonical's one-guy-that-works-on-accessibility-when-he-gets-a-chance-outside-of-his-other-duties is blind. But if you can't do ANYTHING with it, to the point that you don't even know what it is that's missing, then it's going to be a lot harder to even get started. GTK apps will be screen-readable by default, unless you do something stupid when coding it to break that. Qt apps, if using base Qt classes, can use a KDE-specific screenreader (not the standard one), and any KDE widgets that are a little *too* customized won't work. For example, no KHTML web browser will work. Konsole won't work, so you can't compile your code.

Accessibility is more than just screenreaders.

Like I said, if you're blind but you can get through a text editor you can usually fix code. If your distro doesn't have a way to turn on dwelling (mouse-hover), how are you going to even get to the point of trying an application and finding something to fix in it? You can't click on anything! Or if your distro's virtual keyboard doesn't have scanning mode (press button when keyboard row you want is highlighted, press button again when key you want on the row is highlighted), and you are arthritic or otherwise have low mobility in your hands...it's going to be very difficult to type any code. And if you try to look for speech-to-text software on Linux distros, you'll just be given a list of text-to-speech programs, which are not at all the same thing. There's the barebones of voice-control available, but it isn't in a good state. If I can't get my Wacom tablet to work on your distro, and I have joint problems that make the stylus better for me than a mouse, that's going to prevent me from using the computer long enough (you know, without pain) to write a patch.

My favorite one is still the one where Ubuntu required that you open a terminal and type "onboard" to get an onscreen keyboard because you can't type...oh wait. That has finally been fixed. It was like that for about 2 years. Someone decided that accessibility tools were "clutter" in the menu.

Re: AP

Date: 2012-05-22 01:50 pm (UTC)
maco: pink sakura (Default)
From: [personal profile] maco
(A note on that KDE bit: there is a bridge for going between the Qt stuff and the ATK stuff. IIRC, in Ubuntu 11.10, it made your KDE apps crash repeatedly. I hope it's improved in 12.04)

Re: AP

Date: 2012-05-22 01:39 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
You are missing the point a little I think. Women make up more than 50% of the world population, and only 1% of Free Open source Software contributors are women. That is beyond absurd. (20% of proprietary software contributors are women, which is also low, but not nearly as low as FOSS)

Projects CAN and SHOULD make their community as welcoming as possible to non-majority members. In the case of your example, if that group were constantly making anti-american jokes, it would be a problem that should be addressed, but if they are just as welcoming to US contributors as European, there is no need for an outreach program because most US citizens are not marginalized, and have equal opportunity to contribute and have their contributions considered seriously and respectfully.

Outreach programs are important, #1 because your project will get more contributors in general, and #2 because it will give a group that is often ignored, and maybe even harassed, an opportunity for learning and contributing that they wouldn't otherwise have.

On that note, outreach doesn't have to be anything as organized as a whole new group for women, there are lots of existing groups you could contact. Make a post to Dev Chix, Linux Chix or other women's tech groups and ask if anyone would be interested in joining your project. A few invitations and welcoming words can really go a long way.

-meskarune (Dolores)

Re: AP

Date: 2012-05-22 05:15 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
> How do you decide whether starting an outreach program is a sensible thing to do to counteract the massive imbalance in contributors?

Easy: someone volunteers to start one.


Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

Power management, mobile and firmware developer on Linux. Security developer at CoreOS. Member of the Free Software Foundation board of directors. Ex-biologist. @mjg59 on Twitter. Content here should not be interpreted as the opinion of my employer.

Page Summary

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags