Women in Linux - Do We Need to Specify?

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This post entered the blogosphere a few days ago. Fairly run of the mill type stuff, really - listing the most prominent women actively involved in the Linux community. There's similar lists available all over the place - here, here and here just for starters - but what really made me notice this was not the article ... it was the comments. I don't think there's a reasonable, non-sexist comment in the first ten responses (with the possible exception of #2, but more on that later), and precious few in the rest of it. Does this just portray the kind of person who reads Digg, or is true of many other public places on the web? Much as I would prefer it to be the former, I actually have to believe it's the latter. Is this indicative of society as a whole - are we going down the metaphorical toilet? Or is it just that it's so much more noticeable when it's online?

Anyway, this post isn't really about that (although it's something that's recently been bugging me a lot too). The thing I wanted to discuss was in regards to the second commenter to the article above:

July 28th, 2008 11:55

The women I know in this list (only 2) have a quite negative opinion on the things linked at the end, and probably to this article. To make it short, they work on their things and don’t want to be listed as women but as someone contributing to the thing.

I think that the listed projects are often made by women who don’t feel part of the communities, while most of the ones on this list are well integrated.

I think it would be interesting to ask them all about this kind of projects.

While it's a bit hard to work out exactly what the mysterious "Me" means by this comment, I interpreted it as being a criticism of the organisations listed at the bottom of the post (namely Debian Women, Fedora Women, Gnome Women, KDE Women, Ubuntu Women and LinuxChix). It seems as though "Me" is stating that women who are "well integrated" into the engineering and IT communities neither wish to be recognised as females in their industries, nor affiliated with the groups listed. This may be true enough, and - at least to an extent - I can understand why it may be so. Presumably women who are "well integrated" have been in the industry for some time, and it may well be that they way they have survived and (presumably) prospered was to make like one of the boys. That's fair enough, and good on them - if it worked for them, then they're on to a winner. But it won't work for everyone. "Me" implies by their comment that lists of women in Linux, and the groups that aim to support women in Linux, are - by extrapolation - useless or, worse, counter-productive. I find this attitude strange. If you're a woman working in a male-dominated field (not just Linux, and not just IT - let's encompass science, mathematics and engineering while we're at it), you may feel comfortable as "one of the boys" - many women do, and in my opinion there's nothing wrong with that. But many women out there are working with their heads against that glass ceiling - not able to muster up the courage or charisma or whatever it is they need to bust on through like those before them. For these women, if they don't find the energy and impetus to continue their struggle, they will simply drop out of the race, move on to other things, and the industry has lost yet another willing, smart, able and intelligent (oh yes, and female) participant. Organisations such as LinuxChix and the like may not be right for everyone, but if they can provide the support and strength to help just one woman through that glass ceiling, then it was all worth it.

Yours truly is a proud member of LinuxChix.

6 Aug UPDATE: Spotted this response to the article (or more specifically, the commenters).


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