The Linux community can’t remain silent while leaders make anti-woman comments

I’ve written about prominent open source software leader Ted Ts’o’s public comments about rape for the Ada Initiative over on their blog. This post is about my personal reactions.

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 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.

9 thoughts on “The Linux community can’t remain silent while leaders make anti-woman comments

  1. Free alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean “getting drunk”. The very moment that one person gets drunk, he is already a loser. Drunken people should be watched over very closely, as there’s no way to predict that they won’t be doing something stupid or harmful.

  2. I don’t want to belittle your feelings but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that you sometimes need to control your feelings and impulses. I had to learn this the hard way having very poor emotional control.

    What I’m trying to say is that people are going to exist that you don’t get along with, this is fact! It should NOT stop you from pursuing your dreams. So what is the conclusion? You must learn to work with these people regardless of your feelings.

    I have great pride in the open source community for judging people by intellect and not by race, religion or creed. It’s your job to avoid situations where you can be vulnerable, it’s your job to judge your surroundings and size up threats to your person. We have a great civilization but it’s still up to all of us to survive in this life. Hopefully with the help of helpful people around us we can do so and still follow our goals.

    So don’t talk about quitting open source just because of one jerk, that makes me sad. You should fight for your beliefs but don’t just give up on life and your goals when you encounter resistance.

  3. What I read there was a complaint more about statisitics, I didn’t get the impression that he was downplaying anything, but in quick analysis, I think his motives are that he doesn’t like statistics thrown out there that create the appearance of a more dangerous world out there than actually is. With that said, the topic doesn’t belong on that mailing list at all. If he has a personal blog I suppose saying whatever he wants there.

    You have also to be careful though painting a picture in your own mind about him that what he says is something to be fearful of because the topic is mentioned at all. That is because of what one guys says, suddenly people worry more about their safety. I think if you take experiences from the conferences and report on that, you can judge those on their own. Connecting what a leader who makes comments on an inappropriate forum to behaviors is dangerous in itself. The most important thing I think anyone can do is to be wary of substances that make you incapable of good decisions. Not only that, but is he right about statistics at all? His main point has certainly been lost here and that’s also a bad thing. Because if the main point is lost than he’s getting in trouble so to speak because he’s misunderstood. And that’s dangerous in itself and makes him vulnerable.

    Direct quote here I read from him here: “Please note, I am not diminishing what rape is, and or any particular person’s experience. However, I *am* challenging the use of statistics that may be
    hyperbolic and misleading, and ultimately may be very counterproductive if it causes people to become afraid when the reality might not be as horrible as the “1 in 4″ numbers might at first sound.”

    Again the quote, logical and I think respectful, yet inappropriate topic for a linux mailing list, unless maybe he was hoping to engage some thoughtful conversation due to the political season? Not sure about that one.

  4. It is regrettable that kind of thinking in certain groups in the community SL. As it is written in the scriptures, the tares are among the wheat. It’s up to us to have the wisdom to separate them, because human nature is bad. I myself, surely not pactoarei with the same thoughts.

  5. As best I can tell, his argument isn’t so much that is /opinion/ is that it’s not rape if both parties are drunk; he points out that this is how the /law/ treats rape. I’m not sure which country’s laws he’s referring to, but he does legitimately raise the issue of the difficulty of defining rape in black and white terms. It’s unfortunate that this came up in the setting that it did, but I for one support his right to have and express an opinion.

  6. What Ts’o said was factually wrong, off-topic, diminishing, and excusing. It was a trainwreck-size derailment of a discussion on the code of conduct for conferences. And, as always, what should have been a straightforward demographic analysis went off the rails because men like David Woodhouse and Ted Ts’o just can’t deal with the notion that women might actually know a thing or two about our own experiences, or anything at all. Mens know better! And so they can’t resist dragging in their own creepy pathologies, and the discussion gets turned away from “What can we do to make our conference more inviting, fun, and attractive to women” to “No, you’re wrong to feel that way, girls, because we mens know better, and now prove you wrong, wrong, wrong!” and all of a sudden it’s a big argument over what is rape, instead of conference policies.

    I doubt that the Ts’o apologists read the discussion, or Matthew Garrett’s blog, or paid much attention to Valerie Aurora’s commentary. It’s all there, and it’s very clear.

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