Carla Schroder who is one of my favourite writers on the web has just published a criticism of Mark Shuttleworth for remarks he made during a presentation at LinuxCon 2009, “Mark Shuttleworth’s Community Has No Women“. I have watched the video and find it obvious that Carla has gone out of her way to find sexism in the presentation. The presentation is an inspiring message about
- Release cadence
for FLOSS. It was given to an audience that was largely male. In the Q&A that followed, a large portion of the audience was scanned and it was probably 90% male.
Indications of sexism found included:
- use of the word “guys”, as in “KDE guys”
- mention of producing software that would work for mothers and grandmothers, and
- “explaining to girls” how FLOSS works.
Carla must have used a microscope. I did not see or hear a single sexist comment from Shuttleworth except perhaps leaning on the word “release” as it has other meanings than releasing a new build of a FLOSS project or a complete distribution of software.
The “guy” thing was perhaps the most easily spotted word but it is not hard to spot Shuttleworth’s Brit/S. African accent. Guy Fawkes was a famous insurgent who tried and failed to blow up the British Parliament in the old days. Children in the British Commonwealth of countries celebrate Guy Fawkes Day by dressing up, parading, hanging effigies etc. “guy” is not necessarily a male person but a buddy, fellow, etc.
“The word “guy” subsequently came to mean “an odd-looking fellow”, after the grotesque effigies of Fawkes. In the mid-19th century United States this meaning broadened to refer to any man, and ultimately any person, with no pejorative connotation.”
3. A man or young man; a fellow; — usually contrasted with gals or girls as, it was fun for both the guys and gals; the guys were watching football while the girls played bridge. [Informal]
4. A member of a group of either sex, usually a friend or comrade; — usually used in the pl.; as, tell the guys to come inside; are any of you guys interested in a game of tennis?. [Informal]
Shuttleworth did once use the “guys and girls” combination but that does not necessarily mean he was excluding girls in other parts.
The apparent lack of interest in the details of IT for many women explains the “explaining to girls” reference. Almost every man knows that. There was laughter from the audience at the comment. I live in a home that was dominated by females, a wife and two daughters. Not one of them had any interest in computers except how to e-mail/chat/browse. My wife has used a PC for twenty years and still cannot set up a spreadsheet even though she uses them constantly to enter/analyze data. My son placed second in a national competition for computer geeks when he was 15. My daughters use PCs frequently but are not interested in the latest technology or details. That’s just the way things are. It’s not sexism. Girls choose other interests as reflected in the audience for Shuttleworth’s remarkable presentation.
All this comment about sexism detracts from the thought-provoking and insightful presentation. Shuttleworth really knows what he wants and how to get it. He can sway audiences. He knows the strengths and deficiencies of FLOSS. He strongly suggested that design be the first step/stage of a release even before cadence and quality. Ubuntu has a team of designers. That is reflected in the popularity of the distro. Design is a place where women can and should have a more natural interest. Women I know will fuss endlessly over details of colour/composition/shape/arrangement/size which many men just gloss over. Women I know can tell from 100m that my socks do not match sometimes. Since more than half of users of PCs are female, contributions by women in this area should be sought out. Carping about imagined sexism contributes nothing.
Women are a part of the Ubuntu Community:
- “Jane Silber – Chief Operating Officer
Jane joined Canonical Ltd in 2004, prior to the first release of Ubuntu. Based in London, she currently oversees all business development and operational activities, to include customer support and services, marketing and partnerships, as well as the corporate financial and administrative functions.Prior to joining Canonical, Jane was Vice President of Command and Control Systems at General Dynamics C4 Systems, and her early career included doing artificial intelligence research and product development for Teijin Ltd in Yokohama, Japan. She holds degrees from the University of Oxford, Vanderbilt University and Haverford College.”
(from Canonical’s site).
- The Ubuntu Community includes women and encourages them. In fact, if the statistic of 1.8% of women in FLOSS is accurate, Ubuntu’s 2.4% puts them above average.
- The Ubuntu Community has lots of opportunities for women to contribute whether or not they are into code development.
- The Ubuntu Forums seem a very friendly place. You would be hard-pressed to find a more welcoming place for women. Searching for the “f” word found no hits.
Could he? Should he have included more politically correct terminology in his presentation? He could have. I believe it was fine as it was. The presentation was made on his feet, with only occasional references to notes so I believe he did a fine job considering sexism/opportunities for women was not the subject of the presentation. He did mention specific means of improving releases of FLOSS, with better quality and better design, all of which could be good roles for women. He said nothing that suggests he is the least bit interested in excluding women.