LinuxChix and women's issues

This document discusses the broader issues surrounding LinuxChix and women's place in the world.

Feminism

Feminism is an attempt to make the world as fair as possible, with a focus on eliminating unfairness to women. 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.)

Frequently Asked Questions

Jennifer Vesperman
Deb Richardson

Converted to Docbook XML: Mary Gardiner

Copyright © Jennifer Vesperman and Deb Richardson. All rights reserved.

1 Why did Deb start LinuxChix?

This was Deb's answer in the original FAQ:

There are two answers to this question. First, I started LinuxChix because I thought it would be fun. Happily, I can report that my suspicions were correct. The second answer is a bit longer.

I started LinuxChix because I got tired of seeing new users being browbeaten for asking "stupid" questions. I got tired of seeing people respond to perfectly valid questions with "RTFM", or "we're not a Linux help channel", and other such not-terribly-useful things. I got tired of the locker-room mentality of the more popular online Linux forums.

I started LinuxChix as an attempt to create a more hospitable community in which people can discuss Linux, a community that encourages participation, that doesn't allow the quieter among us to be drowned out by the vocal minority.

There is a growing misconception that this vocal minority is representative of the Linux community in general, and I wanted to do my part in making sure that new Linux users realize that this is not the case. The vast majority of the people in the Linux community are good, friendly, helpful, generous people. These people don't have time to sit and post on a web-based Linux forum, however, because they're too busy out there trying to get real work done. The result is that the popular web-based forums tend to be populated largely by people who have little better to do with their time.

And that vocal minority has a strong tendency to be brash, harsh, and intolerant of people who know less than they. This scares new users off, and reflects badly on the Linux community as a whole. LinuxChix is one attempt to offset the damage done.

I'm also happy to report that it's working. One very telling quote: "The large egos are what turned me away from seriously running linux for years. It's only once linuxchix came along that I felt comfortable enough to really dive into it."

And that's exactly why I started LinuxChix. To give women who use Linux a comfortable environment in which to discuss the OS they love; to create a community that encourages and helps new users; to make others realize that the vocal minority does not necessarily represent the Linux community in general.

2 Is LinuxChix solely for women? Are the lists solely for women? How about the chapters?

LinuxChix is intended to be an inclusive group where everyone is and feels welcome. We do ask, however, that everyone keep in mind that it is primarily inteded as a womens' group. What this means is: sexist remarks are unwelcome. In fact, Deb originally asked that everyone avoid all sweeping generalizations: sexism can be targetted at men as well, which is also significantly uncool. All the silly -isms are discouraged and will not be tolerated: sexism, ageism, racism, etc.
Lists:

No, the lists are for everyone, with the exception of the list, which is women-only.

As long as people are generally polite and helpful, anyone is welcome on the other lists. The LinuxChix co-ordinator reserves the right to change this policy at any time. Please try to remember that these are lists primarily meant for women. Act as if your mom/sister/daughter were subscribed, and everything should be fine :).
"This is a list for respectful and supportive discussion of issues regarding women, linux, and their intersection. Discussion of gender issues is encouraged, however we're striving for an environment free of the same old patriarchal influence we face at work and from the other high-tech boy's clubs."
--Taken from discussion on the list.

Remember the posting guidelines: 1) be polite, 2) be helpful. That's all we ask.
Chapters:

Some of the chapters have found it necessary to restrict their membership to women. Check the chapter's individual guidelines on the website, or ask the chapter's membership.

3 If men are welcome, why call it LinuxChix?

LinuxChix is intended to be primarily for women. The name is an accurate reflection of that fact. Men are welcome because we do not want this group to be exclusive. Also, not everyone who considers themselves female is necessarily biologically female. "Sex" and "gender" are very different things.

4 What's a linuxchix chapter and how do I find one?

The LinuxChix regional chapters exist in several places around the world. These chapters have been formed to give women who use or are interested in learning about Linux a way to meet other women with similar interests. These chapters are loosely organized, informal, and they don't require (or imply) any form of membership or fees. Mostly it's just women hanging out with women, talking tech over coffee (and/or cheesecake :). You can find the list of chapters at http://www.linuxchix.org/content/chapters/

5 How do I start a LinuxChix chapter in my region?

Starting a chapter is quite simple. Find people on our lists or elsewhere who live in your area and might be interested in joining.

Once you have some people who are interested, you should arrange semi-regular meetings. Holding "official" meetings once per month is usually standard, with "unofficial" meetings happening more spontaneously as people decide they want or need them.

Email and give them contact details for your chapter (your email at a minimum, or a chapter website if there is one) so that they can link to you from the chapters webpage.

There are more suggestions for starting a chapter at http://www.linuxchix.org/content/chapters/founding_a_chapter.

6 Who drew the LinuxChix logo?

The current LinuxChix logo is RoboTux by Colin Adams.

More information on the various logos can be found on the logo files page.

The original LinuxChix logo was done for Deb by her immensely talented friend Tom B, whose web site has unfortunately disappeared.

7 Who hosts the LinuxChix site and mailing lists?

For the first year of its life, LinuxChix was hosted by the very friendly and helpful people at Hub.org Networking Services.

Between March 2000 and June 2001, LinuxChix was hosted at http://www.linux.org.uk/, who generously donated space for the project.

Linuxchix is currently (since June 2001) hosted by Jenn and Dancer Vesperman.

Thanks to everyone. Your generosity is astounding.

8 Who is running LinuxChix?

LinuxChix was imagined and started by Deb Richardson. She ran it until June 2001, when she handed it over to Dancer and Jenn Vesperman.

We're now running it, with the subsections handed over to various volunteers. We're incredibly grateful to the volunteers - they protect us from burnout!

Helping women in computing

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 jobposts@linuxchix.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 - 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 unnecessary 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, preferably, 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.

Why we refuse to 'just live with 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'?

Credits

A lot of people contributed to this FAQ.

It is primarily the work of Jenn Vesperman. The primary contributors were Deb Richardson and Dancer Vesperman; thanks for inspiration and patience and proofreading. More inspiration, patience and general assistance came from the LinuxChix list members.

Additional authors: Sheryl Coe, Mary Gardiner.