Mark Shuttleworth's Community Has No Women
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.
Here is the infamous "explaining to girls" comment:
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.
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 --