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Friday, 25 September 2009 06:56

Geek feminist jumps the gun on Shuttleworth speech

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Open source consultant Kirrily Robert, who runs a blog called Geek Feminism, has taken Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth to task over words he allegedly used in a talk given at a conference.

Shuttleworth was attending the LinuxCon, a conference of some 600 people, organised by the Linux Foundation in Portland, Oregon.

Robert has written an open letter to Shuttleworth, pointing out that she "heard from multiple sources about your keynote, in which you referred to our work in Linux as being 'hard to explain to girls'."

She ends her letter with, "I'd like to invite you to think about the message you’re sending to women in the Linux community, and, if you didn’t mean to convey the message that we're technical illiterates and hard to educate, consider apologising publicly."

The letter has kicked off the usual firestorm of discussion; as I pointed out some days back what is emerging, as usually happens in cases like this, is a point-scoring exercise.

Robert has not seen a video of the talk or listened to an audio but justifies her decision to send what I think is a highly patronising letter to Shuttleworth because "a number of people I trust were in the audience or watching it live (some of whom are bloggers here, or were on IRC or IM, and will probably comment), so let’s assume that their reactions are legitimate."

That's the best way to get a public figure to realise that he may have done something which was offensive - shout out loud and try to lecture him, before even examining the evidence.

Hearsay is the best way to find out about it. It would stand up in any court of justice.


I'm sure I'll be shouted down too - but it doesn't bother me one whit simply because this whole argument is never rational, it's overly emotional.

In fact, I've been dubbed anti-feminist by one of the self-appointed defenders of women's rights, computer journalist Bruce Byfield, for questioning the conclusions he reached in an article about the FSF mini-summit on women's participation in open source.

Byfield is something of a coward - he raises things like this on his private blog, even though the article which I quoted was on a public site.

My name is there on a geek feminism wiki too - because I questioned the motivation of some other self-appointed defenders of women when FSF founder Richard Stallman was accused of making sexist remarks at a summit.

So, gentle reader, remember you're reading something written by a person who's akin to Rosemary's Baby aka the spawn of Satan.

Ironically, the only mainstream tech media publication to put its feet into really dangerous waters, and highlight an alleged instance of sexism in the biggest open source project of them all, Debian, has been iTWire. Nobody else even went there.

Women offended by the remarks came out and were quoted as well. This wasn't some shadowy post in the recesses of the internet.

Byfield was silent on this issue. Lots of other people were too. It was discussed at length on the Debian mailing lists.

But I'm used to the hypocrisy which is rampant in the open source community so I should not be surprised, I guess.

Shuttleworth has many faults, I'm sure, but one has to always assume that a person is innocent until proven guilty. If someone violates that basic rule, which should extend to every human on the planet, then that person is in the wrong.

It doesn't matter what cause he or she champions.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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