Open Letter to Mark Shuttleworth

COMMENTS ARE NOW CLOSED ON THIS POST. There is a followup post here.

Another conference, another sexist comment in a keynote speech by a leader in the open source community. And September was going so well!

I just sent the following to Mark Shuttleworth, founder and leader of the Ubuntu Linux project.

Hi Mark,

I’m writing to you as a woman who has been involved in Linux and open source for more than 15 years, and who has been very involved in discussions around women in open source of late; I recently keynoted OSCON and Atlanta Linux Fest on the subject, and I also run the Geek Feminism wiki (http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/) and blog (http://geekfeminism.org/).

I’m sorry I wasn’t able to make it to LinuxCon this year; I hear it’s a pretty good event. I’ve been listening with some interest to people’s reports of what’s going on there, and this afternoon I heard from multiple sources about your keynote, in which you referred to our work in Linux as being “hard to explain to girls”.

I wanted to bring this up because I think what you said in that talk was pretty dismissive of the skill and dedication that many women have already brought to Linux, not only as designers and documenters (which I gather you mentioned in your talk) but as coders, release managers, sysadmins, and more — and of those who might be interested in the future.

2009 is shaping up to be a watershed year for women in open source. We have seen numerous high profile incidents where men have made remarks in conference presentations which have dismissed, marginalised, or upset women; we’ve seen an increase in discussion on blogs, mailing lists, and twitter/identica; many conferences have invited speakers (including myself) to keynote on the subject of inclusivity and diversity; and a number of efforts towards recruiting and supporting a more diverse open source community have been launched. In light of the attention the subject has been getting of late, your comment at LinuxCon seems oblivious at best, and only serves to further damage the Linux community’s reputation.

I’d like to invite you to think about the message you’re sending to women in the Linux community, and, if you didn’t mean to convey the message that we’re technical illiterates and hard to educate, consider apologising publicly.

Yours,

Kirrily Robert

Just a note to new readers here at GF.org: we have a comment policy that you should read before commenting.

COMMENTS ARE NOW CLOSED ON THIS POST. There is a followup post here.

184 thoughts on “Open Letter to Mark Shuttleworth

  1. Craig

    This letter is very well written, non-aggressive, and thoughtful – I couldn’t agree more. I’m glad you didn’t go off on hate filled attack like has been seen lately against RMS for many reasons – with messages like this, Mark is bound to do the sensible thing and apologize soon, and the world with learn more about the important contributions women have made, and continue to make, to Ubuntu.

    Thanks!

    1. koipond

      Personally I’m not holding my breath and waiting for an apology. The standard practice here is to ‘apologize.’

      Not that if a sincere and heartfelt apology wouldn’t be amazing but this is pretty much how it goes.

      1. Mark will read this letter
      2a. If not many other letters show up he’ll just dismiss it and nothing will come of this.

      2b. If many other letters show up he’ll get upset that people didn’t understand what he was saying and will get angry.
      3. People will point out to him his priviledge and that his comments really weren’t true at all.
      4. He’ll get defensive because it isn’t his fault that his words were interpreted that way and the other people who don’t get it will back him up.
      5. More people will continue to point out that what he said was inappropriate and that they weren’t true at all.
      6. He’ll ‘apologize’ in a huff. Probably using a version of “I’m sorry you were offended.”

      If it doesn’t go like this I’ll be quite happy and greatly surprised. In the good way.

      1. Steve Holden

        I think Mark Shuttleworth is big enough to rise above a silly mistake like the one described above, and will be disappointed if he comes out with a bland “sorry you were offended” apology. He is certainly smart enough to know better. Kirrily has indeed managed to point out the error of his ways with a very positive tone. Fingers crossed …

      2. koipond

        @Steve

        I hope so. However, usually when people say things like that it’s the opposite. I’m not saying that there can’t be a surprise but my expectations are low, as you might have noticed.

        @Leigh

        Hope springs eternal. I hope he did, or even checked out the wiki, because I really want to be wrong.

      3. koipond

        @Steve

        Just re-read something and realized what struck me. It’s not a ‘silly’ mistake. It’s a systemic mistake.

        Thus my lack of faith in an actual honest apology.

      4. Terri

        I agree, we see a lot of “I’m sorry you were offended” type apologies nowadays (not specifically in Linux, but in general news).

        But I dunno… I have to do a lot of public speaking for my job, and as someone who cares about getting it right I’d be (a) mortified to have a slip-up like this pointed out and (b) happy to hear of ways I could improve. Everyone messes up sometimes, so hopefully Mark Shuttleworth’s able to just chalk it up as a mistake and a learning experience. It’s not a bad thing to learn ways to reach more people when you talk!

  2. zvi LikesTV

    Flames! Flames on the side of my face!

    You know, I half expect it from, well, every other male leader in FLOSS, but that statement actually goes against Ubuntu’s Code of Conduct. Specifically:

    Be respectful. The Ubuntu community and its members treat one another with respect. Everyone can make a valuable contribution to Ubuntu. We may not always agree, but disagreement is no excuse for poor behaviour and poor manners. We might all experience some frustration now and then, but we cannot allow that frustration to turn into a personal attack. It’s important to remember that a community where people feel uncomfortable or threatened is not a productive one. We expect members of the Ubuntu community to be respectful when dealing with other contributors as well as with people outside the Ubuntu project, and with users of Ubuntu.

    <em> added.

  3. Matthew Jones

    I’m not trying to start a flame fest. And really don’t feel like posting and tweeting to everyone that posts about this.

    But the context you are assuming is not there. I watched the live stream. When Mark said try to explain to girls, he was not talking about women not understanding technology. He was talking about how hard the design work is to do, and that if things were designed poorly or had low usability, he would not know how to explain them to girls (my translation). The tone of his voice suggested sarcastic embarrassment, which implies he would prefer to impress girls. So he could have said the same thing about his father. Or better yet. If he was gay, he would have said “guys” not “girls”.

    Also note that he was talking about design when he said it. So the argument that he thinks women are not hard core coders or programmers is moot. And yes he does say “guys” all the time. No one says “gals” by itself, because it sounds sexist. And saying “guys and gals” is as pain in the butt as saying gnu/linux. Everyone says “guys” when they mean “people”.

    This incident really is like wild fire erupting before my eyes. All the tweets, re-tweets, and blog posts are echoing the same sentence fragment, and disintegrating into primal noises. Primates can also re-articulate the same sounds they heard someone else make, or wave a flag. Humans on the other hand can think critically, about what they heard.

    Wouldn’t it make sense to see the video before claiming it is sexist? Or perhaps even know the context of what he was talking about? Or even the minimalist thing, of getting the actual quote?

    Please for the love of reason. When the video or transcript is released, form your opinion. Don’t just re-quote rumors as yours. I respect the work feminists are doing. But this was a knee jerk reaction. Hear the guy in is own words.

    I really hope Mark does not let rumors re-create the context of what he said.

    1. Skud Post author

      @Matthew: I’d love to see the video, only it’s behind a paywall. However: a number of people I trust were in the audience or watching it live (some of whom are bloggers here, or were on IRC or IM, and will probably comment), so let’s assume that their reactions are legitimate.

      An alternative for Mark, if he had wanted to express the difficulty of explaining Linux to people outside of the community without awkward workarounds, would have been to say “Hard to explain to people I meet on airplanes/down the pub/at parties.” However, he chose to say “girls” — and it shocked and upset a number of active Ubuntu community members that he did so.

      1. Matthew Jones

        Sorry for taking so long to reply. Trying to 10 things at once, and forgot to glance at my email.

        I don’t agree. I think it is perfectly appropriate for someone to say that. If had said “my dad” or “guys”, it would have not been offensive to anyone. I think there is this artificial stigma associated with white men talking about anyone, but other white men. If Mark was a she, or of a darker complexion, no one would care.

        I think this is just a knee jerk reaction. But feel free to think what you want. Just know people will give their opinion too.

        1. Mackenzie

          I think that gets into stereotyping. Women are stereotyped as being bad with computers, so he’s playing into the stereotype. Stereotypes are bad, k?

      2. Beth

        Yes there is a “knee-jerk” reaction, which isn’t actually irrational the way you make it sound. Men tend to assume they are talking to an audience of people like them, men, and so of course the audience is going to get that clearly women’s role in this work is to be impressed by how well you do with it. Particularly combined with the diminutive “girls”, it is clear to me what his mental image of a Linux contributer is, and they are not female.

        If Mark were a she, it would probably be assumed that her mental image of a Linux contributer would include the possibility of them being a woman. His race is irrelevant, though he might then be sympathetic to the experience of sitting in a room of people who look nothing like him, hoping to be taken seriously. If his comment had in any way referred to race, far fewer people would be making apologies for him right now.

        What this turn of phrase does is specifically alienate anyone in the audience who is a member of the group he just declared to be the “Other” he needs to explain the work to. If you said, “my dad”, the assumption would presumably be that because of his age he didn’t understand what the work was about; you might alienate older men, but in general they have probably had to fight less hard for respect over the course of their life. If you said “guys” I expect people would be slightly confused, but the men in the audience would probably not feel alienated because they would assume that your mental image of a Linux developer probably includes men.

        I’ve been trying to think about some way it would be possible to make men feel as excluded as someone using “girls”, “women”, or “my wife” as a luddite to explain things to makes me fell. So far my best example would be giving a presentation on project development cycles as a menstrual-inspired rhythm, and making the assumption that everyone in the audience knows what that experience is like.

        1. Mackenzie

          “boys”? Many grown men can’t stand being called “boys,” but think it’s unreasonable when grown women object to being called “girls.”

        2. Samuel

          @Mackenzie

          Would it be fair to say that those grown men are immature and lack the necessary sense of humor to get by in modern society?

          Yes it would.

    2. Mary

      The tone of his voice suggested sarcastic embarrassment, which implies he would prefer to impress girls. So he could have said the same thing about his father. Or better yet. If he was gay, he would have said “guys” not “girls”.

      (Sidenote: this seems to vary among English dialects and English speakers, but I don’t feel “girls” is a good parallel to “guys” and strongly prefer “women”. Hence using “women” for remainder of comment.)

      This is still problematic to me in a number of ways. It’s trying to create commonality with the audience around the issue of liking to impress women which is both male-centric and hetero-centric. And it’s sexualising: it reminds women in hearing that they may be (often are) viewed preferentially as an audience for someone’s impressive demonstration (or pickup line) to which we are meant to respond with admiration, rather than as collaborators or teachers.

      This isn’t a hypothetical “but this may bother women” explanation: this stuff ties straight into the sickening grunch for me. I’m not among likeminded friends and colleagues any more when men start bonding over their desire to impress women, I am the other, the other whom they bond around, the other who they don’t think is listening.

      1. Mackenzie

        From a feminist reclamation viewpoint, I’d probably use “chicks” opposite “guys,” (a la LinuxChix), but context & tone of voice would VERY heavily influence how I’d receive it from a male.

      2. Matthew Jones

        Honestly, I’ve had/seen problems with “girls”, “gals”, “females”, or “women”, and witnessed incidents where people were lampooned for saying either. They were accused of being too generalized, or formal, something else. I try using women myself. I think this stigma stems from the point that groups are usually pointed out as female, when it has no bearing on why they are being pointed out. So when a man has to say girls/women/gals/females he feels like he is doing something wrong, by just pointing that out.

        I somewhat agree with the second part about the impressing. I’ve seen it portrayed a ton in films and tv. But in real life I’ve found it to be true for both men and women. I can’t count the times I’ve seen women hit on men like that (friends, me, strangers). This may be offensive, but I think it comes down to: Most men think they are appealing to women. While most women don’t think they are appealing. So they don’t act like that. Of course this is all just training from tv, news, fiction, et cetera.

      3. koipond

        @Mary
        Yes, very yes.

        @Matthew Jones
        Couple of points.

        1. If he said “dad” or “guys” then what we get is someone talking about his own gender that doesn’t have the priviledge inherent within gender relations. That would be acceptable, you’re right. Just because it’s acceptable doesn’t mean that you can make that analogy because the analogy is inherently false because of that privilege.

        2. There is no artificial stigma. That’s called privilege.

        3. If Mark was a woman or a POC then it would still be problematic. Just because someone is a member of an oppressed group doesn’t mean that they can’t help with the oppression of said group. There would be a whole different argument being had, but it could still be there.

        4. Please note that Mark is not a woman or a POC so that the comment is moot.

        As you have mentioned, for the love of reason please try to understand that if someone of a particular group has an experience with what was said then they are in the better position to understand why the comment could be offensive. Validating that experience goes a long way to create understanding and real growth. Telling someone that their experience is invalid because that’s not your exprience is … what’s the word again … right, privilege.

      4. Matthew Jones

        @koipond I don’t agree with the way you are using privilege. That is akin to saying a white guy should not rap, a black guy should not golf, or a man cannot be a homemaker. Or that it is okay for native american to say wild injin. And it is okay for a black guy to say the n-word. That is just social training. The fact that men have penises and women have vaginas, doesn’t have any bearing on rules that dictate how they are allowed to treat each other.

        I think it is 100% pure artificial stigma. The media plays up the concept of men mistreating women. Then that hammer is applied to every nail in sight. So what if he had said “man on the street”? No one would have batted an eyelash. The root of the “issue” is that he was talking about it being hard to explain crap usability/design, to a generic person. Most generic groups don’t know how to use a computer (including men). So why is it unusual for him to use girls in this example?

        The problem is that those experiences, are just another way of saying bias. It is an opinion too. People don’t need to apologies for their opinions. Nothing is invalid. Just not their opinion.

        Drinking from this fire hose, while building packages on ubuntu and fedora, is like fucking vulcan training. No human could keep up for long.

        1. Mackenzie

          @Matt said:

          I think it is 100% pure artificial stigma. The media plays up the concept of men mistreating women. Then that hammer is applied to every nail in sight. So what if he had said “man on the street”? No one would have batted an eyelash. The root of the “issue” is that he was talking about it being hard to explain crap usability/design, to a generic person. Most generic groups don’t know how to use a computer (including men). So why is it unusual for him to use girls in this example?

          Two links:

          I wonder who has done the father test?
          So simple, your mother could do it

          Go. Read.

      5. koipond

        @Matthew

        I was going to get into this but I realize that there is a faster way to say it.

        Here are some resources you can use to educate yourself on privilege and the many uses of it.

        Feminism 101
        Shakesville
        Geek Feminism Wiki

        Trying to explain how privilege works when you’re not picking up on it is taking a teaspoon and emptying the ocean. Please read those links to get yourself up to speed.

        Your examples are off. A lot. I don’t actually think you can know how offensive that is, and that’s privilege. You are free from understanding how absolutely utterly offensive those statements are. This is also not the time or the place to go through that.

        I’ll just point out a line you have right here. You ask why is it unusual for him to use girls in this example. The problem is that it’s not unusual. It is the accepted reference. It’s used in the media, on television, it’s used to sell things, and it’s used as a point of reference for being unable to understand technology. That’s why it’s a problem. It’s not bias, it’s the way things are and that’s why it needs to change and why it needs to be pointed out.

        I also have no idea what the hell the firehose reference was. That was a little out of left field.

        1. Mackenzie

          The firehose usually refers to a very fast stream of something…like the stream of bugs being reported, mail from a mailing list flamewar, comments on an event…

        2. Mackenzie

          Max depth threading is screwing me up because I’m replying to comments in the moderation view not here and so when I reply to a deeply nested one, it ends up at the bottom instead of at the deepest-possible-on-that-branch. Grr.

      6. Matthew Jones

        @koipond

        The phrase “drinking from the fire hose”, means something comes out faster than you can get it. Like if you decided to drink some water from a fire hose. It is internet cliche, and pretty common in free software. Especially when dealing with irc, mailing lists, bug reports, or blog responses. I’m getting a ton of responses that are trying to drift off topic, or saying my opinion is wrong. No ones opinion is wrong.

        About the privilege in the context of feminism. I re-looked it up because I had not read about it in a long time. I don’t study feminism very much.

        Privilege is: About how society accommodates you. It’s about advantages you have that you think are normal. It’s about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It’s about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf.
        from: http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/03/11/faq-what-is-male-privilege/

        What I’m saying, is exactly what I said before. The root idea is the same: A black person thinks it is okay to say the n-word, to another black person. While if a non black person did, it would be offensive. That is their perceived advantage.

        Privilege is crap. And an artificial social construct. People should not let their normal dictate how they treat people. Therefore it is inconsistent to say that Mark cannon talk about women the same way he does about men. Just because he is a man.

        1. Mackenzie

          He…er…didn’t talk about them the same way.

          man = dev
          woman = helpless user

          You see? Not the same. This would be the same:

          man = maybe dev, maybe helpless user, maybe power-user non-dev
          woman = maybe dev, maybe helpless user, maybe power-user non-dev

        2. Matthew Jones

          Did he really point out that dev == man, and helpless user == woman?

          I thought he just said dev/designer without specifying. And I know for sure he said guys and gals at one point.

          I’m pretty sure he said the cliche “good enough for grandma” or something along those lines. That is crap. But it is generic sexist language. Not to mention that it is statistically more probable. Most old people are not good with computers. And lots of women long outlive men. I’m not defending it. The whole grandma bit is a tired, sexist, cliche that should be retired. I prefer the term “brother who is a law enforcement officer”. Since I have to deal with that all the time.

          I’m not saying sexist language is okay. But it is everywhere. And not fair to sensationalize Mark for it.

          This is why we need the video.

        3. Matthew Jones

          Honestly, I’m retiring my partisipation in this thread. I’m right/wrong/whatever.

          If you do anything, please form your own opinion.

        4. koipond

          Because we’re all just getting them torches and pitchforks ready, don’tcha know and not just point it out. Feminists and their allies are only happy when people who make a sexist comment and ground beneath their oppressive heel into the dirt.

        5. Matthew Jones

          @Leigh Honeywell
          I don’t even know if this is a reply to me or not.

          That is a level of scrutiny so high, so absolute, so all encompassing, that if implemented, you would have skynet. But by all means. Build us a computer system that can do that. Make sure we all get scrutinized absolutely. If anyone asks what skynet is, you are on your own.

          I’m glad I subscribed to this thread. That way I get every little comment. I retired my participation. And Leigh. That’s twice for you. Double retired.

        6. koipond

          @Matthew Jones

          Okay, so the firehose jargon threw me for a loop because I didn’t know the jargon, but that’s jargon right? I could Englilish this up and throw out all the jargon I know and get same effect from you.

          HOWEVER, I get Terminator and I don’t get why you put the Skynet reference here. Thanks for playing. (A side note, proper noun you should have put that in Upper Case.)

          Why is it wrong for that to happen but you’re like, “OMG don’t point it out when Mark says it?” You contradicted yourself. As Mackenzie pointed out, we need to point out when people say stuff that’s sexist. We doubly need to do it as guys because when we’re silent we are complicit in the sexism. We triply need to do it when someone who takes a leading role in any community does it because they help set the tone for the community.

        7. koipond

          @Matthew Jones

          Also, WTF with the “That’s twice for you Leigh?” could you be a little bit more creepily aggressive?

          While above Skud made a boo-boo for calling you out for something. This one isn’t a boo-boo. Totally unacceptable.

        8. Matthew Jones

          This had been fun. But the two other things I have been working on for the last 6 hours have been completed. Feeding the trolls here is no longer a fun distraction.

          Especially you @koipond. Your comments have shown an utter inability to simply read a comment before replying. You ask questions about stuff that has been gone over in my previous posts. You asks questions with quotes from my text, that are answered in the same paragraph you site. Either you enjoy getting people to respond to you, or you cannon think critically. Seriously, I haven’t had a conversation this trollariffic since the old compuserve days.

          And @Leigh. You are being a troll too. You trolled all the way from those posts on identica to here. Even after I clearly said I did not want to talk about this topic anymore (hence the obvious retired references). You really are being a troll on purpose. And I know you enjoy it too. Why else would you fall back on the same circular logic whenever I say I don’t care anymore?

          Now that my comment has been set in stone. I bid you all a good night. And know that everything you said and thought here tonight, has been said and thought by thousands of other people. Accomplish something with your thoughts tomorrow. If you want them to mean something.

        9. koipond

          @Matthew Jones
          I see you take the Brett Favre view on retiring from a thread.

          I think I can pretty much sum this up.

          You are the reason why we need to point out sexism again and again and again and again and again and again and again.

        10. Matt

          whoa, what the heck is this? No cite to where this “sexist” comment comes from and a whole bunch of people decrying that Shuttleworth made a sexist comment? I wanted to see whatever made the writer feel this way, and instead, I have nothing. “it’s behind a paywall” which is very *not* ubuntu-like.

          The idea of feminism is balance/equality, not sexism. This comment chain for these 89 comments have been basically misandry against shuttleworth, and you should all be embarassed.

          Really, decrying the use of women in tech, saying women aren’t acknowledged enough, etc? Lots of women are recognized and I’d like things to be equal as opposed to playing the equivalent of a minority card.

        11. Matt

          uh? I see a lot taken out of context here, because all I can find is one person flipping out, one person defending mark(that Matt Jones, who I am not by the way – please don’t get confused there – if you can see my email you should be able to tell), and one person defending the one who flipped out. I still can’t really tell what went on before/afterwards. basically “That was a quote from Mark Shuttleworth’s keynote at LinuxCon in Portland re. the audience being able to explain their work to “girls””

          that really doesn’t say a whole lot. And the only other thing I see is citing this article.

          How about a few sentences before on what he was saying a few sentences after? Your cite cannot even accomplish that.

        12. Mackenzie

          Matt:
          So ya know, the gravatars are based on your email address, so everyone gets a unique one…thus we can all see you’re at least a different email addy.

          One of the guys there said he wasn’t listening closely, but he noticed the following:
          1. Devs were almost exclusively referred to as “guys,” though once as “guys and girls”
          2. Female pronouns, in all other situations were for non-tech users (ex: “so easy, your grandmother can do it”)
          3. The last thing he heard before the statement about “explaining what you do to girls” was something about non-coder/non-tech contributors such as managers, artists, writers

          Problems with these:
          1. This is not inclusive language. Particularly after saying “guys and girls,” “guys” sounds more male-specific. Additionally, unless he meant school-age children, “girls” isn’t really the right word for the people he was describing. Since the majority of developers aren’t school-age, I’m guessing he actually meant “women.”
          2. $female_relationship_to_me is the canonical (no pun intended) way to refer to a non-tech user. This is, well, silly. As I said elsewhere in the thread “why is it never the bloke on the train?” See also the two links I posted for the other Matt
          3. Someone else said there was something in between the “non-tech roles exist too” part and the “explaining what you do to girls” part. They say Ayatana (the usability design project) was the context. Either way, there is the assumption that women are non-tech and so won’t understand what usability testing is, or need the usability changes more than men do, is repeated. From experience, I know that a bloke on the train is no less likely to be confused by tech-speak, so why perpetuate the stereotype that women are the ones who will be confused? If the context was “picking up girls at the bar,” you run into the straight-males-only thing again. Not terribly inclusive. Also, the “girls” v. “women” thing again. I really hope he’s picking up women, and not girls ;)

          Now, I can’t come up with a context in which the “your grandmother can do it” thing isn’t falling into the same old stereotype. Nor can I find one where “girls” is a respectable way to refer to grown women. If you can come up with a hypothetical context in which any of that would be A-OK, let me know.

          In my opinion, it would have been very easy to find non-sexist ways of explaining the work he’s doing with usability, but, like many people, he’s used to certain ways of speaking that are rather exclusionary. There is a learning process involved in speaking and writing with non-sexist language, even if you aren’t a sexist person. Nobody’s saying he intended to offend anyone, just “hey, buddy, somewhere between thinking the words and saying them, check and make sure it’s all good.”

          EDIT: apparently <ol> don’t work on here

        13. Matt

          This sounds like a debate over the semantics of a single phrase said by someone. I think it’s good to notice things and not let accidental racist or sexist comments pass by, but I still find it hard to quantify what is said as dismissive of women or necessarily negative of women in some way.

          Easy personal example: I refer to a group of women as “guys”, and the women I know refer to themselves as “guys”. It’s not a sexual term or even defining of anything other than the uses for the phrase that people define themselves. It’s also because I sound like a moran (my intentional spelling, I think you know the underlying implication) and a sexist if I refer to them as “ladies” or “women”, and I don’t like “hey” or “y’all”. (there is your easy two examples), or I could gesture towards a group, perhaps all female, to imply the group mentioned, but that carries its own risk. So what?

          I actually teach classes on effective communications at my work, so trust me I have dealt with the “potential sexist comment” issues. Anyway, I don’t want to derail the general comment and reply here.

          The definition is not consistent because the context matters, and you still don’t have the context. I am sure, and I’d bet money on it, that there is a transcript out there. So let’s find that as a better sounding board as opposed to the moral panic/outcry that some have extrapolated from this nonsense. I am not referring to you with that, but there are other comments that clearly show that.

          Basically, this sounds like a tempest in a teacup here. Asking him for an apology with it might be prudent in some situations but in others I can’t help but say “why bother?” It’s quite unfair that additionally he looks like a bad guy now, for not apologizing.

          What if I called this blog a focus of misandry and said “you guys should apologize”? Suddenly you actually look bad if you don’t apologize, whether or not there is substance behind my complaint/request. This is more of my concern, honestly. I could go off all day about how “geek feminism blog did something wrong and owes me an apology” and the societal response will be to guilt irregardless of fact.

        14. Ellyn

          So Matt, instead of arguing with no facts, how about you find a transcript or video so we can all see the “context”? I sure do get tired of men trying to tell women we have no right to be offended when someone is offensive to us.

          Amazing how many words some folks will spew forth trying to tell us we should just bend over and take it, while denying they’re saying that. Just because you’re too chicken to face reality.

        15. Yatima

          This sounds like a debate over the semantics of a single phrase said by someone. I think it’s good to notice things and not let accidental racist or sexist comments pass by

          That’s exactly right. We are in agreement.

          None of this is “Shuttleworth is a terrible man and must be stopped!” All of this is “Oh hey, Mark, you could have phrased that a little better.”

          No one’s even arguing that Mark is a bad guy. The good guys should be held to higher standards because they are capable of more.

        16. Matt

          yeah, I agree with that. However, the op’s letter is a bit more browbeating and a lot less “let’s raise the bar here”.

        17. Stella

          Matt, this is a very common reaction; “I can’t apologise, I’ll look bad if I do!’

          Look bad to whom? And conversely, who might you look VERY GOOD to?

          And you know– many men who show up here, during a discussion of the ways in which our language marginalises women– they DO accuse the blog of misandry. (Interesting, Firefox spellcheck does not even recognise that word!) You can see it in some of the comments on this post.

        18. Matt

          Stella,

          I hear you completely. Lots of people are stubborn about apologies, but also not everyone learns or raises the bar through apology. Everyone’s different, and one’s perception of learning/improvement is not the same as someone else.

          Here’s a separate issue: say you make a private apology, there’s *NO* way it would be left as private and/or not misconstrued as someone else would have access to said apology letter. It’s like asking to scapegoat someone just for their own admission of error. Yet it could end up on geekfeminism and/or get more coverage. Suddenly we have press spin of all sorts of situations, as we all know the press is not known for fact checking or honest reporting among other things.

          I’m not trying to defend the guy, I’m just saying things are a bit on the offensive towards him in what people are asking/expecting.

        19. Stella

          In other words, if MEN heard that he’d made an apology for his unwittingly sexist speech they would lambaste him for it?

          Or are you saying that WOMEN would sneer at him for the apology?

        20. Matt

          Stella, why are you separating this to a specific gender? I’m saying press could lambaste him for making an honest/genuine apology, FFS.

          Your question is the kind of crap that some people do to turn things sexist, and is a strawman argument.

        21. Stella

          Mark, which press are you worried about, then?
          In what way would he be lambasted?
          How can we separate the issue of gender out of a gendered issue?

        22. Jonquil

          “Here’s a separate issue: say you make a private apology, there’s *NO* way it would be left as private and/or not misconstrued as someone else would have access to said apology letter.”

          Not true. There was one notable case in which Harlan Ellison called Tempest Bradford an NWA. After some backandforth he apologized. (Not very graciously.) She said that as far as she was concerned, he’d apologized, she’d accepted it, it was over. And then she had to close off comments because people kept showing up to defend him after he’d apologized. Similarly, Josh Susser’s apology for the CouchDB presentation was gracious, thorough, and accepted; he came out of it looking like a mensch.

          People who’ve been called out apologize and have the apologies accepted all the time. Sure, some people keep flaming, but you can actually substantially cut the flames back by saying “sorry” and then not repeating the mistake.

        23. koipond

          @Matt

          Offensive? The comments here have been trying to explain to people who pattently refuse to understand that even off-handed comments can affect people, particularly when they are comments that are a repetition of the cultural oppression that a group experiences every single day.

          What was asked for in the letter was an, “I’m sorry I said that I’ll try to do better in the future.” That’s it. If that’s offensive then no one could try to call anyone when they’re excerising their privilege. I know that when I mess up, I want to be called on it so that I can try to not make that same mistake again.

        24. Mackenzie

          Stella said:

          And you know– many men who show up here, during a discussion of the ways in which our language marginalises women– they DO accuse the blog of misandry. (Interesting, Firefox spellcheck does not even recognise that word!) You can see it in some of the comments on this post.

          That’s really hunspell’s fault. That’s the library Firefox uses for it. Bug reported and patch attached to add “misandry” to both hunspell’s and aspell’s dictionary in Ubuntu:

          https://bugs.launchpad.net/bugs/436145

          (I’m not sure how the dictionary modifications get upstreamed…I think most upstreaming happens once per release cycle, so every 6 months).

          Thanks for the bug alert! :)

        25. Stella

          Mackenzie, thank you, I did not know that– it certainly makes sense to update only twice a year, and I’m sure that words only come to his attention when they get used a lot– misandry is a new and fun one for 2009

        26. Mackenzie

          hunspell isn’t a person, it’s a piece of software ;) Both misandry and misandrist will be added in a week (we’re in beta freeze right now). I’ve been tasked with figuring out how to *at least* get it to Debian, preferably all the way upstream if I can find the right people.

        27. Stella

          software, not person, check XD

          Now I’m tempted to write fanfic about someone named Hunspell!

        28. Jef

          Sometimes…. I hate the English language. We don’t have good gender neutral pronouns and we all suffer from that. We have to go out of our way in noun usage to ensure balance. Singular possessive case pronouns are the absolute worst. All we have is his/hers/its. I’m sure not going to use its when referring to a hypothetical or anonymous person. They/them/theirs is the only gender neutral construction we have..and that is boring to use over and over again when setting up hypotheticals.

          What I want is for someone, or a group of someones, to get their heads together and decide on a set gender neutral words that I can reach for to talk about anonymous or hypothetical individuals either singularly or in groups so I don’t have to switch back and forth between gender specific terminology to point out that I’m really trying to be inclusive. I don’t care what those words end up being..but I need them…I think we all need them. Guys, girls, dudes,chicks, blokes, broads, ladies, gentlemen… all of it polluted with gender. I want a set of words I can use as formally as gentlemen and ladies and as informally as blokes and broads… but without acknowledgement of a known gender. I want to avoid the trap entirely. I think if we can all get quickly accustomed to using new verbs like “dented” I think we can get use to using new nouns as well.

          Are there nouns we can steal from other languages that are gender neutral? If the Chinese language has words for “single human of unspecified gender” at varying degrees of formality..we should all learn Chinese just to start using those words.

        29. Mackenzie

          You’re in luck! “ze” and “sie” are both accepted spellings of the gender-neutral singular pronoun. For possessive, “hir.” Now, I’ve heard one person say “but it sounds like ‘her’ when said out loud!” But any time I’ve heard it said, it was pronounced like “here.”

          Note: this is a situation where new words are made for a specific purpose. Sociologists, feminists, and those interested in trans rights tend to know all about these words. Others may need explanation.

        30. monitor

          I also think that human dignity is a very important thing.

          But I also think, that the words are less important, than the real intentions of a person.

          Judgement of a person based only on a few words is very superficial (and tabloid-like).

          As a speaker of another Indo-european language, I have to say, that to me,
          English is a pretty much gender-neutral language(though Lojban can be probably better: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lojban)

          In my language, for example, if you say: “I worked on …”, you somehow have to use a gender specific verb form of “work”, so it is then clear, if you are a man, woman, or a thing :-)

          So I think, you are using the “privilege” of speaking a quite gender-neutral language to worry yourself about pseudo-problems:-)
          (Though I understand that the primary motives for this debate are noble…)

        31. Mackenzie

          monitor:

          But I also think, that the words are less important, than the real intentions of a person.

          Judgement of a person based only on a few words is very superficial (and tabloid-like).

          Nobody’s judging his character negatively. In fact, if you read through all that’s been said, everybody’s saying he’s a nice man, but that he made a mistake in his speech patterns. All anyone’s asking is for him to acknowledge the mistake and say “I’ll try harder next time.” If we thought he was an arse, we wouldn’t be wasting our time ;)

        32. Steve Holden

          @monitor (sigh)
          “””
          I also think that human dignity is a very important thing.

          But I also think, that the words are less important, than the real intentions of a person.

          Judgement of a person based only on a few words is very superficial (and tabloid-like).
          “””

          Pray how is one to define a person’s “real intentions” from a written report? And why do you assume, despite all the statements to the contrary in the comments preceding yours, that people are judging Mark Shuttleworth?

          One must conclude that you wanted to post these remarks without reading the discussions surrounding them, but (for the record, since I *know* women get tired of having to explain this three hundred times every time something like this comes up) the criticism is of the words not of the person. All that was required to put this whole thing straight is an acknowledgement that this was an inappropriate choice of words.

          Allison Randall was present at the talk, and I believe her when she says that “hard to explain to girls” was intended to be humor. Someone of Shuttleworth’s presence and visibility needs to learn to choose his words more carefully, however, since they will inevitably be reported in print, when the real intentions behind them have to stand without any other context.

          Like other people on this list I had hopes that this matter would be put to sleep by a brief apology, but apparently Shuttleworth feels that no apology is needed. Fair enough. It’s obviously hard to explain diversity issues to South Africans (by which, obviously, I don’t intend to denigrate any particular nationality: I could just as easily have said “people who can’t be bothered to learn about diversity issues”). Is the real intent of those words clear? How can you say, without knowing me, whether I am a racist? Yet those who do will (I trust) tell you I am not.

        33. Bene

          Interesting that you target regular readers and commenters here as trolls, all things considered.

        34. Mackenzie

          Haven’t ya noticed? We like to point out “see? that was sexist” pretty much every time something like that comes up. Hence the blog post about “the father test” I linked before. And hence the discussion we just had in #ubuntu-offtopic about why what some of the guys were saying in there about women was really off-base. Call it out when you see it….pretty much always. How else do you get it through people’s heads that it is fer-serious not ok, ev4r?

        35. Allison Randal

          @Mackenzie:

          If you’re offended by something that someone has said, it’s good to talk to them about it. Approach them privately first, and explain what you saw. It gives them the chance to respond “I didn’t see that, thanks for mentioning it to me”, or to explain to you what they meant or were trying to say. It gives the chance for true resolution.

          Starting with the assumption that you’re facing the enemy leaves the person you’re talking to feeling hurt and offended right off the bat, and therefore *less receptive* to the ideas you’re trying to communicate. You give them the alternatives of a big public apology over a few words that weren’t even particularly offensive (which is ridiculous), or living with highly public damage to their reputation. It’s bad for the cause of women in technology, bad for the community, and bad for the person you’re trying to “help”.

          Kirrily (and the critics in these comments), you failed to treat Mark as a real human being with a real heart. That is a far greater crime than even the worst possible interpretation of what he said.

        36. Mackenzie

          Allison said:

          If you’re offended by something that someone has said, it’s good to talk to them about it. Approach them privately first, and explain what you saw. It gives them the chance to respond “I didn’t see that, thanks for mentioning it to me”, or to explain to you what they meant or were trying to say. It gives the chance for true resolution.

          Someone *did* approach him privately before Kirrily typed this. He didn’t seem to think it was a problem.

        37. jadelennox

          That you can read the open letter and the responses here (all along the lines of “I know Mark is a good well-meaning guy so I hope he will apologize and try not to do it again”) as “sensationalizing Mark”, then there is something very wrong with your sensation-meter.

          You admit that it’s wrong to use these sexist cliches. Why *wouldn’t* a good person want to be called on using damaging sexist tropes? God knows I’d hope somebody would tell me if I were running around hurting other people. Wouldn’t you?

          And as for “we need the video”, that’s actually not true. Possibly in context it will be abundantly clear that he was disparaging sexism in FLOSS, or some such. But that’s not how information is disseminated. Most people read text, transcsripts, news articles, and reports, and without the self-deprecating laugh that may have covered his words, his *words* managed to contribute to the girls-can’t-code environment that almost every woman here has said she feels.

          Signed,

          Daughter of a grandmother who was programming 10 years before Mark was even born. Because our tired old tropes need an update; lots of grandmothers are 50. Gonna tell RMS he’s too old to learn computers?

        38. Steve Holden

          > Gonna tell RMS he’s too old to learn computers?

          Sadly it appears as though he may be too old (or too something else: the older I get the less I see age as a bar to learning :) to unlearn gender discrimination.

        39. Stella

          Matthew, stop with the defensiveness. You are trying to shut down a conversation because it makes you feel uncomfortable. Think about the irony of that; the conversation is about something that makes a large group of people extremely uncomfortable.

          You are right: sexist language is everywhere.

          And you are right: it is not okay.

          And you are wrong; it’s perfectly appropriate to point out any and every instance of it that we find. Otherwise, we point out nothing at all.

          Let me regress you some long years back, to your elementary school years; some bully comes along and pushes you down.

          You say; “You pushed me down and you shouldn’t do that!”

          The bully (or his friends) say; “But lots of bullies push people down; why are you picking on this bully, how petty of you!”

          What will the video show; that the bully pushed you down in a nice and friendly way?

      7. koipond

        @Matthew.

        Question. What advantage is it to be able to reclaim a pejorative word that was used be whole race against your race? That’s call reclaiming. You take something that was used against you and say, “you don’t get to use that word, we do.”

        You also don’t get to call privilege crap. Mark can’t talk about women the same way he does about men *because* he’s a guy. He can’t talk about women the same way he does about men *because* of all the guys before him and around him who talk about women and men differently *because* they are guys.

        You can’t talk about not letting the normal dictate how they treat people. Why? Let’s do an exercise. I want you to do something. I want you to get off the computer for a second and go look in the mirror. That’s the normal, right there (I know because I did a bit of googling, pictures are great aren’t they). You have privilege, the fact that you can sit down and call privilege crap with the certainty of Moses atop a mountain with a burning bush next to you is privilege. You’re free of having to worry about it because you won’t ever be put in that situation. Part of privilege is what you defined up there, but the other half is being free from what’s being discussed here. Until you get that you don’t add anything meaningful to the conversation because you’re still swimming in the sea of privilege.

    3. Máirín Duffy

      @Matthew Jones Your proposed connotation is how I interpreted the comment. No, that connotation is no better than the worst that could easily be assumed. Can you not put yourself in the shoes of a female contributor to Linux and not see how that comment could hurt, even in the context we both agree upon?

      1. Matthew Jones

        I agree. Some people will be offended. And it is okay to be offended, and offend people. It is going to happen. Just try to be nice most of the time. It is just inconsistent with the high level of scrutiny in the blog post. This does not warrant a million “omg Shuttleworth eats children” tweets and re-tweets that are happening right now. http://twitter.com/search?q=Shuttleworth%20girls

        Its not about the comment. It is about this knee jerk, sensational journalism, gossip mentality.

        Mark even dealt with a question like that (about ubuntu not giving back to debian). You can’t please all the people, all of the time. So you should not really waste so much time about a bike shed painting, when someone is offended by you. Just accept them and move on. Try to do good, and don’t dwell on the bad.

      2. Skud Post author

        Matthew, so far in this thread you have referred to people claiming that Mark “eats children” and to “hate-filled attacks” against RMS. Your hyperbole is unwarranted and unwelcome. Please stop it.

      3. Matthew Jones

        The “eats children” was sarcasm to the twitter link I posted. All the posts there are hearsay/rumors that are not based on anything the posters actually know. They are mostly just propagating a lie.

        And the hate filled attacks against rms. I’m not sure what you are talking about. The only place I mentioned RMS was on identica: http://identi.ca/conversation/10610963#notice-10622418

        I said :
        “She is comparing the ‘RMS emacs virgins’ incident to Mark saying he can’t explain crap design to a group he respects.”

        In response to the comment by emmajanedotnet:
        “Mark! “Explaining to girls what we actually do.” WHATTHEFUCK!! RMS, anyone?”

        What is bad about that? Please stop what? That is perfectly reasonable.

      4. Skud Post author

        Matthew, my apologies; I was conflating your comments with that of Craig Andrews, who made the comment about RMS somewhere upthread.

      5. Adam Williamson

        Matthew: to me your comments seem a bit indicative of a kind of cognitive dissonance that’s happening whenever this topic comes up. It seems like, whenever the issue is raised in the abstract, there’s near-universal agreement. Everyone seems to agree that:

        a) there’s very few women involved in F/OSS
        b) that’s a bad thing
        c) it’s probably due to sexism, of *some* kind – few people seem to think it’s intentional and malicious, but still sexism by any reasonable definition

        So far, so good, everyone’s recognizing a problem and pointing in the same direction. However, whenever anyone tries to raise any _specific instance_ of the kind of sexism that, all the instances taken together, tends to exclude women from F/OSS, there seem to be people who say either ‘no, that’s not sexism, that’s just a guy speaking from experience / politically incorrect’ or ‘oh, come on, it’s just one little thing, don’t get so worked up!’, to paraphrase.

        This just doesn’t add up. If you take that attitude at face value, apparently we all agree there’s sexism in F/OSS, it’s a bad thing both absolutely and in practical terms (it’s holding back F/OSS from being all it can be), and we should do something about it – but no actual practical instances of sexism really exist, or if they do, they’re so trivial that no-one should really get worked up about it.

        How’s that going to work, then?

        If we’re going to accept the big – yet paradoxically easy, because it’s abstract – proposition that sexism in F/OSS exists and should be tackled by people modifying their behaviour, we’re going to have to start actually listening when people start trying to point out exemplary instances of the kinds of behaviour that are problematic and need to be changed, rather than taking each example in isolation and trying to pick it apart or denigrate its individual significance.

    4. Rick

      @Matthew Jones

      Re: the high volume of response to this: when you’re standing atop a mountain, a lot of people are going to hear what you say, and in this age of the internet, they’re all going to respond.

      Re: “high level of scrutiny”: you may see it as a flippant comment with no real impact, but it lines up directly with a tired and damaging stereotype, and has the effect of reinforcing that stereotype.

      You seem to think that Mark is really being maligned by all the feedback on his remarks. Telling somebody “I think that thing you said was sexist” isn’t some roundabout feminist code for “I think you are an asshole”. It’s an attempt to help that person see that what they said is problematic, to understand why it’s problematic, and to readdress the situation in light of that.

    5. MikeP

      “Everyone says “guys” when they mean “people”.”

      Wrong. I served in the Canadian Forces, 1995-2000, infantry no less, and we were *explicitly* told “Do not say guys. It is sexist. Say troops instead.” This was from a combat veteran, a warrant officer with 25+ years of service in what I think we can all agree is one of the most conservative of conservative bastions of society.

      If he can get it, and better, pass that instruction on to his own subordinates, why can’t Mark Shuttleworth be at least his equal nearly 15 years later?

      1. Skud Post author

        I’m hoping that someone who has access to the paid downloads will provide a transcript *hint hint*.

      2. Matthew Jones

        Sorry. I don’t have access to the paid version. Someone dented that it was being made free, just before it stared. I was trying to record it with gtkrecordmydesktop but it failed during the encoding stage (Nothing in /tmp/blah either).

        It is a shame that it is not available for free.

  4. Rachel

    As a woman I’d add my own letter to Kirrily’s… but unfortunately I’m too busy fluttering my eyelashes and painting my nails. Open sauce bottle what?

  5. Liz Henry

    I’ll watch the video if I can. It sounds to me like the fairly common reference people make that they mean benignly, like “So easy/well designed, even my mom/girlfriend/grandma can use it”. But those statements are so common, they are harmful. They imply that women can’t understand difficult or complicated things. When I hear statements like that, I point out they’re offensive — for example, that other people in the room are moms and girlfriends. I really don’t care if your actual mom is bad at using the computer. The pattern of those anecdotes and the superiority they project is just not helpful. It’s not even your example. It’s the way the rest of the room laughs knowingly as if… of course your mom, or girls, don’t understand that complex computer thingie. That really, really sucks so don’t play into that easy stereotype. It’s a cheap laugh, or a cheap play for bonding/empathy with the assumption that everyone in the audience will feel the same. We don’t!

    That’s why we say we don’t.

  6. Allison Randal

    Skud, I appreciate your concern, but in this case it’s very much misplaced. I can tell you from personal experience that Mark has a great deal of respect for technical women and treats them as his equal or better. He has been a champion for the cause of women in free software/open source for a number of years (he even offered to fund a workshop for women in FOSS a few years ago, but neither Danese Cooper or I had time to put it together). Ubuntu has a code of conduct for a reason, and he really believes it and lives it.

    I was there at the keynote and wasn’t the least bit offended. In the context, “hard to explain to girls” was clearly humor, and clearly intended to help people see why they need to get out of the command-line and pay attention to user experience. He might just as well have said “hard to explain to your grandmother” (and did say something like that in another part of the keynote). And, he said “guys and girls” early on in the keynote. I took “guys” later on to be a short-form for both.

    When you see the video, I think you’ll understand what I’m saying. I hope that you will apologize to him for immediately assuming sexist intent where there was none.

    1. Mackenzie

      I was there at the keynote and wasn’t the least bit offended.

      But some others were. One person listening to the webcast sent an SMS to someone who was there going “did he just say that?” Another who was listening live dented it (that dent is how a lot of us heard about it). Someone who was there audibly said “what the f***???”

      In the context, “hard to explain to girls” was clearly humor, and clearly intended to help people see why they need to get out of the command-line and pay attention to user experience. He might just as well have said “hard to explain to your grandmother” (and did say something like that in another part of the keynote).

      *sigh* Why is it always grandmother, mother, or aunt? Why is it never “some bloke on the train”?

      1. koipond

        Because some bloke on the train doesn’t play for the funnies.

        Though maybe we should do that. Set up so that all the jokes that use women get replaced with “some bloke on the train.” We’ll be able to help use that to determine what’s actually funny. If you can get the same laugh with some bloke from the train it’s a checkmark towards being potentially funny on its own.

        Pass/Fail?

      2. John Allen

        The reason he said “hard to explain to girls” is pretty obvious, OSS has a problem attracting women. We don’t care about the stupid guy on train, he is thicko moron.

        By suggesting that our current approach is “hard to explain to girls” he wants us to change the approach, and get women involved in OSS in areas “they” find interesting, coz we sure as hell won’t get them interested in areas they don’t find interesting.

        Men & women are different, we simply have to accept that, and figure out why so few women are involved in OSS, and what we can do to change that. One possibility is that it is dominated by a bunch of ignorant make geek/nerds that have no idea how to relate to women.

      3. koipond

        Boo. I was hoping for another Pass on the idea.

        @John

        By saying things are hard to explain to girls he is exemplifying why women don’t get involved and why women who are involved leave. It’s a systemic bit of sexism that should be pointed out and rectified.

    2. koipond

      @Allison:

      Please note. Skud didn’t call Mark sexist.

      She said what he said was sexist. Even those who do their best can exhibit sexism and the privilege that they live with every day despite their intentions.

    3. Melissa

      Great, so not only do we have a stigma of being technical illiterates to overcome, but we are supposed to happy about being the butt of jokes for entertainment value? This does not help at all.

      As for this “guys means men except for when used alongside girls” stuff, it’s bullocks.

      A “Guy” is a male. A “Girl” is a female. “Guys” does not mean males and females any more than “Girls” means males and females.

      I invite you to start using “Hey girls!” as a replacement for “Hey guys!” and see how well it is received.

      1. Leigh Honeywell

        “Hey girls” is also used in mostly-male environments in a really dismissive, icky homophobic way. I’ve heard it used that way at work and on my mostly-male ski team. Sometimes it’s “ladies” rather than girls.

        On a constructive note: I use “folks” to address a general audience. It works great :)

      2. Skud Post author

        I have a list of about half a dozen things you can say other than “guys”:

        folks, people, all, y’all, everyone, just plain “hi” (when used as a greeting)

        On a related note… is it time to trot out Hofstadter’s Person Paper on Purity in Language again?

      3. koipond

        Psst. Matthew. That’s privilege.

        Guy is considered the norm and so is frequently used as the base when communicating to a whole group. It’s not just English, French works like that too. When dealing with a group of people you use the Masculine Ils rather than Elles as long as there is at least 1 guy in it.

    4. Rikki Kite

      Allison,
      I was there, too, and I completely agree with you. We’ll get the video ready as soon as we can and I’ll let everyone know when we post it. I think Mark’s comments were taken out of context and he’s being misquoted. I wasn’t the least bit offended by his talk. I actually enjoyed it.
      Off to catch another flight!

  7. Chris Crisafulli

    I really enjoyed your discussion at OSCON, and though I was at ALF, I was unable attend your talk due to providing assistance in support of the staff. You have every right to feel offended, and if you are/were hurt you definitely have a right to seek affirmation, on whether or not it was truly not the speakers intent. Mark has a heart of gold, and consciously goes the extra mile whenever he is asked to speak, to try and promote goodwill for developers and raise awareness for linux, and open source. In my opinion he does this in a unique and highly effective manner. He is eloquent in speech and seems to choose each word that is spoken with careful thought. Now on this occasion, he relaxes among what he feels are his friends and colleagues, and actually feels comfortable enough to speak candidly about ideas he has on what direction we need to move in to make development exciting, and improve the overall Linux / Opensource experience for all. He does this as usual without any carefully written out speech that someone proofread a thousand times to make sure that there would be no misconstrued or offensive choice of words.

    I think that all of this, while important to discuss, has potential to actually make things worse instead of better in the long run. Traditionally Mark has demonstrated great compassion when people have been wronged, and I don’t doubt for a second that he will make things right and set things straight. What I think has the potential to become worse, is that this could possibly turn into a hunt where people are missing the point of future messages and topics to ensure compliance with our own individual goals and ideals. So in affect, the reason why we were all gathered together and what we were trying to accomplish will not get the proper attention that is due.

    I myself also have not had a chance to listen to the talk in it’s entirety, but I am willing to bet that there were probably 5 to 10 really great points that were made during the discussion. I only hope that when things are made right, that the points will still be weighed and not simply discarded based on what has been discussed here.

      1. koipond

        @Leigh

        It was more of a “Wow, here we go again — time to break out the cards” moment rather than anything useful. You’d already done the useful part, my job here is now to make the quip.

    1. Máirín Duffy

      “Now on this ocassion, he relaxes among what he feels are his friends and colleagues, ”

      Following this theory, does he not feel ‘girls’ are his friends and colleagues?

    2. koipond

      @Chris

      I think that’s my fault. I’m not actually someone involved in FOSS (shhh … it’s a secret) because I came to the blog through the wiki and working through gaming and games (mostly the hobby type). Thus my checklist of what’s going to happen probably sparked a couple of people in the wrong direction. I have no previous knowledge of a lot of people here and have been going off of a lot of watching what happens in these kind of situations.

      For that I am truly sorry because it may be the bit that makes people think the wrong thing. I have a low bar because I don’t expect people who make systemic priviledged jokes to be able to examine their privilege and truly go, “Okay, that’s my bad. I’m sorry.”

      No one is calling Mark Shuttleworth sexist. Apparently, my education is coming through a lot of the posts here, an effort is made to be inclusive. He has nifty things to say about Open Source and Linux. Awesome.

      Doesn’t change that what he said, then and there, was sexist. It doesn’t change that the joke was in poor taste because it diminished people’s contributions to an endeavour. It doesn’t change the fact that because Mark has stuff to say about all this stuff and people will listen we should *particularly* point out when he messes up. Doesn’t change the fact that this is important when the whole geek culture as a whole is rife with the acceptance of this sexism.

      So when you say that you think this is missing the point I urge you to look up and read a comment I made earlier. People of an oppressed group are better equipped to say that something was offensive/sexist/racist to that group than those outside of it.

    3. Rick

      @Chris @Allison

      Echoing what others on here have already said, but: while I appreciate that Mark’s well-intentioned and generally a great person, his words have played right into and reinforced a common and damaging trope. The impact of his words is what’s at play here, not his character.

      I found Jay Smooth’s video really helpful when it comes to pulling apart “what someone said” and “who someone is”.

  8. Terri

    For what it’s worth, I’m not offended, but when this sort of stuff comes up in a talk I’m attending, I find I feel left out. While the people around me are nodding heads and maybe bonding a little with the speaker, I’m not.

    Now, there’s nothing to say that every person I hear speak is going to make me feel like part of what they’re talking about. But some of the greatest speakers are the ones who do exactly that — reach a broad audience and help them share the experience. It’s hard, but worth doing right if you want to inspire a lot of people.

    There’s absolutely no shame in switching the word “girls” for “your friends” or “people you met at a party” or “folk on the plane” or whatever. It’s not somehow offensive to be more inclusive, and it might just net a few more fans and fewer eyerolls!

  9. Mackenzie

    I wonder how the Male Programmer Privilege Checklist would fit into this conversation… Let’s fine out! http://lafalafu.com/krc/privilege.html

    Not having to explain why the term “gentlemen” doesn’t include you.
    Listening to speakers refer to an inanimate software construct as “this guy” without getting distracted.
    Not being the special case (“hi guys and girls, I guess, too, if you want to get really technical about it!!”)
    The freedom to listen to speakers say that software should be so easy to use that even your mom could use it without wondering whether they have you in mind.
    The freedom to listen to speakers say that instant messaging isn’t just for teenage girls talking about the Backstreet Boys without wondering whether they have you-ten-years-ago in mind.
    The privilege of being able to deny the existence of your own privilege as a male programmer.

  10. Deb

    I’d like to invite you to think about the message you’re sending to women in the Linux community, and, if you didn’t mean to convey the message that we’re technical illiterates and hard to educate, consider apologising publicly.”

    I’m not sure where people are getting the idea that anyone is calling Mr. Shuttleworth evil or sexist or anything else — maybe people are twitting stuff that has gotten very far away from the message here. I don’t twit, so I don’t know.

    This is pretty clearly a case of, “Hey, maybe you didn’t know that your words were being heard this way. Would you like to clarify? And use this discussion and the attention being paid to it as an opportunity to *very explicitly* demonstrate your support for women in free software?”

    For a well-known public figure, this should absolutely be considered an opportunity.

  11. Jonquil

    “Flipping out”? If that’s “flipping out”, I wish more flamewars were like it.

    Kirrily’s letter:
    * Clearly explains the problem and why it matters.
    * Does not accuse Mark of sexism or say anything at all about his character as a person.
    * Contains NO EMOTION AT ALL (thus no “flipping out”).

    The people who are accusing Kirrily of overreacting are essentially saying that any response at all is an overreaction.

    Signed, woman who has been using computers since 1977 and who does tech support for her technophobic father-in-law.

  12. Steven

    This is the only blog I’ve read about this event, so it may be the case that my following comment has been addressed by others in the blogosphere.

    Just a few comments:

    1) Just once, when one of these things happens, I would like to know that the first response was to approach the person afterwards and say:

    “I’m sure you didn’t intend this, but when you said X I and possibly others felt as if Y”

    It often takes a lot of work for somebody to change their language and speech patterns, even if they are aware of the larger issues surrounding certain types of rhetoric. I’m less and less convinced that such a public shit storm of attention when these issues arise is actually going to create any positive change.

    2) Can we have a policy of assuming no ill intent except in those most extreme cases?

    3) It’s probably also important to realize even if we assume no bad intent, when you point out to somebody that words they use perhaps on a daily basis are hurtful, they are going to assume you are ascribing ill-intent, they are going to get defensive. I’ve seen this reaction even from people who deal with equality and diversity issues on a daily basis.

    Because of this natural reaction, the public nature of all of this just doesn’t seem effective. Perhaps Mark will apologize because he’s fairly politic. However, rather than serving as a learning experience (which could have been the case if Mark was contacted privately and allowed time to reflect), all that will likely be accomplished is push people further into their defensive encampments.

    1. Mackenzie

      Steven:
      1. It was mentioned privately to him immediately afterward. “Hemmed and hawed” is how his response was described.
      2. Nobody said there was any ill-intent. Just poor word choice.

  13. Matthew Jones

    I cannot believe the posters here have been re-treading over the same issues, for almost 12 hours after I left. Several people insist on asking me questions, and making comments that I have already addressed. In the past 12 hours, I have slept, jogged 6 miles, ate 2 meals, showered twice, and written a few hundred lines of code. And yet, almost nothing new has been discussed in this thread. I came back here to address few new comments/questions while at lunch.

    @Rick

    The high level of responses a just a-okay. I’m going to respond to anything that has not already been addresses by me. I don’t want people to feel ignored if I don’t respond to their new questions or comments.

    The high level of scrutiny is exactly the core idea of this thread. It started out as people claiming that Mark said something like “Explaining to girls what we actually do.”. The response has been so lopsided, so assumed, and so imagined that it is ridiculous. Most the people commenting here have not even seen the video. And yet they feel compelled to apply such a level of scrutiny as “It doesn’t matter what he actually said or intended, If I’m offended, he should say sorry.” With that level of scrutiny, you could do nothing without having to apologize every few seconds. You would sound like Dave Yates from lotta linux links.

    @Leigh

    I never said to stop talking. In many comments, I said that it is good that people have their opinion, and express it. I’m just not going to re address the same comment over-and-over. You keep adding comments such as “You don’t get to tell me to stop talking, sorry!”, to troll. You know I did not say that, but you lie anyway, forcing me to respond. That is baiting 101.

    @Stella

    I’m not trying to shut down anything. By all means, keep this thread going for as long as you like. This does not make me uncomfortable. It is perfectly okay to point out when someone says something sexist. But not when you are doing it for the sake of sensationalism, group conformance, or based on rumors. To compare Mark’s comment to bullying is ridiculous. Bully’s intend to hurt their targets. Just because you are offended does not make it Mark’s fault. Everyone has an opinion, and yours won’t change anyone else’s.

    1. koipond

      And he’s back, with a different team folks! All that retirement talk was just for the media.

      Look. We all have lives too and we all did stuff, we just didn’t post it to say how supah-cool we all are and how obviously this is affecting us too much. (Psst … the fact that someone in a position says something sexist and you can brush it off is, you know, privileged … just sayin’).

      People are talking about this still because other people have come in and started the, “OMG WHY ARE YOU CALLING HIM AN ASSHOLE” conversation again but if you were actually paying attention you might get that.

    2. koipond

      PS – If us arguing won’t change anyone’s opinion then why are you here … arguing your opinion? Isn’t it not going to change our opinion?

  14. koipond

    Christ on a cracker I don’t want to retype this with another Matt.

    Seriously, please read the posts above and let me repeat what everyone else said.

    1. Just because someone’s a nice dude doesn’t make them immune from making sexist comments.
    2. What he said was sexist, we are calling out this comment that was dented (as linked above and how most of us knew about it) and commented on during a live stream.
    3. Asking for an apology is not misandrist (I hate that word, because it’s bandied about way too much) its asking someone to recognize that they didn’t treat a group of people like people. They either infantilized, condescended or did something else that might have been done.
    4.We are talking on the basis of gender because, if you haven’t noticed, that’s what we do here. Feminism is about the women, not about the mens. Just sayin’. (Agreeing with Stella part 1)
    5. Apologizing is good. Good apologies are even better. No one ever gets mad at someone for apologizing unless you think that apologizing somehow diminishes someone in your eyes, or the eyes of their peers. Which is kind of a macho dude thing to do. “Don’t apologize, ever it makes you look weak.” (Agreeing with Stella part 2 and Jonquil part 1)
    6.Again, as a guy (I’m assuming that Matt is a guy, the reaction is the main thing that goes for it. Very few women I know use the word misandry in that context with a straight face) you don’t get to tell people what they can’t feel offended by. Period. . Done. I think that’s been gone over before.
    6. Please check out the many links here, particularly the feminism 101 link. Your use of the word misandry makes me believe that you’re missing the foundation of feminism.

    Thanks, okays bye!

  15. koipond

    That was weird. I dropped my comment behind the Matt the first.

    It was meant for the new Matt.

    @Mackenzie, there has to be some sort of IP in there as well. I’m at home and thus I don’t have the nifty pink one. I’m in the awesome blue one.

    Is it weird that I like my gravitars?

  16. Matt

    Well, the gender thing you’re looking at is not the same side of the issue.

    Your side is “who will give Mark heat(negative press) about apologizing” but the issue was a supposedly sexist comment. The answer to who will be giving him heat is not a gender-based answer. Nobody says it has to be men or women. Maybe the appropriate category is “news corporations”.

    How can we separate gender out? Well, my dear Stella, I am not the one who is adding gender questions to things that didn’t have gender in them (or capitalization). The OP merely claims that the comment is sexist, requires an apology, and the rest is an argument about semantics on something that can’t even be substantiated.

    Also Mackenzie, sie = you in German, so was that the implication?

    1. TriedandTrue

      “But the issue was a supposedly sexist comment.”

      You do not decide what is or is not sexist. It was a sexist statement that, if this man is the stand up guy you’re desperately trying to convince us he is, will be rectified.

      _

      ” Men & women are different, we simply have to accept that, and figure out why so few women are involved in OSS, and what we can do to change that”

      Interesting that you exemplified the exact problem in your comment. Why are there so few women involved? Because our silly lady-brains just can’t handle all this big manly-man stuff and we need to be talked down to and then dismissed as hysterical when we object to being talked down too.

  17. Chris

    I was there and was annoyed by this. It’s true that it was said in quieted tones, imitating self-deprecating embarrassment. I think a simple apology for saying something that unintentionally excluded women would be sensible, and I’d applaud Mark for doing it. I understand that it’s hard to give a long talk without making some kind of slip, especially when you’re trying to be spontaneously funny.

    Mark had said something else that was odd a few minutes earlier — a joke about how when he talks about “releases” he doesn’t mean them as in “happy finishes”. It didn’t make much sense to me; of course we all know, or at least hope, that he’s talking about software rather than hookers. I don’t think people laughed, and he said something about how we must all be half-awake because it was late in the afternoon. Maybe “don’t make jokes about hookers” needs to go on the list of “HOWTO give a gender-diverse technical conference talk” too. :/

  18. Peter

    I’d like more context before forming an opinion on the matter but on the surface, it’s concerning.

    I recall explaining to my wife several years ago the ethics underlying the Free software movement. I explained the view that RMS has offered in the past. He poses the problem as an ethical dilemma when we use proprietary software. That is, when a friend asks for a copy of our useful software, we have to choose between 2 evil choices. One, we either break our agreement to the license or we choose to not help our friend. RMS claims that if one is in that position, the right action to take is to help your friend because it is the lesser of two wrongs. I’ll never forget my wife’s response. She claimed that valuing one’s relationship with a friend was “the feminist viewpoint”.

    Anyway, I hope you get a response from Mark or more context clears this up.

  19. cies

    where i couldn’t talk about being a nerd without being frowned upon in primary school, this have a lot the last few years. “girls” seem to be interested in my geek endeavors more than ever… i guess they like the fact that im passionate about my hobby/job and that i ‘like to help’. but that is a guess.

  20. Bobby

    What Mr Shuttleworth, Richard Stallman and the others who make such sexist comments should realise is that women can make you and they can break you. Never underestimate the power of women. If you start a war with them then the only possible outcome is to lose so they should be man enough to accept the fact that the female side of life is the better side and i am speaking as a man who is old enough to know that.

    The only thing that a man can’t explain to girls is something that he doesn’t understand himself , which leads one to wonder if Mark really knew what he said or was it just a slip of a macho’s tongue.

    I personally think that Linux and especially Desktop Linux needs a lot more femine touch. It’s obvious when compared to other DEs.

  21. jaklumen

    Stumbled on over here via WorkswithU, by way of the “Women and Ubuntu” article (apologies for not hyperlinking; my XHTML coding is a little lacking, but here’s the URL: http://www.workswithu.com/2009/09/24/women-and-ubuntu)

    If you’ll pardon me while I reference what I said there:
    “Hmmm. I’ve mingled in the subset worlds of gaming, SF & fantasy media, and computing, and I can see it from both sides.

    Sexism exists in all those genres, and yet women have managed to carve out niches in all of them, some for a number of years now. I’ve met some, befriended a few, married one.

    I think it’s a fair question to ask how much women are involved, and how we might draw them in more. It’s also not an unfair statement to say that Linux DOES appear to be dominated by men, and about by the same amount that the other things I mentioned are. Perception does count for a lot.”

    Let me point out that the context of the article was Christopher Tozzi asking why women didn’t appear more prominently in FOSS projects, and specifically Ubuntu. Mark Shuttleworth’s comments weren’t even addressed specifically in the article, but this page was linked to in the comments, that is, someone pointed out that his comments weren’t helping things.

    I hope Mark Shuttleworth DOES apologize. I’m sure it was a bit of a Freudian slip or a lapse in judgment, but it would be worthwhile to me to have him smooth things over as people were indeed offended. Aye, the stereotypes exist, and it’s best not to overreact, but I think an apology would be a really good idea, not to mention pertinent.

    About all I can say more for myself is that I’ve been involved with computers since about 1983, just before people said “IBM-compatible” and just before Macs hit the scene. I got little to NO support for my hobby from either my father *or* my mother– so no parental role models for either gender to start. Hehe, I had to get married for that (my in-laws are awesome– in fact, my mother-in-law gave me the money for my current motherboard and processor some birthdays ago). I can’t remember anything that pointed specifically to computers being for “boys” or for “girls”… at most, it was mostly “computers are for nerds.” Obviously, I didn’t care much about that, and met enough women in the pursuit of this hobby– as friends, acquaintances, romantic interests, whatever. If someone’s interested in this as much as I am, hey, the more the merrier, so I would rather that the stereotypes faded out, y’know?

  22. LinuxCanuck

    I have no problem with holding Shuttleworth or anyone accountable for what they say or write. What I wish is that you had posted a link to his actual statement because words taken out of context can be misleading and even wrong.

    Taken at face value, the words could be seen as wrong, derogatory or factual. He could be saying what you assume or he could be saying that we have have trouble communicating what Linux is about to girls. That changes the meaning and makes it a challenge for the communicator and not that females have difficulty understanding.

    There are different learning styles and educators have had to learn how to reach females and males to reflect individual and gender differences. The fact that we are different does not make a judgement that one is better than the other.

    Anything can be made hard to understand if you go about it the wrong way. That does not mean the learner is inadequate but that the one explaining is going about it all wrong. I think that differences are good, BTW.

    The use of the word “girls” is only derogatory if you apply it to adults. Context again is everything. however, I call my male friends boys and my wife and daughter calls their female friends girls.

    I am not sure what he meant because I can’t see the context. What he needs to learn from this is to communicate more effectively so that things will not be misconstrued.

    I don’t know if he is a chauvinist or not. I am in no position to make that judgement. People should be slow to judge as it does more harm. Already one blogger has called for a boycott of Ubuntu. You need to be aware that there are communities that like to take any opportunity to take a shot at Canonical, Shuttleworth and Ubuntu.

    If he deserves it then fire away, but your open letter assumes the worst and people are jumping to conclusions without waiting for an explanation.

    As far as I know Ubuntu is the only distro that actually makes an effort to make Ubuntu women friendly and it has several initiatives to encourage women to participate.

    The fact is that the numbers of women using Linux is low. We obviously need to do a better job at communicating and we are not doing all that we can yet.

    I look forward to hearing his response.

  23. Victor

    This is being over dramatic, I hope Mark does not apologize as this seems to be getting completely out of proportion of what really happened (I am not even sure it did happen, the ‘citation’ is incredibly anecdotal).

    First of all, ubuntu is hard to explain to girls or boys for that matter, have you ever tried? Oc, maybe if Mark’s experience was with a boy and he talked about explaining it to “boys” we wouldn’t have the male geek community crying foul…

    No, there is no some male conspiracy to downplay female contribution to open source, I pretty much doubt it Mark meant that. Honestly, you cannot expect everybody to keep watching his back whenever they say something, and make sure not to offend a certain party. This event and small comment seems so incredibly small and irrelevant that it may appear that sexism is by far not a problem at all a real problem in the FOSS community which is forcing us to make such a tantrum for these small things…

    1. koipond

      @Victor

      Yes, you can. If you are in any position of leadership of any group then you had best be careful what you say. Not in that, “He mentioned the word spade when talking about a deck of cards, therefore he was disparaging black people” way but in the “this is hard to explain to girls” and is demeaning to the many efforts that women have made towards the movement that he, in part, represents.

      Ubuntu can be hard to explain. If it is, then you just say, “Wow, this is hard to explain.” It can be done without having to reference gender.

    2. Steve Holden

      > Oc [sic], maybe if Mark’s experience was with a boy and
      > he talked about explaining it to “boys” we wouldn’t have
      > the male geek community crying foul…

      Or, if Mark had chance to think about what he said before he said it, he might have used a term like “young people”, assuming he really doesn’t believe there are inherent differences between boys and girls in their ability to use and understand technology.

      I am surprised that so many people have felt it necessary to rise to Shuttleworth’s defense, given that the open letter specifically addressed the remarks he made, not the person who made them. Context is, of course, everything, and this is becoming a storm in a teacup. A perfectly adequate response would be along the lines of “Yes, that was a rather insensitive remark to make, and I’ll try to avoid doing that again [because I feel it’s important to try and address the gender imbalance in the Ubuntu community]”. Even the second part would be optional, though welcome.

      Only someone with a large ego would feel it was demeaning to make such a response, and my small knowledge of Mark Shuttleworth leads me to believe he doesn’t have an unusually large ego. So I am a little disappointed that no apology has yet emerged – and more surprised, I suspect, than the many women who have been subjected to this kind of marginalization since time immemorial.

      1. koipond

        @Steve

        Jay Smooth has a really good video on what that happens. It deals with racism but is easily translated here.

        Basically the trick to try to defend someone from a charge of “what you did was sexist” is to try to make the conversation about the fact that “he isn’t a sexist” even if that’s not what you said in the first place.

      2. Jef

        I don’t think you have to cast illusions on Mark’s ego to explain a belated apology. Sometimes when you make a mistake that really cuts deeply against the grain of your own self image it can be difficult to acknowledge. It’s not necessarily about pride or ego, It can take time to process and admit that you aren’t living up to the image of yourself as a champion of inclusiveness exactly because that image of yourself is really important to you.

        I’m certainly not in a position to cast stones at Mark on this issue…that would be somewhat hypocritical. But I’m not going to defend him either. Authentic public shaming has its place as tool for behavior change. Luckily for me, I’m married to a highly technically literate woman who has no qualms pointing out when I’m reaching for easy stereotypes when constructing a line of argument in a discussion. I have learned to ignore her at my own peril. Maybe all Mark needs is some unavoidable peril.

        -jef

    3. Stella

      This is being over dramatic, I hope Mark does not apologize as this seems to be getting completely out of proportion of what really happened (I am not even sure it did happen, the “citation’ is incredibly anecdotal).
      Wow,this is simply classic.
      1) It isn’t important.
      2)NEVER ADMIT GUILT!
      3)It really isn’t important!
      4)It probably didn’t happen!
      5)I don’t care what you say, you’re probably lying!

      A picture perfect example of denial reaction.

      First of all, ubuntu is hard to explain to girls or boys for that matter, have you ever tried? Oc, maybe if Mark’s experience was with a boy and he talked about explaining it to “boys” we wouldn’t have the male geek community crying foul…
      But he didn’t talk about explaining it to “boys.” In fact, I have never heard anyone talk about “boys” in the context of “hard to explain to/doesn’t get it/tech-illiterate.”

      Have you?

    4. TriedandTrue

      “I hope Mark does not apologize as this seems to be getting completely out of proportion of what really happened”

      It never fails to fascinate me how immediately random men appoint themselves as mediators of what is and is not offensive, who can find offense, and when the offense becomes “out of proportion”.

      it’s almost as if there’s something that tells them they are entitled to cast judgment on issues that never hurt them. I wonder what it is . .. .

  24. Dan

    Does anyone really believe that Mark is a dismissive sexist and that this simply wasn’t a case of clumsy exposition?

    His choice of words were poor, but he may have had an honest kernel of belief – that thus far it has been difficult to evangelize open source development to women. This is a small fraction of a greater problem – that evangelizing software development to women has proven quite difficult.

    To claim otherwise seems absurd to me. We’ve worked hard on feminine outreach, especially in academia, and we’ve made incredible inroads. But to say that it hasn’t been difficult and to claim that anyone who claims it was is dismissively sexist… C’mon people.

    1. Stella

      If you read the comments, Dan, you will find two overwhelming trends in them;

      Men who are worried that women think Mark is sexist, and women who repeat, over and over and overandover, that the reference is to the words he used, not to his general character. (And a number of men who try to remind other men of that as well, BTW.)

      “We’ve worked hard on feminist outreach?” Oh dear me, how kind of “we.” But let’s say that your “we” is meant in good faith.

      Dan, have you thought about what happens once your outreach is successful? You have actively searched out and invited in a group of people who have a different world view than yours. You will find that, in every case, your previously unchallenged assumptions about (what’s ‘just a joke’, who is ‘other’, what’s acceptable in visual presentations) will be challenged by your new friends– especially when your assumptions are impinge upon them.

      How do you meet that challenge?

      Remember you want them to not only join you, but remain in the program.

      And remember they aren’t asking you to change every damn thing– just a few assumptions.

      1. Dan

        Seems like you’re assuming I have no idea what I’m talking about and as such haven’t had these experiences already. ;)

        Just to clear something up: I was heavily involved in student politics while at university, arranging funding and programmes for the CS students. Involved with this was, for a time, helping the Women in Computing group we had. And here is whom I referred to as “we”.

        The WICS program was (is?) fairly involved in outreach. Running a few very successful high school programmes, involving themselves in the university community, attending every conceivable event in a “We’re here!” theme. And lots and lots of discussion.

        Thing is, we never really got to the point where it was worthwhile discussing what happens to women when they’re already involved. The first step of getting them involved was insurmountable enough. It was remarkable seeing such interest in the High School students for computing as a kind of hobby, but convincing any that it was a worthwhile career?

        The feedback we received was hardly tuned towards perceived sexism, although may have been so due to subconscious pressure. (The old “Math and Science is for boys” meme deterring women from Math and Science). The conscious responses were far more telling – Computing just didn’t seem /worthwhile/ to the girls (yes, girls, they were teens).

        When pressed we found passing interest in related fields. GIS. Bioinformatics. But never in programming. The lack of appeal had a myriad of explanations forthcoming – most centered around the mental image of a solitary hacker working day in, night out, endlessly.

        Not a male hacker, per se, but a lonely, sad, lifeless hacker. Fighting that image was hard, and convincing them to enroll in computing was difficult as a result. Even so, we managed one of the highest female entrant rates in Canada. 14%.

        Maybe it was hard because we knew the truth – that many programming jobs are dull, slow, and lifeless? Moreover, that computing science, as taught at the school I attended, is focused largely on the solitary study of discrete maths. Hardly inter-personally interactive stuff.

        1. Mackenzie

          The feedback we received was hardly tuned towards perceived sexism, although may have been so due to subconscious pressure. (The old “Math and Science is for boys” meme deterring women from Math and Science). The conscious responses were far more telling – Computing just didn’t seem /worthwhile/ to the girls (yes, girls, they were teens).

          When pressed we found passing interest in related fields. GIS. Bioinformatics. But never in programming. The lack of appeal had a myriad of explanations forthcoming – most centered around the mental image of a solitary hacker working day in, night out, endlessly.

          Not a male hacker, per se, but a lonely, sad, lifeless hacker. Fighting that image was hard, and convincing them to enroll in computing was difficult as a result. Even so, we managed one of the highest female entrant rates in Canada. 14%.

          A DC-area branch of Women in Tech has a Girls in Tech subcommittee focused at outreach to middle and high school girls. They had me on a panel a few months ago talking about how thanks to being involved in FOSS I have made friends all over the world. I really hope that helped combat that stereotype for the 300 girls in the room.

      2. Jef

        @Dan:

        What year were you doing this high school outreach stuff? Programming skills are becoming more and more important across all scientific research as more and more of the work has evolved to require computer aided analysis. It’s not about “programming jobs” its about doing a job and having programming as a handy skill in your toolbox. I’m sick of seeing people…researchers of any gender…reaching for excel to do data analysis..because they don’t have experience using any scripted or compiled language.

        The lack of programming skills in scientific research is not gender specific… its a curriculum problem. The skills are absolutely needed, but people are picking them up on their own for the most part. People…gender notwithstanding. You think undergraduates looking into something like geology or even forestry are being told to take a heavy dosing of computer programming? They aren’t…and that’s a problem…. because even these fields are rapidly making use of more sophisticated computer tools as part of professional work. There is a systemic inertia in how computer science is represented and taught which is out of step with how scientific researchers are making use of computational tools. I do not have to invoke gender. A graduate level geologist of either gender is as likely to have as much experience with writing a program in a scripted language as a member of the opposite gender. Learning computer programming on their own outside of an instructional setting is a trial by fire for many researchers across many fields.

        The NSF is even trying to position computer science now as an interdisciplinary field of study that bridges the hard sciences. The CPATH and CDI solicititations would be good examples of what NSF is looking for in this area:

        http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2009/nsf09528/nsf09528.html

        http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2008/nsf08604/nsf08604.htm

        -jef

    2. Dan

      @Jef

      This was between 2002 and 2006, IIRC.

      See, that’s what I meant by their showing interest in related fields. Programming as a skill is incredibly necessary these days in a wide range of scientific study. Nay, all scientific study. It’s not so much a problem interesting /anyone/ in the value of learning to code for practical application.

      Our specific problem was interesting the students in Computing Science. The school I attended has a very theory-oriented CS program. There’s sister-programmes that take a practical bend – Bioinformatics, GIS and the like – but the CS program itself was originally an extension of the Math department and it showed.

      Our goal was specifically to encourage young girls to enroll in a theory-oriented computing science program. This brought forth stereotypes of the aforementioned lone hacker and insular math academics, not that of individuals who apply theory to a wide range of practical problems.

      We’d try to convince them that our department conducted research in a wide range of studies in order to apply theory to practical, world-changing problems. But the students were far more pragmatic about it – they were quick to recognize that though the department may undertake such work the likelihood of enrolling in Comp Sci, getting a degree, and continuing on such work is quite low. Comp Sci students often go on to work in strictly software engineering environments. If you’re lucky (or not) you end up in gaming.

      At least, such was the perception.

      1. Jef

        @Dan

        You just made an argument for blowing up the idea of computer science departments as a centralized construct and replacing it with something more decentralized across other departments. I wouldn’t disagree with that.

        I don’t think the answer is necessarily getting girls and women interested in earning a CS degree. I say that from personal bias, as I don’t hold a CS degree of any level even though I’m involved in F/OSS as a technical contributor (as meager as those contributions are) and on top of that I absolutely loath programming. Loath it… more than I loath interacting with people if that can be believed. But being able to program and being able to interact with people are both incredibly valuable skills. Even when I wield them ineptly as problem solving bludgeons.

        The answer really maybe about formulating a respect and an excitement in being able to mold digital technology into a shape to get things done that couldn’t be done before…and to get them done faster, better and more collaboratively. Whatever those things are. Programming is just how you bend technology to your will… at least until we all get Google neural implants at birth and become one with the global overmind…but thats a decade away so we are stuck with programming for now.

        -jef

      2. Mackenzie

        Our specific problem was interesting the students in Computing Science. The school I attended has a very theory-oriented CS program. There’s sister-programmes that take a practical bend – Bioinformatics, GIS and the like – but the CS program itself was originally an extension of the Math department and it showed.

        Well, erm..yes…that’s what computer science is. That’s the difference between CS and Software Engineering. SE is more application than theory. CS is more theory than application. It’s just a shame so many schools refuse to acknowledge that both are equally valid and offer two slightly different curricula to accommodate that fact.

  25. Filippo Santovito

    I actually can’t understand how in late 2009 people is still discussing about differences between men and women.
    Since 400 B.C. enlighten people say women can do everything a man can do (obviously there are differences in strength) . Try reading “The Republic” from Plato http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Republic_(Plato).

    I agree with the content of the letter but I think groups like ‘geekfeminism’ or others are just dividing the “group of men” from the “group of women” when only one group should exists, the “group of human gender”.

    If anyone says women [or men] are “technical illiterates and hard to educate” he should not consider apologising publicly but he should consider himself as ignorant and find a way to solve his problem.

    1. Mackenzie

      I agree with the content of the letter but I think groups like “geekfeminism’ or others are just dividing the “group of men” from the “group of women” when only one group should exists, the “group of human gender”.

      Check out our Authors page. Not all authors here are women :)

      1. koipond

        @John Allen

        Please note, that members of an oppressed class can’t not oppress the oppressors.

        We live in a Patriarchy. Guys are doing just fine thanks. Why?

        You see that ad on the bus? That’s for us.
        You see that TV show? That’s for us too.
        You see those “women’s” magazines? That’s for us too.

        I could keep going all day with that but I’m just going to point out right now that this is a space where women who deal with entitled attitudes like that one you just spoke.

      2. koipond

        Bah, tired.

        That should can’t oppress. Not the double negative.

        Or you can just say that I’m talking in Renaissance English where a double negative just enforced its negativity.

  26. mookiemu

    First of all, I want to mention that I think Mark made a mistake and that an apology is in order, and I’m sure that a person of Mark’s caliber, will apologize.

    I also want to apologize, because until I read this thread, I used to refer to a group of people as, “you guys”, and it has always kind of bothered me, but it was part of my way of talking. From now on I will try to be more conscious of the inherent sexism in my everyday speak and will refer to a group of people as, “folks”. Thank you Skud, for that suggestion.

    This thread reminds of the time in the US presidential election when reporter Peggy Agar asked Candidate Obama about his plans to help autoworkers, and Obama, who was in the process of doing several things at once said, “hold on one second, sweetie.”

    This caused a tidal wave of criticism and nearly cost Obama the election. Even though he apologized on national television for his remark, and though Ms Agar mentioned that she wasn’t offended by it and that she has been called much worse, and though most people knew in their hearts that Obama meant no evil, many refused to accept his apology and it opened the way to the “sixteen million cracks in the ceiling”.

    Everybody knows that Obama isn’t sexist, just as everyone knows that Mark isn’t sexist either. Both of these guys are people who are working hard to make the world better. There is a difference when a guy like Mark, who has made a real contribution to the world, makes a silly goof like this, and when someone like Bill O’reilly or Rush Limbaugh make this kind of statement. There are people talking about boycotting Ubuntu, and using Mark’s brain fart to attack Ubuntu. Others are already assuming the worst by imagining that Mark either won’t apologize and if he does, it may be a backhanded apology.

    Come on people now, “Mark is not the enemy”. This is getting a little out of hand. Everybody can make a mistake when they are giving a speech off the cuff. Especially when it comes to these little sexisms that our language is full of. I was going to quote the bible here, (disclaimer: I’m an atheist) and say, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone …etc”, but…

    As a person of color, I’ve been subject to exclusionary remarks my whole life. And I have at times been very sensitive to coded words like, “they”, and “those people”, and I admit I’ve been upset by them. I understand the frustration

    One of the perceptions in the area where I live is that people of color are slobs. “There goes the neighborhood”. Though I’ve been involved in block clean-up drives, and in “plant a garden” groups, I can’t help but feel that I am being targeted when I hear someone say these things. But I get really upset when I see someone from my own community perpetuates the stereotype. The other day I was walking down the street with my little brother, and he dropped a candy wrapper on the sidewalk! We got into a big fight over that one. “Don’t you see”, I said. “Every time one of us does something like this, it brings us all down!

    Which brings me to my point, let’s spend more time on education, and less time on the attack. Let’s educate our men about sexist behavior and how to avoid it, and let’s educate our women not to perpetuate the sexist stereotypes that are harmful to all women. I applaud Skud for her letter at the top of this thread. I think it was a tasteful and intelligent attempt at educating Mark about his mistake and I hope he reads it. This kind of approach is more of what we need in the world today. The anger and indignation I see in some of the responses in this thread and in some of the articles I’ve read, are less of what we need.

    1. Mackenzie

      There are people talking about boycotting Ubuntu, and using Mark’s brain fart to attack Ubuntu. Others are already assuming the worst by imagining that Mark either won’t apologize and if he does, it may be a backhanded apology.

      If referring to tuxmachines: Discussion outside of here resulted in someone pointing out that that site is rather anti-Ubuntu to begin with, so author possibly just looking for an excuse.
      ===============
      edit: For example,

      I’ve always wanted to ignore (boycott) ubuntu. Not in the same outspoken way Roy boycotts Novell, but in my own little “ain’t gonna link to nothing Ubuntu” way.

      As if I needed another reason to dislike Ubuntu.

      Sure sounds like “yay, I finally found an excuse to justify boycotting Ubuntu!”
      ==================
      For the record: I’ve no intention of stopping my contributions to Ubuntu. The vast majority of the developers are absolutely wonderful people.

  27. Jay Forrest

    Just a clarification, the comment that Linux is “hard to explain to girls” is a hasty generalization, a logical fallacy. It is “hard to explain to girls” to some girls, but it is just as hard to explain to some guys. One could even argue that most girls find Linux hard to understand, but I am sure a part is because guys make it out to be a guy thing. We need to be sensitive to the language we use and its implications. Maybe feminist issues are “hard to explain to guys.” Ok, “some” guys.

  28. Dave

    Not that I’m condoning it but English and most other languages are male oriented. It is difficult to speak any language without being (unintentionally) sexist. Not impossible, just difficult. We are slowly getting there.

    If Mark was talking about how it is difficult to impress women when he explains what he does… I think that’s an understandable observation. Most women wouldn’t have the first clue (nor the interest to find out) what he does. And while the same could be said for most men, if Mark was talking about the impressions left on the opposite sex when he explains what he does, then he can’t be blamed for singling them out. If he were female talking about not being able to explain what he does to when talking to males, it wouldn’t be a problem would it?

    If your problem is that he used the word “girls” as opposed to the word “women”… well fair enough. Most young males (up to the about the age of 35) use the word “girls” when describing single females that they are interested in. It is linguistically sexist but not (necessarily) intentional. Females often use the word “girls” (eg. “having a girls’ night out”) and they are not being intentionally sexist. Mark using the word girls instead of women is hardly worth flaming him about. It might be wrong but singling him out is hardly going to solve anything. Or, if it is, there are better ways to go about it.

    1. Jonquil

      When I’m discussing the difficulty of explaining my profession, I say “to non-geeks”. That’s what we’re talking about — the difficulty of explaining software design to people who don’t do software design. Many of these people are male. I don’t say “to guys”.

      The class of “girls” is not the same as the class of “non-geeks”. Many women don’t like it when you use the first to refer to the second.

    2. Stella

      Dave,

      Not only do I not condone the sexism of the English language, I fight against it. As you say, it’s not impossible to change these bad habits. But as you say, it is difficult– so difficult that we really don’t see much forward movement unless we raise a ruckus like this one.

      As for the rest of your comment, I want to introduce you to this sexist word here.

  29. Stefan

    Hey Skud, all !

    Just adding my two cents to the mix – why not just send a normal (as opposed to open) letter to Mark first ?

    I’m not debating whether or not some people were offended, or if they’re right to feel what they feel. I also think it’s totally fair to comment or criticize things said in a public setting like a conference.

    But this is the internet – there are hordes of people out there who just won’t take the time to read, understand, think about it and will either somehow brand Mark as a bad person, or instead will see your reaction as extreme activism (both would be wrong, of course).

    I’m in no way telling you to shut up when you see things that don’t look good to you – but Mark & team are probably among the few who’d react positively if you contacted them directly – I imagine a common statement could have been made, something that’d have had a bigger impact overall.

    No ?

    1. Chris

      Hi Stefan,

      I’m in no way telling you to shut up when you see things that don’t look good to you – but Mark & team are probably among the few who’d react positively if you contacted them directly

      I don’t think this argument makes sense — if we can’t even get an apology with a very high-profile public letter, it seems bogus to argue that we would get one if only we’d asked privately instead. And would we have been able to make this hypothetical private apology public, if we had received it? If not, it isn’t doing much good — the purpose should be for Mark to let the world know that he doesn’t think about women this way, contrary to the words he used, and that isn’t accomplished by receiving a private apology to one person that stays private.

      In any case, my understanding is that someone did raise it with Mark immediately after the talk, and was brushed off. I can’t remember where I read that, though, sorry.

      1. mookiemu

        Stella, that’s a really sexist remark. I thought we were all above that on this thread. I don’t think Stefan was being patronizing at all. He was just voicing his opinion.

      2. Stella

        ah, maybe you two are right– but you know, there just isn’t any other word for “the patronising comment or explanation which makes it obvious that the explainer hasn’t followed the conversation at all, but must make himself heard.”

        Hey, it’s a sexist language, don’t blame me.

        Hee hee, it feels so freaking good to be able to say that once in a while!

        I’ll leave the field to the gentlemen allies, who aren’t yet sick to the teeth of eternal repetition, with genuine and grateful thanks.

        1. koipond

          @Stella

          No, we’re tired of it too. I’ve been beating my head against this wall for about 2-3 days now. I used to lurk a lot and not say anything, and anyone who has been doing this for longer (being vocal and active) has mad props from me because my brain is currently bleeding from just 2-3 active days.

          @ mookiemu

          This is what happens when someone comes in and basically gives the same reasons why you shouldn’t be doing what your doing, the ones you’ve been hearing for years.

          This is a prime example of the witch hunt. Because other people won’t bother to read up on the facts then you shouldn’t do what you’re doing.

          Also if there had been a reading of the other comments there are many references to people who also approached privately. Last time I checked (which was a couple of minutes ago) there is no apology to be found.

          Also the “I’m not telling you to do X but” tends to mean you’re exactly doing just that.

  30. proyvind

    Geez..

    No wonder why europeans consider americans oversensitve, retarded zealots.. [editor’s note: Skud isn’t an American]
    Dealing with americans online through free software projects is something I find very.. “demanding” already, if their women(!) are even worse as this extremely poor blog post grasping for straws to find something new for these “feminist sisters” to nag about, more than indicate, I can only hope that such harsh “sexism” remarks as this will scare ‘em off for good!

    Oh and yes, having nagging that another person you knew that knew another person who was there heard about if from someone else who supposedly also were said to be present [editor’s note: thanks for adding in a few more rounds of the Telephone Game than actually happened!], serve as something you’d writen an open letter about ANY issue to ANYONE at all, *DOES* make you look *stupid*. When the subject is feminist oversensitivity with a lot of other erratic chicks joining in, it also DOES make other women look stupid as well.. oh.. someone, PLEASE! Think of The poor american women…

    fønni. :D

  31. Samuel

    I am very much interested in the progress of equality in our society, in all its various forms, gender, economic, racial, etc. so I find this very fascinating.

    What I don’t understand and I’m hoping that someone can explain to me is: How does this notion of putting another person in a position of “privilege” which they are able to abuse not place your own marginalized group in the “victim” category? Or, more precisely applied in this situation: Do you really believe that these lingustic misapplications are an active attempt to subjugate women, or are they a symptom of a larger problem, and if the latter, how does highlighting the symptom and asking for an apology help the root of the problem?

    I find that when insulted the most effective way to staunch the insulter is to simply ignore them and wait for their foolishness to become self-evident. Is my anecdotal experience contradicted by some peer reviewed research of which I am unaware?

    1. Stella

      Samuel,
      It has been said that there are no stupid questions, but– I find it very difficult to assume your questions are in good faith.

      If my suspicions are correct, then answering them would be stupid.

      My question in return;

      Do you understand that the rhetorical device of asking assumptive and leading questions will inevitably be perceived as insulting, no matter how delicately phrased they are– especially when those questions have been addressed over and over already, on this very page?

      1. Samuel

        Stella,

        No, I mean the questions in very good faith, and I wasn’t intentionally employing any rhetorical devices (although apparently that’s exceedingly easy to do by accident.) I believe I’ve read the entirety of this thread.. I don’t find the answers.

        So, I’ll politely excuse your rather thinly veiled ad hominem if you can show me where they are answered.

        1. Stella

          I don’t recall asking to be excused.

          What I don’t understand and I’m hoping that someone can explain to me is: How does this notion of putting another person in a position of “privilege” which they are able to abuse not place your own marginalized group in the “victim” category?

          You used the term“marginalised.”

          That should be answer enough. Trust me, no group marginalises itself– it’s not a position of choice. You’re saying that if women pretend that men as a group have no power to harass, or harm, or embarrass or discomfort the few women within a group– then men won’t have that power anymore–

          Nice bit of magical thinking there.

          Do you really believe that these lingustic misapplications are an active attempt to subjugate women, or are they a symptom of a larger problem, and if the latter, how does highlighting the symptom and asking for an apology help the root of the problem?

          yes, these linguistic misapplications DO contribute to the subjection of women, yes, this is a symptom of a larger problem, and yes, we treat these large problems symptomatically.
          Its like picking up pieces of garbage; you do it piece by piece. You have to live in that space; what will you do, wait for a hurricane to blow it all away at once?

          I find that when insulted the most effective way to staunch the insulter is to simply ignore them and wait for their foolishness to become self-evident. Is my anecdotal experience contradicted by some peer reviewed research of which I am unaware?

          You offer anecdote and demand per-review in exchange? A gentle jest, withal!

          but in my own anecdotal experience, (spanning more than fifty years in fact) waiting for the fool to realise his foolishness is a great way to gather belly-button lint. And when the foolishness is along the lines of ” the girls don’t mind what we say about them,” and the girls never tell him that they DO mind– well, that bellybutton lint will fill a king-size bed pillow before any man figures it out for himself.
          A more extreme version;
          “Well she must like being slapped around, she’s never tried to stop me!”

Comments are closed.