Sexism and Two World Views

A possible insight applicable to the FOSS and sexism controversies is the incompatibility of two worldviews.

In the first view, one aspires to a post- or blind-“ism” world. Therefore, to highlight differences is discriminatory because it presumes that such differences are somehow essentialist, it recapitulates the very differences from the past that we are seeking to leave behind, and challenges the autonomy and agency of individuals. Egalitarianism and freedom are assumed and in its post-“ism” form it is acceptable to use personal language even when in a prevalent group.

In the second view, one has a responsibility to highlight differences as discrimination is typically masked. Discrimination need not be intentional but can operate as assumptions that need to be aired and challenged. This view acknowledges the continued influence of history and social structure and it expects language to be neutral/inclusive, particularly when used by members of the dominant group.

Perhaps this is applicable to the discussion around Shuttleworth’s comment that poorly designed technology makes it difficult to explain to girls. (I actually haven’t seen the exact quote yet.) The first world view is seen in Matthew’s comment:

He was talking about how hard the design work is to do, and that if things were designed poorly or had low usability, he would not know how to explain them to girls (my translation). The tone of his voice suggested sarcastic embarrassment, which implies he would prefer to impress girls. So he could have said the same thing about his father. Or better yet. If he was gay, he would have said “guys” not “girls”.

The second view can be seen in a number of the responses, including Mary’s:

It’s trying to create commonality with the audience around the issue of liking to impress women which is both male-centric and hetero-centric. And it’s sexualising: it reminds women in hearing that they may be (often are) viewed preferentially as an audience for someone’s impressive demonstration (or pickup line) to which we are meant to respond with admiration, rather than as collaborators or teachers.

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