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Re: Just a single Question for the Candidates

On Wed, Mar 03, 2004 at 01:12:11AM +0100, Amaya wrote:
> As a female hacker/geek/DD I find myself more and more concerned about
> the gender ratio in the Debian Developer/User comunity. How can we say
> make a "Universal" OS when it's do scarcely related to half the
> population of the world... I think we all agree we want to see more
> women involved in or using Debian. 

(Since you and I have had a little bit of personal conversation about
this subject before, I hope you'll forgive me if I draw on it a little.)

I do agree, but I hope you're not saying that there are particularly
female needs that aren't being satisfied by the Debian OS.

If there are, and we're not meeting them, then there's no reason to keep
software of particular interest to females out of the distribution.  I
think this issue was pretty definitively decided a few years ago, a
discussion to which I'm proud to have contributed[1].

At any rate, I think whether Debian is *useful* to women is orthogonal
to the question of the sex ratio of Debian's developers.

I would agree with the statement that we should serve woman as we should
serve any other audience.

> I would be very interested in knowing what's is each candidate's plan or
> ideas on this subject, how to get more women involved, and what (in
> their opinion) would be the benefits.

I'm not sure what to do about the strikingly low proportion of women who
become developers.  I'm afraid I don't have answers.  Is Debian a
hostile place for women?  I sure hope not, though I recall a certain
presentation at DebConf 3 last year that could conceivably have been
thought of as a little exploitative (I'm not making this up, this
opinion was shared with me by another person) -- or at least as
reinforcing certain irrational notions about what women should look like.

But on balance I think even that was pretty mild.  I very seldom see
overt hostility towards women in Debian.  I think I have seen more
towards gays, and we appear to have more gay and bi male developers than
women of any orientation.

So, I find myself wondering, if there's a hostile environment, why
aren't more gay men dissuaded from joining our ranks?  It don't buy any
crap about women being the "weaker sex", so that's no explanation.  Is
it that we have subcultures within Debian, and the gay/bi male one has
reached a critical mass that enables new ones to be assimilated into our
group more easily?  Is it simply that the female subculture has not
reached critical mass?

I find speculations grounded on a hostile environment difficult to
sustain, however.  I think I've spent more words taking shots at members
of the U.S. Republican Party on our lists than I've ever seen directed
against women, gays, or even the French[2].

Maybe the problem is that we have so many young, straight, lonely, and
socially awkward male developers that potential women developers are,
well, flirted to death?  Maybe we just don't give our geek females time
to remember that (or act as if) they're geeks first and women second.
Maybe they really do end up feeling objectified -- even if they aren't
treated as potential objects of sexual conquest, they simply tire of
being sniffed out as potential romantic partners.  In fact, if the
latter is the case, that may have more explanatory value.  After all, I
can imagine a lot of women who'd bristle with resentment at being
treated as a mere sex object, and would probably flame the guys away,
set their jaws in determination, and even more firmly establish their
geek credentials in defiance.  But what is a person to do if all the
attention they're getting seems well-meaning, sincere, and not
objectionable on a case-by-case basis, but is simply too much to cope
with in the aggregate?

If that theory is correct, then I suspect the phenomenon has more to do
with why celebrities keep their distance from their fans ([5] >;-) ),
than with any sort of prejudice against women in the Debian Project, or
cultural sex roles that discourage women from becoming computer

I'm sorry, Amaya; I have more questions than answers to offer you.
Maybe Biella Coleman, who has both experience and training directly
relevant to this sort of issue, could offer better insights.

Finally, I'll note that I don't think there's very much of
Branden-the-DPL-candidate in this reply.  It's pretty much just Branden
cogitating (probably to no productive end, as usual :) ).

> I hope I am not firing a big flame war here. This is not what I intend.
> I just want to hear (read) what kind of tama Gergely Nagy has in mind :-)
> Thanks for the input.

[1] http://lists.debian.org/debian-devel/2002/debian-devel-200203/msg01667.html
[2] Oh, man, I'm gonna pay for that one, aren't I?  It's just a joke[3].  :)
[3] By the way, have you seen this[4]?  I could use some help finishing it!
[4] http://people.debian.org/~branden/dpl/campaign/2004/platform.xhtml.fr
[5] http://www.amayita.com/index.php?section=branden

G. Branden Robinson                |    No executive devotes much effort to
Debian GNU/Linux                   |    proving himself wrong.
branden@debian.org                 |    -- Laurence J. Peter
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |

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