Revolution is knocking on the door. About FSCONS and feminism again.

I am changing these days. My mind is changing, and my thoughts - with it. I think it is my MA thesis which is changing me. Each day I discover new things around women's contribution to FOSS development, which is sometimes difficult to explain, but is tempting to make it heard by more people. This is why preparing a speech is a birth of a new challenge. It cannot be done months before it is given. And instead of doing my slides in the plane, I kept working on my research. Because the more I advance into the issue, the more what I will talk about will be new. And the more it is new, the more it is passionate. And by presenting it to other people, will make me advance with the research.

Every hacker conference confirms things, and opens up for some new thoughts. My point of view seems rare, since I am into three things at the same time: I do hacktivism, I do feminism, and I do research on these both things. Well, going to hack conferences is the rarest of the conference topics I actually do. More often I get the chance to go to academics ones, where I need to define what is FOSS, what is “women” and what is “contribution”. Then to ones on women rights and feminism (need to introduce information and communication technologies through FOSS). As for me, the hacktivism ones are my favourite ones. These really touch to so many issues I do not get the chance to hear about elsewhere then at the presentations.

This time, there were 3 things which are rarely heard in public, in this type of public, and in this way. Here's what I mean:

Free Software movement and women's movement have many similarities.

Eversince I heard this affirmation a few years ago, I have not stopped thinking about. I have even written about it (in French) in a book chapter I wrote for the “Action communautaire québécoise à l'ère du numérique”. If I can mention just a few in here, it could be:

  • Both movements make part of a solidarity movement around the world, fighting in certain sense for communication rights, and free access to information and resources.
  • Both movements have political agenda. It is not just about hackerism or women, it is about rights, and about changing society into a better one.
  • Both movements, being part of a network, strive for sharing of knowledge, liberating access to technology and contents, of independence and autonomy from providers and infrastructures, for localising practices.

Presenting the concept of Feminism to a Free Software audience.

Usually, I don't do that. Other presenters talk more often about women than about feminism. It is a sensitive issue. But by giving a keynote, I thought it was the chance to make people aware, there are these feminists, who are not angry against men (as many think), but who wish to collaborate with men. And who fight for making a place for themselves among the decision-makers who produce technology. Because women are also part of the users of these technologies, therefore they have to have a say on how this technology will be conceived, in order to be usable by these women.

Presenting my doubts on the 1% of women into Free Software development.

This is revolutionary, I don't joke! Both, men and women, researchers and activists, everyone takes the Flosspols report as a saint, simply because it is the only one who did a considerable work regarding the issue. Even the next Flosspols report, which goes into details about women's challenges in the FOSS community, gets the number from the previous report as a base to move forward. How does this is problematic for me?

  • First of all, by personal experience. One percent means that at FSCONS should have been just 2 women in total. They were more than 10, maybe even 15. There's not been a geeky conference I have not met a number between 10 and 25% of women. At Oekonux, we were 23% of the presenters, and about 20% of the participants.
  • Secondly, one percent of what activity? Flosspols, with all its professional approach, does not really define what “Free software development” mean. Where does software development start, and where does it end, in the whole bunch of processes that involve software development. Which exactly developers did they interview to get to this conclusion? Because I can see many female contributors, who are actually invisible, because of the way they contribute.
  • And thirdly, I don't like this number. One percent of something means similar to zero. Even 10% of something means similar to zero. For example, what would you think if someone says: “One percent of citizens think the president is a wrong”. Ok, but then, if the rest 99% think he is not, then what? In this sense, if a girl/woman decides to join a free software community, but hears there will be one woman to each 100 men she meets, this would sound discouraging.
  • Just to add to this final point, that it is also a point of view. The same Flosspols report (2006), which was investigating women's participation to FOSS, found out, that when asking the same community consisting of men and women the question: “Do you see sexism in the community”, 80% of women said yes, compared to only 20% of men who thought so, too. Therefore, the same actions done in the same community, are perceived differently by different people. If this can be turned in terms of contribution, if women consider something is important to the software development, they will have to convince at least half of the male contributors that it is so, in order to be accepted with majority.

So, why would this be revolutionary, after all? Well, being heard by people, it will definitely progress, diffuse and evolve. For educational purposes, and for the fact there's been made a meeting point for feminism and free software to share and to exchange, to ask and answer questions and to think out loud on what to do to make this link stronger. Ok, maybe it has not been revolutionary in the sense of exploding, but it was a step to a big change, to a time, when there will be a large number of women among the free software activist, and thus free software movement will become an even better place to be.

References:

Flosspols 2002

Flosspols 2006