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Feminism and sexism...

Posted 10-01-2009 at 07:32 AM by rich_c

There's quite a bit being written at the moment about feminism and sexism in FOSS circles. Here's my thoughts and what may be an example of sexism in IT in general.

Firstly, some people (Men) who are generally highly regarded/respected/visible in FOSS have or have been accused of making misogynistic remarks. This may be true, or they may have been misunderstood either because they were making a weak attempt at a joke or they genuinely didn't mean the words that came out of their mouths to be interpreted as offensive. Be that due to unfamiliar habits of speech etc... OK, so if we accept that there is an issue how do we fix it? Positive discrimination? Try to 'recruit' more women into the FOSS community? I don't think so! Any discrimination is wrong. I will continue to promote FOSS to anyone who'll listen, whether they want to or not! My suggestion would be for the whole community to monitor itself and if someone says or writes something that might be interpreted as derogatory, then this should be pointed out to them privately via email or PM for example. I suspect for the most part they'd be mortified that some comment they made could be seen as divisive. I don't think public naming and shaming is helpful. Certainly not based on isolated incidents. If an individual persisted in making sexist/racist or whatever other -ist remarks then I'm sure by providing them with enough rope, they'd hang themselves as the saying goes...

So, on to my observed example of what is probably unintentional sexism. I work in an IT operations department. We monitor a wide range of UNIX, Windows and miscellaneous other servers. The proportion of women in the department is very low. In fact there are two, both working on my shift. One is a trainee, the other an experienced operator tasked with taking the lead in mentoring the trainee. From the word go, we as a team were asked to go easy with the overly technical stuff as it may be overwhelming to someone new to the environment. Fair enough so far. A colleague and I were quite surprised, however, when we were appraised of the trainee's progress upon the main mentor being forced to take some time off due to health issues. Basically, all that had been officially documented as having been covered was administrative tasks! I may be jumping to conclusions here, but to me that's almost like all that techy stuff is too much, get the poor wee girl doing some paperwork. I doubt it's as bad as that and I suspect it wasn't intentional but I do wonder if there's a bit of an attitude of technical issues being best left to the fellas who like getting involved in taking things apart and putting them back together again etc... Presumably, women who apply for IT roles at the level I work in expect to need to acquire some technical knowledge. As I previously mentioned I, for one, will share what knowledge I have with anyone!

On the off chance that any of the persons involved in my example read this and recognise themselves, I do believe that if there is an element of sexism in the decisions that have been made, it is unintentional and done for what's perceived as the best reasons. Perhaps I, like others, am being over sensitive and seeing discrimination where there is none. Maybe I'm showing how long I've been in my current role by being taken aback at the lack of emphasis on basic technical skills...
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  1. Old Comment
    I may have missed your point but

    Do you work with young male IT trainee's?

    Are you sure she was not intimidated by the "Old Men"?

    She may be over cautious and afraid to make any decisions or changes. I will admit women address problems with a different view. This also applies to nationalities.

    I will say there is a push to create equality in the work enviroment. Sometimes this will get people pushed in a job that they may not be qualified to perform.

    That being said I think I am getting too old because every new trainee (regardless of sex) seems not to be fully trained.
    Posted 10-01-2009 at 08:00 PM by Larry Webb Larry Webb is offline
  2. Old Comment
    You may be right. There is a male trainee on another shift. Unfortunately I haven't seen what the content of the training is that he's been given so it is purely my impression that there is a sexist element to the emphasis that has been placed on avoiding the 'hard' technical stuff. Maybe it purely is that all new trainees need handling with care these days...
    Posted 10-02-2009 at 12:25 AM by rich_c rich_c is offline


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