Thursday, March 3, 2011

If this is "sexism" then we have come a long way

Carla Schroder accuses Mark Shuttleworth of making exclusionary and sexist comments at some LinuxCon a few years back.

I spent 5 seconds looking for a "comment on this article" link or button, didn't find it, so decided to write my response here. Disclaimer: I'm feeling too lazy to do a properly researched post, so I didn't look at the video, nor did I search the Internet for any more info about this conference.

90% of Carla's quotes relate to the use of the word "guys" where, I guess, she would have preferred a more PC gender-neutral pronoun. To me, "guys" is plenty gender-neutral enough. The fact that Mark adds an "or girl" in one instance means only that in that moment, the idea that his speech circuits rendered as "guy" was a more gender-specific one, to represent male developers, specifically. I can't read Mark's mind, but I find it astonishing to read exclusionism into his regular use of "guys". I bet 99.9999% of his audience was male. There's no fly in this soup.

As for "grandma" and "mom": it's a common Internet idiom. It is so hackneyed that in this context, "grandma" doesn't even mean grandma anymore. Perhaps there is sexism behind, or even in, the origin of the idiom. Why have and are women so consistently been rendered technologically incompetent - that is the sexism here, not the act of remarking on the existence of the pattern. The fact that your mom is 400 times less likely to be able to repair a computer than your dad is a result of sexism, but reflections of that fact in the popular lexicon are merely a sort of Huffman encoding of reality in our language. (I clearly don't believe that gendered words promote sexism as directly as Carla seems to believe.)

If you're a guy, and you're involved with software development in some way, have you ever tried "explaining to a girl what you actually do"? If you're anything like me, you meet girls socially rather than professionally (because, this much is true, there are a million men in programming for every woman), so the ones you meet are unlikely to know much about software development (strangely, so often they seem to be in advertising, or marketing, or publishing, and we don't hear about "sexism" in the sex ratios among school teachers), and you'll have a gnostic understanding of what Mark meant here.

If we are to take this (over)use of "guys" as a sign of what "sexism" means in the modern world, then I think we have come a long, long way. It must mean we have fried the bigger fish of lingering glass ceilings, of female genital mutilation in some countries, and of the near certainty of mothers winning custody disputes over their children against the fathers. Yes, that too is sexism.

Finally: Carla, humans are sexual beings. We make jokes based on sexual innuendo, we make jokes based on the mating dance, and the pursuit of sex colours much of what we do, however indirectly. Deal with it. Now move on, please. I do not wish to live in your sterile, PC world.

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