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Designers, Women, and Hostility in Open Source (smarterware.org)
61 points by abraham on Mar 23, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments



On the modern web, where far-flung strangers collaborate on things like authoring an encyclopedia and overthrowing abusive governments, it's still too hard for most people to contribute to open source projects.

First, its actually not that easy to contribute to Wikipedia. Unless you've got a lot of patience to fight with the people who don't like your changes and are more willing to revert them rather than improve them, getting your contribution into Wikipedia is far more difficult than it first appears. Even if you are willing to undertake that battle, you have to navigate a slew of semi-official organizations and obscure three-letter-abbreviations in order to make your case. For example, I've seen the following on the Wikipedia IRC channel: "The submitter didn't like their article being AfD'd, so he took it to AN/I and argued that it wasn't a violation of WP:N." I wish OSS commentary would stop holding Wikipedia up as some paragon of openness, when in fact it is just as closed and insular as every other online community.

Second, the impact of a bad submission into Wikipedia is much less than the impact of a bad submission to a software project. A buggy patch causes the program to fail. A single bad fact on a Wikipedia article doesn't cause Wikipedia as a whole to be a failure. For that reason, free software projects are justified in being more selective than Wikipedia in accepting patches.


Unless you've got a lot of patience to fight with the people who don't like your changes and are more willing to revert them rather than improve them, getting your contribution into Wikipedia is far more difficult than it first appears.

This is often asserted, but it has never been my experience. Have you attempted to contribute to Wikipedia and had that experience? In which areas?

My observations have been, on the contrary, that there are very few areas where reverts are common, mostly areas with political controversy or recent events. And deletion is only an issue in a small minority of article classes as well, mostly things like software projects, music groups, and professors, where there's a grey area between "obvious keep" and "obviously this guy just wrote an article about himself". Some more solid data would be nice to tell either way, but I'm confident that if you ran the numbers, the percentage of edits that get reverted or deleted is tiny; probably under 0.1%.

Most articles I create have the opposite problem: they languish unimproved for years, with no edits besides the occasional maintenance bot modifying a category.


>Have you attempted to contribute to Wikipedia and had that experience, or is this based on your guess as to what would happen?

I have. I was a very active WP editor (mostly on religion articles) in the 2005-2007 timeframe. From what I can tell, it's only gotten worse. There are some articles that you can change without having to bicker for three weeks before your changes finally stick, but at least in the fields I'm interested in, that's definitely not true. These days when I make a change (only a handful per year now), I get accused of violating WP "canvassing policies", which didn't even exist back in my day, assuming bad faith, and whatever other stupid acronym the adversarial side can come up with.

Wikipedians who don't like your edits will drag them through so much bureaucracy only the most determined editors care enough to push through it. Even then there's no guarantee the bureaucracy will make the correct decision; you almost have to get something to the Arbitration Committee to know you're dealing with someone that at least sort of understands what they're talking about.


I think religion qualifies as one of the few areas where you might expect controversy.

My experience was completely the opposite. A while back I contributed to the article on Hilbert Space. In particular, listed Sobolev spaces as an example of a Hilbert space. I didn't handhold my contribution, bicker or anything. I submitted, forgot about it, and checked in a few months later.

The bureaucracy decided that Sobolev spaces are a noteworthy example of Hilbert spaces and significantly improved on what I wrote.


You were editing religious articles. And you're complaining about bickering. What exactly did you expect?

Around 07 I made the first few edits to the wiki page for the small town I grew up (added the first 2 sentances of custom text) and updated the census statistics. It's now at 1600 words -- and I don't think has ever had any acronyms thrown at it (the only discussion page text is my question about census data from 2007)

For most articles -- for people who act as contributors -- the bureaucracy just isn't there.


It wasn't only religion articles, I experience the same on almost any topic of general interest. Niche articles that are primarily regurgitation of statistics like articles about small towns (which consist primarily of weather and census data) obviously don't get much attention or controversy because there's not much interesting going on there.

"Hard science" articles are harder to bicker about, but it still happens there occasionally. And everywhere outside of that this useless bureaucracy, reversion, and bickering cycle is the predominant activity on Wikipedia.


But general purpose topics are going to be popular for people to modify. As the modifications on something increase, the more infrastructure and procedures you'll need in order to ensure that the the end-product is always good.


Agreed. It's been a couple of years since I actively contributed to Wikipedia, but I had a really easy time of it, mostly adding new content that wasn't there at all and expanding stub articles with a factual basis. I can see why religious/political/current events can become minefields, but I never ran into any trouble at all.


I always got the impression that getting stuff on Wikipedia was a political minefield because you can never make a clear-cut argument like “after this patch was submitted, the code didn’t compile; therefore, the patch should be backed out”.


Somewhat off-topic:

I had my first experience with IRC at 15. I'd recently discovered fansubbing and wanted to find subbed copies of the yet-un-aired in America episodes of Sailormoon. Some of the guys in my C++ class were avid IRC users and suggested I get on to see if they were available.

Unfortunately, one of the first things I noticed was the rampant use of the N-word. Not especially inviting to a young black girl. I asked the guys what that was about and they suggested I just ignore it. I had enough to deal with at 15. I never went back.


Your experience is not atypical, and it's been a struggle to win over ThinkUp contributers who've been around for awhile to the idea of spending time in IRC because of it.

But just like the larger Internet, it all depends on where you go. There's been sort of an IRC revival in development communities and I've found them largely jerk-free.


I would love to give it another chance then. My biggest regret about how things went down is that I missed a lot of the cool, web-based stuff that was going on all these years (I was 15 back in 2000/2001). I was interested in the web, but I was learning more generalized C++, Java, and working with computer animation tools.


That's unfortunate, but please don't paint all of IRC with the same brush.

IRC is just a protocol, and there are thousands of IRC networks, each with potentially thousands of channels. It's a really great communication mechanism, so please don't let a few racist trouble-makers keep you off of it.


[deleted]


No, because IRC wasn't the only place to seek knowledge. I continued to peruse other parts of the internet that didn't allow such blatant racism to slide. Beyond my C++ classes, I was also on a FIRST Robotics team. I was seen as a person there, and even if some people thought I shouldn't be there, it's harder to call someone the n-word to their face.


She never went back to IRC. There are other ways to find knowledge.


Why oh why do women who complain about being alienated by men so often write articles that make me feel alienated? I refuse to believe that my revulsion at being called a "sexist boy" is somehow an illegitimate feeling.


I do not believe that anywhere in the article she calls you a "sexist boy"? She calls the tech industry "by and large a boy's club". And I'm not just being pedantic when I say that's not the same thing at all. Complaining about the state of an industry doesn't imply that every member of that industry is to blame, just as saying that there exists racism in the American South doesn't imply that every Southerner is a racist.

Legitimate question: What leads you take the statement about the industry as a personal attack?


I'll be happy to call cousin_it a sexist boy. Statistically, he probably is. And worse, he probably thinks he's too smart to be sexist, and hangs out with mostly males who also feel that way, so their sexism goes uncorrected.

To be clear, in my original post that Trapani was responding to, I called most open source projects "sexist boy's clubs with no facility for mentoring, no respect for design, and mailing lists that are 50% dick-measuring contests."

I also call programmers abnormal, by definition of their being programmers.

Thanks to cousin_it for his defensiveness, which happens all the time, and is an excellent illustration of the problem.


Wow. Thank you too! I even upvoted your comment because it's such a beautiful illustration of my original point. If rauljara still wonders what's there for me to be offended about, let him wonder no more.

Seriously though. If your ultimate goal is to make others stop being offensive, I'm not sure offensiveness is the best tool for the job.


Wow.

As someone who has actively tried to make the Linux community more inclusive, it really hurts when someone who is on the same team makes a blanket attack that includes you.

Just because it_boy and I are male and in software, we automatically aren't allowed to have opinions? You can throw out the word "statistically" and dismiss us just like that? Wait, remind me again what the definition of sexism is?

I will happily agree with you that most FOSS projects "have no facility for mentoring or respect for design". (You're surprised that a community created by developers is going to value developers over designers? Really?) I really don't understand the "sexist boy's clubs" or "50% dick-measuring contests" comments.

If I'm being unfairly defensive, then help me out here. Here's the archives for several FOSS mailing lists I'm on:

http://news.gmane.org/gmane.comp.t2.devel http://lists.gnu.org/archive/html/bug-wget/ http://java.net/projects/lg3d/lists/interest/archive (Kind of dead now. Browsing by month on a list that only gets a message every other month is a pain, but blame Oracle.) http://linuxfromscratch.org/pipermail/blfs-support/

You could probably argue that the BLFS mailer has a certain amount of dick-waving going on, but I truly fail to see how any of them are "sexist boy's clubs". If I'm wrong, can you point out where we are being unconsciously sexist? I can see lots of ways that the above mailers are intimidating to outsiders in of both sexes, but that's hardly sexism, is it?

If and when I see sexism, I'm happy to call it out--I don't pretend that it doesn't exist, but I really don't see that it's as prevalent as you claim.


I am not very intelligent, nor very eloquent, so bear with me, here. I know you're feeling defensive, but humor me for a moment, and let's assume I'm right, and Gina Trapani is right, and all the people who have retweeted this pair of essays are right.

If we're right, and you're wrong, then that discomfort and defensiveness you're feeling right now is fear. You're afraid I might be talking about you. You're realizing you've never examined your opinions about this issue, you've just assumed you're smart enough to not be sexist, or racist, or bigoted in any substantial way, and this bothers you quite a bit, to perhaps not be as smart as you thought.

You're also afraid that I'm talking about your community, the one that gives you a strong sense of identity, and no-one else in your community has ever talked about this, so it must not be an issue, right? This outsider! How dare she!

Maybe you're even afraid because it's a girl calling you out. A girl emasculating you, just like all the others who have called you out for one reason or another. They're all the same! Fucking bitches, man! Perhaps this is pushing it. Perhaps this resonates with someone.

Except, hi, I'm Vitorio. I'm a guy. I've worked with Linux for fifteen years. I grew up on IRC. I've contributed code patches to open source projects. I've released open source software. I've written documentation and helped with design and done support for open source software. I'm part of your community, too. Which means I'm saying this is a problem in our community.

I believe this is a serious, cultural problem. No-one talks about it in our community because everyone believes they're too smart to be sexist. And, yet, there's a long list of well-documented sexism-related incidents in open source, including sexual assault at the most recent ApacheCon: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/index.php?title=Timeline_of_in...

Do you know how I know it's a long list? Because it exists at all.

Obviously, we're not all too smart. But I don't just believe it's a few bad apples. I think we're mostly bad apples in this regard. Why?

I believe part of the sexism is cultural from how you were brought up: as a male in most cultures you are raised inherently sexist and the culture itself encourages sexist gender roles and a rape culture and such.

I believe part of the sexism is cultural from the people you associate with: it's like that xkcd comic, sometimes it's "you're bad at math" and sometimes it's "girls are bad at math," and both are culturally damaging, but the latter is much worse and drives a ton of people away and any tolerance for it is a gateway for worse behavior.

You've probably recently been involved with a sexist, racist, homophobic or otherwise bigoted joke. Maybe you made one. Maybe you laughed at one. Maybe you read Slashleen on Twitter. I made one at dinner tonight, for example. Everyone laughed, including the overweight, homosexual black man who was with us. It doesn't make it funny, and it doesn't make it okay. It's still bigotry, and it's still wrong. I also called out a coworker for calling something "gay" yesterday. One doesn't make up for the other.

That's why I'm not going to read your mailing lists to pass judgment on whether your communities are sexist or not. It's possible for them to all be and for you to be unqualified to judge. It's not all or nothing, it's not one or the other. IRC is worse than mailing lists are, in my experience. IRL is both better and has the potential to be much worse.

That's also why the Penny Arcade "Dickwolves" issue was so important: they made a rape joke. It was considered to be promoting rape culture. I agree that it was. Jokes about rape perpetuate the idea that rape is somehow okay or normal. You don't encourage anything that seems to promote a negative behavior. For me, it was less that the comic promoted rape culture and more that their response, their not understanding why it could possibly be an issue since they didn't "mean it that way," was totally wrong, and that incomprehension was completely representative of gamers and OSS developers alike.

I also wish I had bought a Dickwolves tee. That makes me part of the problem. But, I heard once that a sign of intelligence is being able to hold two conflicting thoughts in your head at the same time. I can believe the OSS community is generally sexist, perhaps even misogynistic, and be both disappointed and unsurprised by the HN reaction to these essays, and still comment here. It's not really my place to judge you, or even teach you, because that means teaching self-awareness.

I believe your defensiveness reflects your lack of cultural self-awareness to understand that not only might your community be inherently sexist, but that you might also be.

I understand that I am. It's not that you're not allowed to have an opinion, you are, but "I feel like this is a personal attack" is a feeling. I am intentionally writing antagonistically to provoke you into thinking about this constructively.

Now, you can go back to your original feeling. Thanks so much for humoring me. Whatever opinion you end up holding, I hope it's a strong opinion, loosely held, and I hope you actually have reasons for holding it.


"And, yet, there's a long list of well-documented sexism-related incidents in open source, including sexual assault at the most recent ApacheCon: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/index.php?title=Timeline_of_in....

If there is a long list, please produce it. One incident is just that, one incident. Are there sexist developers in OS? Very likely. That doesn't imply that they are a majority, or so dominant that it is impossible to find OS projects without sexism.

You can find events to prove anything. There was even an Open Source murderer (I suppose, not sure how the Reiser murder mystery was resolved), yet not all OS developers are murderers.

You can also find lots of events where men were discriminated, or whatever. It is irrelevant, because in OS you are free to pick your projects, nobody forces you to put up with abuse.

(I only read half of your last post before I got bored - ever considered that you might be too self-absorbed? People retweeting your musings does not prove their merit, either. remember, 3% of Twitter is just Justin Bieber).

If you are so interested in psychology, maybe you should study some more. There has to be a reason why this subject bothers you so much - maybe the same reason people retweet your stuff. But it might not be what you think it is. Think about it: you clam you can not even detect sexism, yet you feel you have to accuse everybody of being sexist. What is driving you (except a trollish desire for retweets)?


yeah, but you're presupposing that sexism is wrong. If it is wrong, why has it survived for so long? The problem is inherent in the human condition - we align ourselves with people who are like us, and build a community around our likeness - that guarantees that there will always be someone on the outside.


Why do you feel that it's okay to stereotype and demean the OP simply based on the fact that he's a man? You know nothing about him, but you're willing to draw conclusions about him based upon your own predisposition to misandry. I honestly wish I could downvote your comment more than once.

I find your attitude uncannily ironic, given your blog post. So essentially, what you're saying is that sexism is only bad when it happens to women?


Oh, now I get it: you are just a troll. Lucky for you that this subject is guaranteed to get people worked up. Perfect.


"There exists racism in the American South" is a different statement to "the American South is by and large racist", though.

Maybe those IT-Feminists should just write about their good experiences once in a while, to make it clear that they don't blame everybody.


I think this is just a misreading. She says it's a "sexist boy's club." I think cousin_it is parsing this as (((sexist boy)'s) club), while it's meant as (sexist (boy's club)). The former implies that the club's members are sexist boys, while the latter implies that it's a group comprising mostly men due to some sexism inherent in the group's structure.


headdesk

I started out in open source as a 12yo girl back in the mid-90's. I loved the OSS community because no one cared in the least that I was a farm girl from nowhere. You know what? I came in at the tail-end of a time when we had a lot more women doing open-source tech than we do now (some estimates have it around a 1:2 F:M ratio if you go back to the 70s and 80s).

Anybody wonder what the differences between then and now are?

* There were no "girl groups", i.e. Debian Women and the like. Women weren't a special case in need of protection, we were as mainstream as the men.

* There was no pressure to be politically correct. Everyone was indoctrinated into hacker culture, we weren't supposed to treat one another like foreign specimens in need of kid gloves.

* The stereotype that women are more suited to design and support tasks, and men more suited to development, wasn't hanging over our heads (ironically, like the author of this article, the people pushing that stereotype are usually so-called feminists).

* No one cared about the demographics. The current obsession with gender ratios in open source has been wholly counter-productive. It's taught people they must act differently around women, that women need special help, and generally worked against the hacker ethos of "best idea first" (no matter from where or whom that idea comes).

In short, the actions of those who are obsessed with parity between the sexes are causing half the problem: increased stress between the sexes in open source communities. The other half of the coin is what happens long before most young people come into contact with open source:

My 8yo son recently showed off his new netbook to some neighbors, who commented, "It's a good thing you had a boy, Susan, what would you have done with a daughter?"

The boys my son knows have tech toys: netbooks, robots, Snap Circuits, and so on. The girls don't. Most of them never get more intimate with a piece of technology than typing and printing an essay or answering email until college, at which point it's too late.

Every great hacker I know was introduced to hacking in some form at a very young age. I'm not on par with men because some patronizing feminists made me feel welcome, because the community was sensitive, or because I was gently sequestered into girl-friendly areas: it's because I wrote my first code when I was six.

Feminists, stop whining and let the real women do what we do, without the burden of your self-destructive attempts at shaming the men.


I understand your point about letting women "do what we do," because although it's not common, intelligent, strong women like yourself will rise to the level of their male counterparts despite cultural pressure. But I think you still have to admit that the pressure exists, and keeps some women who otherwise would succeed out of the business and out of Open Source.

Myself, and most of the girls I know, were raised to be "ladies." That means that skills like cooking, drawing, and playing classical instruments had a higher value placed on them than computer hacking or coding skills. Just as you say, many of use don't learn to use a computer until we reach college and have to start writing essays (for our acceptable "girly" majors: I chose to major in French because I didn't even feel like computer science was an option for me at the time I entered college.) It's girls like this who need the support of a female community before they can feel comfortable enough to dive into programming. No matter how talented, not all girls are going to be able to write their first code at age six because parents often actively discourage their daughters from spending time in front of the computer - just look at the comments your neighbors made! My own parents frequently booted me off the computer so that I would go practice violin, etc. My brothers on the other hand, were allowed to use the computer and often received tech-related items as presents. For whatever reason, computers are still perceived as a boy's plaything rather than a girl's plaything.

While I don't think shaming men is going to solve this problem, I do think there needs to be a supportive community that welcomes women into the tech world, which is exactly the point of Gina Trappani's article.


"Still, uptake is slow, the on-ramp steep"

So at ThinkUp she does all these things, and still hardly any women contributors. Maybe something is wrong with her theory?

It also doesn't explain why women need special treatment - isn't it in fact rather demeaning to claim they do?


In my original post, which Trapani cites, someone asks me this same question.

So [women] have to be spoonfed? What makes them so goddamn important if they haven’t proven they’re willing to contribute? I have actually tutored many people before, but if they don’t express an interest to learn and willingness to contribute I am not going to waste my time on them.

The problem isn't that women need special treatment to be accepted. The problem is that open source projects are not accepting of anyone who isn't a male programmer.

That is, open source projects are sexist, because their members are sexist. They explicitly treat women worse than men. They also explicitly treat non-programmers worse than programmers. What's worse is they think they are too smart to be sexist or unwelcoming, so that behavior goes unchecked.

A normal community would include instructive socialization. From my original article, "Hi, welcome to the community, here's a housewarming present, here's how things work, we could really use some help over here and I'd love to show you how to work on it, but anything you want to do, feel free and I'll be here to answer and questions and walk you through every process until you feel comfortable."

This is the process that ThinkUp espouses, which almost all other open source projects lack.


I find it hard to believe that your generalization holds for all of the thousands of Open Source projects, or even for the majority of them. I mean that they treat women worse than men. Got any pointers to studies, references that make you think so?

As for no hand-holding, this would equally harm men and women. Sure, hand-holding would be nice, but what if it isn't really in the budget?

And what if women would START open source projects? Then they could decide on all those aspects. You don't have to ask anybody for permission to start an OS project. So we should see high rates of women starting OS projects, compared to women joining existing OS projects?


> The problem is that open source projects are not accepting of anyone who isn't a male programmer.

Your are so out of touch with real life. Contributors to an open source project are usually identified with an email and communicate online. No one cares if you are a woman, a man or a green alien. Open source is a meritocrasy and what matters is what you contribute.


Indeed, one of the most prominent Ruby hackers a few years ago managed to completely disappear into anonymity just by deleting his website and github — nobody knew his name, and the only reason anyone even knew he was a he is because he chose to attend some conferences.

And I believe one of the core Ruby contributors is an open transwoman, which should be especially reviled if there actually is this intense sexism.


It also doesn't explain why women need special treatment - isn't it in fact rather demeaning to claim they do?

Actually she says the opposite: The tech industry is by and large a boys' club, and that's a shame, because homogenous teams turn out one-dimensional products. That may or may not be a fair assessment of the "tech industry", but her point is that the industry is treating men specially. She wants the same treatment for women as for men, which means either treating women better or not catering so hard to men.

Of course, she brings up one other thing: most people in tech may be men, but there just are not very many people in tech. The environment is hostile in more ways then simple sexism.

edited for correctness


She doesn't actually present any examples of special treatment that is denied to women, though. Or did I miss that?

Being a man in the industry, I don't feel treated very special at all. For example it seems normal that every coder thinks other people's code is crap.


She doesn't mention any specifically in this article, but she does mention the "boys worshiping tech toys" style of tech blogging. I can think of the usual complaining about steak and strippers, booth babes etc. But her point is pretty broad, so I don't think citing specific examples would really fit with the scope of the article.

edit: typo


So women are excluded from IT because magazines like to write about tech toys? I don't get it. Strippers and booth babes are equally offensive to men and women (not sure what is with steak).


Booth babes might be offensive, but I don't think they're equally offensive to men and women. Women can feel threatened or devalued in that kind of environment.


Really? They just make me laugh at how stupid and easily manipulated some men can be, and glad I've managed to surround myself with men who aren't.


Well, just some women. I don't think it's a rational thing. As far as I know, they don't really think anyone is going to hurt them, it's just a gut reaction. It might be fair to say that they should get over such irrational fears. But it's just as fair to say we don't need to put anyone through that for something so gratuitous.


i think what's wrong with her theory (and any theory involving it being harder for women in the tech industry) is that there isn't any sort of favoritism towards men. Software developers [especially] are very hyper critical and will often make snide remarks about someone while trying to help them in order to entertain themselves so that they don't get distracted while trying to help/communicate with someone. The "recipient" being a woman (therefor largely in the minority) is the low hanging fruit for snide comments. If the women were men, they would also receive a snide comment.

The other problem is that in relation to how many developers actually exist, there are very very few that garner any respect just for being who they are. With the ratio's the way they are that means there are virtually no women in these spots. That could make it appear that us male developers only give any respect to other men which isn't the case (well it's at least not a true cause/effect).

Anyways I've seen quite a few of these articles/blurbs but have never seen any actual examples of real sexism. Also I tend to have bias against any article that claims to be pro-feminism.


"Anyways I've seen quite a few of these articles/blurbs but have never seen any actual examples of real sexism. Also I tend to have bias against any article that claims to be pro-feminism."

Uh, you're saying that, as a male, you haven't seen any sexism, so that means a woman who has experienced sexism is incorrect?

Okay, I say you've never been treated unfairly in your life, because I've never seen it happen. Your own experience is insufficient evidence, so don't bother to offer counterarguments.

To be clear, your blanket condescending dismissal if someone's own firsthand report of an experience is actually a perfect example of exactly the sort of sexism we're trying to confront.


actually i was trying to point out that these articles don't give any specific example of how they were treated in a sexist way. they just say they did not achieve whatever it was they wanted because they were treated in a sexist manner.

> To be clear, your blanket condescending dismissal if someone's own firsthand report of an experience is actually a perfect example of exactly the sort of sexism we're trying to confront.

This is also what I'm talking about. Even if what I said in the first place was meant the way you read it, it still wouldn't be sexism, it would just be ignorance. Had I have said that something to the affect of "her opinion doesn't matter because she's a woman and women are always way too emotional," then it would be sexist. What I said was that she didn't provide an example of what sexist thing was done to her. Instead she only spoke about how she failed at what she was trying to do and assumed it was because everyone was sexist.

Perhaps something sexist actually was done to her; perhaps whoever did it didn't mean for it to be sexist; perhaps me and a bunch of other men do the same thing not realizing its sexist; perhaps women think that something me or any other man does is sexist when we have a completely different reason for doing it? That being said, I'll stop this comment with a mildly sexist comment... Women are always telling men to communicate their feelings with them, so maybe women should start communicating their "facts" more often with men. (i put facts in quotations just to sound even more sexist)


"Uh, you're saying that, as a male, you haven't seen any sexism, so that means a woman who has experienced sexism is incorrect?"

He didn't say that, nowhere in the thread or the article is a woman who claims she has experienced sexism, so he isn't replying to such a claim.


Only if, in your opinion, special treatment is equivalent to the community not acting like misogynistic assholes, or at least tolerating such behavior. Similarly, gay people will tend not to feel welcome at homophobic places, black people will tend not to feel welcome at racist places, etc.


So all Open Source developers are misogynistic assholes? Seems very unlikely to me.


I thought the quote from Vitorio Miliano in the article was too kind to feminism (equality for everyone? It's a women's interests lobby, let's call a spade a spade), and underestimates how eager Open Source communities are to "discipline unruly users" and provide mentoring.

Every time I can't figure out how to do something in Clozure Common Lisp, I go on IRC, ask for help, get it, and then write about it on the Wiki, at which point the CCL devs thank me for my contribution.

Otherwise, though, I agreed with the article's points.


Feminism as a "women's interests lobby" is vaguely like calling the free software movement a "geeks' interests lobby" - it's both condescending and inaccurate about the nature of movements, among other things.

Anyway, sounds like the article agrees about the usefulness of helping more people get on IRC and contribute to wikis, and I agree too. They're fundamental tools for community projects.


As the "Vitorio" who was being quoted, thanks for your thoughts.

However, I think you're too kind to open source, and as Anil Dash commented after my original article, "i find everyone who hates the word 'feminism' defines it differently from those of us who identify as feminists."

Please feel free to read my original article and see if that explains the stance any better.


>equality for everyone? It's a women's interests lobby

It's both and more. The world is a complicated place.


How can one disagree with this article without being branded sexist and intolerant?

She asserts there are few designers and women in open source software because men alienate them. And that we should try to make it so technical competence isn't required to contribute.

There are some good ideas here. But they only apply to a small subset of OSS projects. There is no cause for calling programmers anti-women or anti-designer.


Hi, I think you misunderstand the argument being here, and are needlessly interpreting this as a 'men vs women' argument.

The author is not saying that OSS communities are explicitly anti-women. This does not appear anywhere in the article. What she does argue is that OSS projects can be unwelcoming to newbies in general. There are no gender arguments being made here. In fact, she seems to feel that she herself has been guilty to an extent here. She cites a UX designer who argues:

"There’s no perceived value in open source for mentoring, facilitation, disciplining of unruly users, training of newcomers or non-technical users, etc., which are needed to support both designers of any gender and women in any role."

Again, I think a very poor summary of her argument is "She asserts there are few designers and women in open source software because men alienate them", as this suggests that the only issue is too few women being present. If you simply introduce more women, this argument would go, the problem would disappear. This is emphatically _not_ what she is arguing. Men and women are equally well suited to implementing the solutions presented in the article, and the mistakes are equally easy to be made by engineers of either gender.


In the old days, which was really not very long ago, geeks had to push hard against the "mainstream" to create a little bubble where they could exist. They catered hard to people like themselves, because it was hard to find anybody like them. It was good to have some space that catered to geeks. But now that pressure against geeks isn't so high, some of them are still pushing against the mainstream just as hard as ever. The hard part is over, guys! Geeks can now find people like themselves without too much trouble. There are now lots of places we can go that cater to geeks. It's time to stop pushing against the mainstream so hard. We don't have to be so defensive anymore.


Don't let the title fool you - these are some valuable thoughts on growing inclusive projects.


This is a genuine question: what do you mean by "Don't let the title fool you"?


Some readers might be put off by 'designers', 'women', or 'open source', thinking that the article would not be of interest to them. In reality, the essence of the article is how one makes any project inclusive to outsiders. This could apply to in-house corporate stuff just as easily as foss stuff and to any dichotomy you want to look at (tech v biz, coders v non-coders, men v women, etc etc etc).


This article falls flat for a couple of reasons.

1) In Open Source projects people don't care about your gender, orientation, race, etc. in large part because this information isn't even available. I'd like you to give me some examples where people's code is treated like the plague for a prejudice such as those.

2) Of course developers are going to be valued more highly in a community _centered_ around development. Whose valued more highly at an art showing, the painter or a curator?

3) Treating disrespect and generalizations with more disrespect and generalizations has proven time and again to be an ineffective technique that's wielded by sensationalists. I don't see how you can expect anyone to take such melodrama seriously.

4) Your value to an open source project is directly correlated to the quality and quantity of knowledge and code you provide to the project. It should be obvious that more experienced people will be valued much higher than a noob who wants to join. Everyone initially takes a beating or two for submitting poor patches, but those who aren't deterred by petty bullshit stick around and actually learn a thing or two while becoming developers.

Honestly I couldn't care less if people put off by blunt commentary on their contributions don't want to participate. They aren't cut out for it.


The switch from the general design-by-committee approach to "look folks, we're hiring a designer, and they'll sell their ideas to us" is a really interesting one, and mirrors a lot of the part-OSS part-corporate projects I've recently become more familiar with.

Is design ultimately something that can't be done in patches and edits? I suspect so...


Ever tried to sell something to a committee?

I don't mean this to be disrespectful but it's not as simple as it sounds. Especially, if the committee is clueless (or in disagreement) about the usual questions: What do you want? What do you need? What goals should be accomplished?

It even gets more tricky if membership for the committee is not well defined.


> Feminism is fundamentally about equality for everyone, not just women

What on earth does this even mean? If I am to take the first part at face value, then they sure picked a bad label for this idea. As for the second part, what would equality just for women even mean?

If feminism means that, all other things being equal, women should have the same rights and privileges as men, then gosh darn it, I'm a feminist! I just wish my feminist counterparts didn't get so wrapped up in these divisive side issues like choosing a particular gender to promote.


I had a thought the other day because one of the women I'm working with was showing rather a large amount of cleavage.

The thought was that it must be great to be a woman in IT because all you need to do is dress a little tarty and you get the red carpet rolled out for you.

Then I thought about why that was the case. And I realised that basically the only reason that dressing slutty gets you favours is because the industry is so thoroughly male dominated, or, in the words of the article, a boy's club.

So now, I don't begrudge them the advantages they accrue from dressing that way, I just enjoy it instead :D


I had a thought the other day because one of the women I'm working with was showing rather a large amount of cleavage.

I think women basically have two role models for how to "dress for success": One is basically as a "boy toy" and the other is to dress like a man, neither of which cuts it. I think a lot of women who dress "sexy" really aren't specifically intending to come across as "sexy". I think they are trying to come across as "successful, as a woman" and we really don't have much for them to draw from. We have female entertainers who make big bucks, in part because they are sexy (Demi Moore, Madonna, etc). And then we have male role models for business and such. Dressing like a man risks coming across as one or both of the following: 1) Sexy, because it only serves to emphasize that she is really a girl, not a guy or 2) Second class citizen because it only serves to emphasize that she is not a man. In the US at least, we don't have a history of female presidents and such, so we have clothing that signals "successful for a woman" (which almost always means either someone's wife or you got your money because you are sexy) and we have "successful for a man" (which doesn't work well as a clothing style for a woman).

As a woman working in corporate America, I am painfully aware that most stuff you see in magazines is something I would be sent home over as "not appropriate" if I showed up at work in it. Most women who have devoted themselves to becoming competent enough at core skills for their career to get anywhere aren't fashionistas and won't have spent gobs of time studying this topic. I think about it a lot and I think the lack of good clothing options for signaling "successful business woman" significantly contributes to the rampant amount of office-slut-wear out there (which makes me basically cringe on a daily basis).


Probably the main reason for this is that online is such a new environment that it nullifies many assumptions that support our off-line culture. This way, on-line we regress to the primitive ways of organisation - and these are very power-centered masculine ways - because individual power is what used to be the basis for organisation. On-line the individual strength is swapped for intellectual mastery - but I would be surprised if this shallow change would be enough to make that culture optimal in the area of knowledge production.




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