Thanks to Code N Splode, I’ve known about the Geek Feminism wiki for awhile. It’s a really amazing resource – it concisely addresses the issues facing women in tech (specifically Free and Open Source Software, or FOSS) in a way that is knowledgeable and matter-of-fact. Nothing puts the air back into my lungs quite like seeing excuses for sexist behavior de-legitimized through a good bingo card. As a person who wants to give thought to every voice in discussion (counter-productive in the case of a lot of comment threads on gender in FOSS), it’s nice to have some shortcuts via the wiki: “This is an excuse, and this is why it doesn’t work”.
I was really delighted to see the wiki’s inevitable growth into a blog after this year’s OSCON (where Kirrily Robert, nee Skud, imho a woman in FOSS we are incredibly lucky to have for how gloriously well she handles the topic). I don’t read it regularly yet, but everytime I refer to the site I see intelligent, confident women addressing the issues of being a woman in tech or a woman in FOSS. Several times, women from my own community (Portland, OR) have appeared. It’s encouraging to see this community emerge online, to both establish presence and provide support to geek feminists on the margins (i.e. less involved, like myself).
In this year’s political atmosphere, we’ve seen our country’s latent unresolved issues with race and gender come out a bit more publicly, oftentimes in uglier ways than we still thought possible (I think specifically of Obama’s presidency and the Senate confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court). This racial / gender hiccup on society’s part has been simultaneously revolting and encouraging – encouraging because I’d like to think that those who thought there wasn’t a problem might be woken up and pushed to activism. I’d like to think that this year’s ugliness will have repercussions in coming years, to bring our discourse, beliefs, and behavior to a higher plane.
The Open Source community has been following a similar plotline in regards to re-opening one of its ugliest wounds – the gender inequity issue. I really thank the Geek Feminism community for documenting the List of Incidents from this year and years past. Taken together, these incidents reveal that tech and especially FOSS have a much longer way to go than we could have anticipated even a year ago.
The incidents themselves are only one part of the problem – the bigger issue is typically the fallout, where the backlash against those who call out sexist behavior is astounding. Anytime I read up on these incidents, I’m typically derailed for a good day or so by fist-clenching anger and disbelief. I’m incredibly discouraged to find out that, when a subset of men within the community are called upon to explore their feelings on these issues, they come up on the wrong side of the fence. I’m disheartened that much of the software I use on a daily basis – be it in the workplace or at home – is made by some people I probably wouldn’t want to associate with in “real life”.
This isn’t just a gender issue, either. My parents raised both of their children to be adults and professionals, which meant a certain level of conduct not just in the workplace, but in adult society. Most of adult society has safeguards in place to punish or discipline those who aren’t able to follow that level of conduct – but the FOSS community (and tech in general, as I’ve found through my three years in industry) has revealed itself to be shockingly free of a lot of those safeguards. People who have never learned to behave like adults seem to run wilder in the land of tech, and even those who’ve been chastised for it seem to be slower to learn their lessons, if ever. It makes for a gut-churning contrast to the more civilized parts of our society.
These incidents – and the fallout afterwards – bring forth a LOT of complicated feelings for me, things I will be unlikely to blog about coherently much of the time. And this is one of the biggest reasons I am grateful for Geek Feminism, because I finally have a pool of references to people who are saying what I think and feel, and creating a growing community of likeminded individuals.
I expect that I will be sharing many a blog post from Geek Feminism and entries from other sites that it links to. Not just to voice my support, but to continue to add to the dissemination of this discussion to the community at large. The people who voiced their opposition to sexist comments and behavior in the FOSS community this year did the right thing, despite the backlash. Consider me another person saying “hear, hear!” and compelling my peers to do likewise.