Siding with the Bastards

Let me preface this by stating a few things: if you are going to tell me that girls are inherently bad at technology, programming, or are getting their panties in a twist, please fuck the fuck off. I feel confident in judging you a waste of an opportunity for a perfectly good pair of ovary and sperm.

Secondly, I haven’t read a transcript or seen a video, because the people ranting about this are seemingly unable to link to either, lest you judge it for yourself.

So all I have to go on is the quotes and snippets and attempts at context. It sounds like the obviously poorly-delivered joke (I say so because it’s causing a brou-ha-ha rather than a laugh) was meant to go something like this:

  1. Have you ever tried to explain your muddled thinking to someone else?
  2. You know how it causes embarrassment when the other person gives you that quizzled look, and you realize you’re an idiot?
  3. As a multi-millionaire and astronaut, I find myself embarrassed trying to explain how my software works to members of the gender to which I’m attracted, even though my software is awesome.
  4. If my software was easy to explain—thus saving me the embarrassment of muddled thinking about design—it would also be easy for people to use.
  5. Mush the last few steps together: if my software is easy to use, it’s easy to explain how it works, and I can sell it (and by extension, myself) to members of the gender to which I’m attracted in social situations.

This is a logical progression, and an attempt to appeal to evolutionary processes in order to make a bunch of misfit workaholics socially useful.

Unfortunately for him, Mark Shuttleworth is a well-socialized heterosexual gentlemen from somewhere other than the suburban United States, so he’s attracted to women, and apparently isn’t aware that in the US, it’s not OK in polite company to refer to someone he’s interested in chatting up at the bar a girl. It honestly sounds like he’s trying to be cute with it, but falling on his face because some people are offended when they hear about prominent figures talking about women as girls. Either that or one advantage of being a astronaut is that your world is post-gendered.

Yes, I’m jealous of the money and space travel. I’m also young and ambitious, so not too terribly worried about it.

Regardless, part of the reaction is defense against the assertion of privilege and control: dudes don’t get mad when women talk about boys in those terms in our presence because the matriarchy hasn’t existed for thousands of years and we don’t have to worry about it. The reaction we (boys) have is either blushing or strutting a bit, because we recognize it as a sign of selection and an assertion of power.

And, of course, bad-assed women are very attractive to guys my age—so many video games, so little time… Our great-great-grandsons, however, will curse us for our blindness. 😉

Conversely, ladies may bristle when men talk about the girls, because it’s a term of endearment that is inexorably tied back to when all women, in all circumstances, were considered girls. There’s an extremely ugly legacy lurking close enough to the collective memories of both women and men when it comes to a man asserting power and showing signs of selection.

That’s, I think, why Mark’s comments are compared to RMS’s. Even though—at least in my third-hand deconstruction—they are logically to get the audience to do the right thing because of a woman’s dominance in selection situations, the language he is using is loaded enough to tell a different narrative.

Collective memories!? Narrative!? Holy pretentious fuck. Fuck this, who’s playing at the club tonight? Yeesh!

Update: Thanks to Mackenzie for posting the link to the video and slides.

As noted by nukeedit, the release comment (in the first few minutes), has a connection to orgasm, but it was not gender specific, and had no connection to hookers at all. Now, I’ve read Emma Goldman, and claim to understand it, but iterating that precise chain of logic to anything related to sex ends up with your proscriptions effectively indistinguishable from moral traditionalists, and results matter more than intentions. To put it another way: darkmatter may be a tool, but sex is not the enemy.

On the “girls” comment… (at 36:00, slide starts at 35:00) ugh. He ends up eluding to the fact that he’s referring to “girls” as “people who don’t care about free software.” In context, the comment is actually worse than it is without context. Logically, there really isn’t a way to salvage his comments as somehow different from the “teach it to your grandma”, even though I don’t think that was actually what he was trying for.

Results do matter more than intentions. To me, as a native-born white male engineer in the US, the results are this: an otherwise engaging talk on how to make FOSS not suck, which gives voice to my own thoughts from years ago about UX and code—particularly the intimate relationship between the APIs you’re writing and the UIs that can rest atop them—is completely forgotten, and the only thing people are talking about is what a complete cobag Mark was for joking about girls.

20 thoughts on “Siding with the Bastards

  1. tretle: Some people were angry about his use of the term, some people were angry about their being angry, others were angry about the angry about the angry.

    I make up for returning it to a meta ^ 2 by being self-deprecating and referential.

  2. What do you mean “we”, white man?

    I didn’t read any comments that claimed all men were oppressing anyone. I read comments by women defending their point of view against men attacking it (and visa-versa). I also noticed there was more appreciation of the fact that the person you’re debating against doesn’t have to agree with you just because you’re talking among the fairer sex.

    Yes, that was intentional.

  3. I don’t understand, if everyone understands what he meant then why is there this big issue surrounding it.

  4. I found an ironic comment on chris’s post.

    liz -> actual oppression of men or attempts to censor people’s thoughts.

    She was responding to people who were asking whether it was sexist or whether it was taken out of context.
    I replied with a comment trying to explain how we were not being oppressive and found it sexist that she would assume that men are oppressing her because some people in comments to a post disagree with her opinion or simply do not want to read about sexism on an planet.gnome, some people want to read about gnome, that doesn’t make them oppressive all it means is they really like gnome 😀

    hmmm…. maybe I should just shut up.. 😦 my opinion is worth nothing.

  5. I’m male. I was there, at the keynote, and I heard the comments. I found them both tacky, and I could tell that the women sitting next to me found them even more tacky.

    I agree with the comments on how Mark probably meant the second remark about “explaining to girls what we do”, but anyone who gave it a modicum of thought could have realized that the comments would offend people.

    As for the remark on “happy endings”, it struck me as crass and inappropriate. I wouldn’t specifically call it sexist; as a man, I don’t particularly want to hear a sexual reference in a technical presentation any more than a woman would.

  6. Hi James,

    Your post seems to be only referring to the fact that Mark chose the word “girls” instead of the word “women”, but as I understand it, this is not the main reason that anyone is upset — I didn’t mention it in my post, and neither did Kirrily in her open letter. To be clear, I consider the statement just as problematic when you s/girls/women/ in it.

    – Chris.

  7. ok, well when I said “we” I was referring to the people who disagreed on the comments of the other post that were being labeled “oppressive males”.
    Its kind of strange you didn’t spot it as that was a direct quote try searching for it on the page “actual oppres­sion of men or attempts to cen­sor people’s thoughts.” -> thats it word for word.

  8. Chris,

    Pardon my naiveté, but why is the statement problematic?

    Update: What I mean is, how did you interpret it, and what about your implementation is problematic?

  9. Because you cant label people who disagree with you as oppressive males and as for the second part of the statement the censoring peoples thoughts bit.
    Nobody censored anyones thoughts until people started shouting evil oppressive male at any disagreement.
    Insinuating that everyone that disagrees is oppressive and in turn bad or even male is in itself not only wrong but also sexist.
    My mother and three sisters agree with me that Mark’s analogy was misconstrued.
    Are they oppressive males censoring peoples thoughts?
    The hypocrisy of some from some of these people is insane.

  10. Hey Tretle,

    I think you’re misreading Liz’s comment. She was describing the backlash against folks criticzing Mark’s comment. Let me try rephrasing for clarity. Liz said: “Kirrily said basically, “Hey, that was kind of annoying, how about not doing that”.”

    She then said:

    “Then, a bunch of backlash which describes the above as:”

    And then, re-read the bullet point: “actual oppression of men or attempts to censor people’s thoughts.”

    She was not describing men oppressing women, but rather accusations in the comments that those of us who are critical of Mark’s comments are oppressing men and attempting to censor men. There’s definitely a lot of that kind of backlash both in the comments and in other blogs on this issue.

    Does that make a bit more sense?

    Because yeah, some folks – myself included – found Mark’s comments problematic. Asking him to consider their impact on the women who are involved in Ubuntu, and the women who could be, is not the same thing as oppression or censorship.


  11. The only real problem I see, from what I’ve read, is that he said something akin to “we could explain our work to girls” instead of “*I* could explain our work to girls”, practically short-circuiting some brains in the audience that aren’t attracted to girls and failed to interpret this as a personal experience to be changed to fit each one’s circumstances. And please, consider the context where you’re bound to talk to non-tech savvy people (for me as a straight male it’s every pub I walk into).

    Add Mark’s fame as a community leader and political correctness radicalism into the mix, and you have a big non-issue being discussed left and right.

  12. In my opinion, this is a typical making a mountain out of a molehill speech.

    I am a heterosexual 20 year old male, and I have trouble even descending into the mindset that interprets Mark’s statement as offensive.

    From the way I see it, Mark was making a joke, period, and the statement should be interpreted that way. This isn’t even an issue worth so many blogs and flames.

    Whether the joke was in good/bad taste is another thing, personally I have no problems with it. But I highly doubt Mark intended to slur women.

  13. Well, I like shagging my “girl” and she likes shagging her “boy”. Oh, I guess we’re both sexist!

    If you’re trying to impress a girl (oops, I said it again) by showing her how much you get women, then don’t bother wasting any more time, she already thinks you’re a pussy.

  14. Women want it both ways, don’t they. They get offended when they’re not treated as technological equals to their male counterparts, but then they run off and form groups like GNOME Women, BSDChix (would you have preferred Shufflebottom to call you “chicks”?) etc. to compartmentalize themselves based on nothing other than their sex.

    No doubt you’d still complain if we went off to create Ubuntu Boiz or the Red Had Private Gentleman’s Club, though.

  15. Oh geez. I swear to god, you give these fuckers an inch of carpet to roll around on and thirty seconds later they’re shitting all over it.

    darkermatter, Boyo, I mean you.

  16. Jean: you’re free to not care about this issue. You have that privilege. Please don’t try to convince us that therefore *no-one* should care.

    We have no shortage of pixels.

    Anyway, doesn’t this look stupid?:
    —Women: “Hey, men! You’re oppressing us!”
    —Men: “No, we’re not. Stop complaining.”

  17. What’s the strange whooshing sound?

    Why, it’s the sound of a bunch of people completely missing the freaking point.

    It’s kind of ironic that everyone who complains about Kirrily not having watched a video of the talk (which is quite hard since there isn’t one) has apparently not read her post, which both explains exactly why the remark is problematic, and is about as far from any kind of attempt to censor anyone as it is conceivably possible to get.

    Really, this isn’t a hard one, guys.

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