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Thursday, 12 November 2009 04:32

Ubuntu chief responds to sexism allegations

By
Mark Shuttleworth, the chief of Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu, has finally spoken out to counter charges of sexism which have been levelled against him recently.


Shuttleworth was accused of making sexist remarks during a keynote he gave at the LinuxCon conference in Portland, Oregon earlier this year.

More recently, he was asked leading questions during a Q and A held during an open week for the latest Ubuntu release; his answers were posted on the Geek Feminism website, which is run by Perl developer Kirrily Robert, as alleged evidence that he does not support diversity.

As iTWire reported (and no other mainstream technology outlet did - the silence was indeed deafening), Shuttleworth's answers led to LinuxToday managing editor Carla Schroder labelling him a "sexist twit."

Shuttleworth broke his silence on the same forum. He described himself as intrigued by Schroder's characterisation of him as a "sexist twit", pointing out that the four people who represented all the authority that he exercised in all the institutions for which he was responsible were women.

"...the COO of Canonical is a woman, appointed by me; the CEO of the Shuttleworth Foundation is a woman, appointed by me; the CEO of Hip2BeSquare, a South African educational campaign, appointed by me, is a woman; the CEO of HBD Venture Capital, also appointed by me, is a woman," he wrote.

"If anything, there’s a case to be made that I harbor (sic) some deep mistrust of male competence, since apart from my own role in Canonical, the above four women represent all the authority I exercise in all the institutions for which I’m responsible. On my executive team, as it were, there’s a very healthy gender balance."

Shuttleworth said he was no fundamentalist when it came to software freedom. "Because Ubuntu is such a visible part of the push for software freedom, people sometimes assume that Ubuntu is fundamentalist about that. And we aren’t," he wrote.

"We think it’s a better way to produce software, but we also think it’s important that people can use their proprietary software with Ubuntu if that’s important to them. We even went as far as including proprietary drivers for some hardware, if that was the best way to get free software up and running on the computer."

He said the questions that been put to him during the open week by a person using the handle MarkDude were plainly fundamentalist. "The first tried to draw a link between diversity and an arbitrary goal. The second put words in my mouth – 'did you just say that primarily white dudes are able to…'.

"I saw no reason to pander to the questioner with vacuous reassurances – the practice of the Ubuntu community speaks for itself, we are an open and tolerant community that defends participation by all subject to the code of conduct.

"As someone said in this thread, it’s all too easy to claim a commitment to diversity while doing nothing of the sort – our actions speak louder than any words."

CONTINUED


Shuttleworth said feminist fundamentalism was damaging to the cause of women. "The sort of acrimonious knee-jerk accusations that fly around in this forum are not constructive debate. This is not a forum that seeks to address real problems – instead, it champions the mistaken notion that women are being systematically excluded from responsibility and authority in the free software world," he wrote.

"Comments... that support that world view are enthusiastically embraced, especially when presented by men. Comments that challenge it are automatically debased. The result is an echo chamber that does little to improve the world.

"If there are women in this forum who are here because they want to participate in a vibrant and positive free software project, then I welcome you all to participate in Ubuntu. I’m confident that, like (Ubuntu community member) Mackenzie (Morgan), you’ll be able to find innumerable ways to exercise your talents and socialize (sic) with like-minded individuals."

Schroder, however, wasn't done with her allegations, and in a response to Shuttleworth accused him of attacking and discrediting the messenger, rather than dealing with issues.

Later, Schroder apologised for using the term "sexist twit". "I swear I am getting senile, because I forgot to say: Mark, I am sorry for calling you a sexist twit. That was low-class and uncalled-for, and I am sincerely sorry, and will watch my words more carefully in the future.," she wrote.

Meanwhile, Ubuntu chief technology officer Matt Zimmerman has cast his hat into the ring on this issue, though not as prominently as he did last time.

Zimmerman posted a comment on the blog of Canonical employee Graham Binns, which said:

"Thanks for sharing your perspective on diversity in the Ubuntu project, and for showing your support of people involved in activism. To me, success for the project means much more than closing Bug #1. Ubuntu was founded on the concept of a principled community, under the belief that cooperation was an essential part of fulfilling the vision. A community which only cooperates with like-minded people is missing out on key insights from other points of view."

Bug #1 in the Launchpad bug tracking system, where bugs in Ubuntu are listed, is "Microsoft has a majority market share" - not really a bug in Ubuntu but a statement about the intention to grab more market share for Ubuntu.

The first question Shuttleworth was asked by MarkDude referred to this bug: "how important is having a diverse group of contributors (women & minority folks) to solving Bug #1?"

His response was "not especially, but it makes the project more interesting." This was interpreted as sexist and led to the outburst by Schroder.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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