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FOSS: Discussion on sexism turns ugly
By Techgirl

The Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) movement is one of the greatest living examples of idealistic collective, voluntary effort.  While most FOSS software developers spend months and even years to provide free high quality software like Linux and Firefox to everyone in the world, a minority in the movement have different agendas.

Some FOSS developers are primarily driven to try to prevent software giants like Microsoft dominating the market, while others are driven by ego and even a sense of belonging to a movement.  This mixture of reasons has been seen even in every civil rights movement. I am a great fan of the FOSS movement.

Surprisingly, the FOSS international movement has even fewer women than the small percentage of females working in the computing industry.  While Indian women are well represented in the Indian tech industry, their participation in FOSS is minimal.

Is it because women have more housework to do at home than help create free software?  Is it because techie women prefer leaving the bits and bytes at work and spending ‘quality’ time with family?  Is it because a few Alpha males have taken over sections of the FOSS movement? Is it because of some sexism? 

On September 9, 2009, Bruce Byfield wrote an article titled ‘Sexism: Open Source Software's Dirty Little Secret’.  The article said: “Asked to guess what percentage of FOSS developers are women, mostly people guess a number between 30-45%. A few, either more observant or anticipating a trick question after hearing the proprietary figure, guess 12-16%. The exact figure, though, is even lower: 1.5%. Look at the boards of prominent FOSS projects. No women sit on the Free Software Foundation's board of directors, nor the Linux Foundation's board. KDE e.V's board has one woman, and GNOME's board one. If anything, the number of female maintainers in Debian is probably lower than 1.5%. The figures don't change much, no matter which FOSS organization you look at.”

It seems that some in the FOSS movement took this as a personal attack. On Oct 9, Bruce gave an update in the Linux magazine

Because I took a feminist stance in public, I have been abused in every way possible -- being called irrelevant, a saboteur, coward, homosexual, and even a betrayer of the community. I know that many women in the community have been attacked much more savagely than I have, so I'm not complaining. Nor am I a stranger to readers who disagree with me, but the depth of reaction has taken me back more than once. I think the reaction is an expression of denial more than anything else.

What do you think? Is it right to call someone a coward and homosexual if you don’t agree with him/her? Software, and not personal abuse, should be free.

Techgoss note: Techgirl is a senior Tech journalist who reports on the IT, KPO and KPO Sectors for a leading media house.  In her spare time, she dabbles in satire in her blog

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