Free as in Sexist? The Gendergap in Free Culture

open + free + geek

Nuvola emoticon - happy

open + free + geek

Nuvola emoticon - sad


Free Software

Free as in Freedom

Code is copyable, modifiable, and free to share.

Open Source

The Cathedral & The Bazaar

Development is open, decentralized, and collaborative.


Highlighting “free as in freedom” not as in freeware, gratis, or “free as in beer.”


Free culture

Software, prose, or media that “can be freely studied, applied, copied and/or modified, by anyone, for any purpose.”


A geek has a passionate enthusiasm.

Joys of free culture

Good “stuff”

Good community

Sorrows of free culture

The gap

Women occupy 27% of computing-related positions.

In FLOSS, women are 1.1%.

At Wikipedia, women are ~9%.


Assuming a male audience and dude humor.

(Not the end of the world, but not helping.)

For example …

e.g., Shuttleworth’s girls

A release is an amazing thing; I’m not talking about the happy ending…

Your printer, and your mom’s printer, and your grandma’s printer…

We’ll have less trouble explaining to girls what we actually do. (Shuttleworth in Schroder2009msc)

e.g., Stallman’s virgins

And we also have the cult of the virgin of emacs. The virgin of emacs is any female who has not yet learned how to use emacs. And in the church of emacs we believe that taking her emacs virginity away is a blessed act. (Garrett2009rv)


Blah blah blah. This kind of whiny bullshit about unimportant details is exactly why women should be left out in the cold.


I pray you find your way into a feminist unfriendly country one day. God willing, you will die. Happily the feminist-unfriendly countries are immigrating to you. Remember the Netherlands? Feminists die there.


“Free as in freedom” = “Free as in Sexist”?

On Being a Geek

The geek stereotype

Comic book guy


2. (n) Derogatory term for slovenly nerdy people who have no sense of hygiene or grooming. Often related to hobbies such as card gaming, video gaming, anime, et. al. (parttimehanyou2005nb)


Women express:

Ambient alienation

Kirk & Spock

when an environment stereotypically associated with computer science—containing video games, StarTrek memorabilia, and the like—was made salient, women were consistently less interested in joining the domain than men. (CheryanEtal2009abh)

Linux is harsh

Linux development is “competitive and fierce.” At best you get “status” and more often “a scathing flame.”

Since women are socialized to not be competitive and avoid conflict, and since they have low self-confidence to begin with, Linux and open source in general are even more difficult than most areas… (Aurora2002hew)

Wikipedia is “fighty”

Women are not less knowledgeable. They are just less interested in sparring with other anonymous experts to prove themselves. (Passi2009waw)

Simpsons redux



‘Structurelessness’ is organisationally impossible. We cannot decide whether to have a structured or structureless group; only whether or not to have a formally structured one. (Freeman 1970)

Bad apples

If your group has nine helpful and polite members, and one rude, sexist, loud member, most women are going to continue to stay away because of that one member. I realize that this isn’t fair to the other people in the group, but that’s reality. (Aurora2002hew)

Poison people

One ‘brilliant’ but obnoxious person will chase any number of good people away … [And] some never even show up in the first place because they see ToxicPerson and go looking for a healthier project to support. (Schroder2009ens1)

Anonymous cowards

Look at me! I’m an attention whore! Sympathise with me! WAH.

What a tantrum! Time of the month?


Women get targeted in special and icky ways just for being women. (Schroder2009ens1)

Freeman redux

‘Structurelessness’ is organisationally impossible. We cannot decide whether to have a structured or structureless group; only whether or not to have a formally structured one. (Freeman1996tsw)

Freeman 2.0

‘Openness’ is organizationally impossible. We can not decide whether to have an open or unopen group; only to whom we will be open to. (Me)


Unimportant whining

“Blah blah blah. This kind of whiny bullshit about unimportant details is exactly why women should be left out in the cold.”

adversarial participants justify intimidation of others … with rhetoric about freedom, openness, and intellectual vigor (Herring1996pdv)

Anarchist-libertarian ethic

[this] ethic of anarchic self-determination and vigorous debate … reflects the civil-libertarian ideals and the fringe social status of the hacker community that pioneered the virtual frontier, and it has been preserved remarkably intact (Herring1994pcc)


Stallman: “Free as in Freedom”

Richard Stallman

Raymond: “Armed and Dangerous”


Shuttleworth: Adam Smith’s invisible hand and Ayn Rand’s heroic man

Mark Shuttleworth after Linuxtag

Wales: Objectivist and Father of Kira


What kind of freedom?

For all of the talk about ‘community’ and ‘freedom’ there is an awful lot of cliquish and exclusionary behavior. A good step would be re-defining ‘freedom’ as ‘the freedom to be welcoming and supportive,’ rather than the freedom to be the most unpleasant person. (Schroder2009ens1)

The veil of freedom

The fact that Wikipedia is voluntary and open to all DEMONSTRATES that men and women have inherently different interests. There is no oppressive patriarchy refusing to hire them. (Ray2011pcw)

Wikipedia’s gender imbalance is a non-problem in search of a misguided solution. (Donald2009wsh)


A reasonable position

I think the disproportionate lack of women … isn’t about gender so much as it is about a culture that rewards certain traits… we’re not getting people who don’t have those other traits, male or female… But the focus should be on becoming more open and diverse in general – becoming more inclusive to everyone, which will naturally bring in more women (Walsh2011ww).


There is no “in general” yet when it comes to notions such as “geekiness,” “openness” and “freedom.”


the (traditional) geek identity and discursive style can be unappealing;

open communities are especially susceptible to difficult people (which can be especially alienating to women);

the ideas of freedom and openness can be used to dismiss concerns and rationalize the gender gap as a matter of preference and choice;


Ada Initiative