State of Sexism in FOSS: Page 4: Page 4

Women's issues have become accepted concerns in open source. What is there to show for all the effort?
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Yet to Come

How much permanent change will result from these developments remains uncertain. While some grassroots support for women's issues exist, FOSS feminism still sometimes appears to be a top-down phenomenon, supported more by community leaders and influential people than by average FOSS contributors.

The problem may be that the most active FOSS-based feminists have been unable to articulate more than general principles. Skud and Mary Gardiner, a co-founder of The Ada Initiative, once attempted to express the values behind the Geek Feminism Wiki and could only state that the site was focused on documentation, logical analysis and women in minority environments. They have never offered answers to such basic questions as whether contributors advocate hiring quotas for women regardless of expertise.

Probably, given the diversity of wiki contributors, such position statements would be difficult, if not impossible. However, without them, Geek Feminist contributors leave themselves vulnerable to being defined by opponents. For example, I have frequently seen opponents assume that Geek Feminist contributors advocate hiring quotes, then accuse them of reverse sexism. In the absence of any policy statements, others frequently believe such claims all the more because they are stereotypical.

This problem was highlighted in July 2012 when a blogger writing under the pseudonym of Nice Girl used quotes from the Geek Feminism wiki to depict contributors as an organized movement whose members harassed other women for not thinking or acting in ways they approved.

Moreover, the fact that Nice Girl's comments were quickly echoed in milder form by Endsley and long time community contributor Leslie Hawthorn, shows that she is not the only one who believes that the characterization holds some truth.

In response, Skud stated that "no feminist group is 'the opposition' to another. " And to some extent, she may be right -- change often is introduced by radicals, then integrated into society by moderates.

But the problem is that more moderate feminists do not always extend the same tolerance in return. Such depictions could not only derail FOSS feminism as radicals and moderates feud, but also create negative impressions of women's issues by depicting the best-known advocates as straw feminists -- parodies of themselves.

However, the women and men addressing women's issues in FOSS are stretched thin and are mostly volunteers. Under these conditions, expecting them to address all the implications of their subject at once is unrealistic.

The fact remains that women's issues are now raised regularly in the FOSS community --no matter how imperfectly or incompletely -- and that is an accomplishment that few could have expected from the unpromising perspective of 2008.

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Tags: open source, FOSS, Women in Technology

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