Open Letter to Mark Shuttleworth

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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

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