Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sexism In The Linux Community Redux

I've been in the IT industry for over 27 years now. I first was introduced to Linux almost 12 years ago, I've really been a part of the Linux community for over nine years now. You'd think in that time things would have gotten better for women in IT in general and the Linux community in particular. There are certainly more of us in IT and Linux than there were a decade ago, right? I think the answer to the second question is yes, more women are involved. I think the first question, sadly, is answered with a resounding "NO!". Women still have to be better than their male counterparts to be respected or even hired and we still earn less than our male counterparts. There are all sorts of reasons why that is true but sexism, both quiet and overt, is still a huge part of it.

Carla Schroder blogs for the O'ReillyNet Linux Dev Center, as I do. Over the past three days she has posted twice. The first post told of and linked to details and a photo of a truly sexist and offensive ad which appeared in Linux Journal. The second post linked directly to a Linux Journal article from earlier this year filled with more gender stereotyping demonstrating that this is an ongoing issue at Linux Journal. I had dropped my subscription to the magazine last year after receiving the magazine in my mailbox every month for eight years. As a female Linux Professional I felt they had sent me many clear messages that I just wasn't part of their target audience.

The reactions to Carla's posts were entirely predictable. I see some, both men and women, but mostly men, who clearly GET IT. They understand why this is unprofessional and why some, both men and women, would be offended.

I see some men who want to tell us uppity women what to feel, why we shouldn't be offended, why Carla shouldn't have blogged about this, why the ad is funny or effective or generally no big deal. They JUST DON'T GET IT. They don't get that offending women, who happen to be just over half of the human race and a significant minority of IT decision makers, is just plain bad business. They don't get, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that men are offended too. If they don't see the problem it just doesn't exist. They are part of the problem.

We have a few, thankfully very few, who have the immature mentality typically seen on Slashdot whenever gender comes up. The usual attack on feminism is thrown in. CLUE: "Feminism is the radical idea that women are people too." It's about equality and equal treatment, nothing more.

One even resorts to the Rush Limbaugh "feminazi" name calling. That post is even more offensive that the ad, not just because I'm a woman and a feminist. It bothers me most as the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. The Nazis committed genocide, murdering 12 million people, including 6 million Jews and 3 million Romani (gypsies) in death camps. The term "feminazi" either equates the struggle for women's rights with genocide (I don't seriously think anyone believes that) or else it trivializes the Holocaust. Either way it's incredibly offensive and yet it's used to tell me I'm wrong for being offended.

HUGE CLUE: You can't tell Carla or me or any other human being how we should feel or react to something. We are entitled to our own feelings and our own free speech. You have a right to feel differently, of course. You don't have a right to silence us. Oh, and since Carla was kind enough to provide multiple links to people who also were offended and since so many commenters to Carla's post agreed with her I think it's safe to say that the ad offended a LOT of people.

Music choices, last three days.:
Steve Roach & Vidna Obmana - Inner Zone
Eno, Moebius, Roedelius - After The Heat
Tangerine Dream - Phaedra
Kluster - Klopfzeichen
Neu! - '72 Live! In Düsseldorf

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Anonymous said...

I am a male working in the IT industry, as well as an avid Linux user. What you have said in your blog is so very true. I see it all the time at all the jobs I have had over the last 10 years. Even when women are truly gifted at Computer Science they are treated with disrespect.

One of my female coworkers told me about a time when she was working at a Tier1 helpdesk at a major computer company. She would receive calls from the US, where the male caller would literally rant at her the moment he heard her female voice, telling her that a girl doesn't know what she is doing and he wanted to be transferred to a man immediately. Its not just people in the IT industry that buy into this stereotype, its the consumers and business end-users as well.

A large amount of the marketing advertising is directed at males, using sexual imagery that is meant to entice a man, but would probably be offensive to a woman. I think all that can be done about this is to simply boycott companies and products that support this kind of advertising. If they start noticing that there is an active boycott of their product that is the only way you can get them to take notice. You have to hit them where it hurts, in the pocketbook.

Same thing with the Linux Journal. Organize a full boycott of their magazine and web site. Then all they will have is their small "target audience" and that will eventually hurt them financially.

Its unfortunate that they don't hear the words of people who are trying to tell them what they are doing is wrong and disrespectful to women. The only way to truly get them to notice their incorrect behaviour is to impact their profits with your words.

Anonymous said...

In your article, the link titled "The first post," which leads to Carla's first post, is a bad link.

I am an adult male survivor of domestic abuse. When I read your article and those by Carla, I couldn't help but notice how some people's reactions to them are disturbingly similar to the abusive behaviors that are described in my site's Domestic Abuse Information section.

You have a right to respect. I wish you well in your struggle against those who would try to muzzle you.
ComputerBob - Making Geek-Speak Chic (tm)

Caitlyn Martin said...

Bob: I've fixed the broken link. There is only one l in html :(

Thank you for your thoughts. I never thought about how this sort of disrespectful behavior might mimic truly abusive behavior. Now that I think about it I can see why that might well be so. Thank you for raising this issue and for writing.

Gerald T.: Thank you also for your thoughts. I believe Carla and I are raising awareness in a way that will undoubtedly hurt Linux Journal financially. I think calling for an outright boycott might be seen as too strident and confrontational. However, the effect of our posts may well cost both them and their advertisers enough to make a difference and is, in effect, a softer way of doing precisely the same thing.

marko said...

caitlyn i'm with you. i have send "hate" letter to linux journal and the only thing, and don't get me wrong, is that lj and qsol are not linux community - they are commercial companies with bad marketing.

i'm not saying that there isn't sexism in linux community - there is a lot of it, but this article is not about that.

so i'm expecting next article with the same title with real focus on problems in community.

shmget said...

"They don't get that offending women, who happen to be just over half of the human race"
Actually, the fact that the face in the ad look pretty unhappy lend ground to the interpretation that the ad was talking to women... or at the very least that it could be understood both way... Interpretation supported by more than one reader of Carla's blog.

"is just plain bad business."

If it's so bad business, it will take care of itself.

"I see some men who want to tell us uppity women what to feel,"
I, for one, would not pretend to know, even less tell you what you fell, but that is irrelevant. First, I don't give a damn and second your feelings don't trump freedom of expression.

"One even resorts to the Rush Limbaugh 'feminazi' name calling. [...]It bothers me most as the daughter of two Holocaust survivors."

Time to invoke Godwin's law... gee it didn't take that long to resort to such weak arguments...

"You have a right to feel differently, of course. You don't have a right to silence us."
Yet this is exactly what you and Clara want to do to the Linux Journal....

"I think it's safe to say that the ad offended a LOT of people."

Mohamed's cartoons offended a LOT of people too... but this is not a pissing contest, it's not about own many insecure and humorless people you can gather-up on a blog, it's about freedom and reality.
The freedom part as already been addressed, in your own words - except of course that you failed to see it as a two way street.
Reality, because, whether you like it or not, stereotypes are not born of thin air, and what is stereotyped here, at least interpreting the ad the way you did, is the sexual fantasies of the average IT geek, including me.
But - and I will not pretend to speak for my entire gender as you did - that has no bearing on my behavior in the workplace (and for that matter elsewhere), on my interaction with my colleagues, regardless of their gender.

Caitlyn Martin said...

shmget @ Marko: With your attacks on me you made my point even if you didn't realize it. Thank you for demonstrating that the clueless, sexist men in our society will be dismissive of anyone who dares challenge their view and their attempts to control women.

Let's look at your arguments:

1- I never claimed QLOS didn't have the right to create such an ad, so it isn't an issue of "freedom of expression". Their free to offend people and destroy their own business all they want, even after their CEO previously apologizing for the ad and promised not to run it again. That's one piece of the story you didn't bother to read, isn't it?

Linux Journal, OTOH, has an editorial board and has advertising policies. They could have chosen not to run the ad because it might well hurt their business. Look at all the people who replied to Carla who have dropped subscriptions, myself included. They CHOSE to run the ad anyway, knowing it would create yet another firestorm as this is hardly the first time something like this has happened with LJ.

My response to Linux Journal is to point out bad behavior and encourage others to drop subscriptions. That's something freedom of expression permits me to do, is it not? Isn't it a reasonable response?

Is Boycotting a mysogynist business "hate" as Marko claims? I think not. Is letting someone know what they are doing is offensive a form of hatred? Since when?

Godwin's Law doesn't apply since I'm not the one who raised the Nazis -- the commenter to Carla who called her a "feminazi" did. Second, I didn't compare sexist, mysogynist males to the Nazis, in which case Godwin's law would apply. My point was about how the slur "feminazi" is thrown around and how it is offensive to anyone who survived the Holocaust and their children, to Jews and Romani and the gay community. It's not a weak argument at all and I didn't apply it to LJ. You syaing "weak" argument is another attempt to dismiss "uppity women" like me.

Oh, and I don't speak for all women. Carla repeatedly pointed out that women can be just as sexism as men. I spoke out against a specific form of bigotry is all.

I certainly hope I never get to find out what your behavior towards women in the workplace is.

Oh, and Marko, Linux Journal purports to be the document of the "revolution", the spearhead of the Linux community. I see what they have done over and over again as representative enough of community sexism. I don't feel obligated to write another article. Go subscribe to a LinuxChix list or two and you'll get all the horror stories of sexism in the Linux community you can handle.

Unknown said...

In some ways I've experienced receiving weird looks from people because I am a female Linux user. But I've also found people (men and women) who are supportive of my efforts to learn using Linux as well as advocating it.

I find ads like the one in Linux Journal as offensive because it reduces everyone to stereotypes. As if it's not bad enough that people are so wrapped up in all those stereotypes to the point of destroying others in real life. It's disappointing to find it in LJ -- but in some ways, I guess I find that as something not surprising because we are humans after all and sometimes human beings are such depraved beings.

I guess that it makes me sad that after all this time, such things still exist. Just when I thought technology has made it possible for men and women to be equal in some ways.