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RMS's GCDS talk - or - You're Not Helping

I got to the Gran Canaria Desktop Summit Saturday night, so I didn't see Richard Stallman's talk. From what I heard, the Free Software portion was fairly good, but I heard several people recall his Saint Ignucius segment about how some women in the audience were "EMACS virgins" and should be introduced to it, etc. Lefty described it well in his own post, so I won't go into that detail.

Of course, Stallman's satire immediately reminded me of the FLOSSPOLS reports, which reference an earlier study showing that women were only 1.8% of participants in open source in 2005. I think things have improved slightly since then, but not nearly as much as I would have hoped.

While what he said didn't seem to be overtly sexist, it certainly creates a more hostile and uninviting environment for women in our projects. As the FLOSSPOLS reports suggest, it's important that we (Gnome, KDE, Free Software in general) make a point to emphasize that we do not support hostility against our community members. This is the reason why, for instance, Gnome and Debian have adopted Codes of Conduct.

Richard is of course welcome to think and say whatever he wants, but if he's going to claim some position of leadership, I don't want him lumping together unrelated and offensive material with his advocacy of Free Software. If he insists to continue, I'd like him to openly acknowledge that he doesn't represent many or most of us in the Free Software community that he claims to.

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With great power comes great responsibility, and all RMS' irresponsibility is doing is reducing his power. His writings and his software were inspiring to me 15 years ago when I got started in this whole free software thing, but he's become increasingly irrelevant. After this I really don't think I'll have much interest in anything he says.

"Don't tell sexist jokes. Sexist jokes are the number one way to drive women out of any group" - From "HOWTO encourage women in open source"

Well said

It's just lame to pull that kind of joke. Just bad male-chauvinist geek humor. He can claim all he wants that the joke has a point. I don't care, it's just untactful.


I've been involved in open source for over 5 years, and I'm not one to usually get offended by sexist humor, but RMS's comment still made me twitch. Seriously, did they have to be *female* virgins? The joke would have been fine if it was gender neutral, but apparently he doesn't know any better.

He wasn't trying to do harm

Well, I guess you guys didn't get the joke. It was a joke! taking jokes seriously is like making a turmoil in a glass of water. His joke wasn't meant to be taken seriously.

You said that only 18% of women participate in OO. So, it might be true that most of women are Emacs' virgins. One thing you have to give to him, he wasn't lying and he wasn't ill intentioned either. There is a difference between saying "Women should leave computers to us and GTFO to the kitchen a make us some sandwich" and saying that women are Emacs virgin and his holy duty is to change that (or whatever I didn't heard his speech).

The way I see it, you guys do more damage to women thinking that they are so sensible.

Re: He wasn't trying to do harm

> You said that only 18% of women participate in OO.

Important note here - it wasn't 18% -- it was 1.8% (one point eight). The fact that it's so low means that we're obviously doing something wrong. If it means losing some unfunny jokes, that seems like a fair compromise.

(And by "unfunny", I don't even mean "offensive" here; some of my favorite humor is fairly offensive, but it's in the context of a comedy club or amongst close friends, etc., where it isn't going to alienate people)

> The way I see it, you guys do more damage to women thinking that they are so sensible.

Please read the FLOSSPOLS report. Apparently similar behavior has turned a lot of women away from FOSS, so it actually does matter. And I wouldn't describe it as "being sensitive" as much as "not wanting to be treated like an outsider" and "being creeped out by unsolicited, inappropriate sexual commentary from clueless geeks".

"I didn't see Richard Stallman's talk.... Lefty described it well in his own post, so I won't go into that detail."

You don't see it's funny, do you?

Because I didn't see it first-hand? I thought about that before writing it, but we tend to take news reports even though they're second-hand.

I know there's a difference between a journalist and a conference attendee, but I have no reason to doubt the people I talked to.

Thanks for posting this, Travis. Given the situation--under 2% of the contributors to FLOSS being women, and the situation being aggravated by folks like RMS, as well as the folks who are going, "It's just a joke, don't you get it?"--it's clear that things have gotten to the point where a stand needs to be taken.

Luis Villa put it really well in his posting at http://tieguy.org/blog/2009/04/30/thoughtlessness-in-open-source/:

"I want the [...] open source [...] communities [I participate in] to be a dignified, respectful, inclusive, and welcoming place. … We’ve all been witnesses to off-color jokes, misogynistic back channel chatter, questionable imagery and unnecessary, trolling comments. I pledge to do better to stand up and call this behavior out when I see it in conferences, online and other public settings. I don’t expect it to go away but I’m not going to tacitly condone it any longer."

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