Women… in tech?! (And elsewhere)

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This article was bi-posted to Gemini and the Web; Gemini version is here: gemini://gemini.circumlunar.space/users/kraileth/neunix/2021/women_in_tech.gmi

This is kind of a sensible topic, I know. But being a person used to stand up for his beliefs, I take the risk of being shouted at. I’m well aware that I’m not going to make friends in either of the two “camps” that usually fight each other over the topic. As always, I’m more interested in a balanced view – which of course means to criticize all the various ideologies involved.

Why do I write this article?

In my previous post I wrote about the new campaign to cancel Richard Stallman who has returned to the Free Software Foundation’s board of directors. It involved all the common drama about him being “sexist”, “transphobic” and so on.

Quite some interesting things happened since I wrote said article: The support letter for RMS ended up with more than double the amount of people signing it compared to the original open letter pressing for his removal.

I’ve read a very interesting article written by two women who also chose to support RMS in this case. If you care about the topic, have a look at what Hannah Wolfman-Jones wrote about a year ago (including a statement by Nadine Strossen). Also a more recent support article has been published by Leah Rowe (a transgender person).

And it even seems like the FSF is not going to give in this time! Thus it looks like this campaign failed (let’s hope that will happen more often in the future).

Something less important also happened; I’m only going to mention it here because it’s the direct reason for me to write this article. A reader commented on the RMS article. I’ll cite the part here that made me promise a longer statement than would fit into another comment:

Thirdly I’ll add here it’s insulting as Hell so many of you only pretend to care about Neurodiversity when a man is accused of and or being a creep, support of woman with ASD being harassed by men is never even considered.

I do not “pretend to care” about Neurodiversity. I do care about life and about society. This involves a lot of things including what is sometimes labeled Neurodiversity. But there is a reason why I put it all that general: I don’t support adding so much more value to a single aspect of the great whole. People who only care about particularities often think that I’m hostile towards their concerns. Usually I’m not. I just refuse to neglect other important aspects for the (alleged) benefit of another.

Do I care for women?

This is a very strange question, but nevertheless an interesting one. Not so much because of what my answer tells about me. More so because of what it tells about a person who would seriously ask it. Why? Well, if it’s not a rhetorical question, the person asking at least thinks that some form of “no” could be the answer. Which means that he or she is willing to believe that I might suffer from a severe mental illness.

I have a mother. I have a wife. And in fact I have daughters. How on earth could I not care about women? But let’s say somebody doesn’t have the previous information. What scenarios are there where I could answer “no” as a sane person? I could be a monk in a monastery who maybe would not have contact with women ever again in his life. This is a pretty extreme example already (and some people would doubt the sanity of anyone making such a decision but that’s not the point). I’d still adore mother Mary and it would be my religious duty to pray for other people (where limiting that to other men would not make any sense at all). Or maybe I’m a hermit, sick of it all, going to live in the woods by myself. Another rather extreme example. Perhaps I really wouldn’t care about women. But certainly not specifically! I wouldn’t care about them because I stopped caring for anybody.

Think about less radical examples. If you don’t flee society completely, women are almost guaranteed to be part of your life at least indirectly. The woman at the bank or on the counter in the store? Even if you are a pretty selfish person you won’t care less for them than you do for anybody else around you that you have no closer relation to. I tried to find one but could not come up with a somewhat plausible case where anybody would specifically not care for women and I wouldn’t question this person’s sanity (like with e.g. some ultra-orthodox Jews. It’s simply mind-boggling to find out about their views and forms of life!).

Alright, I do care. But what does that mean? I grew up in a society that was very much hostile to women in many regards – but people didn’t see that (not just men, a lot of women didn’t see or didn’t want to see it either!). As a child I chased the ideas of chivalry that I knew from books because I believed in that. I admired women as they seemed to be free from a lot of typical male… let’s say: defects. I did not understand that they have their own. 😉

Nailing my colors to the mast

As a child and later as a young man I stood up for women e.g. when dirty jokes were told in all male groups. I was called names for that (e.g. “gelding” and such). It was difficult and my protests and actions did not have any actual effect. But I at least tried, eh? The fact that I never dated a girl (until I was a bit older and was finally thinking about starting a family) made some people suspect that I was secretly gay. Which of course made matters worse.

While I cannot deny that I did feel attracted to girls, my beliefs in what partnership should be set me apart from almost all males in my peer group. Not being interested in some cheap quick pleasure does have one very positive side though: It frees you from the requirements of the “hunter and prey” game, like constantly having to think about what lie you should tell a girl next to eventually bed her. So I was able to simply be honest when talking to women. And this allowed for some very interesting discussions that I wouldn’t want to have missed.

My observation is that many woman have a good sense for a certain kind of danger. When they feel safe, they behave differently and they also speak differently. Knowing this I learned to fully accept that there have to be women-only places (and that there’s no need to feel “excluded” for not being admitted). There simply is no male equivalent to this (which is perfectly understandable if you think about it).

When I still was in school, I participated in one compulsory optional subject as the only boy in class for a while (a month or so later another boy switched classes and came into the course). I found it a little strange (mostly in the sense of “unusual” but nothing more) for the first few days, but I soon basically forgot about it. Much later I have been in a reversed situation: For a while there was only one girl in an otherwise all male class. She understood the subjects well, got good marks in written tests – but was admittedly a bit shy in class. She would definitely not participate when fellow students got passionate (and thus a bit louder) about several topics. It probably would have been easier for her in a more balanced class.

Culture

The biggest problem that I saw and still see is popular culture. What picture of women is being conveyed? I mentioned jokes. Let me present one pathetic example that I still remember:

Why do women have legs? – So they don’t leave a slime tail on the floor!

Ha ha, very funny, isn’t it?

Here’s another example, this time from music: A song called “Polonäse Blankenese” was popular in my country when I was a child. The artist, Gottlieb Wendehals, was more of a comedian. You have to take that into account, but still. Here’s the translation of a piece of the chorus:

We’re setting off, taking very big steps
And Erwin from behind touches Heidi’s… shoulder
That lifts the spirits, delight emerges
And that’s for all to see now

What’s the deal? Well, the verses rhyme in German – except for “shoulder”. What would obviously rhyme with the German word for steps however is – tits.

While you can dismiss such things as harmless jokes (and I wouldn’t encourage anyone going hysteric over it), if something like this was very popular both on TV and folk festivals and such, it certainly helps characterize the spirit of that time.

Fast forward a couple of years. In the late 90’s we had the Bloodhound Gang and their album “Hooray for Boobies”. I’m well aware that – again – it’s meant to be funny, but also a little insensitive perhaps? There were songs like their “Three Point One Four” (didn’t get the word play with that title back then) played on parties or even on the radio. This brought us great lyrics like “I need to find a – new vagina; Any kind ‘o – new vagina!”. I’m not saying that toilet humor and the like needs to die, but I do question if it really needs to have a place in the mainstream where it’s hard to evade?

And as we all know, it didn’t get better but in fact much worse. It didn’t stop with (unconscious as I’d claim) “humor”. Today we have certain “Hip Hop” bands for example who completely objectify women and entirely reduce them to their genitals. While Wendehals in the early 1980s wouldn’t actually say “Tits” and it was “perky” enough to hint it, there’s no lack of way more abasing words in popular culture today.

A fellow metal head once played a “fun” song on his phone for all of us to laugh about. The point was that someone took a “Hip Hop” song’s very misogynous lyrics and used them in another song of a genre where such a thing is… not what you’d expect. While I actually think the performance is not such a bad idea at all (because thanks to the grotesque change in genre, people who got used to what “Hip Hop” is like might think again). I didn’t feel well in that situation, though – because there was a girl with us. Obviously my classmate didn’t even think that there might be a problem with lyrics (translated) about “what the cunts really want”. I asked her later what she thought about that. Her reply was: She can laugh about that, you simply have to grow a bit of a thick skin – there’s no point in being offended!

While she was right of course, I don’t think it really has to be that way. In that scene nobody intended to hurt anybody after all. It’s simply mindlessness, not bad will.

There are so many examples from everyday life one could write about. I do not agree with each and every scandal that certain people call “sexist”. But it’s not like there’s no problem at all. There is. Understanding that there is in fact a whole class of problems that many of us don’t even notice is a very good first step. The second would be helping people who don’t want to remain ignorant see them. Then we could start talking about possible ways out of this mess.

Tech

Especially in tech some men seem to think that this is their playground and that women should simply do something else. That’s a somewhat strange position to start with. But does anybody really think “fighting” (in the classical sense) that way of thinking can do any good? Attacking somebody forces that person to go into defense mode. Doing that is a lousy tactic when you want to change someone’s mind!

There are more forms of attacking than just telling somebody very frankly that he’s an idiot. One example is dragging women into tech to fulfill some kind of “quota”. When a woman gets the job not because of her skills but because being a woman that’s a very problematic situation. There are men who will hate her for this and the woman will suffer from it. She might also struggle with the job that she did not get because she was well fit for due to her education. What a great combination!

My wife doesn’t like tech. She’s annoyed by all those “outreach” programs and everything that – according to her – tries to lure more women into IT. A lot of men also loathe these programs because they feel excluded (something they are not used to!). I think that looking at this slightly differently would be helpful.

Most people have at least heard that the female and the male brain work differently. While we’re all individuals and there are always those that think / feel / work differently than their peers, in general there’s a “male approach” and a “female approach” to things. And no, the female approach is not simply the same thing in pink! I’m all for separating boys and girls in certain school subjects and teaching them differently. This will help both unlock their potential as much as possible. There is no “one size fits all”!

Referring to this for example when justifying the existence of women’s courses might meet much less resistance from men: There’s a logical reason for it after all (and not just obscure “feelings” that not too few men have problems taking serious)! Let’s forget about the fact that women often tend to feel uneasy when they are in a mostly male environment – at least for a moment. We can fix the problem without waving the red rag and making the bull mad.

History

This article is becoming too long already. I intended to write the main part of this article about history: The Germanic, Slavic and Celtic culture and the position of women in it. About how Judaism (not monotheism! The first known monotheistic religion of Jatin in Ancient Egypt – thanks to the damnatio memoriae of Amenhotep IV. better known to us today in its Greek form of Aton or Aten – did not devalue women!) planted a seed that fanatical Christian monks who identified women with “sin” helped grow. This led to prosecution of wise women and eradicated the old rights that they once had.

I thought to give the example how even the term “woman” changed in my native language: It used to be “Weib” (still “weiblich” means simply “female”). In Middle High German “wîb” actually meant woman or wife. Today it’s negatively connoted, more like hag. Today the neutral term for woman is “Frau”. This is derived from “frouwe” which originally addressed a noble woman. If you want to translate lady today, you use “Dame” – so we had to resort to French because the Germanic words for women were devalued over time… (As you can imagine, no such thing happened to the word for “man”.)

And I wanted to write about how I (still in school) stopped admiring women as the better humans when I realized that some are perfectly capable of acting in just as malicious ways: On a school trip some girls conspired against another girl, treating her cruelly enough that she had to quit the trip! There are good and bad people of both genders – and there’s a lot of levels of gray with most women just as with most men. Women are special and I appreciate that a lot. They certainly are not inferior to men but neither are they morally superior in general.

If you think that the previous sentence is wrong, I recommend doing a broader research on the topic. At least read a book about Catherine the Great. Study the conflict between Mary Stewart and Elizabeth I. Get familiar with the epoch of the Catholic church called “Saeculum obscurum” during which weak men were popes and it is said that they were controlled by their more clever fancy women. The term “pornocracy” (as in Rule of Harlots) was coined for this. Or take Countess Báthory into consideration… Life is complex and there have been a lot of strange things going on and continue to do so. Never think that a simplistic view of something will carry the whole truth!

Can we change our ways?

There are people – mostly men – who refuse to see a problem. It’s useless to try to force them into abandoning old ways. Let’s concentrate on raising awareness for the problem with people who are open to see it. Then let’s discuss ideas and possible solutions.

I am deeply convinced that any undue force will actually thwart the undertaking. Forget banning words, getting into reverse witch-hunting and so on. I’m not interested in slightly brightening up the face of the building that is today’s society. What I’d rather look for is the cure. And that can most likely only be found in a new attempt of accepting each other. From that mutual acceptance respect can grow (I’m not talking about “respect” here, the contemporary empty phrase worn-down beyond recognition!).

When my grandparents from the mother’s side passed, I came by an old wooden decoration plate. Its translation reads: “It’s better to talk to each other than to keep silent against each other”. There were conflicts within their marriage for sure, but they remained together “in good times and in bad times” and overcame them. This is the way, both in a relationship and in society in general.

Can those of us who at least have some good will please try to get along despite our differences in opinion on particular issues? The struggle between sexes is entirely pointless – what “victory condition” would either “side” define? Let’s try to relax towards both men and women who think that they have to participate in that struggle. If more of us start looking for understanding each other, for kindness and re-unification to advance society as a whole together – then the people who preach hate, hostility and division will lose. In addition to our efforts it will only take time.

Cancelling Richard Stallman?

[New to Gemini? Have a look at my Gemini FAQ.]

This article was bi-posted to Gemini and the Web; Gemini version is here: gemini://gemini.circumlunar.space/users/kraileth/neunix/2021/cancelling_rms.gmi

If you have any interest in FLOSS (Free and Libre Open-Source Software), you know who Richard Matthew Stallman (RMS) is: As the founder of both GNU project and the Free Software Foundation (FSF), he’s quite an icon to many. In 2019, a scandal around deliberate (?) misunderstanding of what he said regarding one detail of the Epstein affair ultimately lead to him stepping down as president of the FSF. Now in March 2021 he returned to the organization’s board of directors. The latter fact was reason enough for quite some people to start a turmoil again, pressing for his second removal with an open letter.

Now personally I don’t like RMS much. I believe in permissive licenses and prefer those over copyleft in general and strongly over the GPL license family that Stallman stands for like no other person. I’m a happy Vi user and think that Emacs (RMS’s editor) is a great example for what software should not be like. I’ve also regularly opposed false claims of Stallman’s many fans and their very pessimistic view on important topics like freedom and life in general. In fact I’ve used neologisms like Stallmanism and Stallmanites to describe the indiscriminate ideology of Stallman and his most pig-headed followers.

Today I’ve signed another Open Letter supporting RMS and I’m even writing this article. How come?

Cancel culture

Let me repeat: I do not particularly like the person RMS nor do I uncritically approve of what he stands for. On the contrary. But as an Open Source enthusiast and advocate who has tried to argue against his positions I do even less approve of how a mob of phony hypocrites is acting against him. Gesture politics is wrong and actually harmful. Let’s talk about real problems in this world and not publicly slay giants of the Free Software movement by basically backstabbing them!

The phenomenon of what is often called “cancel culture” these days is one brutal form of contemporary witch-hunt. It is deeply anti liberal and anti free speech. Real people are “convicted” not by a judge after at least being able to plead innocent and have their case examined duly. No, it’s a gang with a certain political agenda that decides someone is guilty of whatever and will just insist on action to be taken on their judgement. This is much, much more dangerous than most neutral observers think. If such a campaign is successful it means that de facto there is a new power along the actual written law – and it may even take precedence over it!

Let’s think about this for a moment. Maybe you’ve been a lawful citizen all your life. You are an esteemed member of society and maybe even earned honors and awards. But then all of the sudden somebody points at you and shouts: “You did XYZ thirty years ago!” While that was nothing special back in the day and was (and is!) perfectly legal, more and more people join in, screaming at you that this is a “disgrace” and completely “inexcusable”… How do you defend against such a campaign?

  • You could explain that it’s not an illegal thing. Then the mob will eat you raw, yelling that this clearly shows “how you have not even learned a thing”!
  • You could state that you are deeply sorry and honestly wish you had acted differently. But as your actions are by the mob’s definition “inexcusable”, you’re done for anyway.
  • Or you could try a combination of both. Yet you’ll still drown in the public wrath directed at you.

Plead guilty or innocent before the judgement of the campaigners – it doesn’t make too much of a difference. And all of that while you are still very much spotless and respectable by law! This violates a number of fundamental legal principles of constitutional states:

  • Nulla poena sine lege (“No punishment without a law”): If no rule exists that prohibits something, you cannot be punished for it.
  • Nulla poena sine lege certa (“No punishment without precise law”): You cannot be convicted on base of a law that describes “somewhat similar” deeds.
  • Nulla poena sine lege praevia (“No punishment without previous law”): If you did something before it was declared a crime, you cannot be punished. Ex postfacto laws are invalid!
  • And more…

The effects of “cancel culture” that we see today are a true nightmare for any rational thinking person. You can be fried decades from now for something you do today without any bad will at all! Also it means turning away from the Christian principle of forgiveness for repentant offenders and thus shakes the very foundation of Western society as we know it. Welcome, friends, to our Brave New… τυραννίς! (I’m using the Greek word Tyrannis on purpose here, because I refer to an ancient Greek Tyrannos here and not modern notions of “Tyranny” and “Tyrant” which is a judgmental and negatively connoted term.)

Context!

Campaigns like the aforementioned against RMS work according their own twisted logic – and that only really applies if you can make people so upset that they are willing to ignore each and every context.

I’m a sysadmin; if you hear me talking about “killing all children” that does not make me a misanthropist or a violent person! Now I can hear you say: Fine, but there are things that are despicable no matter the context! Beg your pardon, but think again, please. Everything is subject to context.

Even though most people would agree to the statement “killing is wrong”, let me ask you if you really think your local butcher is a criminal (no food debate, please. I’ve been a vegetarian myself for close to a decade, but I am a liberal being accepting other people’s different thinking on such a matter)? It actually makes much of a difference if you think that “Thou shalt not kill” is one of the 10 commandments – or if you take a more precise translation of “Thou shalt not murder“!

Or for another example: Could there really be any context that would make the statement “rape should not be punished” anything but loathsome? Yes, of course! It can for example be a premiss in thinking about the consequences of such a stance. And that would be a perfectly legitimate thing: Unbiased thinking about something. There can be value in thinking over even the seemingly most absurd premisses like that.

There are two very important pieces of general context that the campaigners misappropriate:

  • What was the general public feeling towards XYZ at that point in time? Was it really such a huge deal back then? If not: How can you dare to not only dictate your moral values to others but even demand different behavior when what you dislike today was still very common?
  • RMS is autistic. And not even the very light form of it. People’s feelings are hard (maybe even impossible) for him to really understand.

Stallman is for example convinced that our planet is over-populated. When he learned that a person he had email contact with was going to be a father soon, he seriously expressed his sympathy – obviously not knowing that this is usually a joyful event for people…

Isn’t taking RMS’ autism into account a form of “abelism” by the campaigners? 🤪

Blame game

But let’s take a quick look of what people are accusing him. Here’s the beginning of the open letter with some comments from me:

Richard M. Stallman, frequently known as RMS, has been a dangerous force in the free software community for a long time. He has shown himself to be misogynist, ableist, and transphobic, among other serious accusations of impropriety.

Oh, wow. That’s a fairly “standard” set of charges. There’s nothing concrete here, just pretty weird claims made by people who love to hate opinions different from theirs…

These sorts of beliefs have no place in the free software, digital rights, and tech communities.

Sorry, but no. You presume to define something (in a grotesque way with no room for discussion about your definitions!), incriminate somebody (thus harming his reputation), hand down a verdict (without the need to even hear the defendant, because why should you?) and then press to enforce the judgment (ASAP of course). This is how things go in a dictatorship. We’re getting there, mind you, but are not quite there just yet. Get a life, stop being such ignorant jerks and prepare to have your creed challenged.

There’s more in the letter, but it all boils down to making more accusations and impudent demands. I don’t really want to waste any more time on it. Let’s hope that this is where such a campaign can finally be stopped.

If we could all return to discussing in a civilized manner again, that would be a giant step forward.