a series of articles on women
O'Reilly has been running
which has an emphasis on encouraging women to enter the
field. LWN has, in its usual way, posted pointers to a subset of those
articles; most of those pointers have resulted in lengthy conversations
among LWN readers. Those readers, true to their usual form, have managed
to hold a higher-level discussion than has been seen in other forums. That
said, there have been a lot of bits expended on discussions of topics like
relative brain sizes, differing approaches to family life, the true
femininity of transsexuals, and so on. Your editor, not generally known
for being short of opinions, could expound on many of these topics, but
that is not going to happen here. Such discussions are not really relevant
to the topic at hand.
The relevant discussion, it seems, can be much more simple and
straightforward, concentrating on a few basic points:
- The participation by women in the free software community is
strikingly low. It is not just far below the incidence of women in
the wider world; it is also well below the percentage of women found
in more traditional technical jobs.
- We would be better off if we could attract more women to our
community. We are not so rich that we can afford to do without
skilled developers, writers, artists, project managers, and so on. We
are not so diverse that we can afford to do without a wider variety of
points of view.
- We, as a community, behave in ways which drive women away. We are
also good at repelling people with thin skins, people with different
cultural expectations on how professionals talk to each other, and
anybody else who does not easily fit in.
There is no need to get drawn into blind alleys about genetic links to
mathematical ability or the demands of family life. There is no point in
being distracted by strawmen, be they an outspoken feminist that somebody
finds particularly obnoxious or the notion that somebody is calling for a
quota of 50% female participation. There is no shortage of incredibly
smart, talented, and interested women out there who have found our
community unwelcoming; that, on its own terms, is a problem.
When comments (not on LWN, happily) respond to this year's kernel summit group
photo by comparing the relative merits of the few female developers
found there, our community as a whole becomes that much more hostile. When
certain Linux publications run overtly demeaning
ads, a clear view of how women should participate in free software is
being communicated. When sexist idiots drive one of the most
humorous and human diaries off the net, we all lose out. When
employ terms like "sausage fest," they show that we still clearly miss the
point. When women are harassed at Linux events, there is a good chance
that they will not come back.
And when all of these things (and worse) drive people out of our
community, we are all impoverished as a result.
Making things better does not require the establishment of some sort of
police force to enforce extensive rules. We do not need to replicate
Gentoo's "proctors" experiment. We do not have to establish
official codes of conduct, though making it clear that a certain level of
polite and respectful behavior is expected cannot hurt. But if we can
recognize the problem - that our community's behavior is driving away women
and many other potential contributors - without trying to bury it in
irrelevant strawman arguments, we will be off to a good start. We are, as
a community, good at solving problems once we realize that they need our
attention. This one needs our attention.
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