June 14, 2006

Beardless GNOME Sighted

by Nick Montfort · , 8:02 pm
Miguel de Icaza of GNOME

Well, admittedly, this is the beardless GNOME developer that we spotted – not exactly what we’re looking for. But at least the GNOME foundation’s new Women’s Summer Outreach Program 2006 now provides a better incentive for women to get involved!

The famous-among-the-geeky Summer of Code, which is thought to be named so as to allude to this summer, would have been a bit off-kilter this year if you were to look at it from a GNOME perspective. The GNOME project (they’re the ones who provide the Linux desktop used on, for instance, Ubuntu) got 181 applications for Summer of Code project, none of them from women. While we know that free software projects aren’t generally gender-balanced, this seems like a letdown.

The code shoulder isn’t the only option this summer, though. The GNOME Foundation has now set aside $9000 to fund female students who want to participate in the project. Deadline: July 1. Here’s the application and additional info. The press release has been posted on LWN.net.

10 Responses to “Beardless GNOME Sighted”

  1. mark Says:

    A random and by no means necessarily representative data point: I first heard about this initiative from a female friend of mine who’s a software engineer. She was somewhat offended and launched into a mini-diatribe alleging that the inability to look past gender and treat people as individuals is the real problem with gender in CS, and this merely perpetuates that.

    My male friends are all, on the contrary, generally supportive of the initiative.

  2. nick Says:

    This is a discriminatory (or, to use a more polite term, “set-aside”) program, and such an approach isn’t without its problems, whether it’s warranted as a remedy for other forms of discrimination or not. It can cause resentment, but I’ve yet to see any evidence that it opposes treating people like individuals.

    Interestingly, Google’s Summer of Code program is also discriminatory: Iranian citizens, even those living in the United States, are not eligible. Whether this discrimination is required by US law or not isn’t clear, but there it is, and it would seem to be in the direction of further oppressing an underrepresented group rather than favoring such a group.

  3. scott Says:

    I’ve heard of other such restrictions in the past, on the Iranian citizen. I think it’s illegal for any intiative that receives federal funding to include Iranians.

  4. mark Says:

    nick: Yeah, I agree that saying it opposes treating people like individuals is overstating the case a bit. The resentment in my friend’s case stems from a feeling that women in CS are treated as needing extra handholding and “special opportunities” to succeed, which she finds condescending.

  5. Fox Harrell Says:

    I have had that similar feeling that there is an assumed need for “special opportunities” for members of underrepresented groups to succeed. At the individual level it makes a great deal of sense that many would feel resentful. On the other side is the fact that for people from underrepresented groups you often have a sense of having to prove your ability over and over, that is, from time to time you encounter an implicit assumption that you may not perform at a high level and have to disprove that. This is a common phenomenon. For such people success is perceived as occurring “in spite” of their social group, failure is perceived of as occurring “because of” (or at least “related to”) membership in a particular group. Such phenomena, and many others, perhaps add to the sting when it seems there is a social perception that one needs a “special opportunity.” My feeling is that at the social level such “special opportunities” underwhelm lack of access, privilege, equal opportunity, etc.

    At the same time, I have also seen many examples of social privilege (which are often difficult to perceive) and discrimination at the institutional level. So I can understand the argument for institutional programs to address these issues at a broader social level. I have also been in some venues where even though particular programs were explicitly *not* “helping hand” programs yet they were perceived as such. It is important to look at what the goals of these programs are, as opposed to merely what they are perceived to be. It is difficult because even if the program’s goal is not “offering a helping hand”, the program’s administrators may share in the perception that is geared toward proving a “helping hand.”

    I have attended several conferences on the issue of diversity in the professoriate and there are extremely disturbing social trends and statistics. The experience of underrepresented groups can differ from more represented groups in very extreme ways. One way to look at some of these programs is the creation of alternate networks for those often excluded from dominant networks. Within these networks social experiences, information, and experience can be exchanged. Such contacts that may not get the person “IN,” but can create a network for concrete jobs, internships, contracts that lead to bigger possibilities, mentoring from the perspective of those with real world experiences.

    Nick is right, it can cause a great deal of resentment on both sides. I think there is a great deal of difference between ideal or optimal solutions in these cases, and quick, politically expedient measures (like the program described above). Regarding the latter I am not opposed, but I often have reservations. I tend to be suspicious of critiques of such programs without proactive suggestions of superior alternatives, however.

  6. mark Says:

    I tend to be suspicious of critiques of such programs without proactive suggestions of superior alternatives, however.

    Some of us subscribe to the motto: “first, do no harm”. It is not necessary, to take an example from politics, to have a fully thought-out foreign policy doctrine in order to think invading Iraq was wrong.

  7. Fox Harrell Says:

    The suspicion comes from the fact that I encounter many opinions formed without careful analysis of such programs, or careful analysis of the social conditions and historical circumstances of their inceptions. Suggestion of an alternative implies a considered position at least, though this is not a rule.

    Even if an alternative is not provided I would like to see as vehement a critique of the social conditions spawning the programs accompanying critique of these programs, that is a critique of the explicit privileges provided by these programs along with critique of implicit privileges in broader society.

    Finally, I think that critique without concern for positive resolution is a negative world view. The case of Iraq is well-chosen rhetorically, in that case inaction would have caused less harm. But can we always say this of inaction?

  8. mark Says:

    I chose the example not only rhetorically, but because I think in this situation the same applies: inaction, at least at this level, would cause the least harm of any alternative. There may be something that can be done much earlier—we could have avoided assisting Saddam in the 1980s, or we could have raised girls differently when young. But once we’re talking about men and women in their 20s and older, I think all such programs are harmful.

    I reach that conclusion mainly as a result of being acquainted with a number of intelligent women scientists (including several of my closest friends and even my mother), all of whom feel that such programs are insulting and detrimental. I’m not inclined, as a male, to overrule their views and decide that no, they really do need such “help”, nor to support attempts to “help” originated by others, who mostly seem to either be non-women or non-scientists (or both).

    Now why there are so many fewer women in some fields in the first place is an issue I find somewhat interesting, and one where I think action could be taken. Why, even by early ages like 12, are many more boys tinkering with computers than girls? It seems likely that parents still raise children differently depending on their gender; that may be an issue worth addressing.

  9. Fox Harrell Says:

    Thanks for sharing your personal experiences with this matter.

    I know better than to argue the wisdom of another man’s mother!

    My intent was not to argue about the merits of the particular program above, and of course there are a variety of ways different programs address issues faced by women in the sciences, and girls potentially pursuing the sciences. In some cases your friends and family are quite correct about the perception of “need” that can be engendered. One danger is that some people (less informed than yourselves) assume all programs targeting groups such as women operate under the same model, thus assuming that all programs oriented toward women are “helping hand” programs, which is incorrect.

    Anyhow, my “suspicion” mentioned above was not targeted at you (Mark) personally (I imagine that you are open to discussing these issues and are committed to social justice). This is why I elaborated the origins of that suspicion above.

    I am glad you are interested in the issue of why women are underrepresented in mathematics and science — I am as well. In this matter perhaps we should look to to Lawrence H. Summers as a guidepost for our views…

  10. nick Says:

    The GNOME Journal has an article on the Women’s Summer Outreach Program, with profiles of the six participants who were selected.

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