Once again on RMS and sexism

Guys and girls, stop picking on non-technical aspects of RMS‘s recent speech, pretty please. We’re the ones who fight for freedom every day. Let’s try to give people the freedom of speech even if we think they are wrong.

I do agree that RMS is not the voice of us all. In fact during recent years I’ve found myself in disagreement with his statements just as often as I appreciated the rest of his talks. I also don’t see Mono as a threat to any of us (and especially not us here in Europe).

Now to the sexism. While RMS is certainly not the most polite person on Earth, girls and ladies among the crowd should be perfectly capable of complaining themselves if they see fit. You know what is sexist? Treating all the women among us as a weaker sex. As another species. Now that’s sexism. It sure makes one feel special. But special as in that cute retarded kid next door everyone says hi to.

We’re software engineers, artists and writers, not wrestlers. Girls do know how to use words and if you want them to feel at home, let them protect that home.

And for $deity‘s sake, RMS is not an effing pope. You can just e-mail him directly with your complaints, you don’t have to start a public campaign against him. If all fails you can just not invite him next year or something.

Peace 🙂

Update: Oh, Christian is right too.

34 thoughts on “Once again on RMS and sexism”

  1. You seem to be confusing “freedom of speech” with “freedom from criticism”. If someone makes a statement in public, it is not abridging their freedom of speech to criticize them in public.

    Whether public criticism is actually helpful is a separate issue. Sometimes private criticism, like you suggest, may work better; in this particular case, though, we have evidence that that doesn’t work. http://opensourcetogo.blogspot.com/2009/07/emailing-richard-stallman.html In this case public criticism is being used not to communicate to Dr Stallman himself, but to communicate to others that he does not speak for us.

  2. I’m not against criticism, I just say it’s funny how more men than women feel obligated to oppose RMS.

    Imagine being a Martian philosopher and having an argument with an Earth philosopher when all of a sudden a squad of Earth marines breaches the door and proceeds to seize the other guy, accusing him of racism. I believe there are times when it would be more beneficial to both genders if we let women voice their approval or disapproval before a platoon of noble knights comes to their rescue. Girls, you know, are not origami toys you need to keep behind glass.

  3. I agree that women are capable of standing up for themselves and do not need men to protect them.

    However, I believe that’s totally irrelevant. I felt obliged to post not to defend women but because I wanted to make it clear that I find insensitivity towards *any* group (whether they can defend themselves or not) offensive and wont tolerate it.

    Had Stallman criticized an ethnic group or race then I would have also stood up. It’s not about needing to defend anyone- it’s about sending a clear message that we wont ignore something that offended other people simply because it doesn’t relate to us. Sensitivity, not protection, is the key word.

  4. Your argument seems to be that if someone behaves in a racist manner towards asians, I don’t get to object to it because I’m white european. Choosing to stand up for someone else doesn’t mean that I think those people are unable to stand up for themselves.

  5. I just believe being overly protective towards one groups is hurting both us and the group in question. Be it females, redheads or gay people. It would look much better if we stood up to support a girl who actually complained about the speech instead of rushing to the front row and making noise. So far I haven’t seen a lady post that she was upset by the speech but have already seen several males do the very same thing.

  6. Actually, I was offended by the St. IGNUcius routine from a religious perspective but specifically chose *not* to write about that. I know that most of the community differs with my own religious views and I didn’t feel comfortable “whining” that I felt Stallman’s keynote religiously offensive. Instead, I chose to address a different issue which is actually *less* relevant to my own personal life.

    Besides, if you read the comments on David’s original post then you’ll notice that a number of women actually thanked him for bringing up the issue. It’s also worth keeping in mind that there aren’t that many women on Planet GNOME anyway who could have blogged about it.

  7. Natan:

    I do get your point, my reply was addressed at Matthew’s comment above.


    I am sure both of us wish the community well so there is no point in fighting over it. I still believe encouraging offended women to first voice their concerns and then showing our support will serve us better than shielding them from all kinds of possible offense.

  8. It’s not about shielding them from all kinds of possible offence. It’s about removing offensive behaviour from the community. *I’m* offended by sexism even if I’m not the target, in much the same way that I’m offended by racism despite being privileged enough not to be a common target of it.

  9. While RMS is certainly not most polite person on Earth, girls and ladies among the crowd should be perfectly capable of complaining themselves if they see fit.

    Yeah! And all those folks who joined the Civil Rights movements in the ’60s who didn’t happen to be African-American were wrong to do so. After all, the African-Americans should be perfectly capable of complaining themselves if they see fit.


  10. You know what? This is the first sane blog post I’ve seen on the whole affair.

    What a bunch of whiners. Some guy said something you don’t agree with – TIME FOR A MULTI-DAY SHAME CAMPAIGN!

    What is this, high school? PGO has been useless for days now. I thought this kind of juvenile posturing was reserved for Myspace and the like.

  11. Lefty:

    There’s a difference between these two scenarios. What you describe in your comment seems to be:

    Girl: I am offended!
    Guy: I support you!

    While what you did seems closer to:

    Guy: You should feel offended! He said mean things! Hey you guys let’s tell him to stop!
    Girl: WTF?


  12. Except that the most positive comment I heard from a woman at GCDS regarding it (and I think I spoke to most of them who were there) was that it made her “uncomfortable”. It went downhill from there. None of them thought it was funny or cute or anything of the sort. People were offended, lot of them, and not just women, as Matthew and others have pointed out.

    Some of the best programmers I ever hired or worked with at Apple were women. Why do we want to make them feel unwelcome.

    (For that matter, if someone were to give a presentation at Apple and tried to pull a joke like that, they’d be hauled off stage and ejected forcibly onto the sidewalk. If they happened to be an employee, they’d get a pink slip and a severance check as well. For all its closed nature, Apple does some things very right.)

    Look at the comments on my blog entry: it’s not too surprising people were hesitant to speak up given the level of abuse. Since it mostly comes from the Nameless Horde, I don’t take it too seriously, but I can see that a lot of folks would find the prospect daunting.

    People can be hesitant to speak up: it makes them a target. That doesn’t absolve others who see a wrong from pointing it out. If no one says anything, nothing will ever improve, will it?

    Are you happy that FLOSS is essentially a “boys’ club”? I’m not.

  13. So far I haven’t seen a lady post that she was upset by the speech but have already seen several males do the very same thing.

    Then you’ve completely ignored the comments in my blog posting. There are plenty there.

  14. Patryk, it’s both amusing and disappointing to see how well Mackenzie Morgan predicted what you were going to say here: “And that’s why one of the first things you’ll see in a comment or hear is that the male feminist needs to stop treating women like delicate flowers who can’t defend themselves.” http://ubuntulinuxtipstricks.blogspot.com/2009/07/male-feminists.html

    For what it’s worth, RMS has previously described in detail his non-sexist views, http://www.entretodas.net/2007/08/09/interview-with-richard-stallman-women-free-software/ so I’m prepared to take him at his word that he was just poking fun at the Virgin Mary rather than at women in general. But nobody got the joke, his GCDS talk was rather tactless in general, and he seems oblivious to the sexist interpretation.

  15. Lefty:

    Keep in mind I was not on GCDS and all the press regarding RMS I get is from the web. Of course there are ladies who felt offended and I do sympathize but pointing me to your comments kind of proves that they only felt it was important to share their opinion once they saw your post.

    I am certainly not an RMS fan but I also feel we are civilized enough not to club him to death and then throw him into a spiked pit over his offensive sense of humor.

    Also: I believe we are standing on the same barricade just differ in the opinion when to start throwing stones.

  16. …kind of proves that they only felt it was important to share their opinion once they saw your post…

    Another way of saying this is that they felt empowered to share their opinions when they read my post.

    Ever hear the one that starts, “When they came for the Jews, I said nothing, because I wasn’t a Jew” and ends “When they came for me, there was no one left to say anything”…?

  17. Lefty:

    Keep in mind no one is coming for nobody, we are talking about a stupid RMS joke that is at least as old as my first FLOSS contributions. It’s not really worth mentioning on PGO and certainly not in these numbers.


    I believe encouraging women to react is better than men overreacting. And I do see recent FLOSS news as men overreacting. Women and men alike should feel we stand as one community and will support each other. But what I think is more important is that every minority (and each of us is part of some minority) should feel it’s a good thing to stand up and demand respect even if an overly protective majority is not around.

  18. Keep in mind no one is coming for nobody…

    It’s about speaking up when you see something wrong, even when you’re not the one who’s immediately and directly affected, Patryk.

  19. I just say it’s funny how more men than women feel obligated to oppose RMS.

    Do you imagine that might have something to do with that 50-to-1 ratio I keep mentioning…?

  20. Lefty:

    It’s not about the ratio. If I said something stupid about Martians I’d expect at least one Martian to complain. I have not seen any reports of any ladies raising that point in public during the whole GCDS.

    I hope you understand that counting comments under your recent post is irrelevant. If you are unsure why, try imagining yourself talking to your friends while one of them is recording. Then she plays back a small, ripped out of context part in the local radio/TV news. Sure there will be people who follow with complaints. But it’s not because they were waiting for the first person to complain, it’s because – had the story not made into local news – they wouldn’t care at all.

    Now, as Natan confirmed, what RMS actually said should be more offensive to religious people than women yet I don’t see nearly as much commotion about that. I don’t want to be rude but there’s probably as many strong believers among us as there are females. Are girls just more attractive than people with beliefs?

    And seriously, people, do you think forcing RMS to hide in his basement will attract more females? I know he’s probably not #1 when it comes to looks but come on ;). I’m sure the average Jane in the street faces more sexism during the first week of software engineering (“OMG, she has tits and a GIT account!!!11!eleven”) than RMS could come up with even if he was the only one to speak during the whole GCDS.

  21. The proportion of women at GCDS was somewhere in the region of 10% at most. I’ve seen 5 or so complaints from people who were at the conference. Would you actually have expected anything different, especially given the hostility that most of the complaints seem to have incited?

  22. It’s not about the ratio.

    The ratio is a symptom of an issue, Patryk, isn’t that clear?

    This is free and open source development. Shouldn’t people, in general, feel free to participate? Shouldn’t we be open .to anyone who wants to participate?

    As things stand now, and as the numerous comments attest–and, I’m afraid, your own comments have to be included here–there are a lot of guys who are quite happy, for an entirely predictable list of reasons, to be as closed to the participation of women in our community as George Wallace was to allowing black children to participate in the same classrooms as white children back in the 60s.

    And seriously, people, do you think forcing RMS to hide in his basement will attract more females?

    No, but such behavior–especially when it’s part of a keynote speech–emboldens folks (like you, sorry) to think it’s just fine to think of women as technological “virgins” who need “us guys” to “relieve” them of that virginity. Do you not see any problems at all with that sort of imagery…? Me, I see all sorts of wrong in there.

    I’m sure the average Jane in the street faces more sexism during the first week of software engineering (”OMG, she has tits and a GIT account!!!11!eleven”) than RMS could come up with even if he was the only one to speak during the whole GCDS.

    But it’s tolerance of the kind of talk that Stallman spouts that creates precisely that sort of environment. If it’s tolerated on a stage at GCDS (or at GoGaRuCo, or elsewhere), why shouldn’t guys think it’s just fine in the office and elsewhere?

    “Well, she didn’t complain about it.” “Women really don’t know anything about technology.” “You’re being too sensitive.” “You don’t have a sense of humor.” “Oh, it must be that time of the month.”

    Patryk, if you don’t see that the one behavior supports and fosters the others, I’m afraid you’re not thinking things through.

  23. Lefty:

    I don’t see it as a symptom. The truth is back in the days there were far more guys interested in IT than girls. Over the years the trends are changing and you see more and more women choosing software engineering. I don’t think it’s sexism that stops them. In fact I hope that given some more time and space, ladies will be represented equally across all FLOSS universe. See what happened to soccer leagues and other sports traditionally seen as “male”.

    Please don’t try to turn me into an opportunist. Nowhere did I claim that I support what RMS said. What I said is issues like this one should be handled either in private correspondence when asking him to apologize or through the GCDS board if private email fails. Turning into a public hate list does not help at all.

    I’ve talked to several women before posting my note so putting me in the same line with Stallman does not do justice. Most of them were mildly annoyed over what he said, none of them disagreed what I’ve posted above while about half of them raised the exact same issue about some men needing to show off with their over-protectiveness so they can feel useful. This control group includes my wonderful girlfriend.

    And again, I am not supporting bad behavior, I am opposing turning this kind of issues into public stoning. We are not cavemen and while I do not believe such a level of protection is healthy, it would be ten times better if you posted this to one of the GNOME mailing lists instead, perhaps at least adding the offender as CC.

  24. “Turning into a public hate list does not help at all.”

    I haven’t seen hate. I’ve seen criticism and suggestions that the community should distance itself from people who exhibit this behaviour. I think making that stand makes the community more welcoming to a larger number of people.

  25. patrys:
    Back in *what* days? In the 40s, 100% of programmers were women. In the 60s, 40% of programmers were women[1]. Note that at that time just under 40% of the workforce was female, so women had a disproportionately high presence. Then, in the 1980s, there was a mass exodus. The women all left to go do something else. So does “back in the day” refer to the 90s, after all the women got sick of the work conditions and left?


  26. Mackenzie:

    I see your feminist point of view and I respect it although I’m not sure how women born in ’70s and ’80s could be come bored with software engineering during the ’90s when they were 20 at most.

    See the comment above, I’ve talked to 9 of my female friends and they did agree with what I’ve written above. While I am male and I guess I’ll never really know I assume females are not like Borg and they don’t have a combined mind so there’s not one official point of view, right? 😉

  27. Not another one !

    What *is* it with people who claim that giving a *critique* of someones statement is somehow the same as abridging their freedom of speech ?

    There’s no correlation between these two whatsoever. Indeed, uttering critiques is an example of a way of using freedom of speech.

    If I say that you just wrote something stupid (you did!) — then that doesn’t in any way restrict your freedom of speech.

    You’re free to say what you want (within certain limits) — but you do not have any right, nor any reasonable expectation, to be able to say what you want and NOT be critiqued for it.

    There exists no “freedom from critique”, and indeed, the only way we could make that, would be to severly limit freedom of speech. (critique is speech to, you know)


  28. Er… in the 80s, the women who were there left, and…well I guess they scared the ones in school out of the field with their horror stories. The Bubble in the 90s saw a slight rise in female enrollment, but it promptly went right back down. Since the 80s, women just tend not to bother with even getting the schooling to be software engineers, let alone going into the workplace and putting up with that crap for 45 years.

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