Important Article on Free Culture and Sexism

I noted this on twitter this morning but it felt important enough to flag it here too. This is a good (though not great) article on an important issue – the fact that “despite the values of freedom and openness, the free culture movement’s gender balance is skewed.”

I don’t doubt on an empirical basis that the author’s statement is accurate, that even compared to the gender balance in technical fields in general, free culture has a gender imbalance. The author identifies 3 potential causes:

(a) some geek identities can be narrow and unappealing;

(b) open communities are especially susceptible to difficult people; and,

(c) the ideas of freedom and openness can be used to dismiss concerns and rationalize the gender gap as a matter of preference and choice.

I’m not particularly sure what to say about (a) other than it seems true. Both (b) and (c) resonate with me because I have been on both ends of these (and they are not always just about gender; “difficult people” and the ideology of freedom and openness can end up marginalizing people for non-gender reasons to. This is something I have been wrestling with for years under the term “the welcoming heart”, cf

Yet both (b) and (c) strike me as issues that can (slowly) be addressed. What I often struggle with though (and this is what I kept tripping up in a session with the HASTAC folks at Mozilla’s Drumbeat Festival in 2010, where I WAS that ‘difficult person,’ something I wrote about in “Free & Learning in Barcelona“) is the extent to which one can expand inclusivity and address this problem through structural changes (be they in software, process, governance, policies, etc) versus the extent to which this is a question of consciousness raising and behaviour change that individuals need to engage in.

I don’t mean to set these up as binary choices (though I realize I just have) as clearly to me both are need, and can, happen together. And maybe that is indeed the answer; that each person who can see the issue starts to do their bit, at the level they are able to act at, be it by speaking up, changing their own behaviour, changing a policy, writing code that helps surface the issue, etc., which then help set up virtuous cycles that slowly start to shift this (having just finished Douglas Hofstadter’s “I am a Strange Loop” I am having a hard time not seeing everything in terms of loops now ;-). Does that seem right to you?

Like I keep telling you – I’m a SLOW learner (but have patience, I too may get there some day.) – SWL