[personal profile] mjg59
Direct harassment and overt sexism are certainly a significant part of why the gender ratios in the Linux community[1] are so skewed, but they're not the whole story. Part of feeling comfortable with a community is the knowledge that those in positions of power can be relied upon to engage in appropriate action when undesirable situations arise - no matter how compelling your code of conduct, no matter how detailed your diversity policy, if someone contravenes them and nothing happens, those documents are worthless and your community is unwelcoming. You can't rely on enforcement unless the community can trust its leadership.

Setting a good example in terms of behaviour is obviously vital, but it's not sufficient. Leaders who engage in sexist behaviour or who harass community members are clearly untrustworthy and undermine any attempts the rest of the community may be making. Failing to step in when they see examples of unacceptable behaviour is as bad. But less obvious is that it's possible to destroy that community trust without clearly contravening those community standards.

An example of this is Todd Akin, a candidate for the upcoming US Senate elections. In August he justified his support for making abortion illegal even in cases of rape, on the basis that women can't become pregnant through being victims of "legitimate rape". Of course, this had little to do with his fiscal or wider social policies, positions that are more directly relevant to most of his potential constituents, and in an election year that's primarily about the economy and healthcare it might be expected that a single issue would have little effect on the election standings. Instead, there was a huge uproar and a previously safe victory has now turned into a real chance of a loss.

Why? A significant part of it is because many people now have difficulty believing that they can trust him to represent them. If he understands women so little that he's willing to make entirely spurious justifications for his positions, how could any woman trust him to consider any other problems they may face? If he's willing to use fake science to back himself up, how could anyone trust him to consider any issue involving science? Through a single statement to a journalist he demonstrated to many that he was unsuited to be their representative in government. Many people who would otherwise have voted for him simply don't feel that they can rely on him to be there for them. Whether he wins his election or not, that distrust is going to remain and it's going to compromise his ability to work with his constituents.

It's the same in technical communities. If a member of a project's technical leadership frequently and loudly expresses their disdain for Python coders, anyone advocating for increased use of Python in that project is unlikely to feel that they can get unbiased opinions from that leader. If the project as a whole is uninterested in adopting Python then that's probably for the best, but if the rest of the project is open to using Python then there's a problem. People working with Python are less likely to join the project, and perhaps the project will lose out as a result.

But it's worth remembering that technical communities are still communities. If a member of a project's technical leadership vociferously argues that slavery benefited minority groups in the long run, members of those minority groups are going to feel that they're not going to be well represented by that leader. If they blog about how homosexuality is a lifestyle choice then homosexuals are unlikely to flock to the project. Likewise, if they downplay the prevalence or impact of rape, women are going to feel marginalised and find something better to do with their time.

It's impossible to separate these things. No matter how technically competent a community leader is, no matter how much code review they perform or how much mentorship they provide, if they're expressing unacceptable social opinions then they're diminishing the community. People I know and respect have left technical communities simply because people in positions of responsibility have engaged in this kind of behaviour without it causing them any problems.

We shouldn't be willing to give people a pass simply because they aren't actually groping anyone or because they're not members of the KKK. Those who drive people away from the community on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation deserve vocal condemnation, and if they're unwilling to change their behaviour then the community should instead act to drive them away.

We're pretty bad at that in the Linux world at the moment. Too many people have behaved in this way and are left with positions of power or responsibility. There's no easy solution to the problem, but the Ada Initiative is continuing to work to improve awareness and work with communities to reduce the alienation that results from this kind of behaviour. If you want this to be anything other than a straight white male dominated community, you should give them money.

[1] (and computing in general, though to a lesser extent)

Date: 2012-10-07 01:01 am (UTC)
aredridel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] aredridel
You say this really well. These are exactly the thoughts I have as I consider joining a group or not.

Gender ratio and gender preferences

Date: 2012-10-07 08:27 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I find it staggering how many people seem to honestly believe that the "skewed" gender ratio in technology jobs, technology studies and technology communities is mostly a result of sexism from the male masses that constitute most of these communities. Is the idea that there may indeed be a stronger preference for technology in men than in women really that antiquated and far-fetched? Does the "skewed" gender ratio in caretaking and language jobs (where there are significantly more women than men, sometimes by a ratio of 90-10) indicate that there is an anti-male bias in those communities?

Men and women are equal, but they are most certainly not identical.

Re: Gender ratio and gender preferences

Date: 2012-10-07 08:57 am (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
Women who *do* work in tech get death threats for speaking out about how they're treated. Do you think it's possible that these women might leave the field as a result, or that other women might see what happens and choose to pursue a different career?

Re: Gender ratio and gender preferences

Date: 2012-10-07 12:24 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
> Women who *do* work in tech get death threats for speaking out about how they're treated.

[citation needed]

Re: Gender ratio and gender preferences

Date: 2012-10-07 12:50 pm (UTC)
ideological_cuddle: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ideological_cuddle
Would this be another of those examples where men just aren't reading many female bloggers? Because all sorts of harassment, up to and including threats of rape and death, are pretty routine.

Re: Gender ratio and gender preferences

Date: 2012-10-07 01:57 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
If this is routine I am sure you can back it up with facts. (which is all I have asked for).

Re: Gender ratio and gender preferences

Date: 2012-10-07 02:22 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Matt has covered a few in some of his previous blog posts. Read back through his archives. After that, google for stuff about Jennifer Hepler and Anita Sarkeesian, two recent high-profile cases.

Re: Gender ratio and gender preferences

Date: 2012-10-09 05:14 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I don't trust anybody with their personal experiences, and even if they are true how many are we talking about?

I would like to see a study, not only with threats to females, but contrasted with the threats to males (which I'm sure they exist too).

That's the only evidence I might believe; what scientists, or a court of law would consider evidence.

Re: Gender ratio and gender preferences

Date: 2012-10-09 05:27 pm (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
I don't trust anybody with their personal experiences

Actually, it sounds like you just don't trust women about their experiences. (Women, by the way, not "females", unless you're trying to reduce women to non-human animals.)

Re: Gender ratio and gender preferences

Date: 2012-10-07 08:50 pm (UTC)
etb: (bus is coming)
From: [personal profile] etb
Here's one, from just a few days ago.

You might also want to try a thing called Google.

Re: Gender ratio and gender preferences

Date: 2012-10-08 12:50 am (UTC)
ideological_cuddle: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ideological_cuddle
Or you could take a few seconds to go looking for yourself.

http://geekfeminism.org/?s=death+threat&submit=Search

Re: Gender ratio and gender preferences

Date: 2012-10-07 11:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] duffy.id.fedoraproject.org
Would you like me to forward you some of the ones I've received?

Re: Gender ratio and gender preferences

Date: 2014-03-26 04:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kiwano.melon.org
Does the "skewed" gender ratio in caretaking and language jobs (where there are significantly more women than men, sometimes by a ratio of 90-10) indicate that there is an anti-male bias in those communities?

You mean like the fact that men are far likelier to be assumed to be abusive, or that their abuses are at least assumed to cause more harm?

There is indeed an anti-male bias in the caregiving professions (and in the communities that develop around them), but because the jobs in question generally have low pay, long hours, and other poor working conditions, we don't hear about men struggling to be accepted in these jobs any more than we hear about women struggling to secure jobs in garbage collection.

And no, neither the existence of bias in other fields, nor a lack of struggle against it, serve to justify the existence of the bias in question.

Agree overall

Date: 2012-10-07 08:49 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Having watched all that evolve, I do agree overall on this (and -- to the Other Anonymous upthread: that's not the point. It might well be that there's a stronger preference in men towards technology, it might as well not. But I think we can agree that the hostile behaviour of the community towards minorities (women in this case) is something we want to change).

Still, there's some unease that we might be heading into a direction of "political overcorrectness", where the people in power hold an opinion but don't talk about it. That scares me even more.

Tough thing.

Re: Agree overall

Date: 2012-10-07 08:57 am (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
I'm totally okay with people not talking about the opinion that women aren't human. Ideally they wouldn't hold it, but if no one talks about having that opinion, it's a good start.

Re: Agree overall

Date: 2012-10-07 04:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] felipec.myopenid.com
I disagree. In a healthy community it's important to be able to voice your opinions, specially if they are unpopular. It's called free speech, and we have recognized it as something important in modern societies.

Somebody should be free to say women aren't human, and you (and everyone else) is free to say that's totally stupid and bigoted.

Censorship, even if it's auto-inflicted is usually not a good idea.

Re: Agree overall

Date: 2012-10-07 05:07 pm (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
Saying that women are subhuman isn't an "unpopular opinion" -- it's both very popular, and an act of violence against women.

Re: Agree overall

Date: 2012-10-12 09:40 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
You surely accept this is a minority opinion. If it's not, we have far bigger problems.

Re: Agree overall

Date: 2012-10-12 03:53 pm (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
No, it's not a minority opinion. Educate yourself about rape culture and internalized sexism.

Re: Agree overall

Date: 2012-10-16 06:46 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Such a radical statement -- that the majority of people believe that women are subhuman -- needs more support rather than just an offhand citation. Perhaps you can link to a particular theorist that makes this precise point, since there is significant deviation in the thrust of argument within this field. [And remember that these are still theories, not facts, even though you may believe them.]

Re: Agree overall

Date: 2012-10-16 06:47 pm (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
Not really. If you're really interested, you can research the topic for yourself. I don't owe you an explanation of what is the bread and butter of daily life for half the population.

Re: Agree overall

Date: 2012-10-08 02:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bochecha.id.fedoraproject.org
> "Somebody should be free to say women aren't human, and you (and everyone else) is free to say that's totally stupid and bigoted."

No. It's even a crime in some countries.

In France for example, the law prohibits you to hold racist speech, to incite to violence and hatred against people based on their religion, sex, handicaps, origin,...

This has nothing to do with free speech, it's about living within a group that comprises more than just yourself.

Re: Agree overall

Date: 2012-10-09 04:35 pm (UTC)
azurelunatic: Azz and best friend grabbing each other's noses.  (Default)
From: [personal profile] azurelunatic
Free speech includes voicing the opinion that anyone possessed of stupid and bigoted ideas needs to keep them to themselves. It also includes the option to deny those opinions equal time in privately controlled spaces.

Re: Agree overall

Date: 2012-10-07 11:53 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lnr
I think if someone is not talking about their opinions because they realise that those opinions are controversial and could damage the project they're leading then that's probably a *good* thing. If they're not talking about them only because they don't want to lose their job that's slightly more of a problem, even if the outcome is actually better for most people.

Re: Agree overall

Date: 2012-10-07 02:08 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"Still, there's some unease that we might be heading into a direction of "political overcorrectness", where the people in power hold an opinion but don't talk about it. That scares me even more."

The thing is, it already happens, except not to the "people in power". Personally, in the few free software groups I participated a bit (where there was zero political correctness and minority inclusion), I usually didn't speak when I thought something was sexist, homophobic, racist, and so on. I was afraid of disclosing my sexual orientation, I avoided saying I was feminist, and so on. Hell, when it was online, I even sometimes avoided saying I was a woman. All of this because I am afraid I am going to be harassed, marginalized, mocked, and so on and it's already difficult enough being one of the few women in a group.

Date: 2012-10-07 11:56 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The example used is revealing; essentially you argue we want to hold FOSS community leaders to the same standards as politicians. Don't most of us in the community agree that the political system is broken? (Perhaps not.) Perhaps this necessity to be 'on-message', and the ensuing duality this creates in leaders, is the *reason* why so many people feel disenchanted by the mainstream political system. And now we want to introduce this same pattern to the FOSS world, under the guise of protecting social equality: and watch as capitalism perpetuates itself.

Date: 2012-10-08 06:57 pm (UTC)
fluffymormegil: @ (Default)
From: [personal profile] fluffymormegil
I want to hold FOSS community leaders to the standard of not being sexist / racist / homophobic fuckwits and of not being enablers or apologists for said fuckwits.

Date: 2012-10-12 09:43 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Is it ok if they're secretly sexist, racist and homophobic fuckwits?

Date: 2012-10-12 03:54 pm (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
Of course; things that don't affect anyone are always okay. However, history shows that sexist, racist and homophobic fuckwits are pretty attached to showing off their fuckwittery in public.
Edited Date: 2012-10-12 03:54 pm (UTC)

Date: 2014-04-05 05:29 am (UTC)
mm_writes: Sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell (Default)
From: [personal profile] mm_writes
Somehow I think that was the wrong answer. You're very blithe about it, though. To my mind, it's not OK because if you think of "Et tu, Brutus?", for instance, as a general statement of people hiding what they really think and what they plan to do because of it, you're expressing a preference for people getting stabbed in the back. You'd rather just never see it coming, eh? I think you need to think that one through. Oh, and hi *waves*
Edited Date: 2014-04-05 05:35 am (UTC)

Power structures are overrated

Date: 2012-10-07 04:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] felipec.myopenid.com
Who is the "leadership" is irrelevant, what is relevant is what the community says. The problem is when the voice of the community is silenced, which what many "leaders" do.

When dissent is welcomed, like in the Linux community, progress is made, and these kinds of issues can be resolved even against bad "leadership". When dissent is silenced, then you are at the mercy of the "leadership", like in the GNOME community.

This is called authoritarianism, and modern societies recognize it as something bad, but apparently open source communities still don't.

Without dissent, there's no progress.

Re: Power structures are overrated

Date: 2012-10-08 09:15 pm (UTC)
reddragdiva: (Default)
From: [personal profile] reddragdiva
I thought GNOME was running low on both developer and user interest, because the desktop's prospective userbase hate it.

Re: Power structures are overrated

Date: 2012-10-09 12:15 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
You probably read too many news sites and too few mailing lists.
(screened comment)

Re: Power structures are overrated

Date: 2012-10-07 08:41 pm (UTC)
etb: (bus is coming)
From: [personal profile] etb
Without dissent, there's no progress.

OK, if the dissent is about legitimate issues of disagreement. If it's about whether some community members are human, then no. "Free speech" gives someone raising such questions the right (in many jurisdictions) to not be arrested; that's all. It doesn't give them the privilege of remaining in the community.

Re: Power structures are overrated

Date: 2014-03-26 05:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kiwano.melon.org
Excusemesaywhat? Dissent?!? You mean dissent against the tyrannical authority to grant and revoke commit access to a source code repository?!? To boot people from mailing lists or IRC channels perhaps?!?

Could you please explain how legitimate dissent in this context could be mistaken for harassment and removed from discussion by enforcement of an anti-harassment policy?

Re: Power structures are overrated

Date: 2014-03-30 03:19 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
It's very simple. When somebody expresses an opinion, not harassing anybody, and that opinion is silenced by the "leadership" for no other reason than "they don't like it", that's authoritarianism.

Sure, they can claim it's not the opinion itself, just the way it was expressed, but that's really the same. Putin can do the same; people can express their opinions, just not in protests. It's the same; authoritarianism.

Once Putin, or any other authoritarian labels someone as a "troublemaker", they feel they are entitled to silence that person, with a ban, incarceration, whatever.

In a non-authoritarian system the accused should have the option to appeal and claim he was wrongly accused, if there's no option to do that, you are very clearly looking at an authoritarian system.

Re: Power structures are overrated

Date: 2014-03-30 05:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kiwano.melon.org
I get the idea about how dissent can be presented as harassment (or trumped up in some other way) in a political environment, because the line between the personal and the political, if it exists at all, is very blurry.

I don't think this is the case in a technical environment. Am I missing some especially emotionally stunted corner of open source software development where people exchange sexual favours for having their patches approved? Is there some correlation between breast/penis size and code quality that I'm unaware of? Perhaps race? Religion? Political party?

I mean right off the bat, harassing someone in a technical forum or community is way off-topic, and already calls for some sort of slap on the wrist for that reason alone. The extra shortage of consideration that allows someone to go from off-topic to harassing is totally worth waving the banhammer around for.

Or do you have an argument that's actually relevant to the context of this discussion?

Well said!

Date: 2012-10-08 03:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawl-kZzjKXx-ozohSivtqmU_B9oyXtNYLpU
Thanks for adding your voice to the chorus, I think we as a community need to do better on this issue.

Profile

Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

Power management, mobile and firmware developer on Linux. Security developer at Nebula. Ex-biologist. @mjg59 on Twitter. Content here should not be interpreted as the opinion of my employer.

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