Sunday, September 27, 2009
I didn't attend LinuxCon this year for a variety of reasons—chief among them being that I'd have had to go straight to Portland from Amsterdam rather than get to visit my home—so I missed out on the talk by Mark Shuttleworth. I did read about it on the geekfeminism blog, however.
Sorry, Mark: explaining this stuff to anyone is hard, not just to "girls". Here we go again, falling into the bad and distancing habit of using women as the archetype of technical non-adeptitude. I do it myself: I've worked hard to break myself of the habit of using my mom or my daughter as someone who something is "easy enough for", with incomplete success. Moshiwake gozaimasen. Ganbarimasu.
Look, it's awfully easy to say bone-headed things: I've done it (and still do it, occasionally) and so have you. What's a lot harder is being able to step back from the knee-jerk need to defend oneself and look at the situation from the point of view of the person who's complaining about it.
(Let me also note that, in fact, not every single complaint of offense may have merit: I do not, personally, feel obligated to apologize to platypus fanciers for saying that platypi are funny-looking, or to creationists who are upset that I'm somehow abridging their freedom of religion by looking askance at mythology being taught as "scientific theory". However, my bar for having offended others is pretty low, "reasonable doubt" that the person's offense might be out-of-line, rather than my own perception of "preponderance of the evidence"...)
The appropriate response at that point is not to counsel the other person that they're wrong to feel offense, but to acknowledge their feelings (which doesn't mean agreeing with them) and to apologize. Not "I'm sorry that you're feeling offended", but "I'm sorry for having offended you", ideally with some actual sincerity. At that point, one is well-advised to rethink the behavior that caused the offense, and to find some more useful substitute behavior for future use.
I've met Mark several times, and I think he's an essentially reasonable guy. I hope, and expect, that he'll respond to Skud in a reasonable way. We'll see.
On a somewhat related note, I was interested to read the minutes of the FSF's "mini-summit" on increasing the participation of women in free software, with a stated mission "to increase women's participation in the free software movement and work to make sexism in person or online unacceptable within our community". Sadly, there's no suggestion among the various "Initiatives" along the lines of "Discourage FSF leaders and representatives from telling jokes in keynotes which portray women as in need of technical assistance of an intrusive and nonconsensual sort, from the sound of things". I'm a little surprised they missed that one, frankly.
I'm likewise fascinated at the performance of Bruce Perens on LWN in the discussion on the "mini-summit" there. Bruce is pretty sure that there's no problem at all, or at least no problem for us to address. Additionally, Bruce's experience as a white-water rafting guide apparently allows him to assure us that the sort of behavior that people are finding upsetting is caused by Asperger's Syndrome, and therefore cannot possibly be fixed, and it's wrong of us to draw attention to it. Interestingly, Bruce has also only encountered one single solitary woman in all his years who knew how to use EMACS. Says Bruce, "What I meant was that there are more women who hold technical jobs than there are women who so love the technology that they will work on it whether they get paid or not. That seems to be an especially male thing." You can't make this stuff up.
I was likewise not at the Boston "Software Freedom Day", but I read on the GeekFeminism wiki that a question regarding the Gran Canaria keynote was put to Mr. Stallman there, and he responded that "The person who brought that up seems to be a troll-like enemy of the free software movement." This was, by the way, the same event at which Mr. Stallman felt it necessary to label Miguel de Icaza "a traitor to the free software movement". (Was there a loyalty oath? I missed that...)
At least I'm in decent company. Maybe Miguel and I can get t-shirts made up or something.
Posted by Lefty at 8:09 AM