Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Successful women in FOSS and IT

Education is a powerful way to shape people. I have had the privilege to study for several years and the things they taught me still are the foundation of my actions. One of the things burned in my memory is a lesson I had one beautiful summer day. My professor - who I didn't particularly like - had just explained some theory to us and one wiseguy decided to have a crack at it. He explained in great length he knew somebody that didn't fit the profile. "Well," my professor said "I know somebody too." Since then, individual examples have very little relevance to me. Even the expression "real experiences of real women" is just another emotional outbreak to me.

Sure, it desensitizes a person up to the point that personal suffering doesn't touch him anymore, but it places individual problems in a much larger picture, which - in my humble opinion - is a much better way to solve big problems. And keep track of the long term consequences.

Nobody denies that sexism in FOSS exists. If not, Carla Schroder wouldn't be able to list a set of incidents. The problem I have with this statement is, that now it seems to be exclusively a FOSS problem - how long to you think it will take for Microsofts astroturfers to pick this up and use it against us, it suggests that it is widespread like a malignant cancer, affecting each and every level of our community, it is claimed to be the most important reason that there are very few women who participate in FOSS and - most importantly - after vi vs. Emacs, Gnome vs. KDE and Mono vs. everything else it forms another crack in our community.

Carla Schroder has done anything possible to keep deviant opinions from reaching the outside world. I offered my article to LT too, but obviously, it was refused. Carla Schroder not only violates the ethical guidelines for journalists with this, she also shows she is not interested in a discussion about this subject with the community as well.

Another thing I learned during my study was that in every debate you always reach a point where further discussion appears to be useless. That point is reached when you start to discuss the foundation of an ideology, which is their dogmas. Therefore, attacking the dogmas of any ideology is a fun way to get your opponents red hot. Which happened. Modern feminism has long left the ideas which are still advocated by Carla Schroder. As a matter of fact, I can happily agree with them. A philosophy friend of mine always says: "It takes ten to fifteen years for the general population to pick up new ideas and another ten to twenty years for the politicians and the media to understand the world has changed."

But that is not what I wanted to discuss with you. I wanted to show you some real world examples of how successful women in IT and FOSS in particular think about this issue. These women are not some gray, anonymous, unsubstantiated array of possible FOSS participants, but real life women who have their own ideas and ideals. Was what Richard Stallman did really sexist? Not everyone agrees here:
This blogpost is completely ridiculous! I am woman and I don’t see anything bad in Stallmans comment. It was just a joke, for Christ’s sake. And I can’t see anything sexist in it. But what is really bad is this crazy denouncement of RMS, this wave of pseudo-feminism and political correctness. I really hate these would-be feminists with wacky world-view, their disgusting political correctness and false moralism. They are disgrace for all women.

True feminism had sense in the past, when there were really disproportions between men and women rights. But I can’t see any signs of women discrimination in my surroundings anymore (for a long long time). Of course we must take care to not let that happen again, but not like this! This "new" pseudo-feminism is completely bogus and it hurts us.

It started with Debian developer expelled for joke in mailing-list because of some stupid pseudo-feminists (again, I didn’t see anything sexist in it, it was just parody of spam, a tasteful and funny parody IMHO). And now this unjustified bashing of RMS. I am ashamed that women in FOSS are like that :-(

And what about women considering FOSS to be a "hostile” environment?
Get over it already!

I'm a woman, FOSS user and aspiring to learn software development. The only constraint in my way is time: I have a life to live that includes raising and home-educating a child and running a business.

This and not "sexism" is the same reason why women are proportionately "under-represented" in many professions and why on average they get paid less in most of those professions - the work simply has to compete for time and dedication with other interests.

Girls can do ANYTHING...anything they care about doing that is. Yes, there will be obstacles. That's life. Life is tough.

And even this woman, who took the time to comment my blog is somebody I actually admire and applaud, for the simple reason that she does where so many others do not:
Do you contribute code to free software projects? I do. That's not the only type of contributions needed, though. There is work that matches every skillset out there, we are not only looking for developers.

By the way, I started my geek journey almost 30 years ago, too, slinging COBOL and holding on to Grace Hopper as a source of inspiration. It is still largely a "man's world" but I never minded working ten times as hard for opportunity. It made me stronger and smarter and better at what I do.

Of course, I saved the best for last. This one almost shocked me for the simple reason that she so eloquently said what I wanted to say.. If only I had been a woman.
As I’ve read through a slew of posts and articles on women and IT in the past few months, I’ve discovered two things: First, that they are almost always written by women, and second, they are all just as sexist as they claim the IT environment to be.

You heard me correctly. I said they’re sexist and offensive. And not just sexist and offense toward men, but to women as well: (..) "Engineers have their 'hard-hat culture', while biological and chemical scientists find themselves in the 'lab-coat' culture and computer experts inhabit a 'geek culture.' What they all have in common is that they are 'at best unsupportive and at worst downright hostile to women.'"

This seems to imply that women live outside the geek culture. I know more than a few women who are likely offended by that implication, and I'm certainly one of them. I'm not even sure what that means, and the authors of the report don't seem to elaborate at all on what it is that makes "geek culture" hostile and unsupportive or why this is problematic for women.

It’s a mighty broad brush being used to paint a fairly dismal picture of IT and computer science in general. At best unsupportive? Downright hostile?

Have I been subjected to hostile, demeaning attitudes and behavior from men in the workplace? Yes. But I've been subjected to similar attitudes and behavior elsewhere. It's a fact of life: Some people are jerks. Walk around any public venue for a while and you’re bound to discover that this is true of a certain percentage of the population. It stands to reason, then, that you'd find a similar percentage of jerks working in IT.

Have I met one or two individuals with dismissive, sexist attitudes? Absolutely. But an entire "culture of dismissal"? Never.

That's hardly a reason to condemn an entire profession, nor an entire gender. What’s even more annoying about these reports and articles is that they imply and sometimes outright demand that IT change to suit women. (..)

The premise of these articles and studies is that there is something wrong with IT in the first place. It assumes that because some women chose to pursue other careers along the way that they were driven (probably with pitchforks) out of IT by men and into a pitiful existence as a business analyst or stay-at-home mother.

But a large piece of the story is missing from these articles and research: Are the women who have left IT happier? Do they enjoy what they are doing now more than they enjoyed IT? Are they satisfied?

If they are, then maybe it isn't IT and men that are wrong, but rather those particular women’s choice of career in the first place.

You wanted "real women, real experiences", Carla? Here you got 'em.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Feminism's dirty little secret

Feminism is an ideology and like any ideology it has three major flaws:
  1. It assumes that we have an unlimited free will;
  2. It assumes that nature is inherently just, it's just us humans who mess up;
  3. It assumes that the world will become just when all people participate, but at the same time it is unable to cope with the people who do not.
Unfortunately, all these assumptions are wrong.

Free will
The battle between nature and nurture has been raging since ages and is still not fully resolved. In the darkest days of "political correctness" scientists were even unable to properly research their hypotheses. Opponents thought it was unethical to even think there might be a link between crime and genetical disposition or that the root cause of homosexuality was completely physical.

Of course, this was not the first time that science and ideology clashed. The Catholic church has particular long and bad track record, the most notorious incident being Galileo who was forced to denounce that the earth moved around the sun. But mankind has moved on and now we are all illuminated, aren't we?

No, we're not. "Political correctness" is the dogma of our time and it may still not be questioned. We have a free will. Our decisions are not influenced by mere hormones and genetical layout. We are all able to freely make our choices, have our own special talents and any differences we perceive in the real world must be attributed to external factors. Well, say hello to behaviorism.

Behaviorism assumes that all we are can be attributed to our past experiences. If boys are taught to play with dolls, they will play with dolls. If girls are taught to play with computers, they will become great FOSS contributors. Behaviorism was very influential in the sixties and it was in those days that they conducted their most gruesome experiments. The most notorious case was the case of David Reimer. Reimer was mutilated shortly after birth and John Money decided it was best if the young boy had a complete sex change and was brought up as a girl. Of course, it didn't work and after desperately trying to assume a male lifestyle, David committed suicide at the age of 38.

Nature is just
Another assumption is that nature has distributed all talents evenly between the sexes. Therefore, any differences can only be attributed to external factors. As much as feminists like to deny it, it is nowadays accepted that there are differences between the sexes.

Let me elaborate on this a little. We're talking averages here. Although on average men tend to be longer than women, it is possible that you meet a certain man that is shorter than a certain woman. Prejudice comes in when you say that all women are shorter than all man and apply this principle to every woman you meet.

Are there any differences between men and women that go beyond the mere physical level? Well, yes there are and it has been known for a long time. Of course, this knowledge is not in the interest of feminists and this movement has done anything and everything to deny it, debunk it or make it known to the general public.

The simple truth is, that an area of the brain called the inferior-parietal lobule (IPL) is typically significantly larger in men, especially on the left side, than in women. This section of the brain is thought to control mental mathematical ability, and probably explains why men frequently perform higher in mathematical tasks than do women. Interestingly, this is the same area of Einstein’s brain that was discovered to be abnormally large. This may very well explain why on average more men are inclined to sit down and crank out FOSS programs than women. That would mean that Bruce Byfield and Carla Schroder are fighting an uphill battle, since the averages will never significantly change. Well, at least not in our lifetime.. Evolution tends to be a rather tedious process.

Sam Varghese mentioned one significant issue that is important when comparing FOSS and commercial software. ICT covers a very wide range of professions nowadays, it's not limited to mere programmers. I don't even have to resort to just "marketing and sales people, administrators in proprietary software companies and the like". There are also female project leaders, female consultants and female ITIL implementers. All these jobs require little or no programming skills. I can easily confirm this since I'm an ITIL consultant myself.

The heretics
Frequent readers of my blog know I'm particularly fond of "labeling" and the label of this week is "anti-feminism".

Well, for the record: I'm not an anti-feminist. I consider myself to be a FOSS proponent and there is only one thing that counts to me: great code. I don't care whether you are black or white, atheist or Christian, male or female. I don't check the "About" boxes before I give my judgment. Great code is just great code. It's what FOSS is all about: meritocracy. Because I'm convinced that is the real driving force of FOSS, not "sexism" as some are trying to make us believe.

As Sam Varghese already noted in his recent blog, there is one significant flaw in the reasoning of my opponents: sexism is the root cause of driving women away from FOSS. Well, if there is any causality between the low number of women participating in FOSS on one hand and sexism on the other hand, simply punch up the numbers. BTW, for the scientifically challenged: examples are statistically insignificant. If you don't, I'll consider it unproven and won't subscribe to this point of view.

I've been earning my living for over twenty five years in this line of work and consequently, I've worked with a lot of women. Some of them were brilliant and I've learned a lot from them. They are strong, talented people who I got to know very well in the course of time. I know they would shrug their shoulders if they read what has been written lately. They just did their thing and no one was gonna hold them back, certainly not an immature youngster or a single sound bite of a cute, old hippie.

No, they have quite some other issues to deal with. Dilbert like management decisions, for instance - which I regret to say, happen only too frequently. Those are particularly hard to swallow - not only for women. Dear editors and journalists, that is the real world. That is what people - including women - have to cope with every day when they try to do their job. That is what stresses them, sometimes to the point that they quit their job or their profession. Write about that, you $%&*!

Nobody denies people the right to pursue their dreams. I have no problem to think of "women" as "people" as some feminists would like us to believe. I'd love to see my girlfriend use my compiler. As a matter of fact: I taught her, but she wasn't really interested. But it has to be her choice, not mine. If she, as an adult, decides to choose another career or hobby who am I to deny her that privilege?

Women nowadays enjoy a freedom that their great grandmothers didn't have. And even in those days there were women like Marie Curie and Aletta Jacobs who just did their thing. Treating women like feeble creatures who are ignorant and cannot make their own choices is a 19th century mentality. Modern women can have a good education, in some western countries female university students outnumber the males. That is what the feminist movement has been able to achieve.

What it doesn't and probably will never be able to achieve is an equal distribution of males and females in all faculties. The thing is: do we really need to? And if so, why? And if that is so important to women they should take an example to their predecessors like Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper and just do their thing. Write code. Impress me. Just do it! Stop making excuses!

The cause of the low number of women who participate in FOSS is the low number of women that are participating in FOSS! Unless a huge number of males quit making FOSS software, that ratio is not going to change - no matter what.

Just stop bothering and blaming the people who do. Call me sexist if you want (see how much I care), but let me do my thing. We're people too, you know.