Author's Opinion

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of iTWire.

Have your say and comment below.

Thursday, 12 November 2009 04:32

Ubuntu chief responds to sexism allegations

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."


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.

Please join our community here and become a VIP.

Subscribe to ITWIRE UPDATE Newsletter here
JOIN our iTWireTV our YouTube Community here


It's all about Webinars.

Marketing budgets are now focused on Webinars combined with Lead Generation.

If you wish to promote a Webinar we recommend at least a 3 to 4 week campaign prior to your event.

The iTWire campaign will include extensive adverts on our News Site and prominent Newsletter promotion and Promotional News & Editorial. Plus a video interview of the key speaker on iTWire TV which will be used in Promotional Posts on the iTWire Home Page.

Now we are coming out of Lockdown iTWire will be focussed to assisting with your webinatrs and campaigns and assassistance via part payments and extended terms, a Webinar Business Booster Pack and other supportive programs. We can also create your adverts and written content plus coordinate your video interview.

We look forward to discussing your campaign goals with you. Please click the button below.



iTWire TV offers a unique value to the Tech Sector by providing a range of video interviews, news, views and reviews, and also provides the opportunity for vendors to promote your company and your marketing messages.

We work with you to develop the message and conduct the interview or product review in a safe and collaborative way. Unlike other Tech YouTube channels, we create a story around your message and post that on the homepage of ITWire, linking to your message.

In addition, your interview post message can be displayed in up to 7 different post displays on our the site to drive traffic and readers to your video content and downloads. This can be a significant Lead Generation opportunity for your business.

We also provide 3 videos in one recording/sitting if you require so that you have a series of videos to promote to your customers. Your sales team can add your emails to sales collateral and to the footer of their sales and marketing emails.

See the latest in Tech News, Views, Interviews, Reviews, Product Promos and Events. Plus funny videos from our readers and customers.


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.

Share News tips for the iTWire Journalists? Your tip will be anonymous