I am a strong believer that there is no use talking about doing something, if you do not do anything about it. This just creates a heap of noise which achieves nothing, and that is a waste of time and energy — energy which could be much better spent.
This mode of thinking led to me writing an open letter last Tuesday and in this letter, I said things that I believed needed to be said. In doing so, I touched on a subject that many wish I had not. I wrote about gender imbalance in the Open Source community.
The letter was not only an awareness campaign and call for help, it was also a social experiment to see how people would respond to such a situation.
Several hundred replies later, I have absolutely no regret about having done this. Instead, the responses I received, and witnessed others receiving, have affirmed that which I already knew to be true and affirmed my dedication to the cause.
Of the responses received, there was a mix of positive and negative. The positive ones assured me that I was doing the right thing. The negative ones proved that I was by demonstrating the very behaviours I was campaigning against — the very behaviours that repel our potential users. I thank every single person for their response.
I would like to share with you two responses which sum up the above quite nicely.
From the Linux Australia mailing list:
Ah, where to start. Perhaps with the display of demeaning images
in a presentation at an event sponsored by Linux Australia. Perhaps
with Stallman rubbing his crotch at a public lecture at the University
of Adelaide. Perhaps with sexist and rude comments towards my 17
year old daughter helping out at an InstallFest.
And that’s picking out the merely totally outrageous. Not even
considering the day-to-day behaviours that might turn off participation
in Linux by women. And top of that list is e-mail behaviour,
on lists like this one.
A recent example: a women posts an open letter asking for a
better standard of behaviour, as she feels that some current
behaviours are repulsive to women and do not advance the cause
of Linux. And rather than reflecting upon this, people argue
the point, neatly illustrating the hostile-to-women behaviour.
From the Ubuntu Sounder list:
Women: “Community, we would like to bring to your attention the fact
that we have been experiencing counterproductive attitudes toward women
in the community. For this reason, please try be considerate and aware
of how you interact with the women you encounter.”
Men: “Prove it.”
These snippets were in response to the flammatory responses my letter received.
Thank you Glen and Micah, for understanding.
These guys understand that responding to expressed concerns with responses of a dismissive nature such as:
- ‘Grow a thicker skin, it is just joking around’,
- ‘This is bull. It does not happen, because I don’t do it and I’ve never witnessed or experienced it’,
- ‘How dare you ask me not to behave like this, it is my right as a man to proposition women or show questionable content if I so want’, and
- ‘So what? It happens everywhere so get used it or go away’
Is often far more destructive and repulsive than the offending actions themselves.
Responses like these do not make people feel welcomed or included. They do not inspire into the recipients any feeling of humanity whatsoever. Furthermore, in a community such as Ubuntu that has a Code of Conduct, these responses just simply do not fly because they are neither respectful or considerate to the people expressing concerns.
Sadly, I received responses similar to all those in that list, and more. Thank you to everyone who sent a response like this — you proved my point in its entirety. If a person seeking assistance was to join #ubuntu, mail ubuntu-users@ or post to ubuntuforums, only to be treated like the above, they would give up and walk away and their problem would not be fixed. That is a user lost. That is a contributor lost.
If you were to enter a bar for the first time, only to be assaulted and/or insulted, you too would probably turn and leave. This is no different. First impressions do count. Places like IRC channels, forums, mailing lists and planets are common first impression material. What people see in these places affects their understanding of projects like Ubuntu.
If I was to rewind back 22 months to when I began to use Ubuntu, and think about how I would have reacted, if I had have been one of the unlucky ones to have the counterproductive behaviours I have spoken of in the past week be my first impression of the community (and yes, this includes things like Stephan’s post). I can 100% honestly say I would have missed out on the best 22 months of my life.
I came for the security of linux and the abundance of free software. I stayed for the community.
Everyone should have the chance to feel this way.