What didn't he see?
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Sep. 10th, 2009 | 12:24 am
So probably some of you already know a depressing fact about free software: its developers are about 98.5% male. That's not hyperbole, it's a real statistic; female participation ratios are about 10-30 times worse than for even closely related fields like professional programming or academic computer science. It's a wonderful, wonderful community in many other ways; I owe it a huge debt, not just for, ya know, writing all the software that makes my computer go and being a force for liberty in the digital age, but for experience, knowledge, friends — a chunk of who I am. And yet...
Anyway, the issue of female participation came up a few times recently on a news site I frequent, and attracted the usual response (neither link recommended unless you need a cure for low blood pressure, though the second has more redeeming features). That response being, of course, a big pile of spin, denial, and derailment. Not exclusively, but. I'm sure you're surprised.
I mostly stayed out of RaceFail et seq., but privilege has really been on our minds around here recently, and, well. These are my people. I'm not sure wading in did much good (if you ignored my advice and followed that link, mine are the posts from "njs"), and I particularly doubt I convinced any of the main offenders. But — in part as a result of RaceFail, in fact — I think I was able to discuss the issues more clearly than in the past. I had better conceptual tools. And perhaps I was able to help a few bystanders learn to see and talk about these issues, and pick up some tools for themselves. I'm not an expert in these things, but my impression is that when women are so rare that they — and other's behavior towards them — are simply invisible, then that itself becomes one of the problem's roots. Expert or not, I can at least make sure that on my little corner of the internet, this $#@ won't go unchallenged. Here's to awareness.
But on a more uplifting note, it's also from the first discussion — esp. Kirrily Robert's keynote that set it off — that I became aware of the Organization for Transformative Works's Archive of Our Own. I knew about OTW, of course — they're a great group fighting for other sorts of creative liberty — but I didn't know about their software development project.
Now, as you know, Bob, their core demographic is fangirls, the sort who squee and write slash fiction and all that, and every Bob knows that that's about the least tech-heady audience you can think of. So then how on earth did they start this project off, anyway? They said, hey all you women who've been told to be afraid of computers, BAM, you're programmers now, try this and report back (click this link it is fantastic, maybe this one too). And that's what happened. And now they have 60k LOC, 20+ coders, all women.
Okay, so that's a simplification and those contributors aren't all newbies pulled in by that post, but: High-octane AWESOME, yo, on so many levels. So screw you, Bob.
I've recently been enjoying some art games — computer "games" designed as interactive art pieces. It's a pretty experimental scene; everyone's trying to figure out how to make this stuff work at all. And one of those interesting experiments is called Pathways, by Terry Cavanagh.
I recommend it — it'll only take you 10 minutes to play through, and no clicky-clicky reflexes are required.
But playing it with all the above swirling around my head, I couldn't help noticing how very... gendered it is. Not explicitly, and I'm definitely not calling it out as sexist — it's a personal work, and that person is male. Well, but... since the answer to art is art, I just did my own experiment.
I drew some sprites and poked some assembler and inverted it. For me it makes something new. Try for yourself: Pathways Remixed (if you don't have Windows — I don't — then it works well under Wine).
 ETA: since it seems this wasn't totally clear to everyone, let me clarify that yes, this is intended as irony.