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.


ed said...

It absolutely doesn't matter what you say. What these women say. It's like talking to the wall. I would quote your own sentence that I think explains everything:
"Political correctness" is the dogma of our time and it may still not be questioned.
You can't change people's beliefs except in very rare cases.
But you have my support for trying.

One more highlight:
I offered my article to LT too, but obviously, it was refused.
And people ask them selfs how come in the past people burned for having different opinions?.

Anonymous said...

At least get her name right. It's Carla Schroder, not "Schoder".

The Beez' said...

Corrected and thanks for pointing that out to me. And my sincere excuses to Carla in particular. I didn't mean any disrespect.

I seem to have a blind spot for names which leads regularly to hilarious situations (in the eyes of others at least) in my professional life. I try to give it extra attention, but sometimes things slip through anyway.

Anonymous said...


Education already is changing. I met too many educators as a (male) student who actively discouraged girls to study "boy's" subjects. These seem to have all retired by now.

I also remember this half page add in a national Dutch trade magazine in the 90's for Java programmers with a sexist pun on "strings" and "objects" over a rather inappropriate background picture of a woman. They were obviously NOT radiating the image of a safe workplace for women. But I never saw such adds since then.

On the other hand, this is no different to any other, exclusively male work environment like construction workers and car mechanics (their work-place calendars do not depict cute flowers or romantic gardens).

So on the one hand I do agree with Carla Schroder et al and feel the loss of so much talent, driven away by a hostile environment.

There is no reason for you or anybody else to deride those "girls" who moved away. It makes good sense to go where you are valued instead of staying where you are harassed and abused. You only have one life to waste.

On the other hand, life is indeed tough, also for men. If you cannot stand the heat, do not go in the kitchen and all that. Most men do not like the rat race themselves, but somehow, feel obliged to participate.

Anyhow, this whole discussion is moot anyway. Women are taking over most professions and we are starting to worry about all this lost talent in boys who cannot cope with the responsibilities this female world heap onto them.


Anonymous said...

Um. So you start your post with a long-winded story about how anecdotal evidence is unreliable and should be disregarded, then proceed with an argument based entirely on anecdotal evidence?

Also, you suggest that "The problem I have with this statement is, that now it seems to be exclusively a FOSS problem", completely ignoring the fact that Ms. Schroeder carefully tackled this facet of the problem in her initial blog post, when she pointed out that the statistics on female involvement in F/OSS development are massively worse than in proprietary development. In other words, yes, the problem is not exclusive to but certainly _far worse_ in F/OSS development. The facts bear this out.

(And no, the fact that someone makes an editorial decision not to run your article does not make them an unethical journalist. If all journalists ran all the stories that were submitted to them we'd have extremely long and borderline incomprehensible publications...)

The Beez' said...

No, you completely missed the point. It was just to illustrate that where Carla is able to come up with anecdotal information, so can I. It doesn't prove anything, THAT is what I wanted to prove.

Strangely enough, NO story of the other side made it at Carla. She allegedly removed comments - or didn't publish them. I can confirm that the latter IS the case for the simple reason it happened to me.

Strangely enough, worse articles of me have made it to LT in the past WITHOUT exception. Check it out yourself! And LX covered them non the less.

The figures you mentioned came from one single report, which you probably haven't read yourself. I have.

Sorry pal, no cigar.

Ed said...

Hey guys, Carla is on fire again!
Mark the woman hater

Anonymous said...

theBeez: There was a weblog which I posted a few articles to, the blog as a whole got a modest 1000 to 1400 views per week (I didn't check how many views each article got, however, so I couldn't say why); the geek feminists got it shut down.

They also have tried to have me imprisoned (notice: I would rather die than have my life ruined by a prison record, but I will never close my mouth or mind as the women's rights activist wish me to.) and have successfully got my internet access cut off (I now use wireless hotspots.)

It is either their way, or coersion (punishment) untill men OBEY. They accept that mere talk alone does not work.

Men should learn from them... we once knew such things too.
We once used such means.

If you find your endless post so darn important, open up a blog, post it there and get it out of your system. Posting and reposting it does NOT add anything to this discussion. You may thank the patience of the moderators here that you haven't been banned already. If you tried that at my blog, you would have, believe me.

The Beez' said...

I don't know who you are and I can't figure out what your point is.

The rules for commenting on my blog are pretty simple: don't break the law, don't make ad hominem attacks you can't substantiate, don't use four letter words, don't spam.

Anything else goes, that's your responsibility.

Anonymous said...

The "geek feminists" of have had almost every opensource thing I've contributed to the free-software movement deleted from sourceforge (the main hosting website for the opensource world). I wrote about it on . They've had my perl terminal videogames deleted (gpcslots2 and rpg1 (a text based casino simulator and an RPG)), my miscellaneous utilities deleted (useful for searching through RAM, etc), and my ~40 Nexuiz maps deleted (3d maps for the videogame nexuiz which took 3 years of almost continious effort to make). They have sought out pretty much any place I have an outlet on the net and campaigned to have it removed. They are also trying to have me imprisoned. Could you shine light on this?

The geek feminists are trying and have been succeding in kicking anti-feminist men out of opensource (Like how they had Ted (Jonathan) Walther kicked out of debian some years back). The geek feminists do NOT produce anything, it is the men who create free-software. Yet we are being brought to heel. What can be done?

Here is where they gloat:

Here is where they try to track me down and talk of having me arrested and how they have reported me to their local police and to the fbi:

Death To women's Rights.
Viva Men's Liberties (somehow)

PS: What set them off is that on public web forums I defended the men of freesoftware in their right to say and believe "sexist things", and I told everyone that what these women were trying to do (and had done successfully in the case of Ted Walther) is to have men who were opposed to women's rights or feminism, kicked out and banned from contributing to the free software collaboration. I also suggested that men who write software are more valuable than women's rights activists who merely "bug hunt" and "package" and try to have "bad" men removed. No matter how many times they and their male-admirers deleted my posts I would re-post them. Other men's critical posts were deleted aswell, ofcourse. Note: these information-gatekeepers don't contribute code or media to the free-software and opensource movement... but they control admin positions at the discussion forums and hosting sites.

Sam Varghese said...

I think you are wrong to single out Carla Schroder and accuse her of trying to censor the debate. She used one piece of mine - link - which was from left field and explained that my other pieces hadn't been used because they were simply saying that Mark Shuttleworth was right. That was a bit simplistic but then that's her interpretation, to which she is entitled. I really have no problem with her editorial judgement - her views may not tally with mine but she is entitled to her opinion and I respect her views.

Also remember that any website only uses X number of pieces a day to keep the content current - if a good piece arrives late, it may well miss the cut. Or if your piece is a different take on a subject that has already been covered, it may run on a day when there aren't many submissions and miss the cut on a day when there are enough to fill the quota. At times, too many opinions on a topic can be boring - that's left to editorial judgement

There are other US websites which are far more partisan - Slashdot, for example, never uses my pieces after I criticised them. Here are two pieces they refused to use - one and two. Don't tell me that a tech audience wouldn't have found those pieces to be of interest!

On the other hand, there are mainstream tech websites like iTWire which do allow commenters a bit more freedom provided the comments do not contravene the country's publishing laws. That is because the people running the site and many of the writers are long-time journalists - not people who were suddenly promoted to editorial posts or those who started writing the day before yesterday and now think of themselves as journalists. It's all very well to talk of freedom of speech until you are the target of so-called free speech - believe me, I know what it's like, I've been in the trenches for 30 years, right from the days when newspapers were crafted using lead type and hand-composing.

Thus, we have to deal with a huge number of people who have no idea of the role blogs play in mainstream media, how blogs came to occupy a position of such prominence, or why journalists often choose to use blogs for news, views and interviews. I've educated a few people who asked but the majority are know-alls so one doesn't bother.

The Beez' said...

Sam, I do have great respect for you. Your first answer on the debate which has been going on was a piece of art IMHO. I wish I could comment so eloquently on an issue that worries me that greatly. Still, I can't agree with you here. My response was on time, on issue and represented the other view. I have never had any trouble to post any story on LT, so the other arguments don't apply either. Note the comments Carla gave on my blog when it appeared on hers.

Great power comes with great responsibility and Carla should acknowledge that. First, views like mine won't go away when you censor them. Second, if you want to resolve an issue you have to be able to debate it. Third, an editor should be able to step over his or her own views and simply do their job according to the guidelines given by their peers.

If Carla is not able to do that, I think she should reconsider whether she is fit for the job. LXer had no trouble at all publishing them, and I sincerely respect them for that.

Am I able to apply these standards to myself? Believe me, I have. I only censor these that refer to what persons are or views those persons hold which do not matter to the issue involved. And obvious profanity of course. If I censor a message, I leave a remark.

Some persons already suggested that I should delete all comments that I don't like, but again: would this help the debate? I don't think so.

For that reason I do NOT question Carla's right to address the issue. I just question her reasons for choosing the stories covering it. Note I don't do this for a living, so won't eat a slice of bread less. I just think that the community should be better than all others and Carla's behavior just doesn't fit in. That's what enrages me, not that my name isn't lit in neon.

Thank you very much for taking the time to comment, but I don't think we agree on this one.