Copyright © 2000-2002 by Jennifer Vesperman and Mary Gardiner
|Revision 0.1||Apr 2000|
|Roughed out question set, early answers|
|Revision 0.2||Jun 2000|
|Roughed out answers|
|Revision 0.2.1||20 Jun 2000|
|Added answers from Sheryl Coe|
|Revision 1.0||12 November 2000|
|Revision 1.1||27th January 2002|
|Added list policies|
|Revision 1.2||25th April 2002|
|Added a long question about women in technology|
- 1. List stuff
- 1.1. Are there any rules for posting to the list?
- 1.2. How do I unsubscribe?
- 2. Women's Studies 101 (or: What's all the fuss about?)
- 2.1. What is feminism - really?
- 2.2. Isn't the world fair now?
- 2.3. What are some concrete things I can do to help
women who want to be involved in Linux, or women who want to be
involved in computing?
- 2.4. Why 'Political Correctness' stinks
- 2.5. 'Just live with it'
- 2.6. 'Gender politics scares me.'
- 2.7. 'I never intend to upset anyone, so it's not my problem'
- 2.8. '... but names will never hurt me'
- 3. Women and Linux
- 3.1. Women in Open Source
- 3.2. Women In Open Source!
- 3.3. I saw this on slashdot....
- 4. Managing Geek Life
- 4.1. The Two-Hacker Household
- 4.2. Geek Isolation
- 4.3. Families
- 4.4. Housework & Clothing
- 4.5. Larval Phases
- 4.6. Strange things non-geeks say
- 5. Meta-Stuff
- 5.1. Who contributed to this FAQ?
The latest version of this FAQ can be found at http://www.linuxchix.org/content/docs/faqs/issues.html
Discussion of this FAQ is welcome on the
<email@example.com> or <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This FAQ is posted once every second month to the
<email@example.com> mailing lists.
This and other technical questions are answered at:
in the technical FAQ.
Feminism - sometimes called equalism - is an attempt to make the world as fair as possible. Women should be able to do any job they are physically capable of and qualified for - so should men. So should the disabled. So should elderly people, young people, those of any race and those in any location.
Well, that's the ideal. It is unlikely that someone will be able to manage a Kenya game park from New York City. Ever. But within reasonable, realistic limits, feminists want male kindergarten teachers, female CEOs of major companies, wheelchair-bound presidents, and poor third-world villages with clean water and schools.
Many of the Linuxchix over about thirty report personal experiences of discrimination. Many of the Linuxchix under about thirty report that they haven't seen any. This is a very, very hopeful sign.
On the other hand, look around you. Look for local politicians of whatever races are minorities in your country. Look at the gender balance. Look at anyone in power in your local country, your local city - whether that power is monetary, political, legal or military. See for yourself whether the spread of power is even over race, gender, and (within reasonable limits) physical ability.
Consider how your local community and legal system would treat your younger sister if she was attacked, perhaps raped. How about your younger brother. How about if you (and they) were of another race? How about if they were disabled?
Would a male be welcome as a kindergarten teacher? A female? How about head of a major newspaper? A bank? The military?
If they would be welcome, how would they behave and dress? Could you imagine your female newspaper head pregnant? The male kindergarten teacher as a body-builder in his spare time? Now think again about race. Now about disability. Now mentally locate these people in a third world country. Now in New York City (or if you are in NYC, try London.)
Once you've thought about all that, answer this question yourself.
Participate in LinuxChix. Respect its goals.
Encourage women who are smarter than they think they are.
Applaud women who know exactly how smart they are and are
proud of it. If you're male, let women speak for themselves,
don't 'help' them, work with them. They might not need your
help, after all.
Tell women interested in Linux (or UNIX)
If you are in a hiring role, actively try to
place job advertisements in places where they will reach
interested women, for example firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are involved in a Free Software
project, attempt to find some women interested in
participating in the project and offer to mentor them
(depending on their interests, introduce them to the mailing
lists, offer to help them understand the dirty bits of your
project's code, teach them how to make use of your projects
bug reporting system, or ask them to document some part of the
project). You can do this if you are not yourself the author
or a developer - if you are part of the project's community
then you can help others join. Post an offer to LinuxChix
every now and then - "I'm involved in X project -
If you're involved in other computing or
software groups, think about how woman-friendly they are. Do
you have a culture of needing to prove your technical prowess
before you earn 'respect'? Do you have a culture of insulting
newbies or outsiders? Do you have elements of actively
unfriendly attitudes to women - for example, your
documentation refers to the user and "his girlfriend" or your
IRC channel spends a lot of time talking about how they hate
women? Do women who join mysteriously vanish in a short period
You may not be able to actively challenge your group
if this is the case. If you command considerable respect in
the group you might be able to influence others by your own
behaviour. Be polite to women who join. Re-write the
documentation so that it is gender neutral. Tell the
overly-amorous young geeks to get a hold of their hormones
already. If you are discussing a woman who is part of your
group, or having a discussion with her, stop the unecessary
references to her gender, appearance, relationships, sexuality
or other utterly non-technical things.
Remember that often overt sexism is a group behaviour,
used as a bonding activity. It will often be led and
controlled by one or two ringleaders. You might be successful
if you attempt to speak privately to some of the participants
who are not the ringleaders. There are two advantages to this
- you are taking them away from the group which validates
their behaviour, and you are personally calling them to task
for their behaviour and not letting them hide in the
If not, you might, if possible, want to consider
starting a new group that isn't so hostile, or consider what
you are doing there in the first place. One of the easiest
ways to make sure a new group is women-friendly is to have
women there. Lots of us, preferrably, and at all levels, from
administration down to occasional user or
If you are in a group that is friendly to
women, but low in numbers, try to get more women to join. Lots
of us are looking for more places where we can be both geeky
and safe. If nothing else, tell LinuxChix about
Most of the Linuxchix who have spoken about it (at the time this is written), felt 'political correctness' worked against what we're after.
What we (most of us who have spoken about it) want is to be judged fairly, on our skills and abilities. We do not want to be the token female, to be hired to fill quotas, or to be the cause of discrimination against a better-qualified person who happens to be male.
This seems to surprise a lot of people. At least, one of the common things new males who join the lists do is ask us why we 'want' tokenism and quotas. And it seems to be extremely difficult to get them to believe that we don't. Sigh.
This ('just live with it') is a common response to complaints about teasing, seduction attempts and other such crud in the workplace.
Now, I (Jenn) happen to work in a great place. It's a small company, close-knit, where we all make a point of getting to know each other and how we feel about things. In this environment, I'm perfectly happy to tease my workmates and be teased by them. I know what they do and don't mean, and I'm comfortable with asking for clarification when I don't. I also have the skills to leave if I want to.
When I was seventeen, at university, we had a lecturer who had a habit of discussing female students in the lecture room. He discussed clothing, implied prostitution, and in at least one tutorial, asked female students if they were available on the weekend. The women (myself included) were, young and unsure of themselves, and (fresh from high school) perceived him as an authority figure. Most had little or no chance to leave if they wanted a degree - even transferring to a different university would have to wait till the end of the academic year.
In my current workplace, 'hazing', teasing and sexual innuendo have little effect on my ability to work. I know that I am not being belittled in front of others. I know that I'm not really being asked out - or that if I am, it's purely social and will have no effect on my pay or position.
At uni, I was being belittled in front of my peers, and there was a subject where my marks were considerably lower than my average. I'll leave it to the reader to decide which one.
Most workplaces are somewhere between the two situations. Most are too large for staff to know each other well. Most have some staff in positions of authority over others. Most people have reasons that they can't resign a job on the spot.
In most workplaces, hazing, teasing and innuendo affect how well people do their job, as well as how happy they are. Why should anyone be asked to 'just live with it'?
It scares me too. But I am a geek, and I want to be treated as a geek. If I wanted to make the same amount of money and be treated as a stereotypical female, I'd be a rich man's trophy wife.
I prefer dabbling as necessary in gender politics. It feels more honest.
This is very hard to answer.
A friend of mine is a very intelligent man. He's nice, he's helpful, he's a tech manager of a company. When he's got a job opening, he advertises on the lists he's on. There aren't many women on the lists he's on, and he just doesn't think of the ones they're on. So he doesn't get female applicants.
(He's not the only one like that. One list member complained on issues that he hadn't had any female applicants for a position he'd just advertised. He'd been on linuxchix for ages, so we asked him when he'd advertised it on email@example.com. He hadn't.)
At one point, one list member said 'I know this list is supposed to be full of geeks, but....'. Now replace 'list' with 'gym' and 'geeks' with .. say .. 'jocks'. Do you think you'd get away unscathed? This list member had no idea what he'd said wrong.
Most of us do things every day which are based on unconscious assumptions. I (Jenn) tend to buy shoes which are slightly tight on the assumption that I'll be wearing stockings - and I wear socks. I own casual, smart casual, semi-formal and formal clothing for both summer and winter - and I know what each means.
These behaviours are because I am socialised female. It's part of what and who society (not necessarily my parents) have taught me to be. Everyone has socialised behaviours. If you're not conscious of yours, you'll do them constantly. If you're not conscious of other peoples', you won't take them into account.
It's these socialised behaviours which lead to the female students in teams at uni being given documentation to do, rather than programming. Or to women finding most linux mailing lists 'unfriendly', and not being able to point to why. Or to men posting their ads only to those male-dominated lists, and not to the places female geeks gather.
Creating an equal society isn't just about removing the overt, obvious barriers. It's about figuring out the others. It's about noticing that we've put the kids' computer in the boy's room. It's about producing more games like Theme Hospital (as well as Command and Conquer). It's about noticing that that smartly dressed female is just as geeky as the sloppy male - or the smartly dressed male, or the sloppy female.
And it's about noticing that it is your problem, and you have upset someone.
It's about thinking.
Then why are there slander and libel laws?
Oh, and by the way, I've heard something about your mother....
Where are all the women in the Open Source community? Some are coders, yes, but look further. Look at documenters. At artists. Sound engineers. Project coordinators. List maintainers. Testers. Look at the lower-key, less flashy jobs. Women are usually trained in childhood to aim for support roles, even if they hate them.
And think about where Open Source would be without them.
Most 'top people in Linux' or 'top people in Open Source' lists don't seem to have any women in them. We've considered reasons for that, and determined that most such lists seem to be kernel-focused, or coder-focused. So here's a list of some (not the top ten, just a random selection) of the top women in Open Source - whether coders, artists, writers, bug-finders, advocates, organisers, or anything else. Contact the FAQ coordinator or mail to the list if you have suggestions for others.
- Abha Ahuja
co-author of 'Internet Routing Architectures', developer, speaker (died 2001)
- Rachel Blackman
Ecartis (Listar) developer and designer
- Laurel Fan
- Telsa Gwynne
advocate, Gnome bugfinder
- Val Henson
- Akkana Peck
- Deb Richardson
advocate, writer, original LinuxChix organiser
- Kirrily Robert
advocate, writer, developer on several projects including Eureka, Reefknot and FormMagic
- Jenn Vesperman
writer, advocate, current LinuxChix organiser
- Linda Walsh
kernel developer (capabilities)
..... and there's this hideous mass of stereotypical guff about women in the comments area. We know. A lot of us just avoid slashdot completely, because of it. Which, of course, means we don't get the same news as the male geeks, because so many news items are on slashdot (or similar places which we also avoid.)
Which goes right back to the Feminism 101 section of this FAQ.
(I just read this answer to Dancer (Squid and Exult hacker, and my husband). He says he thought slashdot was aimed at teens and kiddie wannabe techies. He also avoids it. Andover, if this isn't the case, you'll want to do something about that.)
Hire a cleaning service. Seriously. If you're anything like me, you're too female-socialised to be able to just ignore the mess and it's preying on your mind. Don't spare it the clock cycles - hire a cleaning service.
Respect your own intellect, as much as you respect his (or hers). If you tend to put the garbage out rather than interrupt his programming time, treat your programming time with the same respect - call for a pizza. And let the boxes stack up till the cleaning service takes it away.
Have your own computers. Have your own computer desks. Build a LAN, know how to maintain it, and let the router split the packets. Have a router - use the 486 you bought from your cousin's friend who's had it on a shelf for years. Keep the MTU reasonably down, so that if your partner's doing a large download your chat packets go out promptly anyway. Learn what MTU means, and how to set it.
Share the technical chores, backing up, upgrading hardware, choosing
utilities. If you find that the one of you is changing the printer's ink
while the other is changing the hard disks, you might want to check if
that's what you really want. After all, the technically weaker partner
might not want to stay that way, the other might welcome a more equal
partner. It's OK to carve out mutually-agreed-upon territories, but if you
let your significant other become your 24/7 technical support department,
you're missing out on some serious fun.
First posts to the lists often include 'I've never met another woman like me'. This is usually followed with a query - is there a LinuxChix chapter near me? Can I actually meet anyone face to face?
If there isn't, another question is how to locate others. How to find the other geek people nearby, who aren't already on LinuxChix. This problem is made worse by small towns, island communities, or other forms of isolation. The obvious start is to form your own Linuxchix chapter, advertising it in your local Linux user group, local computer user groups, at the school if possible, at the library, and everywhere women gather.
I've thought of another way. Get a helpful teacher (or Girl Scout leader, or anyone else experienced with children), and form a LinuxChix or GeekGrrl junior. Not only does this help keep the next generation from having the same problem, but the mothers of these kids have already done some of your work for you. Many of them will have already found their cousin's best friend's sister who is really into computers....
Of course, this is only really suitable for those who feel capable of acting as mentor to a bunch of teenagers. Which isn't my cup of chava.
Other places where geeky women tend to gather include science fiction or roleplaying clubs, library shelves and bookstores; medievalist events and groups (such as the Society for Creative Anachronism); science centres, museums and zoos (look for the people critiquing the exhibits and talking earnestly to the volunteers); internet cafes (look over shoulders. Find the ones who are programming, role-playing or earnestly playing intellect-stretching games).
If you have children and a geek partner, schedule your deep hack times so that one of you is in deep hack mode and the other is minding the children. Then go into a space set aside for deep hack and stay there. Everything (short of a fire) is the other adult's responsibility. It will take discipline to insist on this if this is new, but stick to it. You have a right to deep hack.
If your partner isn't a geek, but does play golf, point out that your deep hack time is your equivalent of golf time. Extrapolate to other hobbies as appropriate. Make a deep-hack space, and use it. Do the scheduling.
When not in scheduled deep hack time, bring young children into your geekness (Invite teenagers, but don't force it on them!). Don't limit it to computing - I've never met a geek who wasn't interested in a broad range of things. Explore the range with them. Go to science centres, zoos, gardens, museums - and explore the staff's knowledge, don't limit yourself to the exhibits.
Use your children as passes to go to all sorts of places and ask all sorts of questions that, as an adult, courtesy prohibits. Ask flight attendants if you can see the cockpit in a plane. Find the 'tower restaurant' in a skyscraper in your nearest city, and ask the staff if your children can look out the window. Be brazen, but polite, and ask all sorts of places. And use those opportunities to excite your children's - and your - curiousity. Where possible, plan to spend the rest of the afternoon in the city's main library, asking questions of the librarians and researching answers.
And don't ever let anyone tell you that you 'should' be taking your children to sporting events instead. This is your time, with your children, and they get plenty of exercise hauling books around. (The exception to this, of course, is if your childrens' interest happens to be sports.)
Your time is valuable. So is your energy. Your life is important - you're the only /you/ there is or ever will be! Make the most of yourself.
Plan your house and your wardrobe for minimum-effort. Efficient storage, careful use of conveniences, and low maintenance materials will enable you to spend more of your time at your computer - or throwing snowballs.
Take the time and money to organise efficient storage, with space near workplaces for the things needed at those workplaces. Use closed storage, where feasible, to minimise time spent cleaning and dusting (and to allow the storage to be messy!).
Make use of conveniences - dishwashers, clothes dryers, maid services - which spare you time and effort, but choose ones which don't conflict with your personal ethical views. When choosing not to use a convenience, use that time as an active meditation and a form of exercise. (Yes, you can tai-chi your clothes onto the line.) Use your time efficiently, in a geekish way.
Let the dishes air-dry. Hell, just leave them soaking in the sink for an hour while you figure out that patch. Detergent and hot water will do most of the work for you. Do dump spilled-on clothes in a bucket of water straight away, but leave them there till it's laundry day. Make use of Martha Stewart - spend a couple of hours every so often to go through the house and figure out just which 'Better Homes and Gardens' tips will make the house even lower maintenance.
Mulch. Use groundcover plants. Do garden, if you happen to have one - it's also excellent exercise and a wonderful form of meditation. But do low-maintenance gardening - use plants native to your area, figure out how to do a no-lawn or minimal-mowing-lawn garden, and mulch to reduce weeds.
Buy men's (or boy's) clothing. It usually has better pockets, and if you avoid suit-clothes, tends to be easier to maintain. Except for the one-set-of-clothing-for-weddings (or for clothing just for the fun of it), don't buy anything that can't be thrown into a washing machine. If you work in a client-interaction field, this can be harder to find, but the time saved day-to-day is worth the effort. Buy a minimum range of colours, so they can all go in together. Buy good bras. Buy looser-fitting, flat-heeled, male-style shoes.
If you find that housework is overwhelming you, or the mess is getting out
of hand, triage. Cut whatever you need to cut to make sure you can manage
in peace. If you remember just one rule, that's it.
In my (Sheryl Coe) house, I limit all the clothing in the house (other than coats) to
two laundry baskets per person. When we start to get more I start
deleting.items. Limit the number of toys your young kids have, and go for
the Lego-type toys over the pre-assembled toys. I'm still struggling with
this one. It helps when I don't think of it as taking away toys, but as
giving them a space they can manage.
Use defaults. Have a default meal and default cook for every day of the
week. If something comes up, be flexible, but don't be stuck. Have a
floating "Get out of Dinner Free." card tacked to the fridge with money
inside. Pizza, chinese food... local places give more food value than
chains for the money.
Teach the kids to use "defaults." Othewise known as good habits. Cleaning
up after themselves. Proper systems shut-down procedures ... The important
Whenever learning a new skill, it can be very helpful to immerse yourself in it for a time. Shut the rest of the world out, and just study.
Computing is no exception.
So do it. If you feel the need to, make plans around it - save up enough cash to have takeaway chinese every night, arrange for the kids to visit their grandparents for a month - but do it.
I've recently learned that under some circumstances 'I don't know how to do X' actually means 'I feel isolated and left out of the conversation, can we stop talking about computers please?' This seemed really strange and wierd to me, and (in the conversation at hand) to the other geeks present. Not that the person felt left out, but that she phrased the request as what we interpreted as a request for further information.
Non-geeks apparently talk around things, calling this 'courtesy' (rather than by its geek name, 'obfuscation')(think 'obfuscated code contest').
I'm not able to explain how to communicate with non-geeks, but one of the major clues that they're circling the point is the complaint 'you're not listening to me' (or other, similar statements). This is a cue to stop and try to interpret their comments in a non-literal, non-intuitive fashion.
And they complain about our user interfaces!
[Mary Gardiner, the FAQ maintainer as at January 2002, added a new section on list policy which is going in
all Linuxchix FAQs, and a footer on the FAQs in general.]
A lot of people. I had my first version completed, and managed to wipe it out thoroughly. Lost the lot. That's when I moved the whole thing to Sourceforge .. but it did mean that I lost, among other things, the original contributors list. While they contributed none of the text of this version, they contributed greatly to the spirit of it. Thanks, guys.
The primary contributors to this version are Deb Richardson and Dancer Vesperman, for inspiration and patience and proofreading. More inspiration, patience and general assistance came from the LinuxChix list members.
Additional authors: Sheryl Coe.