Russell Coker (pictured), a Debian developer and Linux consultant, told iTWire that some recent material he had noticed online indicated that when women spoke out about issues of discrimination, they tended to be attacked more than men who made similar statements.
The abysmally low numbers of women in the FOSS community have been a matter of concern for some time now, with a number of sexist incidents at various conferences over the last two years adding to the focus on the issue.
What focused Russell's attention on the issue recently were an article on the website of the Melbourne newspaper, The Age, about the abusive misogyny of anonymous posters online, and a blog post at the GeekFeminism wiki which detailed the writer's treatment because she spoke out about discrimination against women.
"It seems to me that when problems are caused by men and the cost of advocating solutions to the problems is lower for men than for women, there is no possibility for decent men to stand on the sidelines," he said.
He cited the so-called Lucifer Effect, a term created by Philip Zimbardo who is known for the prison experiment he conducted that turned ordinary men into quite savage beings when they were asked to act as jailers.
"The 'Lucifer Effect' makes average people do bad things. I think that we need changes in social norms to reduce these problems," he said.
Russell said he was particularly exercised about the discrimination against women in the IT field in general and in the FOSS community in particular because, "I am not aware of any other form of discrimination which is as widespread in my community and which gets so little attention".
He said the article on the Age website had caught his attention because, "I think it's noteworthy for the mainstream media to publish an article about this topic. When The Age publishes an article it gets a lot of attention from a wide range of people. While anyone could have read websites such as GeekFeminism.org and learned about the issue in greater depth some time ago there are a lot of people who would never read such a site who read The Age".