njs industries: filling your tl/dr quota of today -- and tomorrow!
Posted Aug 25, 2009 13:10 UTC (Tue) by njs
In reply to: OK, I'll bite. Sides of this issue you might not be considering
Parent article: FSF to host a mini-summit on Women in Free Software
I'm not a woman myself, so this will be going off of my own imperfect understanding, based more on reading and thinking than experience. For purposes of responding, I'm assuming that you aren't either. But let me try to give you a rough idea.
For most of us, our gender just doesn't come up when hacking. Who stops and thinks "hey, I'm male" in the middle of discussing a patch or whatever?
But if you're Julie Random Hacker, it doesn't work that way. You can't forget you're female and be "just another hacker".
Sometimes it's because of malicious jerks who will harass and threaten you. (They're a minority, but that can be enough.)
Sometimes it's because of desperate geeks with weird impulse control and deeply twisted or broken social skills, especially regarding sex. They're not malicious, not evil; if anything, they're damaged victims of their culture. But you're the one who has to deal with it.
Sometimes its because of perfectly well-meaning, easy-going people who nevertheless will make casual jokes about women, or bring up your gender in the middle of an argument about other things entirely, or otherwise demonstrate that while they're perfectly nice people, it's never occurred to them to think about how things look from your perspective. That in their world, your experience just isn't that important.
Sometimes, even, it's internal. You screw up, you wonder if everyone is nodding sagely and thinking "yep, that's why women aren't real hackers". You look at your friends and co-workers who really are cool, don't fall into any of those categories above, but you still know that they're aware of your gender, that they can't forget it, that they know all the stereotypes, and you wonder what subtle influence that has, what internal struggles they face just to deal with you as an ordinary human being. You wonder what they say when you aren't around, and sometimes when people assume you're male (since everyone is, right?)... you find out.
Or maybe you try and get away from all that, go by "J. Hacker" to hide your identity... and accept that you'll have to be constantly vigilant about what you reveal to who, and what might happen if you let the wrong thing slip to one of your hacking buddies. For years.
The point is, there is no escape. It's not always violent, it's not always blatant, sometimes you can forget about it and it's not even always negative, but. It's always there, at some level. You are never plain "you", you are "you (a woman)". Always.
Now, given that. Getting more people to use emacs is certainly a virtuous act, and inasmuch as FOSS is a particularly toxic environment for women, finding ways to counter those particular forces is certainly virtuous as well. I don't think RMS is a bad person trying to do harm in any way. I'm even willing to believe what you suggest, that this is his way of trying to do good.
But telling a bunch of men to go out and "take" women's "virginity" is not the way to do that. It's not malicious, but it is -- at the least -- deeply ignorant of who women are and what their experiences are like. And so when RMS said it, and when other men defend it, they end up sending the message that they only care about some people's experience, and not others, and that they draw that line based on an accident of birth. I'm not saying it's on purpose, but that's what's communicated. Men matter, you don't — except as another notch on Emacs' bedpost. It's not just ineffective, it's toxic.
But there's a solution: ignorance is easy to treat. Just read, and think, and read some more, and think some more, and try to keep an open mind. Remember that no-one's being graded, but being a decent person is worth fighting for. Pretend women are Haskell or something. Sure, you have to learn to think in new ways — and that's awesome. The only people who really can't learn are the ones who find learning scary, and would rather be certain than right.
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