more adventures in sexism
I’ve just read the complete HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux and I hope it doesn’t sound strage for me to say it, but I am deeply moved.
I want to share a story. In 2000, when I first moved to Edmonton, I worked for SunSITE Alberta as a systems administrator. One of the servers we maintained hosted openbsd.org, and I used openbsd a lot, even though we were ostensibly a Sun shop. I got to know some of the developers, I read the mailing list and the website, and at one point I decided to buy an openbsd t-shirt. As I placed my order on the website, I put a comment in the comment box, which then without my knowledge or consent got posted to the openbsd mailing list. You can still read it in the archives:
Hi! I’m a big fan of BSD and I love the fact that you’ve started selling
t-shirts especially for women. However, I was a little distressed when
I read the caption for it: “specifically for the girlfriends (and
potential girlfriends) of OpenBSD users and developers!”
A woman doesn’t have to be someone’s girlfriend to be part of the BSD
community. Women use BSD, too. I’m one of them. I think I’ll order a
t-shirt, but it’s for me, not my girlfriend.
I hope you’ll think about changing the language on your website. You’ll
probably sell more t-shirts to geek-girls (who must be your real target
University of Alberta
In the archives that are still online, the only reply to my message is this:
We’re trying to be funny.
Sure. I’ll change it soon. We’ll head right towards the bland,
boring, universe of text that you so eagerly wish for.
This was by far the nicest and least threatening of the responses I received. I don’t remember now which messages went to the mailing list and which came directly to my mailbox. Most were pornographic, or threatening, or both. I was accused of being a castrating bitch, and I was propositioned lewdly. It terrified me. I never went to another UG meeting, I never installed openbsd again, and I was never again comfortable around any of the bsd developers I knew, even though they had not been part of the incident, and may not even have known about it. When my t-shirt came, I gave it away.
I got over it of course, and I haven’t thought about that incident in years now, until this current discussion reminded me. But yeah, when people ask why there aren’t more women doing open source development, it does rankle a bit.
UPDATE: I’ve been getting quite a few people linking to this post, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to add one more detail. There was one guy on the OpenBSD list who was really great. He thought I had a good point, and he immediately changed the language on the website that I was originally complaining about. That doesn’t change everything else that happened, but I wanted to give him credit, even if I can’t remember his name at this point. Thank you, guy who did the right thing!