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Sexism and Linux 17 December, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Debian, Linux.
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A lot of people have been kicking up a stink because of a post on a Debian developer mailing list that was designed to incite anger. In and of themselves, flames are nothing new and certainly nothing to get excited about. What is, however, is that in this instance sexist humour was used, demonstrating a  deliberate intention to insult female developers in the Debian project. According to a guide to encourage women to participate in Linux development, this is the number one thing not to allow.

Sexist jokes are the number one way to drive women out of any group…

Already two developers have considered leaving the project. Discouraging developers from open source projects is a bad idea. Clearly, this is a significant issue for project leaders to face. The questions that must be asked are why does this occur; and what can be done about it?

1. Attacking others is a result of insecurity.

Josselin Mouette, the one that wrote the offensive post, has written about it on his blog. He makes a few telling statements.

While a few developers have the chance to be paid for their job on Debian, most of us are doing it on our spare time, for fun

Debian has a long history of its releases being late. The previous release, codenamed ‘etch’ was delayed for several months. This was due to a highly controversial decision made by the Debian Project Leader (DPL) of the time who created a programme to raise funds, and then pay some people so that the etch release would be on time. This backfired, as there was an objection “that by financially supporting developers, Debian would become a two-class system”. The current DPL may be in favour of introducing a similar scheme in which some developers would be paid.

The reason Joss writes his tasteless joke is possibly out of anger at the current DPL, and possibly out of fear of his own contributions not being valued. Because of this, Joss tries to draw attention to himself, and build up his own reputation. Joss’s original post contained a link to a site that counted the number of visitors. This is purely egotistical.

2. Attacking others is the result of poor guidelines.

The DPL, when “faced with a sarcastic email sent to an announcement mailing list, immediately rushed in to send a ban request to list masters”. This is the right response, but it it only reactionary. It would be better if clear policies regarding what is allowed to be posted to mailing lists were in place.

3. Attacking others is the result of poor moderation.

As well as better guidelines, we need to use better software. One article in FSM suggests that forums are the answer, as the moderation system is better. Also, a critical element of every forum is the little bar that shows how respected someone is. That way, a noob is marked out, and it is made clear that their opinion is not that of the group.

So ban the jerks and put the fun back in for everyone. Mailing list software is lousy at moderation options, so don’t use it!

Finally, I agree with Joss on one thing:

So it seems the only thing the DPL has to do, at a time when we’d rather need people to fix RC bugs, is to protect the project from seditious members

And at a time when devs like you should be doing their jobs, they are sending sarcastic and inflammatory messages designed to provoke anger and boost their ego. Did someone drop you on your head when you were a baby?

At the moment, the major distributions are Ubuntu, Fedora and Suse. If someone asked me about Linux a few years ago, I would have recommended Debian to them. Now I’d recommend Ubuntu.

Debian has never been a user friendly distribution. It has always had an elitist ideology, discouraging beginners. Ubuntu came along and created something better. Community backed, delivering reliable releases, and targeting ordinary users on the desktop, Ubuntu has achieved what Debian never accomplished. After Ubuntu stole the spotlight from Debian, a nasty and ultimately pathetic undercurrent started to appear. This doesn’t help anyone, and it is killing off the last of the project. Debian has been marginalised by Ubuntu, and will continue its slide into irrelevance if the childish antics of its developers continue.

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