We'll see | Matt Zimmerman

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Explaining to girls

There has been some discussion recently about Mark Shuttleworth’s keynote at LinuxCon, in particular a comment he made in passing about the need to explain to “girls” about free software.  I haven’t had much time for writing since then, but a few people have asked me what I thought about it, so I thought I should say something.

First, a few things to note:

  • Yes, I was there, in person, at the event, in the audience, during the keynote
  • Mark is my direct manager at Canonical, and occupies various positions of authority in the Ubuntu community
  • I am speaking mainly for myself, and in part on behalf of the Ubuntu community (not Canonical)
  • I briefly spoke to Mark in private about what he had said, shortly after his talk, before saying anything publicly

The remark in question was sexist, and although it may seem small in itself, it is representative of an attitude which is harmful to the community.

I think that Mark cares about the health of the free software community, and the Ubuntu community in particular. I don’t think that he set out to exclude and alienate women, but he did so without meaning to. It was a mistake. It was a mistake which very likely had deep, unconscious roots. I make such mistakes myself, more often than I would like.  My own mistakes are the most difficult to see and grapple with, so I can identify with his situation.  I, too, care about the health of the community, which is why I’m speaking up.

Mark probably didn’t realize that he was othering, or invoking a pattern of men explaining things to women. His intent was to make his (overwhelmingly male) audience laugh, and they did laugh. Now, it’s clear that some people didn’t find it funny, and were made uncomfortable by it, some to the extent that they want nothing to do with Ubuntu because of this attitude. The fact that it was “only a joke” doesn’t change that. They know it was intended as a joke, and they still feel this way.

This sort of mistake is very common, common enough that there is handy reference material which explains how to handle it without making it worse. There have been much more severe incidents in the free software community this year, with more lasting effect than passing comments. This one is pretty easy to correct, and I hope that Mark does so.  It would send the message that we mean it when we say that a community where people feel uncomfortable or threatened is not a productive one.


Written by Matt Zimmerman

September 29, 2009 at 03:14

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194 Responses

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  1. […] (ETA: Matt has now blogged about the subject here.) […]

  2. Or people can move on and get over it. The fact is, not as many girlfriends use Ubuntu as boyfriends. That isn’t discriminatory, it’s a fact.

    Ignoring reality in hopes to change it leads nowhere.


    September 29, 2009 at 03:36

  3. well, I totally and wholeheartedly support the idea of inclusivity. That said, I can tell you factually that all my Computer Science classes have one, two, or zero female students. So somehow that needs to be dealt with, for what it is. Sure, the specific language is important. But honestly, in my experience the remark is not far off the mark.

    Brent Hopkins

    September 29, 2009 at 04:02

    • Having explained FOSS to plenty of Actual Girls (as in teenagers, not grown women), as well as lots of men of all ages and grown women too, my experience differs. The girls understood just fine.

      Leigh Honeywell

      September 29, 2009 at 04:16

  4. @ reality and Brent, neither of your comments refer to what is actually happening here. Assuming that you are correct in that “not as many girlfriends use Ubuntu as boyfriends” and “Computer Science classes have one, two, or zero female students”, it doesn’t change the fact that the statement in question was as Matt said above: “invoking a pattern of men explaining things to women”.

    Please take this in good faith, I am trying to point out that we can justify this in lots of ways, but the number of women in any context doesn’t change the meaning behind the “joke”.


    September 29, 2009 at 04:15

  5. Matt, sincere kudos for speaking out; the temptation to tacitly fall in line with your boss must have been significant, and I think it speaks very highly of you that you didn’t. I don’t know that I’d have been able to do the same thing. Thank you.

    — cjb.


    September 29, 2009 at 04:37

  6. “moving my two desktops to Fedora, right now”

    Really, Fedora? If more and more feminists decide to act and reward Fedora as a model of good behavior, they’re in for some fun. Consider it missionary work, I guess.


    September 29, 2009 at 06:53

    • wtf do you mean by that? Come out and say explicitly what you got to say.


      September 29, 2009 at 08:25

      • What, did you forget about the Planet Fedora upskirt photos? Or how about the fact that every photo Paul Frields showed at SELF of the Fedora community was 100% male? This isn’t an attack on Paul, it’s just…wow, is it THAT hard to find a photo with one woman in it? If so, that doesn’t reflect well on their community’s diversity.


        September 29, 2009 at 16:27

        • As I recall, the photos were removed. It’s worth noting that Planet Fedora is a very open system – anyone with a FAS account can add their blog to Planet Fedora. Of course, this may be an approach that could bear some rethinking…

          Adam Williamson

          September 29, 2009 at 18:14

          • Ah, well that’s very good then if the photos were removed! Still a shame that finding any visible women in Fedora is so difficult. Though I know Mel Chua just “came out” (ie. publically stated that she’s female).


            September 29, 2009 at 20:34

            • I hate to name drop, but just to get the record straight, Mel had actually been doing work in OLPC long before she took an interest in Fedora. I met her at our FUDCon (when she was attending on behalf of OLPC) last January, but I knew of her before that point. Her name might confuse some people, I guess. But there are other visible women working in and around Fedora as well. I feel a little weird name-dropping here, but besides Mel, Mairin, Susan, Robyn, Eve, and Val come to mind.

              Paul W. Frields

              September 29, 2009 at 20:49

              • I didn’t know what order her OLPC/Fedora stuff happened, but did you see her blog post last night saying “by the way, I know my nick is ambiguous, but I’m a girl/woman, and I know I get treated like one of the guys due to the nick”?

                Cool cool on the others. If they’re not on http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_women_in_Open_Source please add them!

                Does Val = Aurora? She works at Red Hat, so I’m taking a wild guess.


                September 29, 2009 at 21:08

                • I hadn’t seen Mel’s blog. I’ll have to ask her more about that experience, since we talk quite often. Val is indeed Val Aurora, file system developer and guru. As for the wiki, I’ll definitely notify them about it and let them do some entries when they have time/inclination.

                  Paul W. Frields

                  September 29, 2009 at 21:27

          • No matter what sort of more restrictive policy you put in place… you would have been hard pressed to prevent that very out of character post last July unless you pre-screen everything that goes to the planet. The person in question had an established history of posting high quality content on the planet. And since that one post he’s kept his nose clean. Taken all together his body of planet posts are much more valuable than mine. That’s not to excuse that particular post, but it does make the point that taking a zero tolerance stance on bad judgement may be a very difficult thing to implement.

            It’s a difficult thing to enforce a cultural norm through organized censorship. In fact it might be counter-productive. What I do not want to see is the creation of a hidden subculture that is harder to talk to. I’d much rather have an open channel, and then talk through problematic actions as it shows up.

            It’s a balance. I want people to have enough freedom to make an occasional mistakes, but not so much freedom that those mistakes form a pattern of bad behavior. I think the post in question was uncharacteristically bad judgement and I think other people in the community found a way to express that feeling. The best teachable moments are found in how we respond to mistakes in judgement.


            Jef Spaleta

            September 29, 2009 at 20:54

        • @Mackenzie: You’re right to call out both those specific situations as diversity failures. The photo I think you’re referring to at SELF was a shot someone took at LinuxTag 2008 of the people who were assembled to put together our booth. I chose the shot mainly because it had a bunch of Fedora Ambassadors together with their blue shirts, but you’re absolutely right, it would have been great if there had been more diversity there. (Then I wouldn’t have had to use the example of “fat people” and “skinny people” as a differentiator, pointing to myself as one of the former.) :-) Certainly we have a diverse range of people who work every day on Fedora, just as you find in Debian, Ubuntu, openSUSE, and so on. I’ll take your comment as a welcome incentive to find better representations of our community for the future.

          I have no intention of defending those infamous photos on the Planet, of course. Speaking for myself and many others who discussed the matter, they were offensive and completely unwanted, not just for what they depicted but for the attitude they represent. I think the vast majority of Fedorans expressed this well directly to the poster and we haven’t had a repeat since. I would never want to let one person’s behavior to define an entire community, especially if it was bad behavior. Communities are made up of individuals and we have to deal with each person fairly, warts and all.

          In the end, I think the problems we face in Fedora, Ubuntu, openSUSE are no different than anyone else working in the Linux community. The overall open source community actually seems burdened to a lesser degree (proportionally speaking) by ugly behavior, although you do still see problems here and there. Incidentally, I think open source in general tends to attract more diversity than Linux in particular. I think focusing on that difference and whence it arises is more constructive than making broad generalizations about many people based on isolated incidents.

          Paul W. Frields

          September 29, 2009 at 20:33

          • Of course. The point is I don’t know of a distro that is really Utopian, so “I’m leaving X for Y because X has sexism!” seems rather like trading one bag of silly for another. And running away tends not to help fix things. It’s easier to fix things from the inside.


            September 29, 2009 at 20:37

  7. Oh wow! Rich people are smug, arrogant and demeaning!? Who knew?

    Jonathan Carter

    September 29, 2009 at 07:01

  8. Matt, I really admire how you manage to sum things up and put it in a clear way. And even more for speaking out, even being a deal involving your boss :) and even better, I know many guys will think about it again because another guy is speaking out.

    It’s so exhausting being over and over and yet over those issues again… why can’t people just accept the fact that many women would like to be more involved in foss, that there are a few stubborn ones around, and a little respect would be good? Not too much to ask, right?

    Sulamita Garcia

    September 29, 2009 at 07:54

  9. OK, because I totally didn’t understand what this “He said, I heard he said, some say he said” was about I did a bit of “user testing”.

    I explained a few girls I know the situation and what was said, but as neutral as I could (not ruining my telephone joker).

    The unanimous answer was that it was not offensive in any way.

    (Only true for german women I tested with. English speaking people are obviously different.)

    So what I take from this is that the internet is a big place and somebody will try to turn everything against you so you better give boring, rehearsed talks with no jokes.


    September 29, 2009 at 08:38

    • Thoroughly confused. Since you “explained a few girls”, does that make *you* a sexist?


      September 29, 2009 at 10:07

    • Really? Cuz when I told the only other woman in my computer science class that he’d:
      1. used female pronouns for stupid users and male pronouns for developers pretty much the whole time
      2. made a hooker joke
      3. said “its hard to explain to girls what we [foss devs] actually do”

      She replied “that’s f***ed up.”


      September 29, 2009 at 16:30

      • 1a) I don’t think Mark refered to any users as stupid.
        1b) ‘Guys’ is not male-specific.


        September 29, 2009 at 22:45

        • 1a) *sigh* Not the word “stupid” but the times he explains non-tech-savvy people, they’re *always* female
          1b) yes it is


          September 29, 2009 at 23:29

          • ad 1b) I’m quite confused; I’ve heard ‘you guys’ used in non-male-specific way more than one time (and by both males and females). I am not a native speaker, so I just assumed that this is common usage, am I wrong?


            September 29, 2009 at 23:43

            • Because just *once* he did say “guys or girls”-showing he knows the distinction.

              “Guys” really is a male term, but it is (unfortunately) common in English to assume male by default.. This is why some people use “he” as if it were gender-neutral, referring to people of unknown gender as “he.” If you mean a mixed gender goup, “folks” is clearer on that.


              September 30, 2009 at 00:55

              • Perhaps ‘guys’ being exclusively male is an Americanism, here (UK) I quite often hear girls referring to all-female or mixed-gender groups as ‘guys’.

                However, if you want to be offended I’m sure there is always something you can find to be offended by.


                September 30, 2009 at 07:54

                • Certainly in the UK “guys” is overwhelmingly gender neutral. It’s not so much a question of grammar as it is about context. I don’t think anyone would consider the inclusion of girls as “guys” to be ambiguous or sexist unless the *subject* implies that. A single reference to “girls” specifically at one point does not automatically make all other references to “guys” sexist.

                  As somebody who struggles all the time with trying to learn to speak and write more briefly, less-precisely and with some humour (because I have found that my natural “verbose” style is not well-received by most) I can certainly appreciate the value of people like Mark who can communicate so simply and, for the most part, effectively – that is a necessary trait for good leaders. You cannot always “have your cake and eat it”.

                  So my view on the matter boils down to the fact that some people, typically women (but by vested interest not by stereotype, I should add) are more sensitive to the sexism in the subject (FOSS) than Mark obviously is, and thus interpret the language wrongly.

                  As others have noted, Mark has talked often about helping the FOSS community to be more inclusive. To my mind, that demonstrates the “correct” way to interpret his words, because the alternative would then be a contradiction to all else he has said on the subject.

                  I’m not sure I understand why so many people seem to prefer the “sexist” interpretation that makes him a hypocrite, rather than a perfectly reasonable one (albeit ill-considered perhaps) that isn’t. Let’s give the guy the benefit of the doubt?

                  Will Daniels

                  September 30, 2009 at 11:18

                  • Some of us have not yet established an interpretation on what has happened, aside of the fact that he made some comments that happen to estereotype women, and we’re waiting for a explanation from him on what has happened, his apologies if it was -as it seems- just an unwanted mistake, his reafirmation on the words he chose if that’s what he really meant, or a cowardly silence if he just wants to let the subject drop without having to clarify anything. Depending on what he does, each of us will make their own interpretation and act accordingly.

                    Miriam Ruiz

                    September 30, 2009 at 11:30

                  • Certainly in the UK “guys” is overwhelmingly gender neutral.

                    Really..? Would you indicate an unfamiliar woman on the other side of the room and ask a friend, “Who’s that guy?”


                    October 1, 2009 at 22:16

                    • Plural != Singular


                      October 1, 2009 at 23:23

                • Please re-read what I said. I said it’s a male term but it’s used that way because male is often used as the default in English. As in, just pretend everyone’s male if you don’t know their genders or if there’s mixed genders.

                  Since he did *once* say “guys and girls” it shows that he knows “guys” is not really gender-neutral (if it were, why would he need the phrase “guys and girls”?). That makes the constant repitition of “guys” stand out.


                  September 30, 2009 at 16:12

                  • (Note also that I haven’t said it’s *good* thing for “guys” to be used as both a male-specific and a gender-neutral term. Do you ever say “that guy” and point to a woman? So why, in plural, is it supposed to include women? Keeping it a male term both in its singular and in its plural makes the most sense.)


                    September 30, 2009 at 16:16

              • Hm, it looks like Irish usage is also not male exclusive – I definitely have heard it used in all-female groups, by females (mother calling her daughters, teens addressing the group etc.)


                September 30, 2009 at 09:35

  10. I find it curious that you mention “othering” in the very same paragraph that talks about “them” towards the end.

    The availability of a terminology for different nuances of malconduct on the wiki encourages such fingerpointing.

    I repeat myself when I claim that I am all for making OSS more friendly a place. I prefer to look at it from an egalitarian perspective. The way feminists approach the matter these days makes me wonder whether they want women to be treated special, or not. Obviously a feminist will say “not special” (cf. egalitarianism), but I am beginning to doubt that.

    martin f. krafft

    September 29, 2009 at 08:49

    • Martin,

      thx for expressing my thoughts.


      September 29, 2009 at 09:56

    • Women get treated specially as it is: they’re made to feel like outsiders and they get singled out for harassment & condescension. I think we could all do with a little less of this “special treatment”.


      September 29, 2009 at 14:53

      • But it’s hard to speak naturally to people who aren’t within your norm. I.e. white males that looks and speak in the same way as I do. It’s hard not to treat different people special.

        Erik Johansson

        September 29, 2009 at 16:47

        • It can be hard, I agree. You have to be able to critically examine your view of the world. Sometimes we screw up, despite our best efforts. That doesn’t mean that we don’t do it. =)


          September 29, 2009 at 17:06

        • Oh, it’s hard. Mm.

          Well, if it’s hard, we definitely shouldn’t make any effort to do it, and we should encourage people who try to just quiet down, I guess. We can all do something easier, like write operating systems, or something.

          Seriously, yes, it is hard. It requires you to step just a little out of your habitual way of looking at things, and look at them the way someone else does. Doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, though, at least not unless you think FLOSS development having an order of magnitude less participation from women than proprietary development does is just fine.


          September 29, 2009 at 17:38

        • Erik, thanks for saying that. I do think that’s hard and it’s good to acknowledge that. And then tackle it like a complicated bug. I’m totally serious.

          Liz Henry

          October 1, 2009 at 16:57

  11. IMO the only truly dumb thing Shuttleworth did was to make this joke right now, at the height of the FLOSS community being obsessed with gender issues. He surely knew now was not the time to be making comments like this, even if they were intended as jokes.

    Some people might argue that no one should ever make jokes like this EVER, I would call you a political correctness nazi, but either way, making this joke NOW of all times was just plain dumb.

    James D Hartland

    September 29, 2009 at 09:06

  12. I asked my girlfriend about this just to make sure I’m not being biased and she said it was fine.

    Obsession over political correctness is what annoys me the most in the open source community.


    September 29, 2009 at 09:17

  13. I applaud you for being willing to make a statement and for not just kowtowing to your boss.

    To those that say, “well my girlfriend wasn’t offended so it’s fine” — that misses the point. The comment in its intended context (a joke) isn’t so much offensive but insulting. It is insulting to joke about how you need to make something easy to explain to or impress girls. It’s insulting.

    As a woman who feels more than competent in my technical accumen to hold my own in my areas of expertise or to grep new concepts as quickly as anybody with a y-chromosome, I get used to turning the other cheek and ignoring the demeaning jokes that probably weren’t intended to be hurtful. But it becomes more and more difficult to ignore. It flat out sucks that gender is often synonmous with technical ability, accmen or interest.

    But really, when people go for the easy laugh — which the gender joke is — it proves to me that they need new material.

    Christina Warren

    September 29, 2009 at 10:35

    • I’m not offended or insulted when someone jokes about men and their stereotypes. Especially since I’m a rather good cook.

      Get over it. Humour is just that, humour.


      September 29, 2009 at 12:34

      • It’s worth pointing out something Matt missed. Mark didn’t say ‘he’ had trouble explaining things to girls. He said that ‘we’ – i.e., F/OSS developers, or more specifically, the group he was talking to – have trouble explaining things to girls. This phrasing relies on the assumption that the people he’s talking to are all heterosexual males (and, well, lesbians. Though I doubt that was on his mind at the time). It implies that (straight) women aren’t a member of ‘we’, i.e., the kinds of people who would be there listening to his talk.

        Adam Williamson

        September 29, 2009 at 18:25

        • exact quotation: “we’ll have less trouble explaining to girls what we actually do”, clearly as an afterthought to a somewhat prepared section of the speech, in which ‘we’ refers to the people who develop distributions (he was talking about hardware support at the time).

          Adam Williamson

          September 29, 2009 at 18:30

          • I interpreted “explaining things to girls” to mean during a chat up. The ‘we’ here makes all the difference. With it, I can understand the objections: he’s framing the audience entirely in male hetero terms.

            If he had said ‘I’ll have less trouble…’ then I don’t think there would be grounds for objection (most people discriminate on gender when picking a mate…)


            September 29, 2009 at 19:26

            • exactly, that’s why I felt it was worth explicitly pointing it out :)

              Adam Williamson

              September 30, 2009 at 02:04

      • But, when there is social injustice and particular humor reinforces the attitudes that keep it going, it’s not actually funny to the people getting the short end of the stick, or people who care about them or about that inequity.

        Liz Henry

        October 1, 2009 at 16:59

    • As I recall, Matt Aimonetti’s girlfriend “wasn’t offended” by his presentation, either…


      September 29, 2009 at 17:40

      • OTOH, Matt apologized several times, including in the comments on Skud’s excellent post about apologies.

        Leigh Honeywell

        September 29, 2009 at 18:42

        • And that’s to Matt’s credit, certainly. My only point was that “doesn’t offend one’s girlfriend” is not a useful metric for these things.


          September 29, 2009 at 19:21

          • Oh, absolutely. It’s right up there with “but I have gay friends!”. It is worth pointing out positive steps, though.

            Leigh Honeywell

            September 29, 2009 at 21:51

            • “I have presented St IGNUcius with Catholic priests in the audience, and it did not offend them.”


              September 29, 2009 at 22:14

  14. If you have personal issues with women that’s fine. But please stop spamming planet.ubuntu.com with this crap. Thanks.


    September 29, 2009 at 10:38

    • Just because you don’t agree with the content doesn’t mean that it’s spam or crap. The issue may have become a bit tiresome lately, but it’s still an important issue, and it obviously needs some further attention.

      I believe that most of the problems like these are caused by a small minority of high-profile people who don’t always think before they talk, and another minority of over-sensitive people who “cries murder” each time someone says something wrong.

      There’s obviously a very large percentage more male contributors then female in the foss world. Shouldn’t we at least try to be more open and encouraging towards female contributors? I’m not saying that they should be treated differently or special than anyone else, but at the very least, don’t be hostile or demeaning.

      Jonathan Carter

      September 29, 2009 at 11:03

      • Jonathan,

        tbh, a contributor is asexual. There is no difference between a male or female contributor.
        The same applies for “Geeks”.

        The only point now comes back to “Mark said >>explaining to girls<< and that insults me as a woman".

        There is no context regarding Ubuntu, Contributors or Geeks. If it wasn't Mark, who said that, nobody would raise their voice. Just Mark as a VIP give all those noise a publicity.

        But the point right now is, that whatever you say, what ever you do, you need to be careful, 'cause it could be that someone feels insulted or mistreated.

        Right now, this "someone" is the feministic side of women. Tomorrow it could be the Homosexual Community or the Community of Anteaters, who knows.

        Honestly, all this doesn't make the situation any better then before, the opposite will happen.

        Don't let a mosquito grow into an elephant..it gives bad blood…

        Anyways, I'm really impressed of Matt that he wrote such a good article. And I'm also impressed of Mark, that he won't excuse for his statement (it's said and documented anyways).




        September 29, 2009 at 13:24

      • “and another minority of over-sensitive people who “cries murder” each time someone says something wrong.”

        Um. What?

        Two or three people made considered, well-reasoned posts pointing out that Mark’s remark was sexist – i.e., ‘wrong’, as you so succintly put it – and asking him to apologize. No-one suggested he was sexist. No-one asked for him to resign. There was no outrage.

        How is that ‘crying murder’? How is it the wrong thing to do? Why do you seem to be suggesting that the appropriate response when someone does something ‘wrong’ – as you yourself describe it – is to ignore it? Why would that be a good idea?

        How is sexism in F/OSS going to be prevented if pointing out actual cases of it happening is derided as ‘crying murder’?

        Adam Williamson

        September 29, 2009 at 18:21

        • Adam,

          the reason why all this is coming up now is, because Mark said it during his Keynote speech. I watched the video, and I think he didn’t even thought about it, when he said it, in the first place. Which is sad at some point, because he is a public person and everybody else expects, especially from Mark, that he is a moral entity. He’s not, he never will be, and he shouldn’t.

          Really, I think that 95% of all men (men as in guys) will say something similar, when they are sitting somewhere in a Pub, or when they are standing outside the company campus and smoking a cigarette, when they are alone.

          And I think that 95% of all women (women as in gals) will say something similar about men, when they are sitting somewhere in a Pub or when they are making jokes during a Avon party, when they are alone.

          Right now, in our F/OSS Community we have people (doesn’t matter if men or women) who are trying to push other people into something which goes against all free speech and freedom principles. Those people are trying to shut up people. This is totally wrong, and most modern “feminists” (and this wording doesn’t imply “women”) do know that. But actually our F/OSS “Feminists” are still back in the 70ties and early 80ties where all human beings with a ding-a-ling are bad.

          You want to be equally treated? Start growing a thick skin. If you can, you win, and you can deal with all people around you, doesn’t matter how big their a**holes are.

          If you don’t, you lose. You won’t succeed in our society. (And we have societies where you need to be a “Macho” (applies to both genders)).

          And another thing (and here I’m pushing things really far, and I know many, many, many people will hate me for that, but that’s good, it means they can’t deal with a good portion of cynicism):

          I think that most people who are ranting about Marks statement in the first place aren’t sexy at all. They do have a problem with themselves, they feel illtreated by others.

          I could be wrong, but if they feel more confident about themselves, and if they would have a strong Ego, they would laugh about all that, and go on with their lifes and work. They wouldn’t even care about Mark.

          Ask yourself, when your Boss would make a statement, like Mark did, during a Company speech, would you stand up, slap your Boss in his/her face, and just quit your job?
          Or would you just sit down, shake your head, and go on with your work?

          If you do the first, you are a perfect person and an idealist. But you wouldn’t have a job. And believe me, you won’t get another job ever.

          Most likely you’ll do the second, like 98% of our society.

          Our world is not perfect. Our world is cruel and hard, and you have to learn to survive. And “you” stands for both reading genders.

          Get over it. Nobody cries murder.


          September 30, 2009 at 07:55

          • Wow, I don’t even know where to begin addressing that.

            One, no-one is trying to ‘shut (anyone) up’. That’s not what was asked in the first place; people asked Mark to apologize for his dumb remarks. That’s not the same thing as telling him to shut up. Two, that argument assumes that his statement was somehow something really important, and we’d all lose out on Mark’s priceless insights if he didn’t say it any more. Um, no. “We’ll have less trouble explaining to girls what we actually do” is not some kind of pearl of wisdom which we must preserve regardless of its offensive capability, it’s a boneheaded throwaway remark which achieved nothing useful.

            Two, all your idiotic babbling about ‘our society’ is rather irrelevant, given that I can think of barely any field in ‘our society’ where there would be this much brouhaha over asking for a simple apology for a simple mistake. Nor can I think, offhand, of any other field in ‘our society’ where the male:female ratio is 98.5:1.5. (Well, maybe the Catholic priesthood…)

            Three, it’s easy to tell other people to grow a thick skin when you don’t have to. It’s also a fucking stupid thing to say. This isn’t about your macho bullshit about ‘succeeding in our society’. No-one _needs_ to contribute to open source software. People do it because they want to. Why do you think anyone will be bothered to go to the emotional trouble of dealing with sexist bullshit simply in order to donate their labour to developing open source software? Why do you think anyone _should_ have to? Why don’t you recognize the problem is not that potential contributors refuse to put up with entirely unnecessary asshatery, but that such asshatery is tolerated in the first place?

            “I think that most people who are ranting about Marks statement in the first place aren’t sexy at all. They do have a problem with themselves, they feel illtreated by others.”

            Wow, keep guessing, Sigmund. I don’t have any trouble picking up guys, as it happens.

            “Ask yourself, when your Boss would make a statement, like Mark did, during a Company speech, would you stand up, slap your Boss in his/her face, and just quit your job?
            Or would you just sit down, shake your head, and go on with your work?

            If you do the first, you are a perfect person and an idealist. But you wouldn’t have a job. And believe me, you won’t get another job ever.”

            One, this is a straw man argument. No-one got up and slapped Mark in the face and quit. No-one suggested that would be a remotely reasonable thing to do. The guy who wrote this blog post _does_ work for Mark. He wrote this post, which says that he thinks Mark did something wrong. You will note that, so far, he still has a job. Amazing how that works, isn’t it?

            If any of my superiors at Red Hat wrote or said anything dumb like Mark did, I would do exactly what Matt did: I’d write a blog post saying I thought they’d said something dumb and should apologize. No, I wouldn’t physically abuse them and then resign. That would be an entirely absurd response. But not a single person has suggested that’s what anyone should do in response to what Mark said, so I really have no idea why you would bring it up.

            Adam Williamson

            September 30, 2009 at 09:08

            • Adam,

              the whole situation has nothing to do with “opensource” at all.
              It’s an all around the world problem of social behaviour.

              What stinks here is the outcome.
              The outcome will be: “OpenSource Men are mostly sexists and women-hurting bastards”. And why is that? Because, I think we can agree here all, Women in OpenSource are rare diamonds, still. Sad but true, that’s why we (we as men + women) need to treat them like raw eggs.

              Honestly, this is b*llsh*t. Social Missbehaviour does happen anywhere anytime. Nothing special. But, nobody will do what I described in my last comment when it comes to real life. (It was an extreme example, true), but that’s what’s happening here.
              Everybody is stepping up and trying to moralize others. Do it first in your private environment (this includes your worklife as well, and as I said, it’s impressive what Matt did, he’s a lucky guy, working for a good company, really), then you should show the world that you fixed a social problem in your environment, explain how you did that. Don’t wait for any excuse of something which is next to nothing.

              Have you ever tried to do a job as kindergarten-teacher as male? No? Here you have a hard time when you do this job, because it’s a female domain (at least in the country I live). A friend does exactly this job, you know, he told me things, you never expected. Example: “Why don’t you have a mens job? Are you somekind of pedophile?”

              If “explaining it to girls what we actually doing here” is hurting a woman so much, that she will stop contributing or start ranting as if someone was murdered, then I can’t understand why my friend is still a kindergarten-teacher.

              Marks only fault now is: He’s famous, He’s a public person (not only in opensource), and he said something what you shouldn’t say in public. OK, someone will be pissed about that. OK. Write Mark an email, tell him that in private. He’s taking it or not, depends on Mark. Issue solved.

              Don’t make a big thing out of it…and honestly, never asked yourself, why nobody in this room, with Mark speaking, had the guts to stand up, tell him that he’s a sexist and leave the room?
              Were all men and women in this room sexists by nature?
              Were all people in this room women-hurting and nasty a**holes?

              Actually most people were not attending this keynote in person…so I really wonder how many attendees were approaching Mark after his speech to tell him all that what is/was written in the blogosphere and all comments?

              And again, it’s not a problem of “OpenSource Communities”, it’s a society issue, and now explain that to the girls and boys out there.

              Last Transmission. EOM.


              September 30, 2009 at 11:27

              • “Honestly, this is b*llsh*t. Social Missbehaviour does happen anywhere anytime. Nothing special. But, nobody will do what I described in my last comment when it comes to real life.”

                Uh, but that’s just wrong (well, except for the fact that – as I said – what you described in your last post is a ludicrous response which no-one has been advocating, so I don’t know why you decided to make it up and drag it into the conversation). People do directly oppose discrimination in real life all the time (otherwise the idiots who whine about ‘political correctness’ would have nothing to whine about). Hell, in ‘real life’ there are legal avenues of redress; in most countries, you can be – quite rightly – taken to court for sexual discrimination in the work environment. You seem to be suggesting there’s some kind of excessive sensitivity in the F/OSS world, but that’s simply not true. Rather the opposite, in fact. Far more is let pass here than in any other context. This is nicely proven by the fact that, on the few occasions when anyone _does_ call someone out for sexist behaviour, there’s such a holy freaking stink about it.

                “Have you ever tried to do a job as kindergarten-teacher as male? No? Here you have a hard time when you do this job, because it’s a female domain (at least in the country I live). A friend does exactly this job, you know, he told me things, you never expected. Example: “Why don’t you have a mens job? Are you somekind of pedophile?”

                If “explaining it to girls what we actually doing here” is hurting a woman so much, that she will stop contributing or start ranting as if someone was murdered, then I can’t understand why my friend is still a kindergarten-teacher.”

                This is a classic example of the problem of anecdotal evidence. Your argument is ‘I can cite this one person who is dedicated enough to what he does to accept all the bullshit that goes along with it, therefore all the bullshit is not really a problem and no-one else should complain about it’.

                The basic problem with this point of view is nicely illustrated by the fact that there are very few male kindergarten teachers, which is just as much a problem of sexism as the fact that there are very few female open source software developers. It’s a nice counterpart situation, actually, and the problems are much the same and should be addressed in much the same way (although I suspect that while most of the bullshit heaped on female open source software developers is provided by men and very little by women, quite a lot of the bullshit heaped on male kindergarten teachers is provided by men as well as women). If there were less stupidity like “you must be a pedophile, hur hur” heaped on men who want to be kindergarten teachers, we’d have more male kindergarten teachers. If there were less stupidity heaped on women who wanted to be F/OSS developers, we’d have more women F/OSS developers. It’s not a hard point to grasp.

                Adam Williamson

                September 30, 2009 at 15:57

          • I know where to begin with this: Shermann, there isn’t a single word in there which is actually relevant to this situation.

            Let me point out: no one’s “freedom of speech” has been abridged, Matt did criticize his boss over this (and apparently still has a job), and no one’s called for anyone’s murder.

            You’re simply making things up here.


            September 30, 2009 at 15:04

          • “But actually our F/OSS “Feminists” are still back in the 70ties and early 80ties where all human beings with a ding-a-ling are bad.”

            So…Matt’s a eunuch?


            September 30, 2009 at 16:18

            • The sad fact is that, in terms of its level of engagement with the sorts of issues we’re attempting to bring to light, it’s the free software community that’s “still back in the 70ties [sic] and early 80ties [sic]”.

              I worked at Apple from 1991 to 2001. For all that it’s closed and proprietary, Apple–and don’t let anyone kid you, Apple’s devotion to being proprietary makes Microsoft look like the Summer of Code–gets some things completely right.

              Any speaker at an Apple-sponsored event who tried a “happy endings” joke, or talked about a “holy duty” to “relieve OS X virgins”, you know, women who’ve never used OS X, “of their virginity”, or anything of that sort, in a presentation, would find himself standing on the pavement with the advice that he was, in future, unwelcome on Apple property and would be considered a trespasser if he was found there in the future . If an Apple employee tried it, he’d find himself on the pavement, with similar advice and a severance check.

              If you did it in a conversation, you’d probably only get a warning. Assuming it was the first time. Apple took (and takes) that stuff very seriously indeed. (And by the way, if you think that means that everyone “has to watch every word” or “can’t ever make a joke”, then you’ve never spent a single minute inside Apple…)

              Apple has a participation of women in development at a level of 20 to 30%. Not just engineering, either, there are many women, in all functions and at all levels, at Apple.

              A quarter of the engineers in the group I managed at Apple were women. I hired women, I managed women, I worked with women peers, and I reported to women, in my time at Apple.

              I have to tell you, given the shenanigans I’ve seen in the “free software community” (aka “The He-Man Woman Hater’s Club”) this year, and–even worse–the responses that those who look askance at those shenanigans receive, Apple is starting to look kind of attractive to me again.

              The level of awareness of, and actual engagement with, these issues in the free software community is around where things were in the corporate world in the early 70s. Maybe even the late 60s.

              It’s amazing to me how many guys there are telling me that this is all because we’ve actually reached some sort of post-feminist nirvana, and those of us complaining are just too dopey to realize it.


              September 30, 2009 at 16:38

              • You should really use Hamster or something to track the time you spend on writing comments and blog posts about this stuff.

                I am sure I would find the amount very astonishing.


                September 30, 2009 at 19:44

                • Are you laboring under the misapprehension that I report to you, or something…? Perhaps you should not concern yourself so much with how other people spend their time, and concentrate on getting yourself an actual identity.

                  People might take you with some minimal degree of seriousness, in that case.


                  September 30, 2009 at 19:58

              • Thanks for this Lefty, it’s a really good point well-explained.

                Liz Henry

                October 1, 2009 at 17:07

    • I would contend that Matt is one of the few people I’ve encountered today on the Internet who *doesn’t* have a problem with women.


      September 29, 2009 at 16:32

      • Now that I have actually heard the statement from Marks mouth I agree it was sexist. I was under the impression he was using an analogy to describe trying impress someone of the opposite sex by having immediate recognition of what it is free software people do kind of like how everyone would have a working knowledge of what Windows or OSX is.

        It appears this was not the case and so I apologize and hope people can understand why I felt I needed to stick up for someone being accused of something when there was nothing to actually cross reference to back up the claims.

        One thing I am going to point out here though which will likely get me in trouble.

        Is it somehow ok for Matt to use the term girls to describe grown women but not ok for Mark. I feel that the term was already described as being sexist on the other blog but it seems ok for someone else to use it.


        September 29, 2009 at 20:00

        • Hi tretle,

          Is it somehow ok for Matt to use the term girls to describe grown women but not ok for Mark. I feel that the term was already described as being sexist on the other blog but it seems ok for someone else to use it.

          It’s not okay for Matt to use it either, but he isn’t. The only use by him here is when he says ‘explaining to “girls”‘ — the quotes mean that he’s using that word as a quote of Mark’s, and that it isn’t something he would choose to say himself.


          September 29, 2009 at 20:04

      • I appreciate that this was intended as supportive, but it’s something of an overstatement. I’m not immune to gender conditioning, and I have my own problems with women which I need to discover and address. I think it comes with the territory, growing up in the patriarchy.

        Matt Zimmerman

        October 1, 2009 at 09:42

  15. thank you matt for posting this statement. after all the comments on your post demonstrate that doing so is important and necessary.
    men tend to feel assaulted when their androcentric view of the world is questioned. if nothing else, these reactions justify even more to do so!


    September 29, 2009 at 10:55

    • “men tend to feel assaulted when their androcentric view of the world is questioned.”

      Its probably just me but that statement seemed a tad bit sexist.


      September 29, 2009 at 20:03

      • Would adding the word “some” help? I’d guess men are more likely than women to have an androcentric worldview.


        September 29, 2009 at 20:10

      • tretle: consider the number of and level of anger in the responses to what was, in Skud’s original post, a simple and really politely phrased request:

        I’d like to invite you to think about the message you’re sending to women in the Linux community, and, if you didn’t mean to convey the message that we’re technical illiterates and hard to educate, consider apologising publicly.

        compare that statement to the accusations flying that Mark was being attacked, slandered, witch-hunted, etc.

        Leigh Honeywell

        September 29, 2009 at 20:34

  16. Why can’t people just take jokes like they are? Those political over-correctness just sucks! I really have to agree with Lucian, e.g. if xkcd makes fun of geeks, that’s fine – even if I am one myself. And if somebody makes a good joke about men, it’s fine as well.

    I can just hope that Mark has quite a big ego like e.g. Linus Torvalds, and is not intimidated to only make jokes in future which “pleases the feminists”.


    September 29, 2009 at 13:00

    • maxauthority: just because it’s a joke doesn’t make it not a problem. Are jokes about black people somehow less offensive than any other form of racism? If so, why?

      Adam Williamson

      September 29, 2009 at 18:19

  17. Wow. If these comments are derived from people at planet.ubuntu.com, I’m happier about my decision…

    Wondering if some day I will just give up on IT as a whole…

    Sulamita Garcia

    September 29, 2009 at 13:53

    • The decision to leave FOSS, you mean? :(


      September 29, 2009 at 16:35

      • I think she switched to fedora.


        September 29, 2009 at 20:06

        • Ah, that’s certainly better than when she was considering going away.


          September 29, 2009 at 20:13

          • Indeed, that would suck. I am only going by her twitter statement though.


            September 29, 2009 at 20:29

            • Ah, I’m thinking back to her blog post about burnout.


              September 29, 2009 at 20:39

    • Your comments are so constructive. Your ultimatums on joining fedora are also very constructive.

      Don’t think that just because you’re a women posting a comment on a blog post about sexism, that you’re some how allowed to post any childish idiocy that enters your mind. You’re! Not! Helping!

      In all honesty, we don’t need people like you in the Ubuntu community. Goodbye, you might be missed but definitely not by me.


      September 29, 2009 at 16:47

      • A woman (and a distinguished one at that) talks about leaving the FOSS community because having to deal with the sexism is exhausting, and this is the response you give her?

        Have you no humanity?


        September 29, 2009 at 17:28

      • Amazing.

        Yeah, clearly there’s no real problem at all here. We’re all imagining it.


        September 29, 2009 at 17:41

        • Amazing? What? Just because I criticized her on making silly ultimatums, doesn’t mean I’m automatically a chauvinistic bastard. I also think that Mark should apologise because even though he’s not a sexist, what he said was careless and clearly hurt a lot of people. However that doesn’t mean you can go around making ultimatums about switching over Fedora because not all male Planet Ubuntu readers are like minded or because Mark made a careless mistake.

          I found her tweet really offensive, but nobody’s going to cry me a river. Do you know why? I’m a guy, which means I’m not the underdog.


          September 29, 2009 at 21:32

          • I don’t recall her tweet saying “unless you ” so I find it really hard to see it as an ultimatum.


            September 29, 2009 at 22:54

          • First of all, there’s no justification for calling it an “ultimatum”: anyone can switch to any distro at any time for any reason they want.

            Second, you can be offended all you like, but Sulamita’s switching to Fedora, or not, doesn’t affect you in even the most infinitesimal degree. Mark’s comments, on the other hand, add to an already-existing “hostile environment”, which clearly does affect woman (see the order-of-magnitude-lower levels of participation by women in open source versus proprietary software development).

            What’s “amazing” to me is that you can call someone else’s personal decision an “ultimatum” without apparently having any sense of how ridiculous it makes you sound…


            September 30, 2009 at 01:01

    • I hope you don’t, I’ve always thought it would be awesome to work with you sometime.

      Liz Henry

      October 1, 2009 at 17:09

  18. Actually explaining free software to people who dont have an interest in it would be more correct. Ive tried to explain it countless times to friends and family members and really the problem is with people who dont have an interest not with women in general. I dont think Mark meant any harm by the remark.

    Shane Fagan

    September 29, 2009 at 13:58

    • No-one is saying he meant any harm, but harm was done. We’re never going to solve bug #1 if we keep alienating and othering women like this. We can do better, as a community :)

      Leigh Honeywell

      September 29, 2009 at 14:15

  19. The cock crows but the hen lays the eggs. Just a fact of nature. Many people in our community use Linux distros, they are loving it. I find the females are easier to show how to use it and the men want to tinker with it. I don’t take offense at jokes. sexist, racial or otherwise. I do think more girls do need encouragement to take up tech work, as a stereotype that ‘boys do tech’ has emerged, and jokes proving the otherwise might do as much good as anything else? Girls do get IT. they just don’t raise their head above the parapet often.
    (aka MRS doyle)


    September 29, 2009 at 14:07

  20. rofl! – get a life … (girls _and_ boys)

    Please do not spam this childish shit do the planet’s.


    September 29, 2009 at 14:28

    • Oh no, posting community-related stuff to Planet. Somebody call the whaaaaambulance.

      Leigh Honeywell

      September 29, 2009 at 14:32

      • Planet? What’s that? I’;ve never heard of it?

        Anyway, one shouldn’t cross-post at all!


        Andrew Ampers Taylor

        September 29, 2009 at 15:04

        • I see you’re not familiar with Planets. Aggregation != crossposting.

          Leigh Honeywell

          September 29, 2009 at 15:31

          • Thank you for the link, I may be 70 but well into ‘pooters. In fact have just started a web based newspaper called The Finchley Arrow. Wife thinks I need my brains tested :-)

            Andrew Ampers Taylor

            September 29, 2009 at 15:37

  21. Maybe “we”/”you” should deal with real problems…


    September 29, 2009 at 15:03

    • This is a real problem. It’s a blocker on bug #1.

      Leigh Honeywell

      September 29, 2009 at 16:36

      • Right, how do you get > 50% of uses using your software, when 50% feel unwanted?


        September 29, 2009 at 16:58

        • It’s a conundrum. =/ I don’t suppose the news that bringing up stuff like this makes you an “enemy of the free software movement” (according to RMS, at the Boston “Software Freedom Day”) will help any…

          Wonder how that FSF “Outreach” thing’s coming along…


          September 29, 2009 at 17:15

  22. http://techcast.com/events/linuxcon/shuttleworth/
    (that is the recording of Marks talk, for those who would have guessed something else .. you never know.)

    now all people can see what all the fuzz is about.


    September 29, 2009 at 15:28

    • Some timings:

      * The “girls” quote is at 35:55.
      * “Your printer, and your mom’s printer, and your grandma’s printer”: 35:30.
      * “A release is an amazing thing; I’m not talking about the happy ending..”: 3:02


      September 29, 2009 at 17:46

      • What’s sad is that, three laughs aside, it’s a pretty interesting talk. Mark should recognize that the core message has gotten completely drowned out for the sake of a few “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” snickers. Is it worth it?

        I think the “happy ending” thing not even four minutes in set a pretty unfortunate tone: it’s Hoss Gifford without the graphical assistance, and completely gratuitous.

        The “easy enough for your mom” is, as I’ve said, a personal failing of mine. I apologize every time I catch myself at it, or someone else does. Ganbarimasu.

        As for the “talking to girls” thing, okay at open mike night down at the comedy club, maybe, but terribly unfortunate in the context of an open source conference where, I imagine, we had the usual under-5% participation from women, and the usual “Gosh, I wonder what it could be…?” discussions…

        “…then most people’s eyes wouldn’t get glazed and somehow…distant when I try to explain what I do…” is probably just as funny in the context of a conference keynote, is certainly a pretty accurate summary of the situation I run into (not just with women, certainly), and won’t offend anyone.


        September 29, 2009 at 18:12

        • At the moment Marks objective is to get people talking about Ubuntu and all this female and male feminist mirco riot is just free marketing.
          I think Bill Clintons campaign manager said that you need people talking about you to make your name stick. What they talk is mostly irrelevant ..

          This does exactly that.

          And one other important part: Mark only wants easy to work with people in the Ubuntu community. If you are a free software zealot and think Landscape and One stink you are free to look elsewhere for all Mark cares (just read the One bug report)

          Same thing for militant (as in lots of blogosphere noise and comment-mania) feminists ..

          Mark does not really need the few feminists .. the Ubuntu community is working just fine and maybe even more smoothly without them.

          I am not judging, just saying.


          September 30, 2009 at 02:08

          • What you’re talking about Mark prefering submissive and obedient people in Ubuntu is just your perception or is there somewhere (URL preferrably) reflecting that Mark thinks that way? I might review my conceptions about the whole Ubuntu movement if I’m able to confirm that Mark shares your point of view. Thanks in advance.

            Miriam Ruiz

            September 30, 2009 at 02:21

            • Why so dramatic? .. it doesn’t help.

              I think Marks uses ‘guys’ mostly neutral and the “explaining to girls” was meant with regards to a chat up in a bar(Watch it from a guys perspective and you will see it). And how likely is it to meet a girl that knows about FOSS in a bar? I think 0% is about right. For these reasons I think Carlas wirte-up is totally pointless.

              That said, I think Mark is annoyed by zealotry. He called people that demand free software (AGPL Ubuntu One) “people, who wake up with regrets in the morning” and I think he thinks the same way about feminist zeal.

              Honestly, I don’t blame him. I think Valerie Aurora is the coolest kernel hacker and tecnnical writer there is, but she is the exception that validates the rule (as we say in Germany). The rule is that kernel hackers are male. Same for most other FOSS and there is no harm in stating it like it is.

              Don’t be so pedantic.


              September 30, 2009 at 03:02

              • Words completely fail me.

                You should all be pretty damned thankful, too.


                September 30, 2009 at 05:31

              • At some point you’ll stop insulting me and answer my question, I hope. In any case, from your attempted answer, I have the impression that you’re putting into Mark’s mouth words he has never said. I just asked for a URL to confirm that, or a simple “Mark said that in a conference” or “Mark told me privately”.

                When I make some mistake I don’t find it that difficult to say “sorry, it was my mistake” and move on, I don’t know why some of you are being so stubborn and constantly negating reality. And, for the record, the amount of guys I met in a bar that knows about FOSS is very close to zero too.

                Some of us have already developed a thick skin, we have been forced too. You really want to get more women into Free Software? Well, then you should have to change your attitude. As things are now, it would be hard for me to even suggests to most of my friend that they should join. You know the reasons, many of them have been already explained in some comments in this thread. And, to be honest, I seriuously think that some of you want to keep it this way, as a boys-only club.

                Miriam Ruiz

                September 30, 2009 at 07:36

                • I am sorry at I insulted you, that wasn’t intended.

                  But I think you have to understand where Mark is coming from. He is a billionaire with his own jet and wants to work on cool stuff with cool people.

                  People that demand that he changes his ways whether it be his language, thinking or his attitude to free software are not fun. So why not just let them leave? Easiest solution.


                  September 30, 2009 at 11:48

                  • Don’t worry, thanks for the apology.

                    I have the feeling that Mark isn’t just a random bored billionaire trying to do cool stuff with cool people, but that he somehow wants to change stuff in the world for better, even though he might make mistakes as everyone. That’s why I’m asking if there’s something (URL, interview, whatever) that supports that description of him as explicitly excluding whoever might not agree with him, because I might have misjugded him if that was true. If, when all is said and done, all the Ubuntu project is just about entertaining a billionaire, I might think about investing my time in something more useful.

                    Thanks for clarifying your comments.

                    Miriam Ruiz

                    September 30, 2009 at 12:19

                    • Well, I looked for the irc log meeting link where he argued with Mako about Ubuntu One and clearly stated that he does not want to have FSF zealots (not a bad word IMHO) in the Ubuntu Community. But the “Ubuntu One name creates confusion” bug has been conveniently deleted and the link is gone. And my Google ninja skillz are not mad enough to find the irc log and maybe that is a good thing as chatting is a very private form of communicating and maybe shouldn’t be dissected in this context.

                      So you are right, I don’t have linkable evidence to support my claim. I am also not a psychologist (I only play one on TV), but I think if you combine $1000000000, not wanting kids/marriage and his attitude/language (happy endings) you get a picture most feminists will not approve. That is just my .02€, though.
                      I am perfectly fine with Mark the way he is. I like what he does, but I don’t put him on a pedestal. He lives the life a lot of geek boys dream off and he deserves it, because he brings a lot of good and change to this world.

                      PS. I am curious .. what was the most offending thing I said? (I just wanna know, I won’t argue about it. I know I am a insensitive klutz)


                      September 30, 2009 at 13:47

              • ” think Marks uses ‘guys’ mostly neutral and the “explaining to girls” was meant with regards to a chat up in a bar(Watch it from a guys perspective and you will see it).”

                GAH!!!! That’s exactly the PROBLEM! Why is it assumed that all FLOSS devs see everything “from a [straight] guy’s perspective”? Particularly when WE’RE NOT ALL STRAIGHT GUYS?!


                September 30, 2009 at 16:28

                • If I want to understand you, I have to see from your perspective. If you want to understand me, you have to see from mine. You know that.
                  If you communicate to a crowd, you have to see from their perspective. Since a crowd is a lot of people, you can’t see from everyone of their perspectives so the 80/20 rule gets applied. If the 20% get offended, you can usually mark that up to either intent or laziness/economics of time. If you’re watching TV with your girl/boyfriend and the show is somehow gender specific, you will often realise that the ads don’t target you. 80/20. some play jokes on the other gender, some could even be seen as offending.


                  October 1, 2009 at 22:08

                  • Wrong. A smart speaker reaches nearly 100% of her audience by the very simple trick of sticking to the subject, and not making stupid jokes, and not excluding part of the audience.

                    Carla Schroder

                    October 1, 2009 at 22:18

  23. Ah, Derailing 101. “But what about the people dying of Martian food in Transylvania?!”


    September 29, 2009 at 16:36

  24. Thanks for posting this, Matt. I agree with you: this sort of thing is largely unconscious, and I do it to. My particular failing is “easy enough for someone’s mom”, and I (like you) try hard to correct myself…

    Offering an apology doesn’t really cost anything, and yet people are incredibly hesitant and unwilling to do it.

    The comments here are depressing. Reading the comments on anything having to do with this issue is depressing, it seems.


    September 29, 2009 at 16:52

  25. Thanks a lot for this blog entry, really. I sincerely admire you.

    Miriam Ruiz

    September 29, 2009 at 17:59

  26. I’m a free software developer, and I applaud you for taking a mature and firm stance on this matter. I too find gender biases destructive, demeaning, and saddening.

    I grew up surrounded by strong and successful women and never thought twice that their gender could ever hinder their achievements. Over many discussions, I learned that the greatest hurdle my female relatives encounter is gender bias in the workplace. Even if it not meant with disrespect or ill-will, it is not right and it is not acceptable.

    The significance of gender bias struck home for me over the past year and a half when I became a father. My daughter’s mother is a successful physician and because of my flexible employment, I chose to become the primary caretaker of our daughter rather than sign her up for full-time daycare. I was shocked and disheartened by the attitudes of nearly everyone I talked to about what role fathers’ have as parents, let alone those who said I couldn’t or shouldn’t be the primary caretaker for my daughter.

    I bring this up not to hijack the thread topic but because I have found a perspective on the matter which I have found helpful. It may relate to womens’ role in the workplace and technical pursuits and so I will share it with you in the hope that you too find it helpful: I see gender bias as one of the many unfortunate side-effects brought about during the rapid development of our civilized society – a side-effect which ultimately serves no purpose and can most definitely be countered.

    To counter this side effect, it is absolutely necessary to call people out when they reveal what I might consider “bugs of consciousness”. Just as it is important to report bugs upstream, its important to let people know when their ignorant behavior and/or statements are unfounded, damaging, and disrespectful.


    September 29, 2009 at 18:17

    • Albert, thanks for the insightful comment. It’s worth remembering that restrictive gender stereotypes and expectations hurt everyone.

      Leigh Honeywell

      September 29, 2009 at 18:51

  27. I don’t know about others, but personally I don’t see what most of the outrage is about.

    I mean: It’s about tolerance and equality.

    I could write a whole lot right now but I think it’s better to be able to sum it up like this:
    If a white and a black person can make jokes to each other about stereotypes of their skin-color and laugh about it together we learned the meaning of the words “tolerance” and “equality”.

    Replace “white”, “black” and “skin-color” with terms fitting the context.

    It’s a sad world if you have to watch every single thing you say and make sure that it’s not hurting anybody because it means you will have to stop speaking. You can be pretty sure you’ll find someone who’s offended by what you said, no matter how factual, somewhere in the world.


    September 29, 2009 at 18:55

    • Saying that we open source developers have trouble explaining what we do to girls is not, in any possible universe, a happy expression of gender equality which is just as funny to women as it is to men. Sorry, but it just isn’t. Please stop trying to make the statement into something it is not. It’s not a joke about a stereotype, it is a joke which relies on the implied assumption that the stereotype is true.

      Adam Williamson

      September 29, 2009 at 19:13

      • It’s about a stereotype, is it not?

        He’s not saying it’s true for all cases but he’s using a general stereotype to for one lighten the mood and then to make a statement more graspable.

        Some people are blowing it out of proportion, really.


        September 29, 2009 at 20:00

        • I don’t think Mark “lightened the mood” of very many of the women present. It doesn’t seem Matt’s mood was “lightened” much, either.

          It’s pretty easy to tell a member of a minority that they’re “blowing things out of proportion” when you’re a member of the dominant majority, huh? It’s like the guy driving the Hummer asking the woman whose “Smart Car” he plowed into/over what the problem is. “Wow, you’re really getting emotional!


          September 29, 2009 at 20:22

    • It’s interesting how the “tolerance” is only expected to extend in one direction, isn’t it?


      September 29, 2009 at 19:24

      • Sorry, but did I not say it’s supposed to be tolerance in both ways?

        I’m not for hurting others, but I can’t see a reason for all the fuss about this.

        I don’t know about others but personally I can take being stereotyped and laugh about it even if the jokes on me. As long as it doesn’t get *personal* I don’t get why people are so easily offended.


        September 29, 2009 at 19:58

        • Sorry, but did I not say it’s supposed to be tolerance in both ways?

          Sure, but you were just kiddin’.

          I’m not for hurting others, but I can’t see a reason for all the fuss about this.

          See? You want people who see a problem here to be more “tolerant” of a) what amounts to a hooker gag, i.e. Hoss Gifford without the visual aids, b) using women as the canonical (if you will) target of “easy enough”, and c) using not women, but girls as “those to whom we“–excluding every single woman in the audience–“find technology difficult to explain”.

          I don’t think Mark is a sexist, but trying to imagine this from the point of view of the women in the audience, I can easily see how a needless sex joke and two “well, that’s the way things are!” suggestions that women are technological incompetents might make one feel marginalized and minimized, especially in a context (supposedly a professional context) where you’re outnumbered thirty-to-one.

          You seem to feel that neither Mark, nor anyone else, need show even a bit of “tolerance” for that point of view.


          September 29, 2009 at 20:16

          • While I saw sexism in some of Marks statements I just don’t understand where the hooker reference is coming from.

            Are happy endings specific to hookers.
            I am not trying to come off as not thinking a hooker gag is offensive to women.
            I just honestly don’t see the exclusive connection to hookers.
            The happy ending thing was inappropriate for all parties male and female, don’t get me wrong.


            September 29, 2009 at 20:25

        • I don’t know about others but personally I can take being stereotyped and laugh about it even if the jokes on me.

          There are probably people who are less resilient than you are, perhaps because they are subject to stereotyped jokes far more often than you, and because the jokes they receive have larger consequences to their daily life (such as a female engineer who regularly hears jokes about how women can’t be engineers). I think that we should not let your stoicism towards some jokes allow us to hurt the people who tell us that they are upset by them.


          September 29, 2009 at 20:19

          • I’m sorry, I don’t mean to take this to a personal level but what do you know about me?
            Why do you assume that I’m not stereotyped often?
            Why do you assume that it’s not affecting my life on a daily basis?

            Just because I don’t bitch about every little remark? Because you haven’t seen me raging about stuff like that? Because I’m not someone who runs to the next VIP who let out an ‘offending’ comment and just let it slide as long as I can see it’s not meant to be personal?


            September 29, 2009 at 21:30

            • Why do you assume that I’m not stereotyped often?

              I tried to choose my words carefully. I’m sorry that I wasn’t clearer, though.

              It is true (according to you) that you get less upset by jokes than the people who are currently saying that they have been made upset by a joke.

              Perhaps, I’m wondering, it could be because you’re less often stereotyped than they are (I don’t know whether this is true, or assert that it is). It could also be because the stereotypes you hear applied to you aren’t as offensive to you as someone else’s are to them. I’m not saying that these things are true, I’m saying that they seem like they would be reasonable explanations for someone else being more upset than you are by similar jokes, given that we know it to be true that some people are upset and you aren’t.

              To put it another way: given the presence of people who are upset by these jokes, why would we want to say “well, this person over here isn’t upset by them, so it must be unreasonable for *anybody* to be”? We’re living in a diverse place, and we don’t always have to understand exactly why someone is more upset than us to realize that we’re hurting them; that’s what empathy is for. We just have to listen to what they’re telling us and treat it respectfully instead of dismissively.


              September 29, 2009 at 21:38

            • …what do you know about me?

              I know you claim “tolerance” but seem to have little to spare for the point of view that Mark’s comments could have been marginalizing to some people.


              September 29, 2009 at 21:48

        • Mr. Sun

          I’ll go out on a limb and guess that a big part of the reason you don’t mind being stereotyped is because 1) You are White and 2) You are Male. You belong to the group of dominant societal privilege, as do I. Our society was made for us, while often oppressing minority groups to make it. It is sad for us all, but once we look it in the eye, we can all move on.

          This type of discussion is not about a socially constructed political correctness, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. Political correctness is saying what you think a group wants to hear because it will gain you social power even though you don’t believe what you say.

          This is simply a conversation that you, and others, may not want to have because it doesn’t suit your purposes. And, being a member of the privileged group, you and I are likely often in a position of dictating conversation subjects. If you don’t like reading what’s on this board, try being a woman in a group dominated by males while the the most powerful figure in the room makes fun of them. If it wasn’t personal, you wouldn’t have said anything.

          Finally, to all those in this discussion who feel that Mark didn’t say anything wrong because my girlfriend or whoever else said so, that’s fine, but is it too difficult to hear what the men and women on this board have to say? I believe they are suggesting some simple facts that are easy to understand yet difficult to accept.


          September 29, 2009 at 21:37

    • It’s a sad world if you have to watch every single thing you say and make sure that it’s not hurting anybody because it means you will have to stop speaking.

      Nonsense. It means that, when someone tells you that they were honestly upset by something you said, you should say “Sorry” so that everyone can move on.


      September 29, 2009 at 20:36

    • I totally agree.

      It is also why we cannot increasingly get answers from our elected leaders. They are so afraid of offending anyone and anything because we demand that they not offend anyone in any way. And yet we complain about that.

      This is really getting out of hand.

      Also, and if you are involved in the open source world, the number one attribute you must have is a thick skin.


      September 30, 2009 at 02:11

      • I’m not quite sure why this is so difficult for some folks to get.

        Just imagine, for a moment, that you lived in a world where things were a bit different. Every time you got interested in working on a new project, all the folks on the IRC channel started going “OMG! A Zac!” When you made a mistake, people would tell you that “Zacs are crappy coders”, and when you didn’t, people would tell you that you were “a pretty good coder, for a Zac”.

        Some people would harass you with requests for nude photos, ask for details about your genitalia, proposition you, and otherwise badger and annoy you. No one who didn’t happen to be called Zac would receive such attention.

        Richard Stallman does a “comedy routine” in which he ridicules “Zacs” at a major community conference. Mark Shuttleworth gives a keynote at LinuxCon where he says that he wishes that printing were “easy enough for people named Zac to use”.

        Even the thickest skin can wear down after a while. And the sort of “skin thickness” it takes is, in fact, rather different in the first place. Guys do not typically make life difficult for other guys in the same ways or terms that guys make life difficult for women.

        That said, people need to consider that participation in open source development is an elective activity. No one has to do it, people have to want to. Now, if I go by your standard, a woman not only has to want to, she has to have the skin of a rhinoceros or two.

        So, let’s set up some barriers to entry. What happens? Women don’t enter. And that’s why there’s a level of participation of women in open source work that’s one tenth the level in proprietary software. And when a ton of awesome woman programmers say, “What do I need the aggravation for?”, who’s losing out?

        Maybe you need to rethink that prioritization of attributes a bit. For me, the number one attribute should be “willing and able”. Period.


        September 30, 2009 at 02:49

        • Oh dear. As I said it can easily get out of hand, more read into it than needs to be.

          Things will change for the better, all these comments are just part of the process. But in the meantime, take a step back, and don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. (oops, my apologies to all babies out there)


          September 30, 2009 at 03:23

          • Things will change for the better, all these comments are just part of the process. But in the meantime, take a step back

            I don’t know that this is directly relevant, but I got a lot out of reading Martin Luther King’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail for the first time last night.

            He doesn’t have very good things to say about the idea that things will get better if we’re patient and stop complaining so much.


            September 30, 2009 at 04:14

          • …more read into it than needs to be…

            Really? From where I was standing, it looked more like “less thought into it than needed to be”, but what do I know?

            Things will change for the better…

            And we’ll be eatin’ pie in the sky when we die!


            September 30, 2009 at 05:38

      • “Also, and if you are involved in the open source world, the number one attribute you must have is a thick skin.”

        Really? I thought it was supposed to be “valuable skills.” Oops!


        September 30, 2009 at 16:31

      • “if you are involved in the open source world, the number one attribute you must have is a thick skin”

        This is nonsense. I don’t consider myself to have a particularly thick skin, and I know a lot of other men in the free software community of whom I would say the same.

        I think what you meant was “if you are *a woman* in the open source world, you must have a thick skin because you should expect sexism”.

        Matt Zimmerman

        October 1, 2009 at 09:54

    • It’s a sad world if you have to watch every single thing you say and make sure that it’s not hurting anybody because it means you will have to stop speaking.

      I think there’s a fair distance between “showing some reasonable consideration for your audience” and “watching every single thing you say”. This is kind of like arguing with the child who, when told that he should never cross the street when the light is red, asks, “What if it’s been red for nineteen hours and there aren’t any cars on it anywhere at all, can I cross when it’s red then?

      I think it’s a sad world where guys who are purportedly leaders somehow manage to forget that their audience is not composed entirely of other guys just like themselves, and who, when reminded, are incapable of saying, “Holy cats! You’re right, I did that! Wow. All I can possibly claim in my own defense is something like ‘brain spiders’, and I’m not going to do that. That really was wrong of me. I’m sorry.” You also neglect to note, somehow, that if you do happen to say something which inadvertently hurts someone, you can always apologize.


      September 30, 2009 at 02:59

  28. A lot of FLOSS participants and leaders are puzzled about the relatively abysmal rate of participation by women in Open Source projects. 1.5% of FLOSS participants are women, vs. 28% as part of proprietary software development, per http://flosspols.org/.

    “It’s a mystery! We’ve done *everything we can* to make our projects welcoming to everyone,” we say. “We can’t think of anything else to do.”

    So when smart women in our community tell us *exactly* what it takes to get more participation, we need to sit up and listen. Here, what it’s going to take is a quick, simple, face-saving apology.

    It will take little effort. It will mean a lot. And it will set a good example.

    Mark seems like a really smart guy and an excellent leader. I hope he thinks this through a little more.

    Evan Prodromou

    September 29, 2009 at 20:37

  29. Thanks Matt, for the well thought out and written post and ACTION. You’re a great example of someone making the community a better place for all contributors.


    September 29, 2009 at 21:06

  30. Why are people increasingly getting more intolerant and sensitive?

    Why is it so easy to offend people?

    In the wider scheme of things, it’s no wonder that our politicians and leaders cannot say what they want to say, because some people demand political correctness and any talk that may possibly offend people. We complain about these leaders be we are responsible for making them behave that way.

    Come on, take a step back, grow some skin.


    September 30, 2009 at 02:02

    • zac: I see you’re using the term ‘political correctness’ to mean ‘consideration for others which I can’t be bothered to exercise myself’.

      For instance, if I were to call you a sexist dickwad, I wouldn’t be being ‘politically incorrect’, I’d be being an asshat.

      Adam Williamson

      September 30, 2009 at 02:07

      • No I didn’t use ‘political correctness’ in that way because of the limited time to write. If I was talking to you in person it will be better. But, your meaning I agree. What I don’t want to see is this taken to the nth degree, and the consequences on us on that, because one the results of this is ‘spin’.

        I more concerned about the wider ramifications in society of increasing intolerance with respect to what our leaders can say and how they act, whether they be in our workplace, politics, communities.

        (I don’t have time to elaborate, but I hope you get what I am attempting to get at.)


        September 30, 2009 at 02:41

        • Yes, you’re using the “thin end of the wedge” or “slippery slope” argument, which is simple nonsense, a classical fallacy. You should stop.

          Your concern about politicians lying to you doesn’t have anything to do with whether it’s appropriate to talk, in a keynote at a community conference, about “happy endings” or about the difficulties “we” have in explaining what “we” do to girls.

          “Girls” are not “we”. “Girls” do not understand what “we” do. And he wasn’t talking about Girl Scouts.

          Where’s that leave the women in the audience…? (Nowhere, that’s where.)

          And if you don’t have time to leave a comment that says what you mean, please save electrons and don’t leave one at all, or wait until you do have time. No one here can read your mind.

          Every cloud has a silver lining.


          September 30, 2009 at 03:08

          • Lefty, this will change for the better, it is currently underway now. Even these comments are part of the process. It is not going to be a switch, it’s getting there. Take what is good and positive and try to change the bad, which is what is happening now. It is a cultural change that will take time. We are part of this process.


            September 30, 2009 at 03:41

            • Izzatso?

              In fact, I’m pretty disconcerted by what I see “currently underway now”. I see a community which lags in simple awareness of the issues a decade or two behind the proprietary software concerns; I see a simple and polite email raising some reasonable concerns about some pretty questionable humor receiving a backlash of response that’s out of any reasonable proportion; I see a similar backlash–and Matt has both noted it and experienced it here on his own blog–with any posting on this subject. In fact, I see pretty much every single blog which has touched upon the issue finding itself obligated to moderate comments at one point or another.

              I see repeated efforts to divert things, “It’s really about religion”, “It’s really about Mono”, “It’s really about hating the GPL”, in fact anything except being really about what it’s really about. (Because no one could seriously be concerned about something like that, right?)

              I see sexually-charged presentations at GoGaRuCo, Flashbelt and elsewhere, and a similar backlash for those who thinks that’s not appropriate.

              I see an FSF president who’s talking about his “holy duty” to “relieve EMACS virgins”–who are women who have never used EMACS–of their virginity, and then equating speaking up about a perceived problem with that with being an “enemy of the free software community”, not to mention an FSF-sponsored “Minisummit on Women in FLOSS” which doesn’t have a single thing to say about it.

              This is “better”? I think this is appalling.


              September 30, 2009 at 04:03

        • As Lefty says, if you have to time to present an opinion, you have the time to present a properly formed opinion. If you don’t, you’re only doing yourself a disservice.

          I don’t really recognize your political analysis, to be honest. In my experience, the type of bland, evasive language politicians often use is a result of their wanting to always have an out in any given situation (often due to over-reliance on outside advice); it’s not a result of an excessive fear of offending any particular group in the way we’re talking about here. It’s possible for politicians to speak their minds clearly without giving offence, and in my experience those who do so tend to be rewarded for it electorally (as long, of course, as they stick by the positions they espouse).

          Adam Williamson

          September 30, 2009 at 04:58

    • I didn’t say that anyone was “offended”. Kirrily wrote an excellent post about the language of “offense” and how it means focusing on the reaction, rather than the action:


      The problem with sexism isn’t that “people are offended”. It’s that people exclude, disrespect and pigeonhole other people.

      Matt Zimmerman

      October 1, 2009 at 09:58

  31. Who ever wrote this post is such an Hypocrite. I remember quite well how you came down hard on the RMS re: Virgin of Emac issue (which IMHO is not even as bad as Marks keynote speech) Why not apply the same level of criticism ? First you admit the statement was sexist, well duh! then you spent over half of the post defending Mark. Oh here never meant it that way, oh he had good intentions oh it was a mistake. WTH are you his f**king lawyer? I didn’t see you come up with same excuse for RMS. Sexist statement such as mark’s is bad, it poisons the community and here intentions are just not enough. This whole idea that girls are less techie is pure BS, I into IT support and i have to say being a geek crosses gender, just as a noob is a noob, your gender don’t make you less likely to be a noob. last time I checked Mark hasn’t apologized for his statements (which could be interpreted to be he doesn’t see anything wrong in them) making all the excuses in the world for him doesn’t help. He needs come out and apologies because he occupies such an important role on FOSS, he is seen by a lot of people as a role model and anything he does is followed by millions of people. He needs to come out and to at least explain that the statement didn’t come out the way he meant it. But heck he is mark the man who can do no wrong.

    Remember this?
    “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.”


    September 30, 2009 at 05:07

    • I don’t understand; the author of this post *is* calling for Mark to apologize, and agrees with you that the statement was sexist.

      Going further than that is just going to create a hostile atmosphere unnecessarily, and would *actually* be hypocrisy; none of us are above making sexist mistakes, so we shouldn’t hold other people under stronger rules than we’d be willing to apply to ourselves.

      I’m willing to apply the “I am not a sexist person, but sometimes I do sexist things and I should apologize for them when I realize it” rule to myself, which is why I feel comfortable asking Mark to do the same.


      September 30, 2009 at 05:21

    • No one has suggested that Mr. Stallman deliberately set out to hurt people’s feelings, or that his intentions were anything but good. (In my more churlish moments, I may well have noted that good intentions are a dime a dozen, Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy had “good intentions”, at least in their own terms…)

      For that matter, no one called Mr. Stallman a sexist, rather that his “harmless little joke” was quite sexist, and in a fairly disturbing way. (I don’t quite know how you weigh the gravity of the one thing versus the other; they’re both very unfortunate.)

      It may well be that mdz’s relationship with Mark, happening to work for himand all, gives him a greater understanding of and empathy for Mark’s situation. That would not be even a bit surprising.

      I think people are still hoping that Mark will reconsider and apologize. If two and a half months go by and he doesn’t, I imagine people will draw what conclusions they will.

      Matt isn’t excusing or defending Mark’s statements. You’d seem to be demanding that he denounce Mark in personal terms in some way, and suggesting that he did so with regard to Mr. Stallman. You’re dead wrong on both scores.

      And if you’re attempting to say that there’s no backlash to be seen in the comments to this posting, that’s, frankly, delusional.


      September 30, 2009 at 05:26

    • With regard to the RMS incident, I responded in two ways: 1. identified the remark as sexist, and 2. commenting on the incredibly acerbic backlash against people who did #1. I did not make any comments on what RMS is like as a person, because I don’t know him.

      With regard to Mark, I have identified some of his remarks as sexist, and I have speculated some about his intentions, because I know him personally. I have also said that I think he needs to respond and address the effects of his behavior. You seem to be criticizing me for not being hard on him as a person, and I think that misses the point.

      When offering criticism, it is important to separate the person from their behavior. Labeling someone as a bad person because of a certain behavior doesn’t encourage positive change; in fact, it reinforces it: “I’m a bad person, so of course I do bad things”.

      I wrote a post last year on constructive criticism which explains the approach I’m using here.

      Matt Zimmerman

      October 1, 2009 at 10:28

  32. You have to see it from THREE perspectives here.

    1) Mark’s
    2) Women
    3) The Open Source community.

    1) MARK is a brilliant O/S designer. Look at what he has contributed. All philanthropy work. He is a bit cocky with his statement, “I am ubuntu DICATOR, but I exchourage openness..blah blah…” remember, when Linus Torvalds opened a key note with, “Hello, I am your God.” and people FLIPPED OUT… when you get in a position where people start to idealized you, it tends to have an impact on that person, being idealized. I don’t care what anyone says, he is JUST HUMAN.

    ALSO, take note that he did not mean ALL women in tech, just casual users, women tend to stop and reflect on every style, button, etc etc… THAN obtain the big picture. Sometimes MEN could learn from, as we stumble around ignorantly trampling on potentially beautify design and usage cases. (i.e. the GUI and layout of a program.

    2) WOMEN

    Women as I mentioned above, are more emotionally ‘tuned in’ and get hurt by remarks, especially when they are reoccurring 2-3 times in a 1 hr talk. (No I DO NOT include the term ‘guys’ to mean MEN ONLY… even WOMEN say, ‘hey guys, when they refer to their group of all GF’s… but once the female spirit is hurt, they will than take ANYTHING that is not black and while and turn it into it somehow being relevant to the key argument… MEN that over emotional, DO THE SAME THING… we are the same on that level.

    3) Community is what is important here. MEN and WOMEN, Girls and boys, everyone. We need women as much as we need men. Well, actually we could do without as many men, as sperm is very cheap and plentiful. But, anyways.

    Conclusion.. Mark SHOULD reflect, read the comments and WOW the number of articles coming out about this.. that if Mark Shuttleworth has ANY worth and care about his reputation as a community leader, NEEDS to address this.

    Mark, if you are reading… This is how I would formulate my response.

    “Regarding me talk at LinuxCon and about my remarks about the Girls. I am sorry for hurting any women’s feelings (or anyone for that matter)”

    That is ALL that needs to be said, because what he REALLY means is that, many Women DO NOT think completely analytically like men, and tend to notice things that men DO NOT. But, the TECH WOMEN that are keen on computers and the deep analytically dryness of most of it, does not include them. That is what he meant by all that Girl pin pointing and such…

    I think from now on, he will think twice about how he talks about Users and HOW they operate. It is no different than saying all non savvy techies are ‘Lusers’.

    Matt K.

    September 30, 2009 at 08:39

    • ALSO, take note that he did not mean ALL women in tech, just casual users, women tend to stop and reflect on every style, button, etc etc… THAN obtain the big picture. Sometimes MEN could learn from, as we stumble around ignorantly trampling on potentially beautify design and usage cases. (i.e. the GUI and layout of a program.

      This sounds to me rather like, “Men do the heavy lifting and women pick out the curtains.”

      Is that really what you meant to say…?


      September 30, 2009 at 16:09

    • I will certainly admit that I have used “guys” to refer to groups with girls, since as mentioned before, it is a common expression. It’s still somewhat sexist language though because of the assumed-male-default. That doesn’t mean I’m not *trying* to fix that when I speak. Leigh got me stuck on the term “folks,” so I’m mostly going with that now.


      September 30, 2009 at 16:38

    • Does Mark make the same statement in a room full of 75% women? This whole thing isn’t about women’s feelings; it’s about Mark’s feelings.


      October 1, 2009 at 00:39

    • Hey Matt K., actually, I don’t think of my awareness the various intersections of political oppression as having particularly sensitive feelings. Actually, this is not about “hurt feelings” or women being emotional. It is about social justice. I think you could see that, if you do a little reading about history and politics.

      Liz Henry

      October 1, 2009 at 17:18

  33. […] read on Matt Zimmerman’s blog entry “Explaining to the Girls”. It’s about a comment Mark Shuttleworth gave at LinuxCon I got the video from a comment and […]

  34. It’s amazing how this got blown out of proportion. I asked 3 of my colleagues (female programmers) and they said they didn’t have any problems with it. So I don’t know why Mackenzie, for example, keeps adding fuel to the fire. Maybe she’s using this opportunity to promote herself, I don’t know.

    Having 2 daughters and a wife all majored in science or engineering, I can testify that women are absolutely no less, if even better, in Math than men.

    So please don’t try to victimize women, or make this look like there’s a lack of respect for women among developers or in the computer sciences.


    September 30, 2009 at 20:54

    • Just for the record, it’s not Mackenzie alone who thinks that some things are not tolerable. Maybe some of us might not be that verbose in our replies, probably because we think that sometimes discussing these stuff with some of the guys in the Free Software world is like discussing with a wall, but don’t take it wrong: some of us do have problems with this kind of things. Some of the guys seem to be able to understand that there is a problem too, as it can be shown not only in this -and other- blog entries, but also in the comments. I’m glad that you have female friends that have no problem with it, I wonder if they are involved in Free Software, btw. It would be nice if you avoided personal attacks towards people, just because you don’t agree with them.

      Miriam Ruiz

      September 30, 2009 at 21:04

      • It’d be nice if he had an actual identity.

        Funny how namelessness and cluelessness seem to go together, innit?


        September 30, 2009 at 21:09

      • Yes. this is not only Mackenzie shedding light on this issue. Many people, male and female alike, see this as a n issue that requires mature and responsible attention.


        October 1, 2009 at 00:27

    • Marcos, let’s be clear: the main reason it’s “gotten blown out of proportion” (by which I imagine you must mean “received attention”) is mostly due to Mark’s (so far, I’m still hoping) failure to simply say, “Gee, that was pretty dopey of me. I was wrong to say that, and I wasn’t really thinking. I’m sorry.”

      I think you must be blowing the difficulty of that out of proportion. As has been noted several times, the “I asked my three friends” test is not really sufficient due diligence.

      Many women are, indeed, equally or more talented than many men, in development and in other relevant areas. Too bad that attitudes like “this got blown out of proportion” and “Mackenzie is using this ‘opportunity'”–believe me, pal, it’s not an “opportunity” you want knock, knock, knockin’ on your door–“to promote herself” and “the number one attribute is a really thick skin” have (in spite of what you claim to believe) so hostile an environment that we’ve got 1.5% women in FLOSS versus almost twenty times that in proprietary software development.

      As Brenda Wallace observes, a woman would have to have “the skin of a rhino or the constitution of a psychopath” to participate.


      September 30, 2009 at 21:07

    • Ah, the old “the women I know think it’s OK!” response, which somehow magically invalidates any other viewpoint, and shifts responsibility away from the speaker. I should write all these up and assign them number codes to save time.

      It’s too bad that Mark is not big enough to apologize, or that none of the top FOSS leaders have the courage to confront this issue. Just imagine if Linus, RMS, or Mark said “This is not acceptable. Women deserve respect and courtesy, and everyone should be courteous and respectful to each other. A community where people feel uncomfortable or threatened is not a productive one.”

      I about died laughing imagining that happening, it is so improbable. What a sad commentary on FOSS.

      Carla Schroder

      September 30, 2009 at 21:19

      • Hey, don’t forget that mdz is a very big person in free software as well, and he’s spoken out about the issue.

        Jonathan Carter

        October 1, 2009 at 06:14

        • Yup, right. In my opinion he’s one of the persons that’s really making a difference in the Ubuntu community, so yes, the same way that some are to blame, others are to be praised for speaking out so clearly. I think that’s clearly and explicitly stated in some of the comments here, but it’s good that you also point that out.

          Miriam Ruiz

          October 1, 2009 at 08:47

        • That’s a good reminder, and I appreciate very much all the people who speak out. Thank you Matt, Jonanthan, Miriam and Leigh who make me laugh, Lefty, Christ, and all the rest. This particular blog has been a lifesaver as I wade through dozens of worthless reader commments back in my little online empire, and oh joy, Mikeeusa is back with ‘Nina got what she deserved’ and the rest of his hate-nut-babble. But he’s a genuine nutcase, the rest of them have no excuse.

          Still, with no disrespect to all the excellent people like Matt and everyone else, the reality is the three faces of FOSS with star power are Mark, Linus, and RMS. Of those three Mark is the shiny cool new guy that the media and all the noobs know and love. It would be splendid if any of them would show a bit of leadership on this. But it’s not going to happen, SSDD and I don’t mean solid state disk drive.

          Carla Schroder

          October 1, 2009 at 20:32

          • One more thing, sorry for the clutter– I especially don’t appreciate all the “Quit picking on Mark, look at all the good he does!” As though an acceptable price of all that do-gooding is throwing women under the bus. Thanks. Thanks a lot!

            Carla Schroder

            October 1, 2009 at 20:38

            • Agreed. He’s an adult and doesn’t require anyone to come to his rescue or his defense, especially when no one is trying to hurt him. In fact, I believe it is just the opposite. People are trying to help him as well as improve the overall health of this community.


              October 1, 2009 at 20:51

          • Well, if Mark replaces ESR in the RMS/LT/ESR trinity then it’s a big improvement, at least.

            Jonathan Carter

            October 1, 2009 at 20:44

            • Agreed :)

              Carla Schroder

              October 1, 2009 at 21:45

          • Well, and then there is _me_ and I will publicly state that I think all chicks are awesome and shouldn’t be dissed! Under no circumstances! They should always be handled with the utmost care.

            So .. wouldn’t that be the best possible ending for this long list of comments?

            Kurt the anonymous nerd

            October 1, 2009 at 22:03

  35. Matt,

    Thank you for bringing up this topic. It’s quite difficult to please everyone while in the public eye. I personally find the jokes “funny because they’re true”. I’m a girl in FOSS who often has trouble explaining what FOSS is (to anyone who’s never heard of it, really)

    I’m a believer that life sucks if you don’t laugh, and that laughter was Mark’s original intent.
    “Othering”, however, is something to think about. about. If you are trying to grow and all-inclusive community, you can’t afford to be perceived as separatist. If you are trying to build an elite community, then you must define “Other”. That being said, any comment or joke that isn’t planned out can certainly create a division that was not intended. If Mark feels the needs to reverse a perceived concept of “othering”, then an apology or some self-deprecating humor might be the best medicine.


    September 30, 2009 at 22:11

  36. I am a 24yo female arts/theology student who has used linux for the past 5 years. Ubuntu since dapper drake.

    I like Mark, but this was one unfortunate slip of the tongue!

    Personally I have always found the people (usually men) on the ubuntu forums to be great to work with, I’ve never felt patronised and I have even felt able to assist with a few queries as well.

    Still, stats don’t lie – women are severely under represented in IT generally and free software specifically (http://www.groklaw.net/articlebasic.php?story=20050911153013536) – I would really like to see this change. The women I know really like the idea that FOSS opens doors for people across the world, is collaborative in nature and based around communities. We have something wonderful in linux, and yet it’s often not adopted because of mistakes like this.

    Please gentlemen – don’t presume that we are any less intelligent than you are – and consider the (usually unintended) effects of your off-hand comments.

    Claire Preston

    September 30, 2009 at 23:57

  37. […] Explaining to girls There has been some discussion recently about Mark Shuttleworth’s keynote at LinuxCon, in particular a comment he […] […]

    Top Posts « WordPress.com

    October 1, 2009 at 01:39

  38. There are far more important issues than this one, for example, developers using open source software to create websites where users can rate female prostitutes on performance. There’s nothing more sexiest than that, but instead of writing an open letter to Arnold Schwarzenegger complaining about it, they write one to Mark, who is using his own personal money to support the open source movement, and who also happened to make a silly joke/mistake.

    I propose we all put things in perspective and start prioritizing all this issues so that we can start writing letters and posts based on the level of severity.

    Thank you.


    October 1, 2009 at 12:41

    • Whatever problem you want to address, there will always be others more important and/or more urgent. People are dying of hunger in the world, women are being severely discriminated and harassed in Afghanistan and Arabia Saudi, there is the crisis and the climate change, so what? That’s not a reason not to address this problem.

      Miriam Ruiz

      October 1, 2009 at 16:02

      • You want to solve one issue at a time, starting with this one. I want to use prioritize them and solve the most important ones, not just to you, but to everyone. I propose writing some cards and taking it from there.


        October 1, 2009 at 17:23

        • Don’t get offended, but I find that someone telling me what my priorities should be quite patronising. In any case, this is something important for me. As I said before, you could never solve anything if you have to wait for everything else to be fixed earlier, and I don’t see a quick way to make peace in the world, to free women in some islamic countries (and in some others that are not islamic), revert climate change, etc.

          Just out of curiosity, and making it clear that it’s me who set my own priorities when facing problems that I consider important, what was your suggestion of the issue that had to be solved first?

          Miriam Ruiz

          October 1, 2009 at 17:32

        • I propose that you’re simply attempting to divert attention away from the issue at hand toward something you find, perhaps, less personally threatening. Write all the cards you like, but please don’t be so presumptuous as to tell other people what their priorities should be.


          October 1, 2009 at 17:55

  39. And if for some reason someone encounters difficulties prioritizing outstanding issues, I kindly volunteer to do it for them on my spare time. I’m a feminist and certified ScrumMaster.


    October 1, 2009 at 12:46

  40. […] by Mark Shuttleworth at the Linuxcon 2009, the CTO of Canonical, Matt Zimmerman went public in voicing his opinion, suggesting that the remark his boss made was sexist. This has led to calls for him to say goodbye […]

  41. […] several men, it must be noted — took up the theme themselves. (See, for example, here, and here, and here, andhere and […]

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