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25 Women in 10 Free Software Organizations for GNOME's Outreach Program for Women

25 Women in 10 Free Software Organizations for GNOME's Outreach Program for Women

Posted Feb 5, 2013 21:33 UTC (Tue) by nix (subscriber, #2304)
In reply to: 25 Women in 10 Free Software Organizations for GNOME's Outreach Program for Women by zorro
Parent article: 25 Women in 10 Free Software Organizations for GNOME's Outreach Program for Women

We have experience of the various people commenting on this post and arguing in the general direction of ignoring women as much as possible on the dubious grounds of equality: in the past, they have commented on other posts on LWN on the same subject, and were if anything even worse. They have form on this. I think it is safe to call them unrepentant sexists at the very least.


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25 Women in 10 Free Software Organizations for GNOME's Outreach Program for Women

Posted Feb 6, 2013 6:31 UTC (Wed) by speedster1 (subscriber, #8143) [Link]

> I think it is safe to call them unrepentant sexists at the very least.

Perhaps certain commentors fit that description, but not necessarily everyone who disagrees with an affirmative-action approach.

I remember being offended at an affirmative action program at Cal Tech when I was applying to colleges, but eventually I became less certain as to whether affirmative action is always harmful or not.

The problem is that social forces are like impulse functions with a long tail -- previous generations have a significant effect on shaping current individuals. You can suddenly change the legal rules at a particular point in time, but the differences in initial state at T=0 for legal equality can result in a social system that does not reach its natural equilibrium for a looong time.

The in-my-opinion still-open question is whether affirmative action can actually help a society reach its natural equilibrium where individuals are no longer affected by discrimination against their ancestors. It certainly has potential bad side effects, such as resentment and decreased expectations of competence for the people who participated in the programs, but maybe judicious use can be better than the alternative of waiting for culture to reset itself over time?

At this point in time, in "western" culture, the biggest forces holding certain people back from getting involved in tech seem to be internalized forces (related to development of self-image) rather than externalized forces (explicit acts of discrimination by others). Does affirmative action help in that area? Programs that use mentoring by others of the same group probably do help, while those that just institute quotas probably do not (those who accept the positions are probably self-confident individuals who would have succeeded anyways).

25 Women in 10 Free Software Organizations for GNOME's Outreach Program for Women

Posted Feb 7, 2013 3:36 UTC (Thu) by duffy (guest, #31787) [Link]

"At this point in time, in "western" culture, the biggest forces holding certain people back from getting involved in tech seem to be internalized forces (related to development of self-image) rather than externalized forces (explicit acts of discrimination by others)."

Citation? With what authority do you assert this?

I would propose the exact opposite: you could say a woman who stays in open source has a poor self-image for staying when women with a better self-image would stay away because of the toxic behavior they witness, no?

Certainly the come-ons and the insults I've gotten are external!

Anyway, this is why we need programs like the Outreach Program for Women so we at least have a base population of women (I've heard the 20% number given as being the essential base population needed) such that there's enough women in the community to influence the culture that the come-ons, insults, and worse stop being accepted and the men's rights crazies stop getting taken seriously.

25 Women in 10 Free Software Organizations for GNOME's Outreach Program for Women

Posted Feb 7, 2013 9:14 UTC (Thu) by speedster1 (subscriber, #8143) [Link]

> "At this point in time, in "western" culture, the biggest forces holding certain people back from getting involved in tech seem to be internalized forces (related to development of self-image) rather than externalized forces (explicit acts of discrimination by others)."

> Citation? With what authority do you assert this?

Based on studies such as this
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/02/04/science/gir...

which fit with my personal observations over many years of experience going to engineering school and working in a tech field with various friends who were minorities in engineering (and other technical fields), plus interactions with other people who stayed far away from tech because they were conditioned to be intimidated and/or uninterested by it.

I don't claim explicit acts of discrimination are non-existent, and clearly you have experienced them, but there sure are a *lot* of girls and minority youth who have been socialized to stay in their comfort zones of fashion/sports/whatever rather than trying out fun technical activities such as programming, model rockets, etc. All their friends are doing that other stuff, and the thought to try any programming (let alone free software specifically) is never even considered.

Haven't you observed this as well, in your work with schools?

> I would propose the exact opposite: you could say a woman who stays in open source has a poor self-image for staying when women with a better self-image would stay away because of the toxic behavior they witness, no?

Do women with good self-image stay offline altogether, due to the trolls who can pop up nearly anywhere? Not that I've seen, unless they personally become a big target for some reason. On the other hand people with confidence issues don't even consider that they *could* contribute to a software project, so whether they would "stay" is a moot point.

> Certainly the come-ons and the insults I've gotten are external!

By "biggest force" I meant "most common", certainly explicit discrimination is a big turn-off for anybody who actually experiences it. Did not mean to imply it was non-existent or unimportant when it happens.

> Anyway, this is why we need programs like the Outreach Program for Women so we at least have a base population of women (I've heard the 20% number given as being the essential base population needed) such that there's enough women in the community to influence the culture that the come-ons, insults, and worse stop being accepted and the men's rights crazies stop getting taken seriously.

Are you sure most women who join free software projects really get treated like that, or could you be among a minority of unlucky ones? I'm sure you personally know others who have been harassed, but consider possible selection bias (those who don't get harassed won't need to seek advice from well-known feminist geeks who have also been through it)

Regardless of whether those cultural issues are widely prevalent or not, we're agreed that having enough mentors to go around can be significant.

25 Women in 10 Free Software Organizations for GNOME's Outreach Program for Women

Posted Feb 7, 2013 18:52 UTC (Thu) by duffy (guest, #31787) [Link]

I agree with a lot of the points you've made and they seem reasonable. I wanted to respond to this though:

> Are you sure most women who join free software projects really get
> treated like that, or could you be among a minority of unlucky ones? I'm
> sure you personally know others who have been harassed, but consider
> possible selection bias (those who don't get harassed won't need to seek
> advice from well-known feminist geeks who have also been through it)

I got started over 10 years ago and the climate was definitely a bit different then. Honestly, though, I think today men and women joining free software projects both get abused. I think it's just harder for women to stick around because in addition to the abuse, their very rarity makes them feel out of place and uncomfortable on top of that and it's too much. You know, I'm sure the way a man might feel uncomfortable about walking through a women's lingerie shop or nail salon, or how a woman feels uncomfortable walking into a men's locker room in a stadium. There may be some psychological principle that drives this, some kind of survival mechanism.

I don't have any proof or research or anything to back this up, but I definitely believe pretty strongly based on my experience that having more women in a project makes it a less abusive and friendlier place for *everyone*, not just for women.


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