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.