Debian Women IRC meeting, 16th January 2005
The meeting was moderated by Matthew Palmer (womble); minutes and summary were written by Colleen Hatfield (Evilpig).
General meeting topic: How to best convey the purpose and goals of the Debian Women project to those who have questions about it.
A brief summary of the main points of discussion is followed below by the more detailed minutes of the meeting.
Summary of the Meeting
First question: What are good ways to answer questions about what the Debian Women project is all about?
- Our goals include getting women more involved in computing and development in general, as well as increasing their involvement in the Debian project as a whole, including increasing the number of female Debian developers
- While answering questions, we should attempt to discuss our achievements without appearing threatening to the asker or the larger Debian project. We should also emphasize the inclusive nature of Debian Women, including the fact that there are many men involved.
Second question: How can we avoid seeming threatening, and like we are out to fundamentally change the particular way that Debian works?
- We should actively try to correct misperceptions that we are trying to make over the community into a sort of Disney-friendly atmosphere, while emphasizing that certain particular concerns of ours (unconstructive flamewars) are shared by the larger community.
- Understand that by merely existing we are changing the Debian landscape, and that's a good starting point.
- Emphasize that we are trying to "broaden" and "improve" Debian, rather than "change" it. We should also take care not to make it seem like we consider Debian to be a project with many negative aspects that need to be "fixed", but rather that we, as supportive and interested participants in Debian, have an interest in doing what we can to make it better, just like everyone else involved in the project.
Third question: How should we address suggestions that we are being sexist?
- Show examples of concrete achievements of the Debian Women project and its members that have been beneficial to the larger Debian project.
- Create material for our web page. This could include a section addresses topics such as definitions of sexism, blatant vs. covert sexism, and unintentional sexism to help people understand the issues at hand. Another section could be "How to talk to people about Debian Women", that would incorporate the ideas that have been proposed in this meeting.
- Simply do our best to avoid such criticisms by not being sexist, and being as inclusive as possible without compromising the ideals of our project. By taking care not to advocate Debian Women as a general help community, and instead promoting our stated goals, we can hopefully avoid fielding a lot of general help / tech support questions (though we can of course point such people to the appropriate lists and channels for such questions).
- Understand that there will be trolls and other difficult people who will be antagonistic and close-minded regardless of our efforts to accommodate, educate, and inform them.
Fourth question: How can we advocate the Debian Women project to the larger Debian community and elsewhere?
- By giving presentations and holding meetings / BoF sessions at open-source software gatherings and conferences. Creating "Things you can talk about" section on our web page to aid those who are interested in giving such presentations.
- Publicizing achievements and contributions of the Debian Women project and its members inside Debian via outlets such as Debian Weekly News. We can also achieve broader awareness of the project by submitting article proposals to general media who might be receptive to our project.
- Creating promotional materials such as posters or flyers that could be printed out and posted on campuses and other public places.
- Exploring the possibility of organizing local Debian Women communities in areas where there is enough interest.
Minutes of the Meeting
The meeting was started by womble at 0504 UTC, January 16 2005.
Welcome and description of broad discussion topic:
womble welcomed all participants and laid out the general topic for the meeting: how to best convey the aims and objectives of the Debian Women project to those who have questions about it. He suggested that the Debian Women project itself is potentially controversial, as bad past experiences or bigotry may cause people to be biased. Because of this, it is important to make our message as non-confrontational as possible so as not to alienate or aggravate people.
First question: What are good ways to answer questions about what the Debian Women project is all about?
- Simira said that it is about getting more women interested and involved in computing and development
Lunar said that he tells people the ratio of male to female DDs. vorlon estimates that the current gender ratio among active DDs is roughly 250:1; Lunar said that MagniO had said that there were 5 women out of 1100 DDs, but vorlon thinks that both of those numbers are higher than actual. womble questioned whether increasing this ratio was the only goal. Lunar^ said that was his chosen starting place.
Evilpig suggested that it is about getting more women involved in the Debian community and contributing to the Debian project, and that people could be pointed at the FAQs (http://women.alioth.debian.org/faqs/) for more info. akk generally agreed, and suggested the verbiage "to encourage women to contribute...". Some people suggested that the word "encourage" has negative connotations in that it implies that women are weaker and thus need encouragement; others disagree that it has such implications. helix prefers the word "involve", though akk commented that to her the word "involve" seems rather exclusive and could provoke accusations of sexism.
- helen commented that it is important to answer such questions in a way that makes the person posing the question interested in the achievements of the Debian Women project, without causing them to feel threatened or criticized.
- womble asked whether the answer that we give should be different depending on who was asking the question. His opinion is that it should be, but that though the answers we give may be different, it is important that they not conflict, which can be tricky. helix said that sometimes it is difficult to answer such questions without prompting more questions, which are often rude and involve accusations of sexism. helen said that when she is discussing the project with a man, she tries to make it clear that there are many men involved in Debian Women. In general, helen says that she emphasizes that we value the contributions of many different people, including potentially the person she is talking to. Evilpig said that she disagreed that the answers should vary, since our purpose remains the same and some people are just going to be difficult.
- dato said that the aim of the Debian Women project is similar to that of other Debian subprojects: to target a specific subsection of the population and bring Debian closer to that group.
Second question: How can we avoid seeming like we are out to fundamentally change the particular way that Debian works (and which distinguishes Debian from other communities)? In the past, some Debian participants have felt threatened by this perceived goal of our project.
- helen agrees with womble and says that she has experienced people getting very defensive because they are afraid that we are trying to change the way Debian works. She says that this perception is detrimental because these people then may not listen to our input about the Debian project as a whole, and that we should try to figure out how to emphasize that our suggestions will make Debian better, not "weaker".
- Simira thinks that it is more about broadening Debian than changing it, and that we are attempting to encourage a group that is not already actively involved.
- helix emphasizes that we are not trying to make Debian into "a hand-holding hippie party"
- womble says that one example of this problem is that one of Debian's greatest strengths, technical excellence, is derived in part through heated discussion. Some worry that making Debian "friendlier" (through fewer flamewars) will end up having a negative effect on the technical excellence. Lunar^ suggests that the objection to flamewars is not exclusive to the Debian Women project, and is shared by some in the greater Debian community, and thus that subject shouldn't be threatening to talk about.
- womble suggests that the Debian Women project is changing Debian simply by existing, and that maybe we should emphasize this aspect. daf agrees that the existence of Debian Women will change Debian, but says that we may want to change things more actively than just our presence implies.
- akk comments that not answering accusations of sexism is good practice for ignoring trolls.
- Simira raises a possible question that we may have to field: "Why do we want more women in Debian - isn't it good enough as it is?" womble's response is that Debian is never good enough; there is always room for improvement. helix and Simira agree.
- dato wonders if the problem lies in some people's mistrust of women's ability to try to do a good job. helen responds that she doesn't believe that people doubt our technical skills, but that the problem is that women are often perceived as less competitive. She suggests that these people worry that involving more women could put Debian's culture of "excellence through competition" at risk. Lunar^ says that excellence by cooperation is far more achievable.
- womble and helix comment that there is a common misperception that the Debian Women project is about making Debian more mushy/touchy-feely/whatever just because it is focused on women.
Third question: How should we address suggestions that we are being sexist?
- daf thinks that most people who worry about the Debian Women project being detrimental to Debian as a whole will have vague fears rather than specific arguments about this subject. Lunar^ thinks that "vague fears" will be resolved by evidence of concrete achievements, and cites Baby's "Building Without Helper" tutorial being recognized in Debian Weekly News.
- helix says that we must decide to what extent we as a group are willing to educate people who make these accusations; she personally doesn't think our time would be well-spent doing so, but that she knows others disagree.
helen thinks that demonstrating by action that we are not sexist is important, including pointing out the number of men that are involved in Debian Women. She likes to encourage people to drop by the #debian-women IRC channel to observe what really goes on. akk says that she has observed other women's organizations with active male participation being accused of sexism, so pointing out male participation is no guarantee of resolution.
- Many people agree that different people mean different things when they use the word "sexism". daf suggests that it means that discrimination is occurring on the basis of sex and/or gender, and that in the case of the Debian Women project that the implication is that we are discriminating against men. helix adds that there is also the problem of explaining blatant vs. covert sexism, which can be difficult. womble asks if people know of existing synopses of these topics that we could point people to. helix says that she doesn't know of any, but that maybe we could write something. womble agrees that this could be a good idea, and that it also could include discussion of "unintentional sexism".
- helen suggests the addition of a "How to talk to people about Debian Women" section to the FAQs. womble thinks that this meeting will help with the creation of such a section. Lunar^ advises that we should take care not to make such advice too directive, so that people feel that they have some leeway to give their own interpretation of the matters.
- akk comments that some people will not be convinced that there is any sexism occurring even if they are told. helix agrees.
- dato says that we can avoid being sexist by specifically "mentoring" women, as is the goal of our project, but also by welcoming non-involved men. Helix worries that if we help all people equally, we risk the Debian-Women project becoming male-dominated like most other areas of Debian, which may discourage women from getting involved. Others agree. vorlon cites the example of the Debian Women bug squashing effort held on December 8-9, which was only publicized to the Debian Women community but was open to men as well. helen suggests that we offer to help people in ways that will help achieve the goals of the Debian Women project, which may in fact mean that we are more willing to help women than men.
dato says that we should just not advertise Debian Women as a "general help" project. helix says that regardless of how it is advertised, we will attract curious onlookers who will ask for help. womble says that there are other places for that purpose. bubulle says that he has not observed many men requesting help on the mailing list or in the IRC channel. helen responded that such problems were part of the reason for the "IRC Behaviour" part of the FAQ (http://women.alioth.debian.org/faqs/irc_behaviour.php).
- daf comments that there are some types of participation by men which we should encourage, and others which we want to discourage, but that differentiating between then can be difficult. He thinks that the Debian Women project can and does help men in ways that don't conflict with its goals, and aren't detrimental to the women involved, but agrees that male-dominance should be avoided and that our purpose is not to be a general help forum.
- Lunar^ wonders if we should create a section in the FAQ titled "To what extent is Debian Women sexist?" daf thinks that this could be interesting, but not particularly helpful.
Fourth question: How can we, both as individuals and as a group, responsibly promote the Debian Women project and its goals to the rest of the Debian community and beyond?
- helix says that the talks that people have given have been helpful, and that not being "raving insane feminists" helps to counteract negative perceptions from outsiders. womble agrees that raving is generally counterproductive.
- Lunar^ would like to have a poster advertising the project that he could put up at university.
- womble wonders if it would be helpful to get more publicity inside Debian from outlets such as Debian Weekly News to advertise the positive aspects and achievements of Debian Women to the rest of the community.
- helix says that she has considered proposing articles about the project to magazines, beginning with feminist magazines such as Ms. and Bitch that most likely be receptive to our cause.
- vorlon asks why the Debian Women project itself needs advocacy. helix says that such advocacy might attract women who want to be involved but haven't though of seeking out such a project. She adds that it might also encourage others to form similar groups outside of Debian which can benefit their projects in similar ways. Evilpig suggests that the Debian Women project's goals of getting women to actively contribute and raising the profile of women who do contribute are rather specific to our subproject rather than being high priorities of Debian as a whole. vorlon suggests then that the goal is really to advocate the Debian Women project to women specifically. helix worries about allegations of sexism when she mentions the project to men, but thinks that it is important to advocate the project to both men and women. womble thinks that advocacy is important so that outsiders can hear our message directly, rather than secondhand from those not involved.
- Lunar^ suggests talks at FOSS meetings and conferences. helix agrees that this is a good idea, and that it has been successful in the past. Simira agrees that Debian Women meetings and BoF sessions at conferences have been helpful. Helix suggests a "Things you can talk about" page on the Debian Women site to aid those who are interested in giving presentations about the project. Others agree.
- vorlon doesn't think that in general Debian developers are opposed to women getting involved in the project - he says that he doesn't believe they are opposed to contributions from anyone who is competent. He says that it is important to avoid the perception of a kind of (United States) "affirmative action" system that would favor incompetent people becoming involved. helix agrees. orchid will find this statement more believable when the gender ratio of Debian developers approaches that of the IT industry. Lunar^ suggests the term "collective empowerment", but vorlon disagrees saying that Debian is about empowering individuals.
- Simira wonders if we have enough members for local communities. helix is doubtful, saying that even large groups like linuxchix don't have many local chapters, but says that it might work in Spain.
- Simira says that it's important that the men and women involved in the Debian Women project give talks about the project at conferences and such. helix comments that it would be interesting if a man gave a presentation about Debian Women. Others agree that it would be interesting, though some think it would be a positive thing and others a negative.
- daf comments that it's rather difficult to talk about Debian Women with a person face to face. helix says that she tries to make it non-political by describing it as an experiment to see if it is possible to involve women in something like Debian, then saying that it is working and leave it at that. When people ask "why?", she responds that it is simply because there were not a lot of women involved. Overfiend suggests that another response to "why?" could simply be "why not?". helix adds that there is a difficulty avoiding portraying Debian as awful when describing why we feel that a project like Debian Women is needed. daf comments that if we didn't care about debian that we wouldn't be trying to change it. helen responds that implying that she wants to change Debian doesn't often go over well with people.
At 0616 UTC, womble calls the official meeting to a close and invites everyone to continue discussion informally.