We'll see | Matt Zimmerman

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Backlash: feminism considered harmful

We have a problem in the way that women in free software are regarded and treated. If this is news to you, I encourage you not to take my word for it, but read what women in the community are saying about it. Ask women you know about their experiences.

What I want to discuss here, though, is how people are received when they speak up about this, for example by criticizing sexist behavior they have observed. Often, the problem is denied, the critic themselves is personally attacked, and the victims are blamed. In short, there is a backlash.

Lefty’s account of Richard Stallman’s keynote at the Gran Canaria Desktop Summit offers an excellent case study of this pattern.

In the talk, Stallman incorporated a “joke” which Lefty described thus:

The nadir for me was Richard's explanation of "EMACS virgins" as "women who had not been introduced to EMACS" along with the advice that "relieving them of their virginity" was some sort of sacred duty for members of "The Church of EMACS".

The very first comment (anonymous) denied that Lefty had actually heard what he said he had:

Why do you automatically think of girls and woman when somebody talks about virgins? Richard did not mention the sex of the virgins.

However, many members of the audience (including myself) recall it quite clearly, and I expect a video will be published at some point to provide an objective account of what was said.

The second comment (also anonymous) denied that there is a general problem with how women are regarded in free software, citing female disinterest as the true cause:

This "include women" is all but nonsense. Women is[sic] uninterested - as a group, as you can find exceptions *everywhere* - in programming as men are uninterested at another areas where woman reigns.

Lefty received some support from other commenters, but the backlash went further downhill from there.

One anonymous commenter suggested that women should be actively prevented from participating in open source:

Blah blah blah. This kind of whiny bullshit about unimportant details is exactly why women should be left out in the cold.

Another mocked Lefty for daring to speak out:

Thank goodness a big hairy chested man like you was there to protect any helpless women that were about. [...] In other words grow some balls you silly pseudo feminist

For speaking up, he’s been accused of being a disingenuous “pseudo feminist”. Why? I didn’t see any reason in Lefty’s writings to question the validity of his objection, and the anonymous commenter presumably doesn’t know him personally. Plenty of other people were much more vocally offended by Stallman’s comments on Mono, for example, but they haven’t been accused in this way. What is different about women’s issues which trigger this response?

Another anonymous commenter shares his view that women (as a class) do not deserve to be heard, in this classic finger-pointing exercise:

Respect is a two-way street. I'm tired of hearing the so-called feminists yelling out to sexist claims towards women. You know what? I'll take their complaints seriously when most women stop their openly stereotypical view towards men.

From there, the anonymous comments descend into sexual metaphors:

Lefty, go back to sucking deicaza's cock YOU MUPPET

This led to more overt, but blessedly brief, misogynist hatespeech

bitch, STFU

…and calls for Lefty to leave the community for having the audacity to criticize Stallman…

People like you should be ashamed of such behavior and words about other people. Moreover, people like you must quit doing whatever at Open Source.

While these are (almost exclusively) anonymous comments, and there were many others which were more reasonable, this is a pattern of backlash. In this case, it was Lefty taking offense at a single comment in a presentation at a conference which spawned this chain of vitriol. There have been entire presentations which were much worse, and whose critics were also met with rejection and insults. Lefty’s experience is not atypical.

Backlash itself isn’t the root of the problem, of course. It’s just another symptom. What I’m hoping to do is to recognize it for what it is, and question the feelings and beliefs behind it. I want to know how others feel about it. Do you see this happening as well? How does it make you feel?


Written by Matt Zimmerman

July 13, 2009 at 22:22

Posted in Uncategorized

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109 Responses

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  1. I admire lefty in this case for bringing to light this topic, and to be fair he has gotten a lot of publicity about this particular post and I’m somewhat shocked at the large amounts of negative comments he received.

    While I think women are more than capable to stand on their own two feet, it’s nice and appreciated to have your peers stand beside you and call out folks who make inappropriate comments like these.

    Without people (regardless of gender) pulling speakers up on their inappropriate content/comments it will continue and nobody wants to see this happen. So thanks lefty and others for unfortunately having to take some flac over it.


    July 13, 2009 at 22:49

  2. Sexism in any form is intolerable. Unfortunately, the nature of the internet allows people who actively support this kind of behaviour, or who apologise for it, to hide behind anonymity, which doesn’t help matters at all.

    Stallman should be censured (insofar as one can be by something as amorphous as the Open Source community) and rightly so. But worse still are the people who hide behind the internet to stoke the flames of sexism.


    July 13, 2009 at 22:59

    • Censorship in any form is intolerable, regardless of the excuses you make for it. Usually, it’s more about terrorism or child porn, but you are proposing a new approach.

      Fortunately the nature of the Internet makes censorhip very hard.


      July 15, 2009 at 11:31

      • …being censured is having a (usually authoritative) body reprimand someone for something they did–in this case, RMS for his comment. A common use is for a politician to be censured for a comment or action, whereby a governmental body (I forget which usually does this) would publicly denounce the person’s comment or action. It amounts to a verbal slap on the wrist. It’s nothing to do with censorship, which would prevent the comment from being heard in the first place.


        July 15, 2009 at 17:48

  3. You’re going to get backlash whenever you call someone out on something, especially if it’s something as touchy as “whatever-ism”, the person you’re calling out is a celebrity (particularly one as polarizing as RMS), and you’re doing it in a community that tends to attract a fair number of socially maladjusted zealots and misanthropes.

    Honestly, I think the only thing that really matters (and you touched on this) is that the vast majority of the backlash came from ACs. I mean really, if you aren’t willing to sign your name, you instantly become a troll in my eyes. I think if you filter for non-anonymous comments, you will find that the “backlash” will drop to almost nothing, and I think that much more accurately portrays the views of the community, at least the “active” portion of the community.

    Quentin Hartman

    July 13, 2009 at 23:06

  4. Thanks for the post.

    While I’ve not always agreed on the right methodology to address the “sexism” problem or even the extent of it in FLOSS, it’s comments like what Lefty got that really push home that the broader FLOSS community isn’t necessarily like the microcosms that I’ve had the pleasure of working in.

    I really believe that the way a person/community treats opposition or criticism says a whole lot about them and the strength of their position. IMO, it’s not looking good for people who want to deny that a problem exists in our community and that it needs to be addressed.


    July 13, 2009 at 23:12

  5. Yawn, ignore the debate and cherry pick the most extreme and offensive anonymous comments. Score, I guess. What’s next, decrying YouTube comments as intolerant?

    After 15 years of Stallman performing the same routine suddenly he is the poster child for sexism over a comic (?) routine mocking the virgin mary. Absolutely ridiculous.


    July 13, 2009 at 23:28

  6. The more I hear of this RMS/GCDS keynote, the more it sounds like a shark-jumping moment.

    Quentin has a point; this is observed behaviour: http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19/. In the case of the presenters, the equation is perhaps “Egotist + Celebrity + Audience = Total Fuckwad”, which is also verifiable (e.g. Hollywood).

    As always, leadership matters. In the rare set of individuals quixotic enough to start major open-source efforts there are a number of strong personalities, RMS not the least. I trust support and momentum will tend to accrue to the better leaders, not those who shout loudest; that is to say, those who put the “b” in “(sa)bdfl” instead of those who style themselves General Pattons with keyboards. The tone of the community will improve as a result.

    Paul Kishimoto

    July 13, 2009 at 23:37

  7. Does anybody really care what an anonymous comment says. If you do, then stop this instant. Ignore the fucking trolls and they go away. Feed them and they multiply. You are according way too much power to what might well be just a single cowardly person.


    July 13, 2009 at 23:54

  8. There are tons of people dying to have a go at Stallman. He is a nuisance to anybody who don’t mind dilluting OpenSource and then some, but he’s virtually “untouchable”.

    Then we have to get him any way we can, right?

    I’m not disputing the presence of sexism – it’s present everywhere so what’s different with OpenSource? Nothing.

    It is equally sexist to use this topic as an opportunity to weaken (in this case) Stallman – if that’s what’s going on.

    Suddenly everybody crawls out of their holes and cries out loud. The same people who would laugh of the lame sexist jokes or even worse – neglecting the issue in just about any other situation.

    More significant obsticles to equality are double standards – not a grump like Stallman.

    Anyone presenting sexist jokes/comments during a presentation makes a fool of himself. Then there’s always the question: For how long did he get away with it in the past? Did 80% of the audience smile or laugh to the lame sexist joke year after year?

    It makes those jokes safe bets.

    Want equality and the end of sexism?

    Start with your forum, your project, your bosses, your family, your children’s scool and everywhere else in your social environment.

    That’s where it begins and that’s where it should end.


    July 13, 2009 at 23:56

  9. jpv: “Yawn, ignore the debate and cherry pick the most extreme and offensive anonymous comments.”

    Mind finding one /less/ extreme/offensive anonymous comment? Most of the anonymous (and there are ~200 of them) echo much of the same vitriol that was summarized in this very post. Others simply attacked Lefty accusing him of breaking the law by posting the email correspondence (which is false).

    AFAICT, the only commenters that had any sort of civility were the ones posting in agreement with Lefty.

    Skimming over the comments right now, I can’t find a single comment disagreeing with Lefty that was able to keep it civil at all.


    July 13, 2009 at 23:59

  10. I was surprised that there was that many negative comments written on his blog. This actually shot my optimism down a bit and I felt like most of the community was like this, so this blog post is very refreshing and much appreciated. This is because I feel most people would have just ignored it and carried on.
    However, I would like to make one point. Feminism is for both men and women. Often times I feel like people think that it’s just for women. Additionally, I think the notion of stopping sexism is a bit skewed in that most people think the point is to try to help women. The point needs to put around equality. If you keep men out of the picture it won’t work and likewise if you keep women out of the picture equality won’t be achieved.
    Lastly, if people are going to actually do something about it the key is in the numbers. You need to get a lot of people actively involved and make a bold statement. For example, not letting RMS speak at next years conference without a public apology. From reading Lefy’s later blog about the email he sent to Richard, I don’t think RMS thinks he’s being sexist which is part of the problem and why action needs to be taken. I’m waiting in anticipation to see the video of his talk.

    Eric Pritchett

    July 14, 2009 at 00:00

  11. Maybe the 15-year routine performance is the problem itself. The world changed, he didn’t. I’ll go as far and claim that Stallman is harming FOSS rather than the opposite. This is not the only stupid thing he’s made. There are a lot more examples when he’s being a complete jerk.

    Personally I’ve seen his “routine performance” once, and that almost made me abandon linux and FOSS alone despite being a linux fan boy for years. He’s just that bad. So my message to the FOSS-community is to get rid of him. Kill your darling!

    You have my support on this one.


    July 14, 2009 at 00:03

    • @mintlars:

      Although I firmly subscribe the points about sexism exposed here, I reckon that mocking the Virgin Mary is NOT an act of sexism, even if RMS is long bearded and that ugly :) … It shouldn’t be punished with death penalty either, the world has changed a lot since those old times. And our brains are bigger too and more capable to understand things and put them into perspective. BTW, I also think we need more of RMS’s ideas and licenses, or?


      July 14, 2009 at 02:47

      • It’s hardly the long beard or his ugliness I have in mind, it’s his bad behaviour. He’s just downright unsympathetic and not doing the community any good. In 15 years not only the world changed, but the FOSS-community has also grown at a fast and steady pace. I find it hard to believe that he is the one who should take credit for that. I fact, I think the community would be even bigger today if Stallman had stepped down years ago.


        July 14, 2009 at 08:28

      • As for the supposed virgin Mary mock, you’re suggesting that it can’t be sexist at the same time. When did mocking someone/something and being sexist become mutually exclusive to each other? Why can’t he be both at the same time?


        July 14, 2009 at 08:39

    • I don’t dispute that Stallman can be a jerk. I myself share that trait with him. But:

      a) the way he has been vilified because of this episode is appalling. Same goes for anyone in the same situation without egregious behaviour or a history of discriminatory behaviour against women.

      b) To conclude that “feminism is considered harmful” from a selection of the worst anonymous comments is laughable. Most reasonable people like myself (thank you) advocate equality but notice a large amount of hypocrisy in some feminists, male and female alike.

      Also, Stallman has done a lot of good work with social benefits for little material gain. That buys a lot of credit in my book.


      July 14, 2009 at 12:45

      • I agree on your points, but on the other hand, small things can make a huge difference and it’s good in itself that we are having this debate, right?

        I also agree that Stallman has done a lot of good work too. What I’m saying is that he is not a good promotor of the FOSS-community and should really have less of a promoting role. Charity is fine, but can also be made without having thing public relations role his taking with his lectures.


        July 14, 2009 at 17:54

  12. I was one of the commenters who criticised Lefty for his reaction on Stallman’s joke.

    However, I do applaud you.

    I think people (including myself) should stand up against racism. I think people (including myself) should stand up against sexism. I think people (including myself) should stand up against discrimination of any kind. Both in this community and elsewhere. And we should not tolerate some of the comments, especially those demanding Lefty to quit because of his pro-political-correctness views (even though I can understand not agreeing with them, as I don’t either).

    The anonymous commenter(s) crossed the line.

    Let’s be honest. Unlike the name-calling anonymous commenter(s), Stallman didn’t do any of that. He was making a joke. Maybe not a very good one, but just a bit of risqué humour nonetheless. He didn’t intend to harm the Catholic Church (primary butt of the joke, since it was a parody on the Cult of the Virgin Mary) or women (secondary target of the joke) or people unfamiliar with Emacs or female Catholics or any one else.

    So I do encourage everybody to stand up against discrimination, but at the same time I encourage everybody not to exaggerate. A joke about a stereotype of any kind is not the same thing as actual hate-speech or discrimination. Too much political correctness takes a sizeable portion of the humour away from live. Too much political correctness also works counter-productively: as we can see, the viciousness of the backlash (against Lefty) is way more threatening than the Stallman’s lame comedy routine (whose targets were Catholics and women and people unfamiliar with Emacs).

    By the way, the escalation went in the other direction as well. Somebody commented, arguing that anyone who has the nerve (the nerve!) to defend Stallman on this, must have sexist tendencies “that frankly need[] to go away.” I don’t see why such a comment would be any more acceptable than a comment demanding Lefty to leave the community.


    July 14, 2009 at 00:04

    • Adhemar:

      I believe you must be referring to the following quote:

      What I am most shocked about is actually the huge number of RMS “supporters” writing here. The comments displayed here if anything shows that there are sexist tendencies in this community that frankly needs to go away.

      Note that your claim that this person said, “arguing that anyone who has the nerve (the nerve!) to defend Stallman on this, must have sexist tendencies” is clearly a gross exaggeration.

      He or she was obviously referring to the anonymous comments like the ones mdz has pointed out. There was certainly no claim that defending Stallman was equivalent to having sexist tendencies. That’s simply what you chose to read into it.


      July 14, 2009 at 00:51

      • As the person who wrote that I can confirm that Jason is correct with what I tried to get across.


        July 14, 2009 at 07:44

        • OK, fair enough.

          I understood your words to be meant stronger.


          July 14, 2009 at 10:03

          • Jason, if your words are truly only meant against the kind of comments Matt opposes, I actually agree with you.

            Sorry to misunderstand you — I thought you opposed all comments supporting Stallman in this.


            July 14, 2009 at 11:14

    • What is the Cult of the Virgin Mary, by the way? I was never taught about this in Catholic School.


      July 14, 2009 at 00:56

  13. “A joke about a stereotype of any kind is not the same thing as actual hate-speech or discrimination.”

    Maybe it’s not the same, but at very least it creates an environment that is friendly towards, and hence paves the way for, hate-speech and discrimination.

    In the end, it is part of the problem.


    July 14, 2009 at 01:12

    • It is not the same. Not just maybe. Definetely not the same.

      I also disagree with the notion that risqué humour paves the way for hate-speech and discrimination. Discrimination happens when there are those who discriminate en others who let them. The absence of humour in such an environment makes no difference.

      Banning risqué jokes because they pave the way for hate-speech and discrimination isn’t any less absurd than banning heavy metal because it may lead to violence; or banning literature because it may lead to regicide, murder, suicide, …


      July 14, 2009 at 10:11

      • Full AOL.


        July 15, 2009 at 11:36

      • “Discrimination happens when there are[…]others who let them”

        This reaction is known as “blaming the victim” and is a form of the backlash I’m describing in this post. You’re placing responsibility for the problem on the person affected by it, rather than the person causing it. People who are excluded, marginalized and underprivileged by definition are not in control of their circumstances in that way. Labeling such people as “thin-skinned” and blaming their own inadequacies is a way of reinforcing their underprivileged status, redirecting attention away from the privileged class, and generally denying the existence of a problem.

        You might be interested in the following study, whose conclusions are summarized in part as follows:

        The work proved that those who had listened to sexist jokes were much more tolerant with male battering than those who had not, this is, that this kind of humour favours the mental mechanisms tolerant with violent behaviour towards women. However, the researchers warn those individuals affected by sexist humour showed a previous tendency to tolerate violence against women, as we can gather from a survey which weighed up sexist attitudes against women.



        July 15, 2009 at 11:58

        • If anything, this study proves that people are not capable of moderation, which is not surprising. The “mental mechanisms” conclusion is pure speculation, you cannot conclude it from the rest of the study.


          July 15, 2009 at 13:13

        • This reaction is known as “blaming the victim” and is a form of the backlash I’m describing in this post.

          In the case of actual discrimination, I do not blaim the victims. It’s not their fault when discrimination happens. I blaim those who discriminate and those who stand by and do nothing.

          You could accuse me of blaiming the supposed “victims” in the case of the of jokes. Of course it’s not their fault either that someone tells a joke, but then again there’s nothing wrong with such jokes. That’s my whole point.

          Anybody can be offended by any opinion, joke, word, … If we should not say anything that can offend anyone, we should stop communicating at all.

          As for the (supposed) positive correlation between risqué humour and tolerance towards violence and battering. Even if it’s true (I admit that it might be, as the study indicates), that’s not good enough a reason to stop joking (or listening to jokes). The same logic would lead us into a world where all violent electronic games are banned, all violent movies, all violent literature, …

          Freedom is what attracted me to Free Software; I can only deplore that the Free Software community seems to follow a path to a world where other (more fundamental) forms of freedom should be severely cut back.


          July 15, 2009 at 13:55

          • Of course it’s not their fault either that someone tells a joke, but then again there’s nothing wrong with such jokes. That’s my whole point.

            Your point is fundamentally flawed because it fails to consider the context of the remarks. Remember, we’re talking about a keynote speech given in front of 1,000 community developers and participants.

            I can only deplore that the Free Software community seems to follow a path to a world where other (more fundamental) forms of freedom should be severely cut back.

            No one’s trying to curtail anyone’s freedom. If Stallman wants to stand out on the sidewalk and tell offensive jokes, no one’s going to stop him. If he wants to be as insensitive as he likes on his own web site, no one is going to stop him.

            But allowing him to make the remarks he made in the context he made them without comment is an effective endorsement of those comments in that context. And that’s just wrong.

            Freedom is a two-edged sword. Stallman is free to say such things, and I’m equally free to say that the views he expresses are out-of-place, offensive, hurtful and divisive.


            July 15, 2009 at 14:46

            • Your point is fundamentally flawed because it fails to consider the context of the remarks.

              You seem to treat a stage as a universe where completely rules of morality and ethics apply. I don’t.

              Neither my arguments nor Matt’s arguments (especially his citation of the study) are more or less valid depending on context. Just as actual discrimination is as wrong in a group as it is in one-on-one contact, risqué humour is equally non-inappropriate on a stage as in a private discussion.

              The argument that Stallman should have talked more about technical stuff on a technical conference, is a valid one. But people here don’t seem to be cross with Stallman for not speaking about free software, you are cross with him for one joke.

              Of course, you too are free to express your views, both on your blog and before a crowd. And I would disagree with anyone trying to ban you for expressing your views as strongly as I disagree with you.


              July 15, 2009 at 16:53

              • You seem to treat a stage as a universe where completely rules of morality and ethics apply. I don’t.

                I see a distinct difference between remarks someone makes in a one-to-one context where there’s give and take, and the same remarks made on a stage in front of a crowd after the speaker has been introduced as a “leader of the Free Software movement”.

                And I’m unclear why you continue to insist that I want to “ban” people when I’ve made it clear that I’m criticizing someone’s statements. I’m not trying to pass a law to make it illegal to say offensive things, but I am that someone who’s in the habit of saying such offensive things is perhaps not the best choice to be giving a keynote if people want a community that’s actually free and open to all participants.

                If Stallman wants to come to the Desktop Summit on his own dime rather than on the sponsors’ tab and do his “St. IGNUcius” routine in the hallway, that’s fine with me. I expect he’d get a reaction he wasn’t prepared for, but that’s his lookout.


                July 15, 2009 at 17:03

  14. […] Matt. Thank You. Bookmark […]

  15. The RMS comment was annoying, but the comments in blogs such as Lefty’s which have been the most offensive. RMS was simply insensitive, the authors of some of those comments are the truly scary ones.


    July 14, 2009 at 02:01

    • I’ll agree with that 100%. Many of those comments were nothing short of shocking.


      July 14, 2009 at 02:42

  16. To be completely fair, there were a number–not a large number, admittedly–of positive anonymous comments, some (allegedly) coming from women who feared some sort of backlash themselves, which I guess seems a fairly well-founded concern. And there were negative, non-anonymous comments as well, but these tended, as you note, to be a lot more reasoned, and reasonable.

    I’ve been around the Internet a pretty good while, and the fact that anonymity emboldens people to express pretty extreme positions isn’t much of a surprise to me. On a personal level, I agree with the comments here that suggest one shouldn’t take the Nameless Horde too seriously.

    On a community level, though, it does seem a little disturbing.


    July 14, 2009 at 03:09

  17. If you don’t have what it takes to own up to what you’re saying online, don’t say it. There is a place for anonymous commenting, and that place is revolt.

    Every web site should at LEAST have a ‘hide all anonymous comments’ feature.


    July 14, 2009 at 03:41

  18. I’m still somewhat aghast that a private e-mail conversation would be made public by one of the parties involved without the consent/approval of the other.

    While this is wholly detached from the sexism topic, it is morally questionable in itself and only serves to undermine the principled position Lefty wishes to take.

    Kurt von Finck

    July 14, 2009 at 05:48

  19. RMS is missing one of the best opportunities to spread Free Software to a more diverse audience.

    You can tell he is trying- I went to a talk at Concordia Univ., Montreal Quebec where 99% of us were male computer geeks who already knew the history behind Free Software. We weren’t really his target audience, the event was poorly promoted. We asked technical questions and he kind of brushed them off, saying his tour wasn’t really the place for those debates – he was there to spread the more moral issues of Free Software to a broader audience. He did do a fantastic job of avoiding technical vocabulary and being pretty easy to follow.

    Well guess what- one of the *only* people in the audience who happened to know nothing about Free Software was a lady, someone I happened to invite. Rarely have I ever seen such a gender imbalance, so imagine how she felt when he started talking about relieving EMACS virgins and such. I looked over embaressingly to convey my mutual dismay but she left shortly after.

    The rest of us were just the choir. Pretty sad.


    July 14, 2009 at 06:31

  20. Who gives a sh!t. I’m tired of articles about RMS’ sexist remarks. This has got to end.

    This isn’t the first time he’s run his mouth. Have any of you read his website? Who cares…..you virgins.


    July 14, 2009 at 06:33

  21. AAAAAGRRHH!!! I’m sure rms didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition just for a bit of harmless spoofing of the Cult of the Virgin Mary.


    July 14, 2009 at 08:03

    • Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!


      July 14, 2009 at 08:23

      • Bwahahahah. Classic!


        July 14, 2009 at 10:31

  22. Boy, I sure do like to spend time arguing on the internet as opposed to writing code or, gee, doing ANYTHING else useful. Shine on your crazy feminist diamonds.


    July 14, 2009 at 08:34

    • Shooting ourselves in foot, are we?


      July 14, 2009 at 08:41

  23. Hey you, long time etc…

    Personally I have never noticed or cared about sex in my work and social circles. I mix with men and women with equal ease, and don’t see why it has to play a role AT ALL. To me it’s just a bunch of people there’s no difference.

    I think people are too touchy and sensitive about things like this. Take a joke as it is intended. Offence is generally taken not given.

    I can honestly say I have never really felt discriminated against in my entire career of 15 years, which has almost always been in male dominated arenas (right from studying Electronic Engineering straight out of an all girls high school!). But then I give as good as I get, I have a strong sense of fun and humour and believe in *myself*.

    I am NOT a feminist at all. In fact I possibly relate better to men than woman in some respects and have never understood why women would want or need anything different from a software perspective (pinks and flowers etc BLEURGH).

    I am a ‘selfist’. People must strive for and achieve what THEY want to for themselves whether they are men, women, black, Chinese, coloured, white, young, old, Christian, Jewish, short, tall, ugly, beautiful, you name it. Own who you are and represent THAT.

    I am not denying that it is important to acknowledge and deal with issue such as these but I think often too much focus and emotion is placed on them, rather than just getting on with it. Instead of lamenting about discrimination and glass-ceilings etc I have always just done my job, and it WORKS!


    July 14, 2009 at 10:30

    • You are very fortunate not to have experienced this yourself. However, according to the data (FLOSSpols), a majority of women in free software have experienced discrimination.

      Feminism is not about relating to people of a particular gender, or whether certain people get along. It’s about equal rights. Being a feminist doesn’t mean not getting along with men; quite the opposite, it has the potential to create many more opportunities for friendship between men and women.

      Maybe this isn’t your struggle, and I wouldn’t try to persuade you otherwise. However, it would be easy for your comments to be interpreted as saying that there isn’t a problem, or that even if there is, it is better to keep quiet about it. You might even be construed as saying that the fault lies with the people experiencing discrimination (blaming the victim). I can’t agree with those sentiments.


      July 14, 2009 at 16:20

      • Sure. I do not in fact disagree with you and fully acknowledge that you/their mileage may indeed vary, however I just wanted to point out that not ALL women feel victimised/ discriminated against.

        But again that does not imply that:
        1) It does *not* happen and
        2) Some women do experience and/or feel it.

        And yes I understand that social aspects and equal right are not that same (always). I do think that in my particular case the fact that I can easily slip into the role of ‘one of the guys’ acts in my favour to a large degree.


        July 14, 2009 at 16:28

  24. IMNSHO I was just some christian fanatic that was pissed that his sacred Mary was made fun off.

    Much ado ..


    July 14, 2009 at 10:53

  25. This debate seems to already have become divisive and non-constructive but here’s an attempt at a third way:

    If you are really trying to take the moral high ground on an issue of sexism, then stick to that issue. If you accuse the same person of mocking religion, being boring, rude, unfunny, out of touch and not being the most effective evangelist of Free and/or Open Source software then it all just comes out as looking like a personal grudge and a witch hunt.

    If on the other hand, you’re just out to diminish an individual then yes throw in anything you can think of that shows them in a bad light. But don’t pretend you’re some moral crusader for any particular cause.

    I would suggest the tone of the comments on that blog was set by the original blog post itself. Sending an angry email to someone and posting the response to make fun of it isn’t a good idea (even if you think it’s morally or ethically fine). The responses to commenters only served to heighten tensions.

    I find it somewhat sad that something so pointlessly divisive is seen by female members of the community as positive and worthy of thanks. Just because someone claims to be doing something for your benefit doesn’t make it so. Even assuming good faith, things can backfire if not handled well and I would suggest this was not handled well at all. Perhaps the energy could be channeled more productively next time?


    July 14, 2009 at 11:22

  26. …just some christian fanatic that was pissed that his sacred Mary was made fun off…

    I am, in fact, a Buddhist. Nice try, though.


    July 14, 2009 at 12:00

  27. Lefty is deleting these facts on his anti-RMS blog, and now screening comments so afraid is he of anyone seeing them, so I bring them here.

    It is quite telling here that Lefty is deleting comments that expose his dark side, and banning anonymity to cover his ass for his vile behavior online. For it is a fact that Lefty is also called ‘stonemirror’ on the internet. And while “Lefty” is now presenting himself as a self appointed White Knight of Feminism and defender of the undeprivileged, in fact “Lefty” has spent hundreds even thousands of hours online persecuting, goading and even stalking a mentally ill man who requires medication to function and who gets an SSDI disability check. Here is the article Lefty/Stonemirror wrote as only one of literally thousands of hateful, troll comments that Lefty has scattered all over the web in his strange hobby of harassing the mentally ill and disabled.


    a search of stonemirror + troll on google will verify all of this wildly ugly behavior on Lefty’s part, and if Lefty again deletes this comment, it will be brought to the attention of RMS and the larger open source community in another forum. If you delete this again, Lefty/Stonemirror you are proving that you are afraid of these facts, this vicious history of relentless cruelty you have displayed online over many years to disabled persons, and women.

    Sandy Laphon

    July 14, 2009 at 13:58

    • My post has very little to do with Lefty himself, but is about the backlash. The backlash is not unique to Lefty, nor did it make any allegations regarding his past behavior. If you want to discuss Lefty personally, please do so elsewhere.


      July 14, 2009 at 15:54

      • You are aiding and abetting Lefty in his sexism and his grotesque hypocrisy. Unlock the proof I submitted to you. Really telling how Lefty has nothing to say here, and he NEVER runs out of things to say….

        Sandy Laphon

        July 14, 2009 at 16:01

  28. In particular, this line that Schlesinger/Lefty/Stonemirror penned in 2006 should demolish for all time and put lie to his claims of being some kind of ant-sexism crusader:

    “Vitki claims to be an “impath”, (implicate empath, that is), to be ‘enlightened’, to have Asperger’s Syndrome, to be a misunderstood ‘genius’, and to be regularly on the verge of committing suicide over his inability to find even a fat girl who would let him have sex with her. “

    Sandy Laphon

    July 14, 2009 at 14:57

  29. Talk:Vitki
    From Encyclopedia Dramatica
    Jump to: navigation, search

    Fucking awesome edits, Stonemirror. THANK YOU! –girlvinyl 22:57, 9 Jan 2005 (GMT)
    LOL To the Terrible!

    Nice outline Stonemirror! ROTFL!
    I had to do it

    Sandy Laphon

    July 14, 2009 at 14:59

  30. Do you have any proof that the “stonemirror” person on that website is, in fact, Lefty? I don’t see any proof at all, which means that your claim could be considered libel.

    I have chosen IRC handles in the past thinking they were “unique” only to discover that googling myself turned up a number of other people using the same name.

    So from my own first-hand knowledge, I cannot conclude that these 2 people are the same person without more to link them than just a (non-unique) handle.

    — William

    William Jones

    July 14, 2009 at 15:26

  31. Your proof is being deleted by the moderator of this blog.

    Sandy Laphon

    July 14, 2009 at 15:59

    • Your comment was queued for moderation automatically because it contained an excess of links. However, I have asked that you take discussion of Lefty and whatever his past actions may have been, to another forum. It’s just not on topic here.


      July 14, 2009 at 16:03

    • Sounds to me more likely that you are a lying troll.

      William Jones

      July 14, 2009 at 16:03

      • The moderator is suppressing the proof I submitted, email sandylaphon@gmail.com and I will send it to you.

        Sandy Laphon

        July 14, 2009 at 16:04

          • Sandy, I’m happy for you to post a comment here explaining what your concerns are with Lefty, but I think this is enough. Perhaps you’d like to put up a web page with everything you’d like to say, and just link there. So far, you’ve made 7 comments, out of 55 total on this post, which seems a bit excessive.


            July 14, 2009 at 16:10

            • BECAUSE YOU ARE SCREENING THE PROOF DEMANDED, you censorious, sexist hypocrite!

              Sandy Laphon

              July 14, 2009 at 16:12

              • OK, this is out of hand.

                One of your (nine!) comments on this post ended up in a spam trap because it contained too many links. I explained this to you already. I was about to go and dig it out for you, but I think you’ve had your chance to say your piece already.

                Please take it elsewhere.


                July 14, 2009 at 16:16

          • I don’t see anything on that page linking Lefty to the “stonemirror” persona on encyclopediadramatica, nor anything concerning Lefty at all.

            As others have already said, you seem to be a lunatic.

            William Jones

            July 14, 2009 at 16:49

  32. Oh dear Sandy… great way to ‘fight for the women’. NOT. You look/sound like an irrational hysterical lunatic.

    You should maybe STFU now before you look even worse.

    I do not appreciate the spamming you did on my blog either, which has absolutely nothing to do with this whatsoever.


    July 14, 2009 at 16:23

  33. Read the evidence, Jane. You are the one who is out of line. My comments are being suppressed here, so I contacted all the commentators individually. I apologise that this innocuous behavior turned on your extreme hostility. But the fact remains that I provided proof of Lefty’s extreme sexist comments. What part of that do you not get?

    Sandy Laphon

    July 14, 2009 at 16:30

    • You have provided no proof whatsoever, all you’ve done is linked to irrelevant websites while making libelous accusations and showing extreme hostility toward everyone.

      William Jones

      July 14, 2009 at 16:51

  34. It is wild cowardice being shown here by the moderator to remove my ability to defend my evidence and myself from accusations of lies and libel, when I have absolute evidence.

    Sandy Laphon

    July 14, 2009 at 16:55

  35. This is a well-known and long time troll by the name of Jason Christopher Hughes, aka “Luis Manuel Arsupial”, aka “Michael Rudra Nath”, who has a history of trolling, stalking and abuse going back to the 90s and USENET days.

    Hughes has threatened my family, called my various employers to inform them that I’m a “Satanist”, a drug addict, a pedophile, and other things–both Apple and ACCESS HR had directives to transfer any such calls directly to Legal.

    Hughes has set up accounts under user names I’ve used in other contexts–“stonemirror” is one such–and has used them to impersonate me; at one time he fraudulently registered a domain that was the .org counterpart to one I ran in the .net TLD and filled it up with pro-NAMBLA material.

    He’s done similar things to many, many others, first on USENET, then on Livejournal, now apparently on Facebook, and here as well.


    July 14, 2009 at 17:15

    • I can verify this. Not only have I seen the documentation of this facts, but “Hughes” has pulled the same crap on my, including calling my employer and telling them lies in an attempt to get me fired. What “Hughes” won’t tell you is that my employer told him he was crazy and asked me if I felt I needed any physical protection from an obvious nutcase.


      July 14, 2009 at 19:41

  36. I wonder whether the following offers any assistance to the baffled:

    In a nearby parallel universe, Richard Stallman has decided that it’s Confucianism he wants to poke “gentle fun” at, rather than Catholicism. Accordingly, he dresses up as a 19th-century Chinese railroad worker, complete with a coolie hat (made from a hard disk platter) as “ConGNUcius”, and proceeds to do a routine, reading from the “Analects of EMACS”, in a accent taken from Charlie Chan movies:

    “ConGNUcius say, Man who install ploplietelly softwell finds himself in chains! Miclosoft make velly velly bad demand! No license-ee, no ploglam-ee! Ploglam want be flee!”

    Have we still achieved the level of “gentle humor” here…? Are we still having fun?


    July 14, 2009 at 20:50

  37. Any time is a good time to criticize/mock/condemn religion.

    I don’t like people whose behavior is exhibited by Lefty, although I’m sure Lefty thinks he means well.

    I don’t like the behavior whereby someone believes he or she should ‘scold’ another’s behavior based on what he or she feels OTHER people MAY feel, and then attempt to use that alleged feeling as an excuse to make such self-rationalized admonishments.

    If any person feels offended by an act, that person can make the admonishments him- or herself. We don’t need self appointed holy defenders of all others’ amorphous concerns. Indeed to do so in a way Lefty has done (male POV, gender centric) can indeed actually be sexist itself (example watch this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coi1Sc5ss_s). Not everyone agrees obviously but it can be.

    Anyway none of that is the meat of the matter here. RMS is routinely criticized and condemned because he’s very opinionated on certain things that is not ‘mainstream’ belief. Let’s cut past the bull here too, he’s a very easy target because he’s perceived as fat, ugly, uncouth, and not someone whom others who think of themselves as ‘socially acceptable’ want to be associated themselves for social status reasons. And he’s in a relatively envious position as his position in the ‘free software community’ which provokes certain reactions in conjunction with those personal features.

    If he was handsome, rich, athletic, but just as direct and ‘fringe’ ideologically, he’d be perceived entirely differently (who knows maybe he’d be a top contender for a certain mainstream political party nomination for US President in 2012).

    Anyway sexism is not good for the advancement of free software for various reasons, and since the likeness of the Virgin Emacs is to the Virgin Mary, it’s not entirely clear that it had sexist undertones. RMS has now apparently been notified and given his response and made the attempt to clarify his true intent.

    Publishing private emails without consent is also not good for the advancement of free software. These precedents will inevitably lead down bad paths as people watch themselves, guarding their words and being less candid especially to people they only know virtually and don’t know whom to trust, and are suspect of real intent of people who contact them.

    Conventional religion in my own belief does more harm than good, practices child abuse (by teaching at impressionable ages of fantastical nightmare concepts like eternal Hell, omnipresent surveillance of sexual habits, promoting patriarchal deference and subservience etc etc), and because of this, religion is always open to criticism no matter who might be “offended”.

    Lastly, if I go to a technical conference, I don’t want to hear about religion, politics, or social norms, and I don’t want to hear sarcasm, or lack of depth of knowledge and import. So on that point I empathize with Lefty. But I don’t agree that my own belief of “appropriateness” of these topics and behavior is necessarily an actual, justifiable criticism to make to the presenter, in reality (understanding that this was only a small part of Lefty’s criticism).

    So in the end, Lefty’s concerned email and subsequent posting of the private exchange was in my view overly controlling, presumptuous, pretentious, and shameful, and RMS’s apparent shouting over questioners may well have been rude…

    What to do about this? We can now all choose for ourselves whether to visit RMS’s talks by voting with our feet. I believe that’s the best solution. What we don’t need is publicly aired drama complete with private conversations meant to persuade passersby of the correctness of one party and the invitation for self congratulatory mob like public finger wagging. We also don’t need attempts to marginalize RMS, his ideas, and his behavior simply because we don’t like them/him Again, whoever is offended and wants to change his behavior through communication -women, Christians, etc- should be the ones contacting RMS instead, which they are fully capable of doing, themselves. Otherwise, don’t take up causes that might not exist especially not in the way it’s done here. It’s petty.)

    Robin Barrett

    July 14, 2009 at 21:22

  38. link above broken by ‘)’…

    Robin Barrett

    July 14, 2009 at 21:24

  39. I don’t like the behavior whereby someone believes he or she should ’scold’ another’s behavior based on what he or she feels OTHER people MAY feel…

    But, Robin, I was offended. Are you saying I didn’t feel that?


    July 14, 2009 at 21:35

  40. No, Paul Kishimoto, you wish it was a shark-jumping moment, and people like you are desperately trying to make it one, because you’d all love to be rid of Stallman so you don’t have anyone standing true to software freedom and reminding you how far you’ve strayed from it in your climb up whatever corporate ladder you’re clinging to.

    This episode is certainly comedic, but it’s no shark-jump.


    July 15, 2009 at 01:05

  41. […] Backlash: feminism considered harmful We have a problem in the way that women in free software are regarded and treated. If this is news to you, I encourage […] […]

  42. Excellent post, Matt. I have also been disheartened by some of the responses to Lefty’s blog entry. It just goes to show you that just when you feel like you have the measure of human nature, people go and surprise you yet again.

    Jono Bacon

    July 15, 2009 at 03:12

  43. 1- “Do you see this happening as well?”

    Sexist jokes.. I’ve seen many. At the beginning, some years ago, I was feeling very offended. I thought about it and do not feel offended any more. I’m not saying they should stay, any kind of discrimination is wrong, but my perception has evolved.

    No matter what, women are under-represented in the FLOSS world. Education is one of the keys. Girls and boys education, at home, at school, by TV or the internets. Stereotypes are everywhere, and escaping the stereotypes is very very hard.

    So the majority (boys) laughs and enjoy boys jokes. Not ALL of them, I know. The majority. “Ahah, wink wink, listen to this one, ahah”.. We are of the same bunch kind of jokes.

    If someone from the majority sides with a minority group, they are traitors, that is just the way large communities work at the individual level. To be able to integrate a minority (equal rights and opportunities) it takes time and education. Or a strong will from leadership (which happens in the Ubuntu community).

    If a joke does not work with another discriminated group, it won’t work with women either. Why would it?

    2- “How does it make you feel?”

    How do I feel now? I feel annoyed, I feel sorry for the ones so strongly jailing themselves in narrow minded stereotypes, I feel sorry for the women feeling rejected, discriminated, pushed away.

    3- “What is different about women’s issues which trigger this response?”
    As I said, the (supposed) power of an overwhelming majority.

    4- “What can be done?” (Sorry, I’ve added this question, I feel it was missing ^^)

    Talk about it, educate, encourage women to move forward, tell them they will not have to silently listen and disappear, talk about it again, remove the silence, be an example, talk bout it (did I say that already?), listen to the minority, weed out.

    Cheers :)


    July 15, 2009 at 14:12

  44. Bull.

    Political correctness sucks, and let me tell you why.

    By attacking RMS for mentioning “female virgins” you’re implicitely saying that it would be OK to say “male virgins”, as if that’s somehow better. And if it were so, I bet no one would even raise an eyebrow.

    It’s the same with jokes about jews, black people, japanese, russians, brits or pretty much everything. By denying people the right to make fun of something, you’re making it different by default.

    For example, if I can tell a joke about a straight white man, why can’t I tell a joke about a black gay man? Are you telling me that a gay black man is somehow different than a straight white man? More important? Less important? Because if I act differently towards him than towards the white man, then I’m discriminating him, isn’t that right? I’m making him stand out, the same way you make a woman stand out by opening the door for her. Is she incapable of opening the door for herself??

    Yes, you read that well: political correctness == discrimination.

    I’m not a sexist, racist or a discriminator. Everyone is equal, and everyone has the equal right to be laughed at. Because I respect women I tend to laugh at them the same way I laugh at men. Everything else is just Americanization (if such a word exists) where everyone is sensitive about everything, everything is an insult and nobody laughs.

    Next thing you know, all the jokes will be banned and we’ll be raising our right hand to hail the Führer.

    dr. Hannibal Lecter

    July 15, 2009 at 18:06

    • By attacking RMS for mentioning “female virgins” you’re implicitely saying that it would be OK to say “male virgins”, as if that’s somehow better. And if it were so, I bet no one would even raise an eyebrow.

      No, I’m not. I explicitly have said that if he’d defined “EMACS virgins” as “people who had never used EMACS”, I’d have had no cause for complaint. I’ve also said that I don’t really think humor that singles out men is any better (although the dynamics are different) than that which singles out women.

      Next thing you know, all the jokes will be banned and we’ll be raising our right hand to hail the Führer.

      “Mike Godwin, please pick up the nearest white courtesy phone…”


      July 15, 2009 at 18:23

      • Godwin doesn’t apply, I wasn’t really comparing anything or anyone to the Nazis, or calling anyone a Nazi, but if it makes you feel better….

        Anyway, my point was that no one would even mention this if he were to say “male virgins”. No one would care. And you definitely can’t claim that you would unless you want to look like a desperate zealot.

        Point: by making a thing out of this, you’re discriminating women. Period.

        If a woman is so frustrated by being a woman, I don’t want her in open source or anywhere near me. The same goes for men. If you can’t take a joke, stop trying to take away the humour from the rest of us. A joke is a joke. You may like it or not. It doesn’t have to be politically correct. Hell, MOST jokes are NOT politically correct. Everything is politics today. Everyone wants to sue someone’s ass.

        In any case, I’ll start taking this seriously when I see an article where you’re protesting against jokes about white heterosexual people. Because it’s offensive.

        dr. Hannibal Lecter lect

        July 15, 2009 at 18:55

        • If a woman is so frustrated by being a woman, I don’t want her in open source or anywhere near me.

          Well, I’m pretty confident no woman wants to be near you anyway, given your attitudes. And I don’t want you in open source, but–happily for you–it doesn’t work that way. (I don’t think you’re actually involved in open source, myself, just a troll who’s here to get his two cents in.)

          By the way, I’d appreciate your not taking Dr. Lecter’s name in vain: you don’t have the wit or the writing style to carry it off.


          July 15, 2009 at 19:17

          • How convenient of you to skip the “The same goes for men.” sentence (*without* refuting my point) just so you could discredit me.

            So what would my “attitude” be; given that I’ve already stated that I’m not a sexist and I treat men and women equally? Would you care to elaborate on that or are you just trying to weasel your way out of my argument?

            Talk about being witty. Does “argumentum ad hominem” sound familiar to you?

            Oh and, as far as my involvement in open source goes: it takes one click, man. Don’t be so lazy.

            • I’m sorry, “Hannibal”, you pretty much announced–we mathematicians call this “proof by blunt assertion”–that you’d pre-emptively won the debate here, so it didn’t really seem worth the trouble of discussing it further with you.

              Honestly, it still doesn’t. So, I’m not going to.

              See ya!


              July 15, 2009 at 19:45

              • Wow. Your dodging skills are…I don’t know, I’m speechless. I am without speech, “Lefty”.

                Just… …wow.

                dr. Hannibal Lecter

                July 15, 2009 at 19:59

                • I’m speechless.

                  From your mouth to God’s ears, Hannibal. From your mouth to God’s ears.


                  July 15, 2009 at 20:27

  45. Another example of backlash:


    “While the video isn’t available yet, I have big doubts there is something even remotely offensive in such Stallman talk. It’s very easy to take feminism as an excuse, as many people (not just girls) will jump in no-matter-what without even knowing what it’s being talked about.”


    July 15, 2009 at 22:07

  46. […] I'm tired of this backlash, the arguments have been done to death many times before, so I'm turning off comments. if someone […]

  47. The biggest problem I see with the latest wave (the previous one being “OH NOES! YOU POSTED _PRIVATE EMAIL_!!) is that by saying, “It’s not really about the obvious, widely acknowledged sexism that has been seen, several times in the past few months, in the community; it’s really about Stallman’s position on Mono” is that it makes the clear implication that the problems we’re attempting to discuss aren’t worth discussing, that if we do try to talk about them, clearly we must have ulterior motives (since we couldn’t possibly be serious about trying to promote an environment in which everybody feels welcome, not just the “He-Man Woman Hater’s Club”.

    I’m finding it pretty disgusting.


    July 16, 2009 at 00:04

  48. Why is this so complicated? The dude said something deeply creepy. I know because I was there. I don’t particularly consider myself a feminist, but please, it was a disturbing joke.

    Maybe he didn’t mean for it to come off this way, but it did. It’s typical in such a situation to apologize for making people feel uncomfortable because you crossed a line.

    Also, if you have a bona fide political agenda like Stallman does, why would you muddy your message by creeping people out with something totally unrelated?

    Cheers, Rick

    Rick Spencer

    July 16, 2009 at 00:51

  49. I’m closing comments on this post, because it’s being abused for purposes of having an irrelevant argument between Lefty and some anonymous troll, which has escalated to the point where the other party has been emailing me (the blog owner) threats and conspiracy theories.

    My apologies to the rest of you.


    July 16, 2009 at 07:53

  50. […] Categories: Shit Tags: feminism, mono, rms, stallman, wtf I was intrigued by some of the debate that has been going on lately about whether or not Richard Stallman is sexist. Not the […]

  51. […] has come under attack from many directions, usually from defenders of Mono or users of Mono (including Canonical employees). He is still not impressed by Microsoft’s “Community Promise” (CP) [1, 2, 3] and […]

  52. […] been trying to avoid getting involved in these discussions, but the RMS Female Emacs Virgin “joke” has brought up some issues that I haven’t […]

  53. Sam Varghese of ITWire, whose name you may remember from another recent incident of bullying over a blog entry, has linked here from his latest piece, Why are people attacking RMS?, without bothering to spell my name correctly, much less do actual research.

    Varghese has joined the illustrious ranks occupied by boycottnovell.com in declaring that calling out RMS’ misbehavior is a sure sign of a hidden agenda.


    July 21, 2009 at 12:55

  54. […] Leftys Blog (Part 1) , Leftys Blog (Part 2) , Matt Zimmermans Blog , Chani Armitages Blog , Matthew Garretts […]

  55. […] enough that Matt Zimmerman, Canonical’s CTO, has an excellent blog post on the subject: Backlash: feminism considered harmful. The backlash is so strong that if Kirrily were just an occasional contributor, I’d be […]

  56. […] also has an excellent blog post on the subject of backlash from the last go-round, Backlash: feminism considered harmful, which is recommended reading for anyone taking part in this discussion: We have a problem in the […]

  57. […] that’s such a big deal. It’s a big deal because it’s unusual. Most of the time, backlash, not support, is the strongest […]

  58. […] Backlash: feminism considered harmful « We'll see | Matt Zimmerman "We have a problem in the way that women in free software are regarded and treated." […]

  59. […] Leftys Blog (Part 1) , Leftys Blog (Part 2) , Matt Zimmermans Blog , Chani Armitages Blog , Matthew Garretts […]

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