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Why it matters

good omens
When we were doing the post-conference debrief for the Ohio LinuxFest someone mentioned that he'd run across two women who had left the Diversity in Open Source Workshop early. They were complaining how silly it was that we were constantly talking about how great it was that there were more women speakers at this conference than any other year, or any other Open Source conference, to anyone's knowledge.

My first thought was a flash of anger. And then I recalled that not very long ago, I was just like them.

For the past few months I've been helping do sysadmin work for the Organization for Transformative Works. I almost didn't join, because they pride themselves on having a mostly female staff, to the point that they sometimes can sound exclusionist. A bunch of their people pitched their case: That "normal" is usually about what men want and need, that women sometimes don't feel comfortable working with a majority of men, who may dismiss their work solely for their gender. Still, I felt that by saying "We're all about the women" they were somehow saying, "Go away, men."

It took a while for it to all click in my head. There are men who work on OTW, including one in the sysadmin group. A lot of the infrastructure scripts were setup by a man, one who no longer is with the org but who I know and respect. But the overall site is run by women working together. There's nobody to say, "You can't do this, you're a woman" and working with other women gives you a feeling of inclusion.(*)

Going back to OLF: I know it's not unique to OLF but I've heard in the past of women who have come only to get the "Whose girlfriend are you?" attitude -- the belief that no woman can actually understand computers, Open Source software, or anything technical -- from the mostly male audience.

When there are no women on the stage to show the audience that, yes, women can be technical, women can not only understand computers but can explain what they know to you, then the audience has nothing to help them learn that women can be geeks, too.

When there are no women on the stage to show the audience that, yes, women can be geeks, too, there's nothing for women to identify with, so that they can say, "I'm like her, I want to be like her, she inspires me to learn more about this."

The sad part of it all is that there is still a huge "this doesn't apply to me" factor from the OLF audience. I'm still heartbroken at how few people attended the talk on making software more accessible to the disabled. Some men clearly had issues with the women speakers, including the one who came up to me at the event with a laundry list of reasons why a seasoned, well-informed speaker was "incompetent and wrong" about everything she said. In the post-conference survey some men gave huge thumbs up to male speakers while disliking every female speaker. I still would like to see more people of color represented on stage. There's still a long, long way to go.

And there's the problem of folks like those women, who can't see that they came to the conference and nobody told them, "Why are you here, you're a girl?" -- something that would have happened in the past, when there were few women on stage and fewer women attending.

People can't know that there are differences unless we point them out. People want to be with people like themselves. That's why having more women matters.

(*)FWIW the whole atmosphere at OTW is completely different to anything I've ever done before. The attitude is "We take whatever help you can give." There is no major pressure. Nobody talks down to you if you don't understand something, and nobody assumes you don't know what they're talking about. If one person lets things slide either it slides or someone else finishes up for you. And because the project is (relatively) unique, and people aren't all coming from another site, I don't see the "We did it this way at the last site and you have no background to understand so we will dismiss every idea you present" problem I had at Dreamwidth. My biggest "complaint" about OTW is the all-staff meetings where everyone yells and cheers for each group. It's like a frakkin Amway meeting sometimes :-).


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 7th, 2010 06:05 pm (UTC)
Ah yes, "whose girlfriend are you". So powerful that someone actually conflated me with a later girlfriend and "defended" me on a mailing list by going on about how I was just a non-technical non-profit admin. Good times.
Nov. 9th, 2010 03:00 am (UTC)
I just witnessed a bunch of pretty sexist conversations on the Fedora social IRC channel. I guess it's acceptable as long as none of the owners of obviously female IRC nicks don't complain, even the channel admins told me to lighten up. Is there a good simple list of links I can post when I see this? I've forgotten the links you posted before. (I know there was something IRC related once)
Nov. 9th, 2010 03:27 am (UTC)
Ubuntu's Code of Conduct:

Sugar Lab's code of conduct:

Derailing for Dummies:
(See: You're just oversensitive!)

& my new favorite, The Male Privilege Checklist:

Nov. 13th, 2010 04:15 am (UTC)
I had a really nice time on the OTW systems team last year! And had to bow out, no time, sick too often, etc. It was really great working with them.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


Moose J. Finklestein

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