We’ve turned off comments on the original post; there were about 200 already and there’s only so much that can be said before people stop adding anything new.
I wanted to let you know that I received a private response from Mark Shuttleworth, in which he says that he has no intention of apologising for his comment. I know that a number of other people have approached him in person and by email, both before and after I posted my open letter, to ask him to consider the effects of what he said, and I’m still hoping that he will come around. (Despite numerous assertions to the contrary, I do prefer to see the glass as half full when it comes to these issues.)
Here are some other blog posts about Mark’s comments and their effects:
On Keynotes and Apologies by Chris Ball, Lead Software Engineer for One Laptop Per Child:
Well, I was at the keynote too, and was paying attention, and it turns out that even with context applied, someone who talks about “explaining to girls what we actually do” when talking about free software really is saying something sexist, and buying into the noxious stereotype that women can’t be developers or tech-savvy; that they’ll never be a real part of our group, even if a few of them are brave enough to try in the face of other people dismissing their efforts (and Mark certainly isn’t the first to have done that).
Finally, I want to repeat that for me the real shame here isn’t that Mark said something unfortunate â€” we can all say something unfortunate when we’re speaking in front of a large crowd for a long time, myself certainly included. What’s a shame is that it doesn’t take a superhuman dose of empathy to give a short and sincere apology for an obviously harmful joke afterwards, yet we don’t have one yet. To make matters worse, it’s the second time in a few months that someone’s implied that women are people who lack technical knowledge during a conference keynote, and it seems to be the second time we aren’t getting any kind of apology for it. We’re left to conclude that the biggest heroes in free software â€” the people who speak for and about us to the world â€” don’t care much about whether women feel invited to or excluded from free software, or how they could use their power to affect that.
Sexism debate by Adam Williamson, Redhat developer and QA community manager:
If weâ€™re going to accept the big â€” yet paradoxically easy, because itâ€™s abstract â€” proposition that sexism in F/OSS exists and should be tackled by people modifying their behaviour, weâ€™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.
Hide of a rhino or constitution of a psychopath by Brenda Wallace, Statusnet developer and one of the organising team for this year’s linux.conf.au:
Other survival techniques include changing project – I know of women who contribute actively to one distro, then change, then change again – in the hopes of finding a place where they can contribute their skills without frequent grunching. Yesterday’s “linux is hard to explain to girls” comment by Mark Shuttleworth is an example of The Grunch, and I know it’s caused more than one ubuntu contributor to start looking for another project. It’s the (prominent) straw that broke the camel’s back.
And it all ties up into the “Harming the Community” speech – that by reporting any incident, then you, the reportee, are doing harm to open source. I’m expecting some comments here along that line. I don’t agree with you, but could you please spend half as much energy helping ensure these incident don’t happen again as you spend telling the reportee how wrong she is to report it. Thanks.
People have been asking for transcripts or video; unfortunately those aren’t available. However, a number of people who were present have blogged, tweeted, dented, or commented about Mark’s keynote showing that they were angered or annoyed by it. (Others who were present have confirmed that Mark made the comment, but have said it didn’t bother them; at least there is no doubt that he did make the comment about explaining Linux to girls.)
Emma Jane Hogbin, Ubuntu user and Drupal contributor, first dented about it here while watching the live stream:
Mark! “Explaining to girls what we actually do.” WHATTHEFUCK!! RMS, anyone? #linuxcon
Chris Ball, commented here with his experience:
I was there and was annoyed by this. Itâ€™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 Iâ€™d applaud Mark for doing it.
An anonymous commenter, at comment #39 on Chris’s blog post:
I’m male. I was there, at the keynote, and I heard the comments. I found them both tacky, and I could tell that the women sitting next to me found them even more tacky.
Matt Zimmerman, CTO of Canonical, was present and audibly said “WTF?” from his seat in the audience, then mentioned it on IRC. His was one of the early reports that led to my letter. In email over the weekend (quoted with permission) he said:
I was there at Mark’s keynote, and have spoken to various people in the community about it as well as to Jono and to Mark himself.
My position is that Mark made a mistake in what he said. This mistake doesn’t make him evil, but it does warrant a response on his part. There’s some very good advice on http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/So_you_made_a_mistake about what to do in this situation which I hope that Mark will consider.
Women in the community who have concerns, questions or advice regarding this issue are welcome to contact me directly.
(ETA: Matt has now blogged about the subject here.)
Matt also has an excellent blog post on the subject of backlash from the last go-round, Backlash: feminism considered harmful, which is recommended reading for anyone taking part in this discussion:
We have a problem in the way that women in free software are regarded and treated. If this is news to you, I encourage you not to take my word for it, but read what women in the community are saying about it. Ask women you know about their experiences.
What I want to discuss here, though, is how people are received when they speak up about this, for example by criticizing sexist behavior they have observed. Often, the problem is denied, the critic themselves is personally attacked, and the victims are blamed. In short, there is a backlash.
This is probably the time to reiterate that Geek Feminism has a comment policy that says, in part:
We welcome discussion that encourages and supports women in geek communities. […] If you join the discussion here, we assume you are either a feminist, or want to learn more about feminism. If you are new, we recommend that you read some background material. A good starting point is the Geek Feminism Wiki, especially Resources for men. […] Comments that are anti-feminist, abusive, creepy, derogatory, or which add nothing to the conversation will be deleted on sight.
I’d also like to remind everyone that the correct English term for female, adult humans is “woman”. Thank you.
EDIT: Video now available
- â€œA release is an amazing thing; Iâ€™m not talking about the happy ending..â€: 3:02
- â€œYour printer, and your momâ€™s printer, and your grandmaâ€™s printerâ€: 35:30
- â€œWeâ€™ll have less trouble explaining to girls what we actually do” at 35:55
Thanks to Chris for taking the time to find the timestamps.