Women in Computing/Linux

Hanna Wallach wrote recently about the article HOWTO encourage women in Linux. I had read that article some years back, maybe in 2002 when it was first written, but it is interesting to re-visit it. It is a good read, and a thought-provoking piece even if you disagree.

I find myself mostly agreeing. There are some truly appaling examples of sexism there, such as a conference inviting someone to speak on a “wives of hackers” panel instead of give a more technical talk that she was qualified for.

I also wonder how much has changed in the 2-3 years since the document was written. For instance, the “Computing perceived as non-social” section. I know this was the case not long ago, but is it still? With the proliferation of IM software, it seems that it is sometimes becoming the trendy social activity.

In general Linux or Debian lists, there are still people that act disrespectful towards women, just as there are in society at large. I have noticed that when this happens, the other people on the list — especially the men — are far more likely to take action today than they would have been a few years ago. Personally, sexism in either direction offends my sense of treating each human being as a person, and feel it reflects poorly on Debian/Linux/whatever context it’s in. I wonder if women feel that it’s getting better too, or am I just not reading the right lists? (Yes, there have been ugly incidents in Debian, but my point is that the instigators of these incidents were roundly criticized. Granted, this is not where things should be, but it’s an improvement.)

I would like to suggest expanding this howto to be “HOWTO encourage *people* in Linux”. A number of things mentioned there would apply equally well to most men.

I was particularly amused the authors thought that these tips applied specifically to women:

* The article complained about LUGs that have pizza all the time, or meet at 10PM in a warehouse downtown. I’d prefer fruit to pizza too, and would probably avoid the slimy warehouse at 10PM.

* “Try to schedule your meetings at family and school friendly times” — men can have families and kids, too, and we seem to be seeing more of that in the Linux community of late (though they are probably still a minority). Perhaps we also need to explore why there are so few older people in the community and why there are so few “family” types here. CS has been around longer than many people think and there are incredibly talented people in the (very broad) 50-80 range.

2 thoughts on “Women in Computing/Linux

  1. I have always advocated that Linux should be sold more like the appliance that it really is. Now men love appliances and so do women. We can all practically not imagine a world without one.

    Once more women acknowlede and accept how easy it is to have that server running linux plugged in beside the normal PC there will be no turning back. I mean it’s started already. What woman wouldn’t want the ability to publish and host her own web pages, especially when it is as fun as Drupal makes it.

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