LinuxChix as activist community

I’ve had several discussions recently with people interested in the why-so-few-women-FOSS-developers problem (pimp: it’s a problem talked about a lot now, got links for the bibliography I maintain?) specifically as it relates to LinuxChix. The general starting position is this: where is LinuxChix in the creation of Free Software? Well, while individual members are here and there, that tends not to have much to do with their participation in LinuxChix. LinuxChix is a user and social community, and further, it doesn’t seem to ‘graduate’ a lot of people into the big bad world of FOSS development. (Note that some chapters, particularly LinuxChix Brazil, operate pretty differently.)

This has come up in a few places online. I don’t know if Fernanda Weiden was thinking about LinuxChix when she wrote this, but it’s a good match for some of the more negative opinions:

That’s the role of the women’s groups, to offer a friendly interface for women to get their feet wet and then join the community. The problem is when these groups don’t have a clear target, in the end they turn in Barbie worlds that don’t exist in reality. Instead of integrating the women into the community, they serve as ghettos, re-creating existing groups in the community with the only objective being more friendly for women.

Máirín Duffy writes:

LinuxChix gets a lot of mention in the essay is referred to as being an open source development community, but I feel quite strongly that it is not. Some of the motivation behind my pushing for GNOME Women was borne out of frustration with LinuxChix. LinuxChix is really more of a Linux User’s Group (LUG) than an actual development community.

I raised this on a LinuxChix list today and got an interesting response from Carla Schroder. To paraphrase greatly, the upshot was that Carla draws a distinction between not being an open source development community, which pretty much everyone agrees that LinuxChix is not, and not being an activist community.

LinuxChix is pretty broad brush, but some of the things it is active in are: providing a forum for answering technical questions from women and providing skills education to women. And that’s only the more formal stuff. Behind the scenes, there’s a long tradition of discussing technical careers and related things (interviews, salaries) and working on giving women recognition for their technical accomplishments (within the community, mostly). Carla also pointed out that while there aren’t masses of FOSS developers emerging from the community there are quite a lot of women technical writers and a huge number of women sysadmins who’ve derived a substantial chunk of their career launch from LinuxChix help. It’s not a ‘ghetto’ in that sense.

LinuxChix is not active politically, and it’s not a development community. (It helps coders, but it doesn’t have a coherent project.) It does suffer from being seen as the one-stop-shop for women-in-FOSS when it’s actually not doing some things that women would like to do and it’s particularly not doing work to produce women FOSS developers. But that doesn’t mean it should be mistaken for a sheltered workshop, it just means there’s a difference between reality and publicity that could use some work on one direction or the other.