LinuxChix: Issues FAQ

Jennifer Vesperman

Mary Gardiner

Revision History
Revision 0.1Apr 2000
Roughed out question set, early answers
Revision 0.2Jun 2000
Roughed out answers
Revision 0.2.120 Jun 2000
Added answers from Sheryl Coe
Revision 1.012 November 2000
Full release.
Revision 1.127th January 2002
Added list policies
Revision 1.225th 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

Discussion of this FAQ is welcome on the or list.

This FAQ is posted once every second month to the and mailing lists.

2. Women's Studies 101 (or: What's all the fuss about?)

  • 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) about LinuxChix.

  • If you are in a hiring role, actively try to place job advertisements in places where they will reach interested women, for example

  • 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 - interested?"

  • 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 of time?

    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 crowd.

    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 attendee.

  • 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 it.

  • 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'?

    This is very hard to answer.

    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.

    3. Women and Linux

    4. Managing Geek Life

    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 stuff.

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