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FOSS Sexism Claims Met With Ire and Denial 1255

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the girls-don't-write-foss dept.
Last Friday Bryce Byfield gave us a little insight into the fallout surrounding his article on sexism in the FOSS world. Unfortunately it seems that FOSS junkies did little better than the rest of the world with respect to sexism, displaying similar levels of denial, abuse, and ignorance. "But the real flood of emotion comes from the anti-feminists and the average men who would like to deny the importance of feminist issues in FOSS. Raise the subject of sexism, and you are met with illogic that I can only compare to that of the tobacco companies trying to deny the link between their products and cancer. Because I took a feminist stance in public, I have been abused in every way possible — being called irrelevant, a saboteur, coward, homosexual, and even a betrayer of the community. I know that many women in the community have been attacked much more savagely than I have, so I'm not complaining. Nor am I a stranger to readers who disagree with me, but the depth of reaction has taken me back more than once. I think the reaction is an expression of denial more than anything else."
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FOSS Sexism Claims Met With Ire and Denial

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Monday October 12, 2009 @12:50PM (#29720397) Journal

    Raise the subject of sexism ...

    What reports of sexism have there been? Are you raising the subject of sexism just based on the fact that only 1.5% of FOSS developers are women? It takes a very special kind of person to do FOSS development -- because it's often outside of work. Which means you have to love what you do at work and then come home and do it some more. Even I get sick of coding. It's an uncommon desire and requires a special kind of insanity. So much of the stuff I write outside of work is just absolutely useless in the end. Is it possible this trait is far less common in women than men?

    Present evidence of sexist attitudes and attacks and I will gladly support you. Hell, I support you right now, nothing would make me happier than more women in FOSS. I just am not sure how you promote that sort of goal -- usually it's a monetary or favorable employment reward for having ovaries but the only reward is ... recognition?

    Because I took a feminist stance in public, I have been abused in every way possible — being called irrelevant, a saboteur, coward, homosexual, and even a betrayer of the community.

    People on the internet called you names? It happens. Who are these people? Probably random pigs the internet has no shortage of. Don't let it get to you, hold your summit and figure out a way to designate Female FOSS Developer of the Month on your website.

    To reiterate, I'm not denying that there is an disturbingly low percentage of women in FOSS development. I'm just questioning what's causing that. It's probably a number of factors including Hollywood not showing women as the computer hacker in many of their movies (except maybe Hackers). It's predominantly the stereotypical male. Women have to overcome that and women have to realize that getting together and working on a project with your friends by just coding can be fun. But I think society tells them early on that's not what women do. If there's any sexism, I've seen no proof it's internal to FOSS.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 12, 2009 @12:57PM (#29720505)

      People on the internet called you names? It happens. Who are these people?

      Have you ever seen a good OpenBSD flamewar?

      Theo de Raadt has an absolute, uncompromising stand on open source, and refuses to deal with crappy, binary-only drivers. He often calls out people & products he thinks are crap. Gender never comes in to the discussion.

    • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:00PM (#29720551)

      No one is denying that there are idiots out there. Just browse at -1 here. You'll see every kind of comment for every kind of 'ism that you're looking for.

      But let's look are real EXAMPLES of real COMMENTS. Okay?

      And since we're talking about FOSS, we can look at the kernel mailing list. Hmmmmm, not a lot of sexist comments there. Particularly when taken as a percentage of total comments.

      So if only 1.5% of developers are women ... but fewer than 0.1% of comments on development mailing lists are sexist ... what is the real "problem" that exists?

      • by Anghwyr (1245932) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:13PM (#29720717)

        There was an example on a ruby conference earlier this year: http://dyepot-teapot.com/2009/04/25/dear-fellow-rubyists/ [dyepot-teapot.com]

        “If he had left it at a few introductory jokes, I would be writing a very different post. Instead the porn references continued with images of scantily-clad women gratuitously splashed across technical diagrams and intro slides. As he got into code snippets, he inserted interstitial images every few slides.

        • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:20PM (#29720831)

          You've linked (1) to a link (2) referencing a presentation (3) by ONE GUY at a rather small meeting (200 people).

          So that ONE instance is repeated over and over (and linked to) as "evidence" of "sexism" instead of being seen as what it really is:
          ONE instance out of thousands of non-sexist presentations.

          Again, if 1.5% of FOSS developers are women, but only 0.1% of the comments are sexist, what is the REAL problem that you're trying to "solve"?

          • by nametaken (610866) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:57PM (#29721511)

            Careful, this conversation is a TRAAAAP.

            Apparently you either agree that there's rampant sexism in the FOSS community or you're "displaying similar levels of denial, abuse, and ignorance".

            • by jdgeorge (18767) on Monday October 12, 2009 @02:27PM (#29722043)

              Careful, this conversation is a TRAAAAP.

              Apparently you either agree that there's rampant sexism in the FOSS community or you're "displaying similar levels of denial, abuse, and ignorance".

              I don't think so. But I would agree that many comments here on Slashdot do have the feel of having either taken bait of trolls or of being genuinely intolerant issues women may face in FOSS.

              This discussion reminds me of Slashdot debates about the value of Web accessibility. Many developers expressed the view that the disabled population was so small that they didn't matter. Others railed in frustration against the injustice of having significant information facilities unavailable to people born blind or otherwise disabled or to those who became disabled through war or disease.

              There are people who post well thought out, informed comments on Slashdot, but those are not generally the most exciting comments, and they are not the only ones to get modded +5 Insightful.

          • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Monday October 12, 2009 @02:01PM (#29721575) Homepage

            Again, if 1.5% of FOSS developers are women, but only 0.1% of the comments are sexist, what is the REAL problem that you're trying to "solve"?

            You've provided a nice illustration of the problem. If it turns out that, say, 10% of FOSS developers are black, do you think that would make nigger references OK as long as we kept them under 1%? If 5% of FOSS developers are gay, do you think that allows up to 0.5% faggot references?

            Anyone have some stats on the percentage of FOSS developers that are Jewish, Arab, or Mexican so I can figure out what percentage of my comments are allowed to mention kikes, camel fucking, and wetbacks without it being a problem?

            • by lgw (121541) on Monday October 12, 2009 @05:18PM (#29724497) Journal

              You've provided a nice illustration of the problem. If it turns out that, say, 10% of FOSS developers are black, do you think that would make nigger references OK as long as we kept them under 1%? If 5% of FOSS developers are gay, do you think that allows up to 0.5% faggot references?

              For years one of the first few posts on every Slashdot story was a GNAA (Gay Nigger Aliiance of America) troll. They were constant. Do you think Slashdot is racist and anti-gay? Do you think those posts were representative of the Slashdot community?

              People on the internet will say thing you find offensive. Trolls will say things because you find them offensive. All online communities have trolls, as well as people who don't understand their comments may offend, and people who know but don't care. The answer? Get over yourself. If you only want to participate in communities where everyone is nice to you, the internet is not for you.

          • So if only 1.5% of developers are women ... but fewer than 0.1% of comments on development mailing lists are sexist ... what is the real "problem" that exists?

            I'm not going to argue with the idea that only 0.1% of comments in the FOSS movement are sexist, because you're probably right: the vast majority of interaction and discussion in the FOSS is not sexist. What I think you're overlooking, however, is that there isn't a threshold for sexism. Sexism is an issue of perception, not of percentages. For example, simply because we have female politicians doesn't mean that politics isn't also a sexist field.

            The problem trying to be solved is the feeling of exclusion by some women from the FOSS movement. For example, I'm having difficulty finding apologies for the examples of sexism people are linking to. That's not an issue of numbers, but an issue of perception. It tells me, a woman, that people in the FOSS will make mistakes. But everyone makes mistakes - that's not a deal-breaker. But it also tells me that members of the FOSS movement will be reluctant to apologize for their mistakes, and that can become a deal-breaker.

            And, for what it's worth, I don't think those standards are unreasonable. I don't shun or reject friends, family, coworkers, whomever, simply because they carelessly said something hurtful or offensive. But if they A) don't acknowledge what they said is problematic and B) refuse to apologize, I eventually will decide to remove myself from situations where I have to interact with them. That's what the issue seems to be here. Not merely that FOSS has issues with sexist jokes - western culture has an issue with sexist jokes - but that a movement which, to me, has connected itself with ideals of rights and equality isn't able or willing to apologize about them.

            -Trillian

            • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday October 12, 2009 @04:32PM (#29723811)

              I'm not going to argue with the idea that only 0.1% of comments in the FOSS movement are sexist, because you're probably right: the vast majority of interaction and discussion in the FOSS is not sexist.

              So far, so good.

              What I think you're overlooking, however, is that there isn't a threshold for sexism. Sexism is an issue of perception, not of percentages.

              No. I cannot agree with that. Perceptions can be wrong. Perceptions are OFTEN wrong.

              For example, simply because we have female politicians doesn't mean that politics isn't also a sexist field.

              And if 90% of the politicians were female, would it still be a "sexist field"?

              It seems that you have the two items backwards. A field where the "vast majority" is not sexist is not the same as a "sexist field" where there are a few females.

              But it also tells me that members of the FOSS movement will be reluctant to apologize for their mistakes, and that can become a deal-breaker.

              Follow that with ...

              I don't shun or reject friends, family, coworkers, whomever, simply because they carelessly said something hurtful or offensive. But if they A) don't acknowledge what they said is problematic and B) refuse to apologize, I eventually will decide to remove myself from situations where I have to interact with them.

              Who is "them" in this case?

              I post on /. and I have been called all kinds of names for my opinions. So? That's life on the Internet. You can avoid it or you can recognize that there will always be idiots in the world.

              If 9,999 people on a FOSS project are not sexist ... but 1 person is ... how does that 1 person contaminate the other 9,999?

              • by Trillian_1138 (221423) <slashdot@fridaytha[ ]com ['ng.' in gap]> on Monday October 12, 2009 @05:18PM (#29724501)

                Thanks for replying. I'll try to clarify where I'm coming from. I said...

                What I think you're overlooking, however, is that there isn't a threshold for sexism. Sexism is an issue of perception, not of percentages.

                And you replied...

                No. I cannot agree with that. Perceptions can be wrong. Perceptions are OFTEN wrong.

                Well, yes and no. Perceptions can be, and often are, wrong. I agree with you there. But I don't agree that there is a percentage threshold for sexism, or that there's a litmus test to determine when a group is (whatever)ist. I guess what I'm saying is that offense is in the eye of the beholder. As I said in another comment, the fact that most (all?) of the examples of FOSS sexism weren't intended to be sexist and offensive doesn't make them not sexist and offensive. It certainly changes how the people saying them should be viewed, but it doesn't simply excuse their actions.

                It seems that you have the two items backwards. A field where the "vast majority" is not sexist is not the same as a "sexist field" where there are a few females.

                You're right, I was vague. Let me try to rephrase what I meant.

                I'm coming from the perspective that if a certain group makes me feel consistently uncomfortable or offended as a woman (and not simply like they're all jerks to everyone), that group is going to be perceived by me to be sexist.

                The way I'm describing it, you're right: a few bad apples can definitely spoil my subjective perception of the whole bunch. But, if that perspective is wrong, I'd hope that the group would reject the views of the ones who actually were sexist, rather than saying, "Nope, no sexism here, don't know what you're talking about." That's what seems to be happening in this discussion, which is why I (perhaps prematurely) was indicating that the FOSS movement felt, to me, to be generally sexist as a whole. Not that every individual was sexist, or even the majority, but that the vibe I'm getting isn't willing to acknowledge sexism.

                I said...

                I don't shun or reject friends, family, coworkers, whomever, simply because they carelessly said something hurtful or offensive. But if they A) don't acknowledge what they said is problematic and B) refuse to apologize, I eventually will decide to remove myself from situations where I have to interact with them.

                And you replied...

                Who is "them" in this case?

                "Them" is the individuals and, in a group situation, the group as a whole. That's what the issue ultimately seems to be in this discussion. That people from the FOSS movement were making sexist remarks and didn't apologize, and then the FOSS movement - defined subjectively as people who seem to care about FOSS stuff enough to comment on this issue - also don't seem to acknowledge the sexism that was/is occurring.

                post on /. and I have been called all kinds of names for my opinions. So? That's life on the Internet. You can avoid it or you can recognize that there will always be idiots in the world.

                Except these weren't simply comments on the Internet, they were leaders on the FOSS community making public statements. And, as I said in another comment, simply because people are jerks doesn't mean that we shouldn't call them out on their bullshit when it happens.

                If 9,999 people on a FOSS project are not sexist ... but 1 person is ... how does that 1 person contaminate the other 9,999?

                When the other 9,999 don't acknowledge or reject the sexism of the 1.

                -Trillian

        • by Ifni (545998) on Monday October 12, 2009 @04:26PM (#29723689) Homepage

          You are absolutely right - there is a profound problem of sexism in FOSS. And the entire community implicitly supports this sexism by not having a psych screening for every potential member before they are allowed to join the community. This injustice must be righted forthwith!

          [/sarcasm]

          Seriously, there are sexists. They exist in all walks of life. Having found a handful of them in any given community is not evidence of a pronounced problem in that community. If it was a significant or majority behavior, you would have a point. But it isn't, and you don't.

          I will admit that such behavior should not be overlooked. The INDIVIDUALS responsible should be taken to task, preferably by the community, and if warranted, even ostracized. But to blame the community for actions that it does not condone by one of its members (or even a vanishingly small percentage of its members) is absurd.

          And while you are thinking about a presentation featuring scantily clad females, watch some TV and notice that SEX SELLS. If you are presenting to a room (mostly) full of men, you have three sure fire ways to maintain their attention - booze, sports, and women. Booze is expensive, considering the audience, sports perhaps isn't all that surefire, so that leaves women. Okay, perhaps a better way would have been to have an engaging presentation with interesting content, but not all geeks are professional presenters. An admonition and a slap on the wrist is an appropriate response to such insensitive behavior (for a first offense), but assigning this to sexism (rather than red-blooded maleness and a small dose of ignorance) is disingenuous at best.

          He's not responsible for the low percentage of women in FOSS (or any computer science field), he's just using that fact to his advantage by tailoring his presentation to his audience. Poorly, I admit, but you don't go to Black Hat and get offended when the inevitable Microsoft bashing begins. Or any entertainment or infotech convention and not expect to see booth babes. Is it right? Perhaps not, but so long as the audience is male by a vast majority, this isn't likely to change. Men like to see sexy young women. You give your audience what they want and they come back next year, or buy your product, whatever. The logical outcome isn't very hard to predict.

          Am I defending him? Absolutely not, but I can see how the mistake was made. But showing pictures of women to an audience he likely assumed would be 100% men does not earn a death sentence. None of us would ever make it to adulthood if we were held to such draconian "every injustice deserves the death sentence" justice. Even sexual harassment laws are more forgiving. The offended party should inform the offender that what they are doing is offensive as the offender may not even realize it. Then, if the behavior continues, they can be reported to a higher authority for remediation. This whole sexism in FOSS business is people immediately shouting every small infraction to the world. Do you want to know why we aren't taking it seriously? Read the fable of the boy who cried wolf. That's what's happening here. The offended need to grow a thicker skin, try to resolve the issue privately with the offender, and then, as a last resort, go to the community (which, ironically, is the same community they are besmirching unfairly, which makes me think this isn't about fairness, but about some political agenda). As evidenced here (on Slashdot - not the friendliest or most sympathetic community by any stretch), you will find sympathy for your cause, which shows that the problem is not endemic to the community as a whole, which is the whole argument I've been making from the start.

      • Are you seriously going to sit there and argue that open source is a sheer meritocracy with a straight face? Okay. Here are 4 examples:

        That's the result of a 5 minute google search.

        • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:26PM (#29720917)

          It took you 5 minutes to come up with only 4 examples. And you were specifically LOOKING for such examples.

          Here's the Linux Kernel Mailing List. http://lkml.org/ [lkml.org] That's a few thousand comments without any sexism at all. It's all about the statistics.

          Your post was a perfect example of the problems with this "discussion".

          You aren't concerned with the statistics. And with the Internet, it is very easy for a single example of a sexist comment (whether it was intended to be sexist or not) to be shared between the people LOOKING for sexist comments.

          Again, if 1.5% of the FOSS developers are women, and only 0.1% of the comments are sexist, what is the REAL problem that you're trying to "solve"?

          • by baronben (322394) <ben.spigel@ g m ail.com> on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:36PM (#29721097) Homepage

            okay, how about 54 incidents? [wikia.com] And that's with about 25 seconds of searching.

            And before you respond, tell me if you'll need a tractor to help you with all the goalpost moving you're doing.

            • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:48PM (#29721349)

              And before you respond, tell me if you'll need a tractor to help you with all the goalpost moving you're doing.

              Don't use terms you don't understand. I said 0.1% and I have not changed that.

              Now, to contradict your 54 examples (provided on a page that seems dedicated to finding such examples), I'll tell you about the Linux Kernel Mailing List which has thousands of non-sexist comments. Thousands. And that is a SINGLE mailing list.

              Or is it that you do not understand what 0.1% means?

            • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Monday October 12, 2009 @03:41PM (#29723089)

              What the hell.
              What sort persecution complex do you have to have to spend your life compiling lists of anonymous people offending you on the internet?
              http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Incidents [wikia.com]
              It should be pointed out that your 54 examles of how the FOSS community is packed full of misogyny includes many shining examples of the FOSS community being sexist, just from a quick look....

              Go daddies advertising campaign(nothing to do with FOSS)
              A video game about a Fat Princess(nothing to do with FOSS)
              Various companies employing "booth babes" because that's apparently evil(nothing to do with FOSS)
              some tripe about a comic strip at defcon which had an airhead female character.(nothing to do with FOSS)
              people getting sent copies of Maxim instead of some gaming mag(nothing to do with FOSS)
              Some summit which apparently didn't get many women turning up (at least it is actually related to FOSS)
              A shocking one about some guy in quebec killing a lot of women.(nothing to do with FOSS though)
              Feminists getting pissed because dell tried to market to the large female demographic that likes pink.(nothing to do with FOSS)
              Someone pissed that people didn't want to make a usenet group comp.women....because there's a comp.men group...(nothing to do with FOSS)

              are we seeing a bit of a theme yet?
              There are some genuine "incidents" in there but they're swamped by bullshit.

              I'm not even through a third of them and most seem to have little or nothing to do with FOSS or they amount someone getting offended because some pathetic young/old men drew penises on his presentations or had his desktop background set to some random scantily clad female which of course means he hates women and thinks women can't do anything(honestly that seems to be the logic).

              One troll gets his own "incident" even though he appears to be nobody of any import or anything to do with FOSS.

              If this kind of trivial crap is what's keeping women out of FOSS then all I can say is "Toughen up".

              You'll see more misanthropy,misogyny,misandry, every flavor of "ism" etc etc in pretty much any community.

              There is plenty of sexism in the world, there is plenty of discrimination in the world but a social group based around "show us the code" where people can choose everything about how they present themselves isn't exactly the best place to look if you really want to get your days worth of righteous indignation.

          • by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:46PM (#29721295)

            OK, screw the stuff I've already modded. This is getting ridiculous. You keep spouting this out:

            Again, if 1.5% of the FOSS developers are women, and only 0.1% of the comments are sexist, what is the REAL problem that you're trying to "solve"?

            I'd like you to prove that "only 0.1% of the comments" (which comments?) are sexist. Sexism is a lot more of an issue than you apparently think, and if you're going to continue in this thread stating that "only 0.1% of the comments" are sexist, then you need to prove that number. You will see sexist comments any time you have identifiable women working around programmers, that's just the way it is.

            If you want to throw around baseless numbers, you need to explain where you pulled those out from. Exactly what methodology did you use to determine that 0.1% of "the comments" are sexist in nature?

            • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday October 12, 2009 @02:12PM (#29721771)

              I'd like you to prove that "only 0.1% of the comments" (which comments?) are sexist.

              I can take that challenge because I'm not blinded by ideology as you are.

              Read the LKML. There are thousands upon thousands of FOSS development comments there.

              So far, the people crying "sexism" have only been able to produce one page with 54 examples of sexist comments.

              So, with a single mailing list (out of many) I have demonstrated that fewer than 0.1% of the FOSS development comments are sexist.

              Unless you, for some reason, do not believe that the LKML is really about FOSS development. But then, that's your problem.

          • Wow. You're really committed to being right about this. I'm going to try and explain it anyway, even though I'm fairly certain this isn't going to go anywhere with you. Maybe someone else will read this and Get It, because I'm almost certain that you won't.

            First, that 5 minutes included formatting the HTML for the reply and proof-reading. Not time-consuming, but in the context of 300 seconds, not exactly trivial either.

            Second: Because only 1.5% of FOSS developers are women, it has created a fraternal atmosphere where jokes such as Stallman's are an acceptable part of the FOSS society. This becomes self-perpetuating, because sexist jokes and attitudes become more acceptable in a homogenous culture. Meanwhile, apologists are free to say "Women are totally welcome, if they can hang with us," thus relieving themselves of the responsibility of creating an environment that is more welcoming toward outsiders. It's the woman's problem that she is offended and unable to be "one of the boys," and not the responsibility of those who are acting offensively.

            When the brave and the pioneering outsiders do come into the culture and attempt to change it so that it is more welcoming and they can be more comfortable, they are met with overwhelming resistance. Some of it, such as the Ruby pr0n presentation or the continued adulation of booth bunnies, is brazen. Other opposition, such as your own, is more subtle. You are insisting that there is nothing wrong with the current way things are done, that there is no reason to change, that there is no evidence of institutional sexism in the FOSS world, and that accusations of such are outlandish. Meanwhile, the number of women involved in the movement remains the same paltry 1.5%, because the established culture that excludes women remains static. Nothing is done accommodate those who would otherwise join the movement, were the movement itself not structured so as to be exclusionary.

            Third: There is an issue of magnification that disappears when you go hiding behind the statistics. For every woman who is willing to stick it out in the face of something like Shuttleworth's comments, there are uncounted numbers who hear the message loud and clear: They are not welcome as FOSS developers. It doesn't matter if only 0.1% of the traffic on the kernel list is sexist, because it only takes a few to chase away many. If a small number of men project a clear message that women are not welcome, and they are not shouted down by ten times as many other men, then the message is deafening: Those few are our mouthpieces, and we are content to let them speak for us. In this instance, lack of public disavowal is seen as tacit agreement.

            It's hard admitting that you're part of something that hurts people, especially if it's something you love. I understand. The initial reaction of denial that I had was much the same, but all the denial in the world doesn't make it any less true. The FOSS movement is changing its attitudes toward sexism much more slowly than the field of computer science and IT in general, but we can't stay put forever. It's my feeling that we're entering a period of growth, and growing is painful. But the potential reward is great. Right now, the best and brightest minds of half our population are smart enough to tell us to fuck ourselves, because they won't put up with our shitty, sexist attitude. If we get smart in return and create a culture where they are welcome, I guarantee the results will be more than worth it.

        • by hedwards (940851) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:27PM (#29720929)
          As opposed to the rest of the world where people get where they are by hard work and ingenuity.

          Yes, sexism exists, but it's not like feminists are saints either. Notice the shrinking portion of degrees earned by men in recent years, or how mysteriously benefits don't count as a part of the pay package when it's inconvenient to casting women as victims of oppression? Or how about the rather extreme form of censorship visited on people that point out that women are just as likely to be abusers as men.

          It's a tad hard to take people decrying sexism directed at women seriously when so often those accusations are used as a tool to further women's position at the expense of men's regardless of how the positions in a particular area were arrived at.
          • by Jane_Dozey (759010) on Monday October 12, 2009 @02:00PM (#29721567)

            I absolutely hate when women wave the flag of feminism when they're just being sexist asshats trying to get ahead of men. As a girl working in software development, it makes it all the harder to get accepted when male work colleagues are suspicious of my motives and being careful not to offend just in case I'm one of those idiots. I can't say I blame them either, it could ruin a mans career.

            As for those women, please don't give them any credit by calling them feminists. They're sexists and should be called out as such. Maybe then the rest of us can get on and get some proper work done. /rant

      • So if only 1.5% of developers are women ... but fewer than 0.1% of comments on development mailing lists are sexist ... what is the real "problem" that exists?

        Allow me to answer your question, with a question.

        If only 1.5% of your cake consisted of strawberries .... but fewer than 0.1% of your cake consisted of feces, what is the real problem with your cake?

      • by ChienAndalu (1293930) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:44PM (#29721261)

        Just tell me which UNIX command you would use to get instructions on a program and deny that this isn't intentional.

    • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:01PM (#29720563)

      To paraphrase: keep that political bullshit out of here. Code. Or don't.

    • by argent (18001) <peter.slashdot@2006@taronga@com> on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:07PM (#29720623) Homepage Journal

      Indeed. I have known several women who write open source software, and (admittedly from the outside) I didn't see them treated any differently on mailing lists and in meetings than men. Yes, there's an imbalance, yes, there may be institutional sexism... but what's the source?

      Bruce argues that proprietary software has a higher proportion of women. The thing is, proprietary software has a bigger payback for the actual developer... and it's a payback that is valuable for everyone: MONEY. It's a relatively well paid trade that women are at no great disadvantage in. Most people working on proprietary software ... men or women ... don't program in their spare time, either. It's a job, not a hobby.

      For most developers, open source software is a hobby. A valuable one, yes, but I would suspect that "fewer than 1.5%" of open source developers actually have that in their primary job description. What are the proportions of women involved in other technical hobbies? It's my impression that the answer is "pretty low", and a bit of googling tends to support that. So... what's the reason why women aren't involved in things like model railroading ("I haven't met too many women modelers" -- mary Miller, MMR)? I suspect that's where you need to look to dig up the answer to this question.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by netruner (588721)
        Maybe I'm making my self a target for ageism, but aren't a lot of FOSS activities typically conducted by your handle (i.e. not your name)? How could anyone know your gender with any certainty? I suppose someone could say that a person's choice of a handle speaks to their gender, but I've seen quite a few people who manipulate others by intentionally choosing a misleading handle.
    • by roscivs (923777) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:09PM (#29720653) Homepage

      There's also a big difference between "no better than the rest of the world" and "correlation between FOSS and sexism". The first I can certainly believe--there's no reason to believe that the FOSS community is any less sexist than the rest of the world. You're going to find a lot of sexist individuals just because that's the status quo in society today.

      But there's no reason to harp on FOSS developers in particular unless there's evidence that the FOSS community is more sexist than the rest of the world (which I, at least, haven't seen). If that evidence isn't there, then keep on fighting the good fight against sexist pigs in general, wherever you find them.

    • by martyros (588782) on Monday October 12, 2009 @03:25PM (#29722843)

      What reports of sexism have there been?

      Uum, have you ever talked about this subject with a woman in computers or engineering? If you had, you wouldn't be asking this question. I really think this attitude is part of the problem. The first thing I did when someone mentioned sexism in FOSS was to look into it. Why *are* there so few women in CS departments, and fewer yet in FOSS projects? If you do, you can easily find lots of answers. Start by browsing this bibliography [linuxchix.org], maybe ask some women in IT or engineering you know.

      The biggest problem, AFAICT, is that it's so easy for people of any majority group (white / black / men / women) to unintentionally act in ways towards a minority group that make it really tough for them. It's tough to be a man in social work, it's tough to be a white guy in an all-black school, it's tough to be a skinny geek in a room full of beefy jocks, it's tough to be a woman in FOSS development. That means that any majority group needs to make an extra effort to counteract that. That's why we're talking to you about FOSS, instead of about men in social work. You're in a position to do something about this problem.

      The fact that group discrimination happens elsewhere is irrelevant. The fact is that it's hard for women in FOSS, which means that there aren't very many, which means that FOSS loses out big-time. If nothing else, a large demographic highly talented and capable people who could be contributing to FOSS are not because of irrelevant reasons. Furthermore, I believe that men and women are different in more than just their bodies, and that the difference is valuable. FOSS loses a lot more by having almost no women than they would by having almost no blue-eyed individuals.

      So instead of being reactive and saying, "Prove that it's really sexism", why don't you actively look for ways in which you or people around you may be unintentionally contributing to the problem? As others have said, it's only a tiny minority that are overtly sexist; the majority only do things unintentionally. But the effect is still there, and it's real.

  • by religious freak (1005821) on Monday October 12, 2009 @12:51PM (#29720401)
    Yeah I guess you may have encountered some jokes, but it's your code that matters, not your plumbing. If you're offended by jokes, joke back or say it's inappropriate - in the informal community of FOSS, that's about all you can do.

    If you truly think you're a victim, create an androgynous pseudonym. The tone of OP's article suggests a hyper sensitivity to me.
    • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@@@gmail...com> on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:12PM (#29720715) Homepage
      Yeah I guess you may have encountered some jokes, but it's your code that matters

      Either it's a community or it isn't. Getting rude anonymous comments is one thing; getting them in a mailing list going back and forth between a small group of developers, that's something different.
      As for this idea that only the quality of the code matters in how you're treated, I don't think that's not true. There is an immaturity and a narcissism prevalent among coders, and I think a lot of them would be enraged to find themselves outcoded by a woman, but wouldn't mind it so much being outdone by a man.

      Sexism is like racism in the OSS community; there but nobody wants to talk about it (though the racism has been a lot more overt in some situations).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      > create an androgynous pseudonym
      And if people harass them offline, should they just cross-dress as men, or should women go get sex-reassignment surgery?

  • re (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 12, 2009 @12:51PM (#29720409)

    I stopped reading after "I'm not complaining"

  • ....when the sex of the contributor is more often than not completely unknown?

    I see a contribution from a "Terry", I have no idea if that is a male or female, and really why would I care? Either the code is god, o rit isn't. Why would sex ever have any bearing at all?

    Frankly I really don't even get how a claim of sexism could exist in the FOSS world. It just doesn't translate from meat-space, because frankly, more often than not you have no idea the sex of the person in the first place. And really, that is how it should be.

    • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Monday October 12, 2009 @12:55PM (#29720477) Homepage Journal
      Exactly, on the internet nobody knows you're a dog (or a girl!). If there is some sort of glass ceiling on FOSS projects, then I don't see how it is supposed to work. Maybe the sexism is that girls don't want to work with creepy nerds and "creepy nerd" is pretty much the stereotype for FOSS developers?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        I would imagine that the average FOSS developer would probably get a short high on the idea that some chick who calls herself "SexyAngel69" added a line of code to his project. He'd probably sit back in his chair, close his eyes and say: "It's almost like she just had sex with me" and then tell his WoW guild he thinks he just DING!'d IRL.
    • by Serious Callers Only (1022605) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:16PM (#29720775)

      ....when the sex of the contributor is more often than not completely unknown?

      Sexism does not have to be directed at a particular person. For example RMS makes silly jokes about female emacs virgins:

      http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/EMACS_virgins_joke [wikia.com]

      which are quite annoying if you happen to be female and don't care to have your sexuality linked to whether you use a text editor in the minds of the men sitting around you in the audience. Or, as another example, this story is tagged 'sendthemtothekitchen'. This sort of juvenile joke contributes to an atmosphere in which women do not feel welcome.

      I suspect there's more going on than sexism, given the huge gender imbalance in people even starting to study IT, but the sexism rife in the IT industry certainly doesn't help.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sohp (22984)

      Sexism is an attitude, it doesn't have to be directed at specific individuals. If DHH says "Speaking of presentations. I'd much rather we banished kung-fu kittens and went with beautiful women for the filler stock art. Works in ads!" that's sexism, even though he's not directing a denigrating comment to a specific woman.

      Also: some people in FOSS actually leave the parents' basement and meet face-to-face. Shocking, I know.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 12, 2009 @12:55PM (#29720487)

    And I suspect a vast majority of FOSS people are dudes with a heartbeat and would react like the same overblown charges of racism that get directed towards non-progressives with heartbeats.

    I think the male-female dynamic has much to argue over. In many areas there are cultural differences that keep women down and other areas where the natural differences of our mad ape ancestors merely express themselves in reality.

    Many charges of sexism are valid, but some are so ridiculous they deserve the ire they generate.

  • TLDR (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reason58 (775044) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:02PM (#29720571)
    How can someone speak out against generalizations made towards an entire group of people (women), while at the same time condemning an entire group of people (FOSS)?

    If you would like to see individuals judged on their own merits then stop trying to link behaviors with groups of people. It makes your argument look flawed.
  • MMO? (Score:3, Funny)

    by lymond01 (314120) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:04PM (#29720599)

    I have been abused in every way possible — being called irrelevant, a saboteur, coward, homosexual, and even a betrayer of the community.

    Gosh...this totally happened to me too on the original Everquest forums. And they never did fix paladins!

  • by Tubal-Cain (1289912) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:09PM (#29720655) Journal

    I think the reaction is an expression of denial more than anything else.

    OK, how are we supposed to disagree without being "in denial"?

  • by onion2k (203094) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:09PM (#29720661) Homepage

    Or, if you prefer, listen to the horror stories female developers tell about sexist remarks or being asked out for dates.

    Making sexist remarks, ok, I can understand how that might be seen as being sexist. But how is asking a woman out considered sexist behaviour? Face it, if I were to join a group that's 98.5% women and demonstrate that I share an interest with all of them then I strongly suspect I'd get asked out too. Would I complain that their behaviour was sexist? No. Obviously not.

    No. I'd be making lurve. All those ladies! Oh yeah baby!

    Wait. I think I might be being sexist. Err.. Oh dear.

  • by Qbertino (265505) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:11PM (#29720681)

    He mentions geeks asking peer women out for a date as an example for being sexistic. WTF?
    A single woman amoung dozens of men actually is likely to be asked out for a date more often than each man. How is that sexistic?

    That aside I presume this is a vocal few distorting perception of the majority. With feminists and 'manly' programmers alike.

  • by milgr (726027) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:12PM (#29720711)
    I search the post an linked articles for concrete examples of sexism. I found some - about 4 indirections away from slashdot. http://www.faqs.org/docs/Linux-HOWTO/Encourage-Women-Linux-HOWTO.html [faqs.org] links to some eight year old posts that are sexist.

    All of the high-tech companies that I've worked for have many more men than women. Most of the applications for positions are from men.

    In over 20 years in the industry, I only remember observing one sexist incident.

  • Missing reference (Score:5, Informative)

    by SirGarlon (845873) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:13PM (#29720721)
    The summary should have included a link to Byfield's original post [earthweb.com], which explains the basis for his claim of sexism in FOSS:

    In other words, women's participation in FOSS development is over seventeen times lower than it is in proprietary software development.

    Now, isn't that by itself enough to get you thinking?

  • by jd (1658) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:16PM (#29720783) Homepage Journal

    As much as the F/L/OSS community likes to pretend that it is distinct from the "real world" communities, it isn't. But whereas the "real world" is mostly comprised of idiots who lack the mental capacity to understand anything new, let alone seek it, F/L/OSS developers often represent some of the most curious, information-seeking individuals and some of the highest-calibre intellects out there.

    So if we have trouble excusing such behaviour for the "normals", we must be far, far harder on ourselves for those same flaws.

    There is a flip-side, though, that the original poster may have neglected to consider. F/L/OSS developers ARE amongst the brightest and the best, but they also have extraordinarily high levels of autistic behaviours, anti-social disorders, emotional instability and alienation.

    (The first two are collectively known as "Geek Syndrome". The latter two are the inevitable consequence of Geek Syndrome in a society that tolerates no differences, no matter what it says.)

    It is not just likely, but a near-certainty that people with that kind of internal and external pressure WILL fragment into groups that conceal differences by being essentially uniform.

    I'm not sure if it can be called sexism when such behaviour is, at least in part, a mask to conceal what's going on. The mask can be sexist without the person underneath being.

    However, true misogyny does exist, independent of the mask. THAT particular aspect of sexism should be rooted out and burned, as it is warped, buggy thinking. Bugs SHOULD be erased, and a buggy brain SHOULD be patched.

    The problem is how to tell the mask from the person underneath. These are distinct issues. The mask doesn't need fixing, rather the person needs an extended API to handle errors, and the Real World needs replacing with Real World 2.0 to debug the flawed mental processes that produce the garbage in the first place.

    Once either the person has better exception-handling or error trapping, and/or there's less noise generating errors, the mask can be erased. It's a filter that exists to hide bad wet-coding and so the sooner we get rid of the bad code, the sooner we can get rid of the filter.

    My guess would be that if the mask died, a good 75% of the perceived sexism in F/L/OSS would die with it, without a single F/L/OSS coder needing to change their view of gender.

  • THAWTELESS, West London, Monday — Canonical, Inc. has announced the release later this month of Ubuntu Linux 9.10, "Karmic Koala," to men [today.com].

    Project founder Mark Shuttleworth explained that "this stuff is difficult to explain to girls" and thought they'd have gotten the hint when he called 8.04 "Hairy Hardon." "Worrying about sexism in open source just detracts from the battle for Linux. So we've put the tits back into the default desktop. And arses."

    Crime-fighting geek Shuttleworth, who dresses as a billiionaire playboy by night, swore that plenty of women liked him lots and that he obviously wasn't unable to get laid or anything, having gotten seriously rich in the dot-com era, not to mention having gone into space. "Chicks dig that stuff. Trust me, I've met lots of girls. More than five!"

    Canonical Community Manager Jono Bacon echoed this sentiment on his blog. "We just don't understand how come women are 15% of all computer programmers but only 1% of open source programmers. It must be a bit complicated for them. That's why I've written this spontaneous blog post, completely unrelated to anything my boss may or may not have said, on all the fantastically talented women in free software, even if none of them seem to work much on Ubuntu any more. Also, I'm absolutely confident that saying I'm in a computer geek heavy metal band will get me lots of chicks too, even if their pretty little heads can't understand Linux."

    A special women's edition of Ubuntu 9.10 will be released on a bright pink CD. "It doubles as a makeup mirror!" said Shuttleworth.

  • by ChienAndalu (1293930) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:41PM (#29721189)

    echo "alias woman=man" >> ~/.bashrc

  • by jipn4 (1367823) on Monday October 12, 2009 @01:44PM (#29721251)

    In other words, women's participation in FOSS development is over seventeen times lower than it is in proprietary software development.

    Because women don't volunteer their time for FOSS development, men are sexist? Sorry, I just don't follow that logic.

    Because I took a feminist stance in public, I have been abused in every way possible -- being called irrelevant, a saboteur, coward, homosexual, and even a betrayer of the community.

    Being called a "homosexual" is "abuse"? Great going, Bruce: show off your feminist stance by insulting another minority group.

  • by Theovon (109752) on Monday October 12, 2009 @03:14PM (#29722685)

    The biggest threats to equality are the biases that you are unaware that you have.

    I'm aware of social boundaries that I do not respect, so I find myself having to consciously avoid doing things like mixing professors with students or jocks with nerds at parties. If I had my druthers, I'd invite everyone, but different social circles do different things, and I don't want to make people uncomfortable. A lot of the time, it comes down to the fact that certain topics of discussion are not compatible with the people who don't have pertinant experiences. Men typically don't want to hear about menstruation, while the topic might come up at a party of all women. Conversely, women don't tend to want to hear about men's jock itch, but it's a common enough occurence among male athletes that the discussion might arise. A lot of nerds don't know much about sports, and a lot of jocks don't know the fine details of compiling Linux kernels, so putting them together might result in people stuggling for things to talk about that interest them all.

    All of these things stem from stereotypes. Stereotypes are sometimes completely false, like the depiction of the Irish in the US in the 19th century. But generally, there's some grain of truth, if only resulting from some people's narrow and biased experiences. It's a fact, though, that humans like to create convenient categories and generalize. People have a natural tendency to think "all blacks are..." and "all women are...", because they have observed these things in what they perceive to be a majority of encounters.

    I like to think of myself as being above these petty prejudices, but there's a danger in thinking this, because I can miss subtle biases. I grew up in a family that is clearly male-dominated. My father and I both have graduate degrees, while my mother and sister do not. When I was single, I had expressed a desire to find a partner who was my intellectual equal, but my family discouraged me, telling me that I would have a very hard time finding what I was after. Despite their bias, I ended up marrying a woman that I often think of as my intellectual superior. Still, there are a lot of subtle effects that stem from an implicit assumption that men are generally more intelligent than women, things that MUST have affected me in ways that I'm not aware of.

    I remember a Star Trek episode where Janice Lester had wanted to become a starship captain (but they were not allowed) switched bodies with Kirk. In the end, Kirk makes some comment about how she could have had as full a life as any woman. Of course, our culture has matured significantly in the last 40 years. But in some ways, many people haven't really been taught that women are equal to men; they've only been trained to parrot a politically correct thing to say. They tell themselves that in the hypothetical a woman can be as capable as a man, but they don't believe it to be very LIKELY. And of course, since no one wants to admit to others or even themselves that they feel this way, what really happens is that they judgement is affected subconsciously in a way that they can't defeat.

    Women end up being judged "statistically" (you've never met a woman who was strong in IT, so this one you're interviewing is unlikely to be good). And they're scrutinized more harshly (since you're more ready to accept that a man is smart, you're going to work harder to make damn sure that this woman is as smart, and what really happens is that you make the interview more difficult).

    I have biases. Many of those biases are unfair. But the only way I can defeat them is to admit them. Not to others, because it's not PC to ever express bias openly, but to myself so I can explore them and recognize how my thoughts might be unfair if I were to act upon them.

    So for instance, when interviewing, to avoid bias, I ask everyone the same questions. But I developed those questions partly by exploring my biases. For isntance, while I may assume that men and women have equal intelligence, I don't

  • Oh brother. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by superdana (1211758) on Monday October 12, 2009 @03:25PM (#29722855)
    It is quite amusing to read an entire page of comments by men who think that their gender doesn't limit their perspective on this issue. That demonstrates the very root of the problem: maleness is still the default, the essential; a woman's perspective is considered especially different from a man's but the reverse is never true. With very few exceptions, all of the comments on this article reveal an attitude that the male perspective is complete and true while the female perspective is a special subset.

    Slashdot is one of the least female-friendly places on the Internet, so this conversation is basically hopeless no matter what. But let me share with you some anti-feminist clichés (courtesy of jezebel.com) so we can at least get them out of the way now.
    1. Feminists can't take a joke. The problem is not that feminists can't take a joke. (We can.) The problem is that you can't take feminists seriously.
    2. Some girls like [X], so it must be okay. Men often disagree on things. Women do too. One woman's disagreement does not invalidate the opinions of every other woman.
    3. Criticizing misogyny is a waste of time. This might actually be true here.
    4. Feminists have no lives. The implication here seems to be that feminists had to have suffered some great personal disappointment. Sorry, no; I just have to endure cat calls from sleazy strangers on my walk to work, get interrupted in meetings (and then get pigeonholed as a bitch for standing up for myself), and frequently have to put up with people who are blind to their own privilege. I really, really wish that my having a life would make this all stop.

    This post will no doubt get modded down to -1 practically instantaneously. But I don't care, because this is my industry too, and until you all get it, I won't be silent.

Don't steal; thou'lt never thus compete successfully in business. Cheat. -- Ambrose Bierce

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