Tag Archives: floss

If I can’t linkdrop it’s not my revolution (Sept 20, 2009)

Society sucks, but we don’t have to

There’s an argument that comes up a lot in (geek) feminism discussions:

This isn’t a problem with $community, it’s a problem with society

This is used to explain everything from distasteful jokes to someone’s inability to spell, but especially it’s used to “explain” why there aren’t more women in the community or why they have crummy experiences when they do participate. And it raises the question:

Why can’t geek communities be better than society as a whole?

If you reported a software bug and the developers said, “we don’t believe you. Or the other 50 people who reported this bug,” you’d be annoyed, along with 50 other people. If they said “it’s someone else’s problem, XYZ software/hardware sucks” you’d be pretty unsatisfied, even if it was true.

What you want to hear is “thanks for reporting that! I’ll get it fixed right away.” And you still feel like they care if they say “well, that’s because XYZ software/hardware sucks, but we can do this workaround…”

Geek communities are full of smart, inventive people who produce everything from free software to fan fiction. I think we can probably do better than putting an SEP field around issues.

In academia, Hard Problems are the ones that are worthy of further study, research, and discussion. In geekdom, we like to eat impossible for lunch. So stop shuffling your feet and waiting for the “there aren’t many women participating” bug to be fixed upstream. We might need some clever social hackers to find us good workarounds, but know what? We’ve got just the sort of talent in our communities that might manage it. If people could only admit to themselves that it’s not someone else’s problem.

Women in FLOSS, tell Bruce Perens you exist

Unicorn check-in time for women in open source!

Bruce Perens seems to think that women aren’t passionate about open source software:

What I meant was that there are more women who hold technical jobs than there are women who so love the technology that they will work on it whether they get paid or not. That seems to be an especially male thing.

I told him I was, and he confused me with Yuwei Lin and then told me I (she?) was an outlier.

How about we all head on over there and tell him that a) we exist, b) we ARE passionate about open source, and c) yes there IS a problem, even if he doesn’t see it.

  1. Create an LWN account (free)
  2. Comment on this thread
  3. Prepare your bingo cards for a round of “Wow, there are girls here?!?”

I’m turning off comments on this post. Go make them on LWN, not here.

Quick hit: LWN discussion on sexism, social skills, and autism spectrum disorders

As I mentioned in the link roundup, the LWN thread on the Free Software Foundation’s women in Free Software mini-summit will burn your sanity points. But there’s an interesting comment thread involving Matthew Garrett (mjg59) and Bruce Perens about Asperger’s and high functioning autism and what can be expected from people with Asperger’s if they are critised for sexist behaviour or otherwise offending people.

I wanted to highlight this discussion largely because “(s)he can’t help it, (s)he’s autistic” and the more disturbing variant “if geekdom just tossed out all those non-neurotypical folk, all the nasty sexism would go away” pop up fairly commonly in geek feminism discussions. (I don’t observe this much from geek feminists themselves, although being neurotypical I won’t be as alert to it, but certainly in the discussions.) I appreciate the considerably more nuanced discussion on this.

Note for commenters: While the LWN discussion started by talking about Richard Stallman (RMS) and the EMACs virgins incidents, statements about Stallman being neurotypical or not seem to be a matter of speculation only. Comments on this post making blanket assumptions about all neurodiverse people being unable to function in society or perform certain social tasks, or presuming that any individual is or is not neurotypical without that person’s self-identification being known, will be deleted.

Link roundup, 2nd Impact (August 27th, 2009)

  • The Free Software Foundation will host a mini-summit on women in Free Software on September 19. Seth Schoen notes that “I guess the venue and timing could be a challenge for some people (it doesn’t seem to be colocated with, or right before or after, anything else in particular)”. See LWN for some discussion, some much of it probably will cost you some sanity points.
  • OMG! Girlz Don’t Need Games or Features! — A review of the new Lilac PSP demonstrates that Sony, like many companies before, could use some lessons on how to market games and gaming systems to women.
  • Anna Filina offers her take on women in IT saying (among other things) that she hates working with women. Um?
  • Late business at the Hugo Awards in which Yonmei proposes a small modification to the nomination procedures for the Hugos to help redress the gender imbalance. Result: “There was certainly considerable SMOFFISH outrage at the idea that there could be anything imperfect or biased about the Hugo nomination system which might need to be remedied.” Links to LJ discussions at the bottom of the post.
  • ROSE blog interviews Erica Brescia (BitRock), Angela Brown (Linux Foundation), Stormy Peters (GNOME Foundation), and Dru Lavigne (BSD).
  • Another round of technology and gender images at Sociological Images, including a woman tied to a bed as an inducement to buy Gameboy consoles.
  • Melissa McEwan (via M. LeBlanc) on how puzzled privileged people get when they have fun intellectual devil’s-advocate conversations about our oppression and we get personal about it.
  • The GNOME development community is planning an outreach program for women similar to the 2006 outreach program. They are looking at funding women developers to work on GNOME Shell.

The Thank-You Meme: The coreboot project

Recently, I was at a bar with 4 or 5 other women I knew through women in Linux advocacy. The striking thing was that, out of all of us, only one (Kirrily Robert) was still actively working on women in open source projects. The rest of us had burned out – and even Kirrily had burned out once before. This not atypical.

One of the reasons we burn out is the huge imbalance between positive and negative feedback. For every supportive email or blog comment, you get a hundred obnoxious ones. I have a theory: Most people in open source support what we are trying to do, it just doesn’t feel that way. On the Internet, no one can see you nod.

Here on the Geek Feminism blog, we’re going to try an experiment: The Thank-You meme. If you get a really positive, well-written thank-you for your work in women in open source, we’d love it if you shared it with the rest of us. Here are the rules:

1. The thank-you can’t be written specifically for this blog. It has to be a genuine, spontaneous thank-you. No astroturfing.

2. Along the same lines, you can’t post a thank-you that you wrote yourself. Feel free to send someone a thank-you, though!

3. Ask permission of the sender to post it. Offer to anonymize it.

4. If you haven’t heard back from the sender after a week, go ahead and post it, carefully anonymized.

And here is the inaugural Thank-You, from Carl-Daniel Hailfinger, a member of the

Open Source research ideas

If you had a research team at your disposal to study women in open source, what would you set them doing?

My biggest wishlist item would be to look at retention of women in open source. How long do we stay on individual projects and in the community as a whole, and what makes us leave?

Another one would be to study how financial support for open source work is distributed. Who gets paid to work on open source, attend conferences, has hardware donated, etc? Is there a gender gap? (Might want to study within companies that use open source, but are not explicitly open source companies, for this one.)

Related: Do people mostly work on open source during work hours or leisure time? How do disparities in available leisure time affect open source contributions? (Would love to see this visualised as coloured timelines.)

What Women-In-Open-Source studies would your team of researchers do?

Link Roundup Strikes Back (August 15th, 2009)

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome

This is only the second blog I’ve written for, the other being my personal blog.  I’m still getting the hang of it, and look forward to learning a great deal from the other contributors here.  I’m excited to see how quickly things are picking up, and grateful to Skud for inviting me here.

After quietly using free software for some years, I became personally involved with the free software community when I joined the Debian project in 1999.  Through my work in Debian, I met and collaborated with developers of many other free software projects, and became a founding member of the Ubuntu project in 2004.  I presently work for Canonical as Ubuntu CTO.

Earlier this year, I began writing about problems affecting women in the free software community, inspired in part by friends in the Debian Women and Ubuntu Women projects.  Along the way, I have found the geekfeminism wiki to be a valuable resource in exploring feminism, and have tried to help improve it with references and information from my own experiences.  I have never lived as a woman, and have only very basic knowledge of feminist history, theory and ideology, and so am conscious of being out of my depth at times here.

I hope that by being a part of this conversation, I can help to promote higher standards of behavior and dialog in geek communities, especially in free software, which is my passion.  I would like to see more men listening, questioning themselves and their peers, and recognizing the necessity of change.  Many discussions about women in geekdom seem to revolve around changing women to bring them into the community: inspiring them, instructing them, converting them.  Instead, I think we need to focus on changing our community, to make it a place where women are welcome, to stop excluding and driving away women who are already interested.  This begins with changing ourselves, and setting an example for others.

Standing out in the crowd… in PHP

Elizabeth Naramore has knocked it out of the park with Gender in IT, OSS, and PHP, and how it affects us *all*. It’s honestly the best article on women in open source that I’ve read in the last five years.

Not only does she lay out the situation incredibly clearly, but she backs it up with references to research that supports her points. For instance, here’s what she says on the “standing out” issue:

I did a bit of research and found that it’s not just women who feel uncomfortable in the gender minority, but men do also. Studies have shown that “being in the numerical minority in a mixed-sex team is not a favorable experience for either women or men (Powell & Graves, 2002; LBS, 2007). Men report feeling uncomfortable, somewhat alienated and highly aware of their minority status when faced with being in a female majority group. (Spelman, et al, 1986). As well, numerous studies have shown that when anyone is in the minority in a group, they are more apt to place more emphasis on and be more self-conscious of the quality or trait that makes them distinctive from the rest of the group (O’Leary, et al, 1985; Kirkham, 1985). Bottom line is, it’s human nature to feel out of place when you’re in the minority regardless of gender, and if that means you’re the only female around, you’re going to be even more acutely aware of it. So ladies, do not adjust your set. There is nothing wrong with you.

She also goes into the research behind retention rates, the effects of the free time gender gap, and how diversity affects group effectiveness, creativity, and innovation.

I wish I’d had this article a month ago. I’ll be leaning on it heavily going forward, and I recommend that everyone who’s interested in this stuff bookmarks for quick reference. It’s going to become a standard.