• Archives

  • Categories:

Retiring from the trenches

Over the past couple months I’ve found myself pondering the Women In F/OSS struggle and my place in it. For a long time I found it to be energizing, feeling like I was helping with the educating of people about the issue and engaging in discussions online, but I’ve hit a wall. I cringe at each Ubuntu Planet sexism post because I know the comments will be horrendous and upsetting. I’m not even posting this to the main Ubuntu Planet because of it, I’m tired of donning fire retardant clothing each time I stick my neck out on the issue (posting this in public at all is a risk, I considered not).


I’m tired of being told I’m “too sensitive” or have “no sense of humor” because I spoke up after something I saw made me feel uncomfortable, excluded, and nudged me closer to quitting F/OSS entirely.

I’m tired of answering the same questions over and over again, even if it is just carrying around and handing out a bag-o-links that address the pertinent issues.

I’m tired of hearing the fights and justifications for porn in slides at “professional” tech conferences.

I’m tired of having to defend the existence and usefulness of women in tech groups.

I’m tired of trying to convince people that sexism exists.

I’m sick of all of it, I’m tired of fighting.

But this battle is important, people need to stand up. Lucky for me, I personally can quit the discussion. We have some extraordinary women out there like Kirrily Robert, who gave a keynote at OSCON on the issue (and, even better, gave loads of suggestions on how to fix it and successful projects out there that break down the divide), Melissa Draper who is on the front lines of the sexism posts on the Ubuntu Planet, Mackenzie Morgan out there making blog posts and comments on the issue, and plenty of prominent men in the community standing with us through the mud-slinging like Matt Zimmerman and David Schlesinger. Thanks to all of you, and hundreds more who have taken a stand on the issues, even a single supportive comment on a blog helps!

I won’t be quitting the Women In FOSS scene entirely though. Rather than being in the trenches I’m going to scale back to the non-combatant role of support and encouragement. In addition to continuing to work with the Ubuntu Women initiatives to encourage and promote women in the community, it’s come to my attention that there are organizations in the world whose focus is getting girls involved in technology. I didn’t feel very encouraged in tech as a girl (and was sometimes actively discouraged) and so when I finally got hard core into it I was already several years older than my male geek counterparts, adding to my insecurity with tech. So I think these programs are going to be vital for the future, I think making girls feel confident and proficient with technology will do wonders for changing the industry and open source.

Hurrah for positivity, encouragement and support! It’s still work, but right now it’s so much more rewarding and far less draining.


  • Stav Prodromou

    All soldiers fighting tough battles get fatigued. I hope that you will continue your mission after some well-deserved respite. In any case, thanks for what you have accomplished.

  • dan

    I wish i had something that was keenly observant and inspiring to say, but I dont.

    I’m just glad I’ll have the opportunity to continue to work with you in the Ubuntu an F/OSS communities. Don’t give up on us!

  • pleia2

    Thanks Stav!

    @Dan Thanks :) I foresee that scaling back involvement on this fight will give me more time with the rest of the Ubuntu stuff I love so much. I suspect most of the community will be seeing more of me due to this decision. I love the Ubuntu work! And the people like you I get to work with!

  • Kirrily Robert

    Thank you for the work you’ve done so far, and for the shout-out.

  • robinna

    Thank you for this post and for what you have done. I encounter entrenched sexism just about everyday with a certain group of oldschool techies because my tech expertise is different (and newer) than theirs. I completely understand the exhaustion of fighting. I feel like I spend at least part of each week, if not each day, fighting to be heard. I am trying not to let them win, but it is really hard.

  • C.J. Adams-Collier

    Thank you for all of your work. FWIW, I’ve got two little girls who I’m raising on Ubuntu, and I plan to actively encourage them if that’s the path they decide to take.

  • greggles

    I’m really glad to hear that you are retiring only from the trenches. This is an important problem in need of lots of help. Thanks for the work you’ve done and your commitment to keep working on it.

  • Laraine

    I’m a 56 year old female with 20+ years in the computer industry, mostly at the larger Silicon Valley companies. I remember being discouraged all the way back to a math teacher in 6th grade. You don’t have to convince me that there is a problem. Sexism and discrimination against women have always been present in the computer industry. Sometimes overt, sometimes covert, always annoying. It ranges from behavioural problems to salary and position.

  • Airin Hazelwood

    Thank you for your courageous words. As a woman who is technology competent and enamored I feel and see the sexism too. Part of it, I believe is that I am in Oregon. Portland is one of the few places here where there are more open minded people and funny enough has more topless clubs than I have seen in one city besides Las Vegas. I hope to find a place for myself in the world of technology and employment some day. Until then, I want you to know I am proud to hear another woman not afraid to speak out. We need more people like you. Thank you.

  • Amy

    Yeah, I’ve become a burnout case too– I know exactly what you mean. As much as I enjoy the fundamentals of what I do, I think I need to move to a different field.

  • Kevin McAllister

    This is actually something I am somewhat interested in, having two daughters. The cultural influence on people in certain professions or activities. Thanks for pointing me at Kirrily Robert, I read through her post on her keynote and found it interesting.

    In the dabbling I’ve done with ideological activism over the past year I can see how it is easy to get frustrated. Because I advocate politically for individual rights as an absolute I have been called simplistic, crazy and a cultist among myriad other things. I’ve found that it’s best to root that type of activity into your overall goals, by asking, “what do I want that requires me to do this? And is this the best way for me to achieve my goals?” And if you find yourself dreading to do those activities but compelled to do it as a “duty” you need to as you have pull back and re-evaluate.

    Thanks for your effort in trying to raise the level of rational discourse in open source, and best in finding the role you want in that realm.

  • Valerie Aurora

    I totally understand; I withdrew about two years ago, partly from exhaustion and partly because it wasn’t clear to me that I was having any real effect. The problems women face in open source are only the spillover from much wider societal problems which are going unfixed. I felt like I was building sand castles by the edge of the ocean – all my work would get swept away by larger forces. So I decided to invest my time in a way that would definitely not be wasted: by working to be a successful woman who could serve as a role model. I’m far happier now.

  • Adele

    As one burned out IT woman to another, I thank you for all of your efforts.

    And I wish you the best of luck on your new adventures… sounds very positive!

    (I wandered to this post by way of Kirrily’s twitter, btw.)

  • Радий

    Очень приглянулась ваша статейка, в ней прибрано очень вдоволь поднято с нашей человечьей повседневной жизни и это аж хорошо! Есть над чем помозговать

  • Miriam Ruiz

    I totally understand and share your feelings. I’ve already gone through that, you already know and you were there to support me. Just don’t try to save the world yourself alone, pick your battles, do what you think is fair both for you and for the rest of the people, and try not to burn out. You won’t solve anything by burning yourself out. At some point you will recover your energy, and will also have learnt from past battles and will probably approach this whole problem from a different perspective. You’re great, I know you’ll do it :)

    For the moment, try to recover your strength, have fun doing stuff and just don’t waste all your energies in battles. *** hug ***

    @Valerie: It’s sad to hear that you’ve also burnt out. You’ve always been a role model and inspiration for me, I already told you in person in Debconf7 in Edinburgh, so I wouldn’t say that you wasted your time. At least in what I’m concerned. It’s nice to hear that you’re happier now, though. I’m glad for that :)

  • CJ Fearnley

    I’ve always found this Buckminster Fuller quote inspiring: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” By focusing on building a new “normal” in which women are accepted and encouraged in tech (without the need for an explanation), you will change the world! It is how all deep lasting change is made. Because no matter how eloquent and strong the argument, people are built-in with so much pride, vanity and inventive memory that our proclivity for self-deception will over power any argument. That’s why trying to change people almost never works. Only by seeing a new reality will the weight of the dawning reality become manifest. Congratulations on choosing to focus on what will make the biggest impact. It is probably exactly what is needed to build the new reality.