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Mark Shuttleworth's Community Has No Women

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A few people took Mark Shuttleworth to task in their blogs for making exclusionary and sexist comments in his keynote at last week's LinuxCon. Such as Open Letter to Mark Shuttleworth, A followup on the Shuttleworth incident, and On Keynotes and Apologies

Mr. Shuttleworth has remained silent when asked for comment, saying only to watch the video and judge for ourselves. The video is now up, thanks to Linux Pro Magazine and the Linux Foundation.

I watched it. I kept score. Everyone keeps saying what a nice guy Mark is. Well, maybe so, but even nice guys have their blind spots. I don't believe that nice guys belittle and exclude women, and that is what happened in this keynote. I believe that an apology is in order, both for the unfortunate thread of exclusion and sexism that runs the entire length of the talk, and for not understanding that dumb stuff like that distracts from the talk itself. That is unfortunate, because if you take away the dumb stuff it is an important and excellent presentation.

The topics of his keynote are Cadence, Quality, Design. Mr. Shuttleworth is a real visionary who can see the big picture and the long-term view, and the rare ability to put his ideas into action, and to inspire and motivate other people. It is a wonderful presentation that everyone who wishes to devote their talents to Free software should listen to.

But it has a number of fatal flaws. Mr. Shuttleworth didn't make just a couple of careless comments; the recurring theme all through his talk was "Guys are the cool techies, girls are not." He drew a clear line between 'us' and 'them', with 'us' being men and 'them' being women. It was like being served delicious soup, beautiful savory soup with mouth-watering aroma, and just as I am about to take a bite I see a fly doing a lazy backstroke. The closer I look the more flies I see. I call over my waiter and I tell him "Hey! There are flies in my soup!" And he says "Oh, don't worry about those, just eat around them."

These are all quotes of Mr. Shuttleworth's words, as exact as I could make them. He starts off with an attractive and ambitious vision, and then right away makes a dumb pun about ejaculation. Thanks a lot, what a way to set the tone at a technical presentation. No, talking about female orgasm would not make me happy. Talking about Linux and Free software would make me happy, and leave the dumb stuff at home.

""People often ask me why I'm so fascinated by Free software , and why I put so

much time, energy, and money into Ubuntu...I really believe the Free software

process is the right way to build software. Not only that,

there is the potential, if we raise our game... that we could end up

re-defining the experience that the average person has whenever they turn on

a computer."

"A release is an amazing thing. I'm not talking about the happy

ending, I'm talking about a software release, the fresh meat."

"The release is the beginning of the journey for many other parts of the

community and for our users. When you make a release it has all sorts of

other benefits...Think of all the other people in the community who want to

be helping you get your software out to the world. Documentors, translators,

artists, advocates; their job begins once you commit to making a release...

Committing to a release effectively broadens the base of the people who are

going to be participating in your project."

"...agile development guys..."

"free software leaders, guys who are really interested in the code, the guys

who started and founded the projects..."

"...gnome guys...

"...kde guys..."

"...guys who are driven primarily by software deployment, and guys who are driven

primarily by hardware issues....

...hardware guys...

...software guys...

...hardware guys...

...software guys..."

'...guys writing that code are all free software guys..."

"...when it lands in the hands of your grandma it doesn't do what you intended it

to do..."

"...opening up the doors to new developers...a lot of upstream projects take the

form of a couple of guys who know each other really well...hard to cross the

chasm... getting to the point where you're one of those guys..."

"Maybe for some people it's part of the fun, you have this cabal effect.

But it's damaging to our ability to grow projects. Only people who are

insanely persistent can cross that chasm. Whereas if you're more open to code

that's coming in from people you don't know then it's really exciting for

those guys...

"...you don't want some other guy, or girl, coming along and trampling that..." Aha! He does know the difference!-- ed.

"...you can actully create the feeling of having two guys sitting looking at some

code, three guys, four guys sitting looking at some code and working through

it....get this guy and that guy to review it..."

"...guys say "Look, I work on the kernel, I do device drivers, i don't have to worry about the user experience..."

Here is the infamous "explaining to girls" comment:

"How many of you guys know Till [Kamppeter]... making sure that your printer, your mom's printer, my grandma's printer just work out of the box...if we can do the same with sound, if we can do the same with wi-fi, we can do the same for various other amazing subsystems that are going to come into the kernel...if we approach this from the perspective of saying "How do we make this just awesome for end users" then we'll have less trouble explaining to girls what we actually do."

Thanks. Thanks a lot. If all of you men Linux devs work really really hard someday we'll have computers that even girls can understand.

"...connected in and work with those guys...."

"I hope you guys have a phenomenal collaboration summit."

In this talk the subtext is crystal clear- guys are all those awesome brilliant software developers and tech gurus, girls, moms, and grandmas are the adoring helpless end users who totally rely on the brilliant guy gurus.

Mark Shuttleworth is not the only one who does this; it permeates Linux and FOSS. But he talks the most about leadership, the future, community, and inclusion. I think that Mr. Shuttleworth owes us an apology. Not only for assuming that women are not worthy of respect, but for also assuming that all men like smutty puns and dissing women. How refreshing it would be to hear "I'm sorry, I will do better". What an example that would set, what a show of leadership, especially coming from the man who speaks so often on the importance of courtesy and respect, and reins in heated discussions with admonitions to cool off and be constructive.

Here are a few free tips for speakers and writers: Stay on topic. Save your dirty jokes and other dumb stuff for when you're partying with your friends. Women and men are adults. Girls and boys are children. What is your goal, for your audience to listen to what you're saying? Or to be distracted by dumb stuff? It seems a simple choice to me.

I still recommend that everyone watch this-- just try to eat around the flies and taste only the soup.


For those who think the opinions of a woman don't count for much on this topic, here are some perspectives from some men: Chris Ball, Matt Zimmerman, and Adam Williamson --

On keynotes and apologies

Explaining to girls

Sexism Debate

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