I stumbled upon Sexism this week.

I made a post this week that linked to an old Linux animation because it struck a cord with me about how far Linux has come in regards to ease of use. I was then blasted for it being sexist.

“Fembots? So you are supporting the raging sexism in open source software development? Shame on you!”

I then posted an apology to anyone that might have been offended by the animation. No, I did not make it. I realized though that the word “fembots” might have been taken as offensive and that is why I offered an apology. That post got another response claiming I was just a clueless white male.

“Of course you would think this. You’re a white male. You don’t understand because you lack the perspective of those oppressed or otherwise negatively affected by your kind. Matt Zimmerman had a great quote on his blog about white males and how clueless they are. He at least gets it.”

While this response is very harsh I am always willing to try and find out, as best I can, what their perspective is. So I used Google and found Matt Zimmerman’s blog. It turns out Mark Shuttleworth gave a keynote speech at LinuxCon that was sexist. While it has been claimed that is was unintentional the speech was flawed and I now understand the reason why I have received these comments. So, in a way, I opened my door and walked out in to a combat zone without realizing it. I will not make a claim that my ignorance to what was going on excuses my post nor invalidates people being upset by it. It is just what happened.

I have read quite a bit about what happened and I understand that most people do not think that Mark is sexist. They think that he spoke based on what surrounds him. His thought process is formed from the same era as mine; an era in which ‘he’ was default in the English language. Despite that he should know better than to let those things slip. When they do slip he should offer an apology.

What is worse than what Mark said however is the responses that some of the people got who were complaining about the keynote. I will not even do them justice by quoting them here. They were unbelieveable. I am ashamed at some of things that people said.

I certainly do not want to exclude women, marginalize the contributions of women or do anything that makes them feel unwelcomed in the FOSS community. I have two girls and I want them to be comfortable with technology, science, math and computer science. If they decide to go in to programming I do not want them to face the undercurrents of sexism that I have seen in the blogs and respones concering Mark’s keynote address. I also have a son and I do not want him to face ridcule if he chooses to go in to a traditionally female vocation. I know I will make mistakes like Mark. I hope that I won’t and I strive to be more concious of making such errors, but when I do I will apologize.

As unfortuante as my timing was I am glad that I made the fembot post… it has exposed me to a side of the community I had not seen. It will help me to better understand some of the undercurrents I have seen, but not understood. In short it will make me more aware of doing what I can to eliminate sexism.

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57 Responses to I stumbled upon Sexism this week.

  1. Simon says:

    The only comment I find offensive is the one left by lemonshark who I suspect is the same person who attacked you in the fembot post. It just sounds like an internet troll, which is very sad.

    • Charles Profitt says:

      I was talking about the people who were responding the folks who originally blogged about Mark’s keynote speech. Some of the responses to those post were awful.

  2. Daniel J Miles says:

    When did race come into this? This might be a bit rich, as a fellow white male, but I didn’t realise that sexism was apparently a “white” thing…. I thought it was more a “male” thing…?

  3. Scott says:

    Both responses show a lack of civility in the discussion. I’m sort of surprised when those who have such an imperative would rather shame than try and argue their opinion in such a way that you may agree with them on the subject they were offended by.

    Arguably, the choice of ‘fembots’ by the author was a typical satire of the 6 or 7 sci-fi covers/themes that were presented in the sequence. The whole thing is a satire on the mac and pc ads. I posit that this makes it art! And yes, art can (and will!) be offensive to drive a point home — a significant amount of Linux users are basically what we know them to be, and this shouldn’t be a real surprise.

    As to the whole Shuttleworth situation, thats been going on since the announcement of Ubuntu. Background images on the workstation giving the presentation sparked that off and he’s been dragging it along since. I think people are feeding from that sort of history and hyper-parsing what he does based on that people think they have some sort of insight into his thought process based on those incidents. The quote or two I was able to find that supposedly sparked this off seemed to indicate that Mark’s gender role as someone looking for someone of the opposite sex to coexist with may require an explanation of his work for some level of acceptance from the other gender. To state that this situation raises some level of sexism because of an anecdote that is particularly accessible to him by interpreting it as an attack on gender seems a bit outside of what I expect sexisim about — the struggle (personal/societal) of a gender with less power against a gender with more power.

  4. nnonix says:

    Relax. You didn’t do anything wrong so stop apologising. You didn’t degrade any women and a Fembot is just a robot that looks like a hot girl. Geez … are we supposed to stop liking pretty women now?

    Sexism is bad ok, but you and the Ubuntu Community are just asking for trouble is you let this ‘ultra-sensitive’ reaction continue. Kill sexism where it exists and condemn those who cry wolf.

    Next you’ll walk into a room full of women and say “do you people know where the bathroom is” and they’ll reply “what do you mean YOU PEOPLE?!?!?”. Bullshit. Your intent DOES matter.

    • Ryan says:

      I contend that intent is all that matters. Words only have meaning because we give it to them. I agree with your sentiment entirely, and thank you for speaking up about these absurd reactions going around the community.

  5. Ryan says:

    That’s not sexist, it’s just sex. I wouldn’t apologize for it. In fact, I’d expect an apology from the accuser for being so ridiculous and hostile. Anyone who is genuinely offended by such a harmless, malice-free post is a part of the problem. I, for one, live in a free country, and I will not restrict myself from speaking about certain subjects just because it can be misconstrued as offensive. I am not sexist, and I mean no offense to women, but this is beyond ridiculous.

  6. Skud says:

    Thanks for this post… it’s a long process but I’m glad you, and other thoughtful men in our community, are part of it.

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  8. jpv says:

    Pathetic. Grow a spine and tell that shrill bitch to get fucked.

    • Charles Profitt says:

      Your comment is an example of the problem…

      • jpv says:

        Well, I expected that answer. First let me apologize for my rudeness, I actually got angry, at a likely troll no less (no one could be that stupid).

        I do have a point though. I was over reacting to an over reaction. Not all complaints have merit or even deserve respect. Nothing would ever get done if everyone had to bend over backwards to respect the feelings every nut out there, male or female. This absurdness just weakens those who want to debate this issue seriously IMO.

  9. I think you’ve responded quite maturely, especially since you were blasted unnecessary for your initial comments. I think a little leeway and patience from everyone could go a long way.

  10. koipond says:

    Welcome to being aware. It’s not easy, it’s filled with people who will try to tell you that you’re being sensitive, or that you’re being irrational. They’ll say that you’re going to make a big deal out of nothing, or that you’re going too far.

    These are the people who are still walking around with their eyes shut. They don’t want to open their eyes because then that means that they have to change how they act and how they look at the world, and how they’re responsible for how it is even if it’s just by keeping their eyes shut.

    It’s a journey, a learning process, that will ultimately make your life better and more difficult at the same time. This is to let you know that you aren’t alone in being aware of all this.

  11. Dumarest says:

    I find these statements disturbing:

    “It turns out Mark Shuttleworth gave a keynote speech at LinuxCon that was sexist. While it has been claimed that is was unintentional the speech was flawed and I now understand the reason why I have received these comments.”

    Mark’s speech wasn’t sexist, it included a quip that might be interpreted as sexist. Please don’t let the soapbox talkers erode your relationship with reality, people, this seeing sexism everywhere is becoming pathetic and paranoid real fast. You don’t have to listen to (or feed) any “holier than thou” troll that posts on the Internet, you know.


    • Charles Profitt says:

      I would say the excerpts I heard were ‘sexist’ words. I do not think that Mark is sexist though.

      • Suvish says:

        So, a person who slaps an other person without a reason is not violent; he just committed a violent act. That is a novel way of interpreting things. I think Mark and his comments both are NOT sexist. Sexist people and their comments are readily recognizable. Paranoia is not the solution to truly eliminate sexism or racism or any other “isms” in this world.

  12. ethana2 says:

    I’d also like to note that the english language is sexist. We have no singular animate neuter pronoun, and english teachers rag on us for using ‘they’.

    It’s a sucky language that gives us nothing but confusion and pain.

    • KeithZG says:

      Hear hear. And that’s one of the main things that annoys me; firstly, that it’s really hard to refer to someone singularly and have it gender-neutral, and secondly that people itching for a fight jump on examples where really it’s just the language that’s in question and only an insane person would think that it’s true sexism.

    • FoolishOwl says:

      It depends upon the English teacher. The teacher’s I’ve had recommend using plural constructions when possible; when not, try alternating the genders. Or, just use “they” as a singular. Languages change to suit the needs of the communities that use them.

  13. Lucian says:

    I’d also like to note that the Christian god is sexist, for lots of reasons.

    All these accusations of sexism in open source are getting ridiculous.

    • I don’t quite see the logic flow, there. Indeed most historical interpretations of Christianity have been extremely sexist, and are one of the main sources of sexism in modern Christian-derived societies. You’ll find lots of discussion of this in the relevant literature, if you go and look. What’s the relevance to F/OSS, exactly?

      • Lucian says:

        I should’ve replied to the comment about the English language. I guess I’m used to Christianity being considered the ultimate good by those around me, so discussing its sexism would be blasphemy.Never mind that.

  14. Cracker says:

    You did encounter sexism, and racism, but not in the same manner you stated. You were told that because you are white and male you are unable to understand something (racism and sexism, appropriately).

    I’m not sure how being racist and sexist is appropriate when accusing someone of being sexist, but maybe that’s because I’m only white male, totally unprepared to understand anything about the world.

  15. Martin Owens says:

    “People are people so why should it be, you and I should get along so awfully”

  16. Stuart says:

    It is a hilarious animation. It portrays a stereotypical, sexist Linux geek who does not consider the perspectives of others. There is no reason for you or its maker to apologise for it.

    • Precisely! Thank you for articulating this so I didn’t have to🙂 I quite enjoyed (and shared) this link when it was first released a couple years ago. Honestly I didn’t even think twice about the fembot thing because it was all a stereotypical joke and I’ve been involved win the women in f/oss discussion for years.

  17. Nicolai Hähnle says:

    It seems you’re a decent guy, and you shouldn’t wreck yourself over this. You seem to a typical example of somebody who is actually a good guy but worries very much about doing the wrong thing, and I would love to be able to transfer this ability to worry about doing wrong into the guys who are actually sexist and refuse to acknowledge that sexism exists.

    And yes, sexism does exist. I don’t think men should stop liking pretty women, but what people like nnonix have to realize is the environment that they’re talking in. There are some women who are comfortable trash-talking about hot guys in response to men trash-talking about hot girls. But in a typical Linux community environment, the woman in question is often the *only* question, who is confronted with a horde of unknown strangers, all of them men.

    You have to realize that one and the same woman who might be comfortable talking trash about hot guys/girls in a circle of close friends might *not* be comfortable with such talk in a public environment full of strangers. So just tone it down, and keep the trash talk to when you’re with real-life friends (you do have those, I hope).

    • Nicolai Hähnle says:

      I notice the end of that message became a little aggressive in voice. That was intentional, but is only targeted at people who pretend that sexism doesn’t exist. You know who you are.

    • nnonix says:

      Since I was named specifically I’d just like to add that sexism has a definition that does not necessarily bend to the will of the beholder.

      Secondly I’d like to say that if anyone expects young males to take sexism seriously and for the problem to be addressed properly in the Ubuntu Community (or elsewhere) there needs to be some justice to the discussion. To repeat my previous quote “Kill sexism where it exists and condemn those who cry wolf”.

  18. I’m seeing lots of use of the plural (‘people’, ‘absurd responses’ etc.) From what I can see, the only person who seemed to take umbrage at the fembots thing was *shark (I’m assuming the different flavours of shark are the same person…)

    I don’t know who that is, and I don’t recognize the handle from any other of the recent debates about the topic. And the responses they sent were so…erf…touchy that I’m rather inclined towards the troll theory rather than any other. (If they were indeed trolling attempts they’ve obviously succeeded admirably; see above).

    as for the bigger fembots issue…geesh. I mean I suppose looked at in a certain light they’re ‘sexist’, in that it’s a parody based in a genre that’s most *definitely* sexist (as noted, the superspy and his fawning harem), but…I dunno, finding it hard to get my dander up over here. As Ford Prefect said about the geese, ‘fuck ’em. you can’t care about every damn thing.’

    it’s nice to see that you found something of value in those painfully long comment threads, I’d hate to think I and others were wasting our time entirely =)

    • Charles Profitt says:

      I was not referring to just people on my blog, but people that responded on all the various blogs that have discussed this issue over the last few weeks.

      • charles: sorry, I should’ve made it clear I was referring to the comments on this post from people who are suggesting that lots of people were upset about the fembots video, when as far as I can tell, there was only one and they were probably a troll.

  19. Jackflap says:

    I’m not going to read through all the comments because the discussion has become so enflamed. However, I will say that I (as a white male) appreciate the position that the writer of this post has taken, and appreciate his attempts to apologize.

    Frankly, it is important for people to try and compromise when one party says that the other has offended them.

    It can be difficult for some people to think before they speak, or to filter what they say before saying it. People who get angy when asked to do so, I believe, are getting frustrated because they haven’t managed to crack that skill.

    Thank you for your attempts to make the FOSS community a civil and considered place for everyone to participate, not only those who believe that they have the right to dictate what other people should find offensive, and what they shouldn’t.

  20. simon says:

    you will always offend someone, life isn’t meant to be this serious.

    Men and women are different, as long as you don’t disadvantage a woman then you are not sexist.

  21. dwasifar says:

    Great. One more pointless tail-chasing argument to distract the Linux community from its common goals. KDE vs Gnome, “Open” vs. “Free”, “GNU/Linux” vs. “Linux”, proprietary drivers vs. Richard Stallman, Ubuntu vs. Debian, Mono vs. no Mono, et cetera ad nauseam weren’t enough; now let’s waste time and effort arguing over sexist vs. non-sexist too. Sheesh.

    • spz says:

      keep disinviting and driving away half the human race, I’m sure your projects will be fine. Send them to the BSDs instead😛

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  24. Lefty says:

    AN excellent post, and as Skud says, you’re to be commended. None of us is perfect. I’m certainly not, and I’ve made plenty of foolish slips in my time. Acknowledging that one has been wrong is a good thing.

    I always told the engineers who reported to me that I never object to anyone making a mistake: I do object to that same one repeated over and over…

    As usual, the comments here provide plenty of substantiation that yes, there’s a real problem in the community. Don’t let it get you down.

  25. Lefty says:

    jpv, there’s a pretty good distance between “bend[ing] over backwards to respect the feelings every nut out there” and “tell that shrill bitch to get fucked”. Your apparent inability to see that is indeed an excellent example of a big part of the problem.

  26. Jim says:

    You wrote: “Despite that he should know better than to let those things slip. When they do slip he should offer an apology.”

    Should I apologise for something that someone somewhere finds offensive? It depends. If it’s a borderline case, no. Because, really, I’ve found a couple of statements and phrases in your blog that someone “might” find offensive. Would you apologize for them? I doubt you would, because you will have no more time to write or speak.

    I believe that Mark’s slip was at worst a borderline case. And there’s something far, far, far worse than borderline cases of sexism: a descent into a totalitarian clean thought regime that would put Orwell to shame.

    • Meg says:

      Offensive isn’t the problem; that word is a cop-out by people trying to express the years of exclusion, resentment and anger at being considered less than human.

      He wasn’t apologizing because someone found it offensive, he was apologizing because he hurt somewhere somewhere. I’m not sure about you, but I apologize if I bump into a stranger; it’s strange you wouldn’t give women in FOSS that same consideration.

  27. FoolishOwl says:

    This was an excellent post. If we are to overcome sexism, we need to publicly police ourselves, acknowledge sexist mistakes, make amends, and, above all, respect what women are saying.

    There have been many social movements defeated because leading activists decided that some other social justice movement was a distraction — thus driving out activists who thought that the issues were equally important, even related.

    Imagine what we could accomplish if the FOSS community developed a reputation for being staunchly anti-sexist — thus encouraging more women to the field and to participation in the FOSS community.

  28. Lin Clark says:

    Thanks for this, you took a leap in actually admitting that you are human and can make mistakes… in stepping back to see another group’s perspective… much respect to you.

    it is a shame that others commenting here aren’t taking the same step to understand a perspective besides their own.

  29. Meg says:

    Thank you.

    I would also note that these comments are an excellent example of patriarchal policing. I’m sorry you have to deal with that, but I urge you to consider each one an indication you are doing something right. Keep doing what you are doing, and ask what they are so afraid of that you feeling badly for hurting another human being is so threatening to them.

  30. Charles, thanks for learning & becoming more sensitive about this stuff. I appreciate it.

  31. Panic says:

    Political correctness is smothering the world tbh..
    Grow a pair of balls man!

    I seriously think women ought to grow a tougher hide and get stuck in with the rest of us because every other article involving females is about male chauvinism and sexism in FOSS. It’s ridiculous and it makes you look like a bunch of whiny work-shy princesses. Hardly helping the effort I’d say..

    Kudos for making an effort to “understand” but this is a non-issue in my opinion..

    Ofcourse ppl should know how to behave online et cetera and harassment of femalea in FOSS is not acceptable but it is a meritocracy afterall. And it’s not like every guy involved is constantly making up new ways to put women down in FOSS! Stop trying to make it look like every other guy who likes to code in his spare time is a closet-chauvinist. I’d wager you most of them don’t give a monkey’s about this issue. They’re busy coding.

    You are judged by what you deliver..

    Everything else is fluff. Blunt way of putting it perhaps but it’s the truth.


  32. Jackflap says:

    Oh you feel smothered? Oh boohoo, poor you. Grow a pair of balls man!

    I seriously think people like you ought to grow a tougher hide and blah blah blah. It’s ridiculous and it makes you look like a bunnch of whiny can’t be bothered to think before you speak baboons.

    Kudos for completely screwing up any effort you’ve made to “understand”..

    It’s a meritocracy after all? So that gives anyone who is good at coding to be rude, biased, offensive and demeaning? I don’t thinkso.

    I’m not going to bother responding to the rest of your post cuz it’s basically just a waste of time. You’ve just alienated a whole bunch of people in your little rant there. Why would anyone want to deliver anything in this community if they’re just going to be alienated by their peers?

    And p.s. your claims of objective truth are simplistic and incorrect

  33. mary says:

    Thank you so much for this🙂 I can’t articulate myself as well as some of the previous female commenters but I wanted to echo what Meg said about the reactions you are getting here from guys. This was such a heartwarming post to a young girl who is interested in computer science and then seeing all these comments about how “women just need to tough it up” and “men just like pretty women okay” are really hurting me right now. I don’t want to work in a “meritocracy” where my merit is not my code but instead how pretty I am and how happily I will put up with being treated as second-class…Guys, you think that being overtly or subtly sexist doesn’t have an effect on the normal women around you who just want to do their job? Open your eyes!

  34. Beth says:

    This is a wonderful post and the author is right to be proud of his ability to take harsh criticism as a nudge toward educating himself. Some of these comments are pretty unbelievable though, I can’t believe you haven’t deleted them!

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