Sexism in FOSS
Clearing My Conscience
A cowardly attempt to make myself look better
First off I would like to point you all to a few blog posts of my own which might be considered sexist, so that you people won’t have to point it out in the comments.
First one is about a porn site called Fuck For Forest. Read it and judge for yourself. In my opinion there’s nothing sexist about that, but if you feel different feel free to comment that post (not this one).
The second one has the headline “Man tits women’s tits, what’s the difference?“, which is about a demonstration for women’s right to bathe topless. I actually considered editing it, but I’ll leave it there for you. I’ts supposed to be written in a humorous tone. I can see the wording might be confusing. Some of it because I’m not a native English speaker, and some of it is intended to be humorous. I stand by that I like women’s breasts and that I have no objections against women bathing topless in public facilities. Luckily for mankind (which might be a sexist term) most men find a woman’s body sexy. The blog post continues with a short paragraph about censorship of sexual photos, and the wording might be clumsy (I don’t know if I was drunk), but I won’t edit it to make myself look better.
Now that that is off my chest I can get to the real point of this blog post. I read a few blog posts by Carla Schroder on LinuxToday which talked about sexism in FOSS. A topic I think got fueled by Richard Stallman’s clumsy religious joke about Saint Ignucius and the deflowering of Emacs-virgins. This article is my perspective on sexism, and the misunderstandings I see more and more often.
What Is Sexism
Let us start out by defining sexism. There seems to be alot of confusion about it.
1. Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women.
2. Attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender.
First one is obvious to most of us, but the second definition explains it a little more; Attitudes, conditions or behaviours that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender.
If I say to a woman “You have a nice ass”, it’s not sexism, but it could be sexual harassment or a compliment depending on the mental state of the person who receives that comment. It’s the person making the comment who has the responsibility to read if it’s appropriate or not, often a comment like that is only acceptable to wifes, girlfriends or close friends where you are both trained in reading each others body language. The reason why it in any case is not sexism is because your body is not a social role. When a man say something like that it doesn’t mean the he thinks less of women, it means he is attracted to women (he might still be a pig).
An example of sexism is if you get valued differently just because of your gender, you will never doubt when that happens. It will not necessarily be any demeaning wording, you will clearly be able to read it from the persons body language. Words are never in themselves demeaning, and that’s the hard part about sexism and other discriminations, you need to be able to read people’s intentions. It’s all psychology, how does the recipient perceive what I say and what does the sender mean with what he says. In my opinion many cases about sexism is not really sexism, it’s misunderstandings where both parties end up feeling that they have been treated wrongfully.
Many common phrases and turns use a single gender. Using them does not mean you are being sexist. Most phrases have a history and many words simply change their meaning a bit. As an example in Danish Football the goalkeeper, which is gender-neutral in English, is called (roughly translated) a goal-man in Danish, it might sound discriminatory in English, but no one thinks of it as being just a man, a female goalkeeper is called the same without hesitation and any thought to the word applying less to her than to her male colleague.
If you are in doubt weather someone is being sexist, you should always confront them politely and ask what they really meant, I’m certain that most of the time it will be a misunderstanding. Real sexism is easy to spot.
What We Can Do About Sexism
Carla is talking about phrases and words in her articles. In the case of Mark Shuttleworth I really felt he was wrongfully accused. Carla didn’t start this and I have deep respect for her, but I feel he was misunderstood by the original complainant and sadly the rest of the proud women of FOSS fell for it. Basically what he did was to use the word guys about a group of people throughout his speech, which is a casual term including both women and men. The fact that someone counted and noticed all the occurrences of the word tells me someone had an agenda. An agenda which might have been meant well, but doesn’t help women in FOSS at all.
Mark also said; “if we approach this from the perspective of saying, how do we make this just awesome for end users, then we will have less trouble explaining to girls what we actually do“. Yes, Mark is talking to men in that phrase. What he is doing is to use his own experiences (he is a man) with how difficult it is to make your wife or girlfriend understand what you spend all your time doing on the computer. It is easier to tell his wife that he is working on getting the Wireless network to work without having to configure it, than to use a lot of technical lingo no one understands. He could have said “girlfriends and boyfriends” or something similar, but just because he didn’t doesn’t mean what he said was sexist.
What I am trying to say with this is that, going after words are not worth your time. Act on the meaning of words instead, and then point it out in proper tone to help you get backing. I know it’s hard if you feel you have been wronged, but it’s more effective than a counter-attack, where you begin to look just as bad as the offender. I promise you that we are a lot of men out there who are willing to back up women, who have been wronged. In the end there will be two sides. Women and Men turning their back on Sexists (of both genders).
The amount of women involved in FOSS is not important. The important thing is that women who are involved with FOSS don’t feel alienated, but feel that they are a part of the team. Therefore I don’t believe in exclusive women communities, which are about getting women into FOSS. Working to specifically get women into Free Software is unimportant, doing that looks like a symptom that the women the FOSS community have, don’t feel they are a part of the team.