I know, you don’t want to read about some Linux programmer’s opinions on rape. That’s the point, none of us wants to. But when a prominent open source leader publishes their opinions about rape on a public mailing list, we don’t have a choice. Especially when the author is the chair of the world’s most influential Linux conference, leads a huge chunk of Linux file systems development, and generally represents the Linux community publicly.
The short version: prominent Linux leader Ted Ts’o wrote detailed explanations of his opinions on rape on the 2011 linux.conf.au mailing list in February 2011. Among his beliefs: Rape is impossible if two people are drunk enough, and some rapes shouldn’t really count as rape. There’s more, but I won’t subject you to it.
The recent publicity around U.S. politicians making comments about rape should make it clear why comments like this are harmful: They diminish and excuse rape. It’s not really rape if it wasn’t violent, it’s not rape if you were drinking, etc.
But here’s what these comments mean for me, personally:
One of the people who runs the Linux Kernel Summit thinks that a woman can’t be raped if she and her rapist are both really drunk. Let’s work through this logically: I am a woman and a Linux kernel developer. Linux events usually have alcohol (often free). I drink alcohol, as does he. He goes to many Linux conferences. I go to many Linux conferences. Going to a Linux conference means that I have to spend several hours a day with someone who believes rape is impossible if both people are drunk enough, sometimes while we are given free drinks.
Does this sound like a miserable situation to you? It’s the reality of the Linux community for me during the last year and a half.
When I first read Ts’o’s comments, I couldn’t sleep for two nights. I wanted to throw up every time I thought about it. I was furious and frightened at the same time. Every time I think about this, even now, I literally have nightmares. I can’t bear the thought of working with him even over email, much less attending the same conferences. I worry that my career in Linux is over if I can’t work with him.
The open source community usually views itself as a force for social good: We want to make the world a better place, and we specifically oppose discrimination based on gender or race. At the same time, we have one of the most gender-unequal communities in the world: women make up only 2% of the open source community – compare that to 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 20% of the computing industry overall.
When leaders in a community make comments like this and they aren’t protested by other leaders in the community, women get the message: Women are not welcome here. If we as a community care about social justice, about giving our daughters the same chance at a career in open source software that we had, we have to stop this kind of behavior.
The first step is to speak up. If you agree that leaders in the Linux community should not make public statements belittling and condoning rape, please write a blog post, write an email, talk to other community members – but don’t be silent.
A final note: A lot of people in Linux like to say that free speech is an absolute – indeed, that’s the argument people used to defend Ts’o’s comments about rape in the first place. I’m betting the reaction to this post won’t be the same. I challenge every person who has spoken up to defend people diminishing sexual assault and harassment on Linux Weekly News and Linux mailing lists to speak up and defend my right to discuss this topic on Kernel Planet.