[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.

Date: 2012-05-22 02:26 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"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."

All you did was sexualise the discussion. You didn't however imply that DD's were all straight men. Prostitutes come in all flavors; male, female, gay & straight. Implying all prostitutes are females is disrespecting the prostitute community :p

On a more serious note, I couldn't agree more with everything you said, and like you, I can fess up to mistakes like you stated in years past. One thing that has opened my eyes is working with the wonderful women I have had the chance to work with in the Ubuntu & KDE communities. Thanks for bringing this up, and I hope that we can all work together to bring true change to the greatest communities in the world.


Date: 2012-05-22 06:31 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I think there comes a point when although you've haven't said something explicitly, there is a general insinuation from what you say that does imply things. Maybe mjg59 didn't specifically exclude women from the idea, but a reasonable reader is going to conclude that.

There's a special form of equality whose advocates seem convinced that as long as what they say is pedantically and explicitly not sexist, then it must not be discriminatory. I'm not accusing you of that here, but it's a pretty weak form of equality.
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Date: 2012-05-22 03:04 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I know its hard for people to own up to their mistakes in the past, so I really appreciate this. Its even harder to stand up and talk to your peers.

I know the fedora women group is defunct, but Ubuntu women, Gnome women, Linux Chix and Arch women are still going strong. (maybe you know some women who might be interested in reviving it?)

I helped found Arch Women and you guys are welcome to come work with us. :) I won't mind if women who use other distros come hang out in the IRC chat/website either.


-meskarune (Dolores)

Arch & Ubuntu

Date: 2012-05-22 03:17 am (UTC)
maco: white brunette woman with a white headcovering and a blue dress (Default)
From: [personal profile] maco
The Ubuntu Women IRC channel has an Arch person hanging out in it at all times. It started out because there was a brief span where trolls were organizing in Arch's offtopic channel to go pester UW folks, so Tigr came and hung out with us so she (I think Tigr's a she...) could "OI!" at people she recognized. It's been at least a year since that's had to happen though.

Re: Arch & Ubuntu

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Date: 2012-05-22 03:12 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Wondering if this post was sparked by this gem:



(Dreamwidth doesn't like my openid)

excellent post.

Date: 2012-05-22 03:20 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)

I agree 100%. At GNOME, we've tried really hard to make women feel welcome and an integral part of the project. We've had some fantastic passionate contributors to GNOME thanks to the GSOC program funding the women in technology program.

I find that a lot of people who are involved in FOSS and in Linux are looking for a niche community that they can just geek out. I think a lot of these people find women threatening to that. Some of course are just out and out male chauvinistic pigs.

There are differences though in how male and females approach problems that does make things a little interesting in how we interact. Still we will be stronger as a community by being more open. How ironic it is that we advocate free and open in our code, but not in our community.

Re: excellent post.

Date: 2012-05-22 03:22 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Ooops - that comment is by me, Sri Ramkrishna

The past is important too

Date: 2012-05-22 03:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] https://me.yahoo.com/a/T38v98kdl4OLRw4kwNRJyF4nQJsJu5E-#6d99f
You say "what people have done in the past isn't important. What's important is how we behave in the future."

I strongly disagree. Both are important and neither should ever be neglected. Indeed after a time of violation and repression, the past is often alive and it guides its victims. Ideologies in our culture about the nature of time can make us blind to this pervasive reality, but actually it's quite logical.

Galton describes the relationship between past and future quite well, I think: "We remember the past, but anticipate, fear, dread, or hope for the future; we feel we can know the past but only guess at or estimate the future; and we feel that the future, but not the past, can be causally dependent on our current actions."

Galton, A. (2011). Time flies but space does not: Limits to the spatialisation of time. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(3), 695-703. doi: 10.1016/j.pragma.2010.07.002

Re: The past is important too

Date: 2012-05-23 12:17 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Are you making some sort of a postmodernist counterargument? It's incomprehensible in its face, and the only source I can find for your citation is behind a paywall, so the resemblance to artistes such as Lacan and Irigaray is quite the source of confusion.

However, I'm convinced that you have a point in your comment that I'm simply failing to comprehend. Would you please explain it in terms that a tube-brained old hairy fierce green software engineer like me can understand?

Date: 2012-05-22 04:09 am (UTC)
ayse: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ayse
It's not just free software. It's software engineering in general. I have worked in several different fields (construction, publishing, software engineering, chemistry) and the most sexist and belittling behaviour by far has been from my male colleagues in software.

Also, the times I have gotten the worst harassment is when I point that out (or call a software engineer on his sexism). Which is sad.

(Here via John Scalzi, btw.)
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Date: 2012-05-22 06:24 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Most projects I'm affiliated with don't really have sexism issues. They either have female contributors who do great work including some kickass programming, or just never had (knowingly) women approaching contribution.

When I mentioned that during one heated GSoC related discussion, someone told me that not specifically targeting women and not doing special projects to get women contributing was wrong. He did that rather emotionally.

My argument that we welcome all contributors and never harass women was discarded as irrelevant. I was told I was just plain wrong at not doing extra activity. In fact, I was shouted down.

Do you think this kind of behaviour makes people want to deal with GNOME Women or other kinds of organizations? The way I see it, no.

Re: AP

Date: 2012-05-22 06:52 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Both approaches seem reasonable to me, from different perspectives.

At a minimum, we should all ensure that the projects we involve ourselves with should welcome all contributors, proscribe harassment, and not ignore bad behavior. If all projects went at least that far, the situation would already become immensely better. Any project refusing to take those steps has serious problems.

In some cases, projects (or more to the point, motivated people within those projects) take the additional step of organizing outreach programs to counteract the massive imbalance in contributors. If people want to take such steps, they absolutely should, and doing so can help provide a more friendly environment and a more active indication that a project really does welcome all contributors. On the other hand, I don't consider it reasonable to call a person or project *wrong* for not taking such steps, as long as the person/project doesn't stand in the way of someone else volunteering to do so. (I've seen cases where people feel so strongly about maintaining $attribute-blindness, for values of $attribute including gender, that those people actively objected to outreach programs and similar; I can understand the reasoning behind such a position, but I consider it unreasonable to block someone *else's* efforts for that reason.)

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From: (Anonymous)
If you and the rest of FOSS really wanted to stop the behavior you would stop accepting the offenders code, remove all of the offender's privileges within your projects, and ban them from any future contact with your projects.

You know, like the rest of the world's employers hold their employees accountable.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
But Matthew said that he had done this kind of behavior himself in the past. Should he stop accepting his own code and banish himself from the communities he's in? Personally, I don't think so, because if that were generalized, it would mean all self-aware people would leave FOSS and the only people who remained would be those who believe they've never made a mistake.

Re: Yet Another "We Need To Stop Being Sexist Twits" Post

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Re: Yet Another "We Need To Stop Being Sexist Twits" Post

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Re: Yet Another "We Need To Stop Being Sexist Twits" Post

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Use Debian money for outreach program

Date: 2012-05-22 06:35 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
There is something Debian could and should make with their (our, as I'm a DD) money: Finance a campaign similar to the "GNOME outreach program for women" to get more capable ladies involved into it!

Re: Use Debian money for outreach program

Date: 2012-05-22 07:05 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
As it often happens, the problem is not money, but volunteer energy in making it happens. I'm sure there will be no problem in doing as you suggest, *as long as* someone step in to do the organization, better if in coordination with the debian-women mailing list.

Thanks for considering,


Date: 2012-05-22 07:04 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Reading your post leaves me with the overwhelming impulse to supply a "hear hear!".

One thing I wonder about, related to the "most" in your title: do you genuinely believe that *most* people actively create a hostile environment, or is it that it only takes a few people in a particular community to create a hostile environment, and a larger number of people are simply not taking the necessary steps to cluebat the smaller subset?

Date: 2012-05-22 12:50 pm (UTC)
maco: white brunette woman with a white headcovering and a blue dress (Default)
From: [personal profile] maco
I would say it's the tacit-agreement implied by not going "DUDE! Not ok!"

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Date: 2012-05-22 11:19 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Hmmm, maybe I missed something in Matthew's post, but I didn't read it as though he was singling anyone out (well, he admitted his own mistake, but I think that pointing out own mistakes can hardly be seen as vilifying others).

Or do you mean that he's "singling out" men? Face it, most sexism against women is originating from men. And in the FLOSS world most sexism is directed against women. In other parts of the world it might be different (there's a fair amount of sexism directed towards men too, but I've yet to see it happen in the FLOSS world).

Your line of thought of (and I paraphrase) "avoiding women at all costs because they're just trouble", is exactly the kind of mindwarped thinking that makes the sexism take root. The women not only have to suffer from the direct sexism, they also have to suffer indirect sexism when they're treated as trouble. Just like rape victims are being told that they're the ones to blame for dressing a certain way, etc.

"The gays wouldn't have been gaybashed if they hadn't been kissing in public", "The niggers wouldn't have been burned by the KKK if they'd just stayed in Africa where they belong", etc.

It's not the women that are trouble, it's not the women that you should avoid. It's the men who behave like shit against women that should be told off or kicked out.

I've heard it claimed so many times that "yeah, but the silent majority don't support the few sexist/racist/whatever bastards, we're not like them". But the problem is that the majority is silent. As long as you, I and all the others remain silent, as long as we don't defend the weak (and mind you, I'm not saying that women are weak, I'm saying that most minorities are), we are a part of the problem.

-- David Weinehall

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Date: 2012-05-22 11:09 am (UTC)
lnr: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lnr
Thanks Matthew, as usual. You may have been part of the problem, but you've sure as hell done a lot of work to try and be part of the solution over the years too.


Date: 2012-05-22 12:11 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Words of truth, applicable to more than just the open-source community. I am a male, just for the record, and like many have laboured under the false assumption of "male superiority" and the other illness of "white superiority". One can never truly say they have eradicated these pernicious fallacies from themselves, but one can go a long way to making them close to non-existent.

What is more important - what is between your legs, or what is between your ears?

What is of greater value - what you hold in your hands, or what you hold in your heart?

As a community and as a society, we still have some way to go before women stand in their rightful place as equals. We have come a long way, but still a ways to go. Your article is a light and an inspiration. Thank you.

Why stop there?

Date: 2012-05-22 03:57 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The first thing that ticked me off was the bit about "straight white male", yet you seem to focus only on the last bit. As a gay white male, I've never ever felt any kind of discrimination in the Open Source world, as a matter of fact, quite the opposite. I've found Free Software people to be very gay-friendly. Even to the point that I feel that anyone who opposes full equality (like gender neutral marriage) will be strongly called out (see what recently hapenned on Planet Mozilla).

Second, you never talk about non-white people, why? There are close to zero black people in the Open Source world, as a matter of fact, I can think of a single one. And I don't see anything being done about that.

Third, even though I think we've made great progress in the last few years in women inclusion, I do agree with you that we must do more.

Re: Why stop there?

Date: 2012-05-22 04:32 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Theodore Ts'o is a quite famous and prominent member of the Kernel developers. Now I don't know where you put the limit between being white and not being white, but even though he is definitely not black, he is neither what a Ku Klux Klan racist would call white.

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Re: Tell me I'm wrong

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mostly terrible

Date: 2012-05-22 05:51 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
One wonders at one point these people, most of whom are terrible, may feel their guilt assuaged. Does the female participation rate have to rise to 20% or 50% before sins are forgiven?

Re: mostly terrible

Date: 2012-05-22 07:09 pm (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
Guilt is a function of one's own actions. If someone is feeling guilty, they might feel better if they, personally, take some of the steps suggested at the end of this post. Assuaging guilt isn't contingent in a certain outcome -- it's about being part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

In other words, if you feel guilty, don't blame the messenger -- do something to amend the harm you know you've done. It's not the messenger's job to tell or show you *what* you need to do, either. A person of integrity does that for themself.
Edited Date: 2012-05-22 07:10 pm (UTC)

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Re: Just for the record

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Date: 2012-05-23 06:29 am (UTC)
jewelfox: A portrait of a female anthropomorphic fox, with a pink jewelled pendant and a cute overbite. (Default)
From: [personal profile] jewelfox
This is awesome, and you rock for having written it.

Thanks for this post

Date: 2012-05-23 01:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] miry [launchpad.net]
Thanks a lot for bringing this up. It is an awesome post.

There is more than one way to prejudge

Date: 2013-01-14 06:41 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)

"...born into a fairly well-off family..."

What does that mean? What did/do your parents do for a living? Did you have a private school education? What was the value of the home where you were brought up?

They aren't intended to be provocative questions. I just wondered if you were aware of the general under-representation of both sexes from less well off backgrounds, and whether you feel it would matter if the women who might be brought into the fold by your initiative also came from a middle class, better off, background - but still left the majority less well off (male and female) out in the cold?

If all you would be doing would be to bring in more women from middle class backgrounds to join the men from middle class backgrounds who are already there then the majority would still remain under-represented - though that disparity, while being greater in scale, wouldn't be quite so obvious.

Re: There is more than one way to prejudge

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Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

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

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