|English: The symbol of meritocracy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
I'm often asked why I support feminism in free software. Mostly, the question is polite. Sometimes, it is rude and unintentionally comical, describing me as "a neutered male" in need of an intervention. Others keep silent, except maybe to sigh, obviously thinking it wearily inevitable that someone with a reputation as a free software supporter should go galloping at the windmill of yet another cause. But even then, the question lingers in the air, waiting for an explanation.
The curiosity isn't helped, either, by the obvious fact that I support some feminists, and not others. However, you can support a cause without endorsing all its supporters, or all the tactics suggested for realizing its goals -- which is all I will say on that subject.
So why do I believe feminism is essential to the free software movement? The quickest answer is that I have been a feminist in everything I've done since I was fourteen. In particular, for thirty years I had a feminist marriage.
But these are personal reasons, and I don't want to psychoanalyze myself in public -- (doing so would bore me as much as anyone else). Still less am I going to rehearse the massive under-representation of women in free software (if you haven't heard the figures by now, you're deliberately not listening. Enough to say that they are far too low to be the result of choice or chance).
Instead, l'd simply like to suggest that there are at least twelve reasons why free software supporters should also be feminists:
12. Sexism, misogyny, and the under-representation of qualified women is a major contradiction in free software and technology. You can't claim to be returning control to people when you are ignoring or mistreating over half of them. – not if you want any credibility, anyway.
11. No free software and technology project has so many people that it can afford to discourage potential volunteers. Yet the way many parts of the community treat women, that's what is happening now.
10. Feminism has nothing to with quotas, lowering standards or double standards. It's about removing everything that prevents meritocracy from operating the way it should. It's about actually building the meritocracy that many people in free software believe already exists.
9. The attitudes towards women in free software are being used by career advisers as a reason to steer women away from these areas. Who wants to encourage an attitude like that?
8. Proprietary software has six to fourteen times greater participation by women. Granted, that still leaves plenty of room for improvement. But does anyone really want to concede that the proprietary mindset can do anything better than our community can?
7. The current state of affairs is embarrassing. Hasn't everybody had enough of community leaders making sexist remarks, or of keynote speakers delivering pornographic presentations and startups making gaffes? When the defenses and rationales are trotted out, it's as bad as hearing an elderly relative make a racist remark at the family Christmas gathering. You're torn between challenging their spite and nonsense and pretending it didn't happen so you don't make a scene.
6. The current problems have been festering for over a decade. The time to do something about them is long overdue – and finally awareness has grown to a point where things are being done.
5.Increasing the participation of women requires nothing that's not routinely expected in modern society. If you have trouble with the idea, you're probably not capable of holding down a job or socializing with other people, either.
4. Free software idealism feels tired right now. Maybe another form of idealism can restore some passion to it.
3. Talent has no gender (and no ethnicity, culture, age, appearance, or political views, either). When you are lucky enough to find talent, you encourage it. You don't put obstacles in its way.
2. It's all about the kind of future you want to build, and eventually leave behind you. If you're a woman, it's about your future. If you're a parent, it's about a better future for your children, especially your daughters. If you're a man, it's about supporting your female relatives, friends, and colleagues, and having no regrets when you look back on your life.
1.To echo George Orwell, talking about his political beliefs: common decency.
-- Bruce Byfield