Ada Initiative Supports Women in Open Source, Counters Sexism: Page 2

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However, Aurora adds, "One thing we are very clear on is that we are not going to be fee for service. We are not going to be earning money because some bad thing has happened."

Another point that the founders emphasize is that men are welcome to contribute to The Ada Initiative as mentors or other consultants-- and, in fact, that much of the audience for its activities will be male or represented by men.

"We think there is a large community of men who would really like women to be a greater part of open [culture]," Aurora says, "and we have to give them the information they need to help them understand how to be part of this movement."

Besides, Aurora adds, there can be tactical advantages of working with men because of the very sexism that The Ada Initiative opposes. "There are certain things you can do automatically if you are a man. You automatically get perceived differently."

Gardiner and Aurora also want to stress that The Ada Initiative is complementary to existing organizations for women -- and is not intended as a replacement or umbrella organization, let alone as a competitor.

Instead, Gardiner suggests that The Ada Initiative will take on projects that existing organizations are less apt to undertake. Not only are many groups, such as Debian Women or KDE Women focused on specific projects, but, because of traditional divisions of domestic labor, women still frequently have less time to volunteer.

Moreover, some goals are simply harder to achieve with volunteers. Gardiner suggests that volunteers are best-suited to activities like coding, which can be divided into a series of smaller tasks, or event planning, which involve concentrated bursts of effort over a short period of time. By contrast, larger issues that involve multiple projects or intensive work over long periods of time are easier to organize when people are working on them full-time.

At any rate, Aurora notes, "Especially in open source, the majority of participants are paid, and it seems a bit much to expect that women are going to be different and participate in their free time. We want to get women involved professionally full-time."

Bracing for the Reaction

Aurora and Gardiner are well aware that their efforts are likely to meet hostility and abuse --- and that this sort of reception is historically a prime cause of burnout among women's advocates.

According to Gardiner, women who want to be involved in FOSS "often find that their tolerance for the level of conflict is really short. Very quickly, you'll find this level of hate rhetoric, trolling, and puerile behavior that is pretty exceptional."

As a result, Aurora says, "Mary and I have both gone through several cycles of not caring any longer." She recalls sitting at a bar with other experienced advocates for women in FOSS, and "of the six people sitting at the table, only one of us was not burned out. She is now burned out."

However, Gardiner and Aurora hope to avoid burnout because of the way that The Ada Initiative is being organized and planned. "Just being able to make some sort of positive difference and being able to work actively and intensively" may make a difference," Gardiner says.

Moreover, Aurora observes that, in previous activist efforts, "generally there's been one person who has done the bulk of the going to conferences, being the public face, and being the person who gets the death threats which inevitably happen. Kathy Sierra is just one of the high profile examples of that.[Sierra is a programming instructor and game developer who cancelled her appearance at a tech conference due to threatening blog posts and death threats.] One of the things we're doing is having a minimum of two people for the Ada Initiative, so it's depersonalized. People are hopefully going to be more likely to attack The Ada Initiative than a person.


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Tags: open source, Linux, programmers, developers, FOSS


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