(The page above is full of links so follow the URL.)
Richard Stallman gave a keynote at the Gran Canaria Desktop Summit in
July 2009. A sexualized part of this talk was described by attendee
Lefty in a blog entry A Good GCDS Beginning (with a significant
[Stallman defined] "EMACS virgins" as "women who had not been introduced
to EMACS" along with the advice that "relieving them of their virginity"
was some sort of sacred duty for members of "The Church of EMACS".
One commenter noted that the routine is a regular part of Stallman's
talks but that the singling out of women as 'EMACS virgins' was new.
Matthew Garrett has provided a transcript of a previous similar
presentation by Richard at RMS and virgins:
"Then if you become a hacker you can celebrate that by having a foobar
mitzvah, a ceremony in which the new hacker stands in front of the
assembled congregation of hackers and chants through the lines of the
system source code. And we also have the cult of the virgin of emacs.
The virgin of emacs is any female who has not yet learned how to use
emacs. And in the church of emacs we believe that taking her emacs
virginity away is a blessed act."
A few days later Lefty emailed Richard expressing his concerns, and
blogged the ensuing conversation. His original email included:
"Your remarks gave the distinct impression that you view women as being
in particular need of technical assistance (presumably by men, since
there's apparently no such thing as a _male_ "EMACS virgin");
additionally, women are quite capable of making their own decisions
about who might relieve them of whatever sort of “virginity”. I (and
many others) viewed these remarks as denigrating and demeaning to women,
as well as completely out of place at what is, in essence, a technical
The response claimed that the comments about women were intended as
humour, and that the complainant was misunderstanding the joke. Richard
refused to offer an apology.
"I do not believe I owe anyone an apology. I did not insult or attack
them, but it is clear some people are attacking me. I think I am being
criticized unjustly criticized, and I feel I have been wronged."
However, most of the response was about the Church of St IGNUtius and
its potential offensiveness to religious people, rather than the issue
Lefty was trying to raise. Lefty emailed again, reiterating the core
points. Richard's response was that he had already dealt with them --
which he had not.
Responses to this blog post have focused on Richard's right to email
privacy -- an example of Derailment -- rather than the original issue:
"Does RMS think all source code should be free, or his private e-mails
"Have exactly the same question. Any further discussion of political
correctness is pointless before this question is answered, as you cannot
seriously request polical correctness without respecting it yourself.
Excuses given for RMS's behaviour include:
That it was not his Intent to be sexist, here
That it was humor -- Richard's own excuse, here
That it was making fun of religion, not women, here and here
He's just like that, here and here
That Richard has earned respect through his Free Software work, and his
bad behaviour should therefore be ignored, here and here
That his judgement was impaired because he was worn out by arguing about
Some silencing tactics have also been tried against his critics that
don't so much excuse RMS as suggest that his critics should shut up:
That the joke was sexist but the fuss about it is out of all proportion
Nobody who has not made significant contributions to Free Software
should be allowed to comment, here
Only those directly affected by sexism may comment, allies may not here
Lefty's ally work is in itself condescending towards women, here
The complaint is "whiny bullshit" and "attention-seeking", here. For
bonus points, "women should be left out in the cold, not just in the
open source movement but in every job..."
The complaint about sexism is just a disingenuous attempt to achieve
another goal: silencing RMS's criticisms of the Mono programming
framework here and here
The complaint about sexism was just someone (presumably Lefty)
disguising his offence at the jokes about Christianity as a more
acceptable complaint about sexism here
Versions of this very list (Matt Zimmerman also made one in his blog)
are "cherry-picking" and mischaracterising a real debate here
Versions of this very list are merely encouraging trolls, who should be
Writing about this kind of thing is a waste of time and anyone serious
about Open Source should be writing code here
That the attempt to include women in open source is "nonsense" and
"creepy", and should be ignored, here
Reverse sexism, here
Gran Canaria Desktop Summit 2009 by Matt Zimmerman: "This keynote was
the least interesting of the talks I attended at GCDS... He did his
Saint IGNUcius routine, throwing in a sexist joke for good measure."
Simple conference organisation suggestion by Matthew Garrett: "don't
invite RMS to keynote at your conference without an explicit apology and
expression of understanding beforehand. I'm seriously at the end of my
patience with people being unwilling to call others on behaviour they
perceive as unacceptable."
Richard Stallman and his fans by Livejournal user "certifiedwaif": "Do
blog posts like this just bring out the worst commenters, or is this
representative? They seem much more concerned about Richard Stallman's
right to email privacy than appropriate conduct at a technical
conference that both men and women are attending."
All hail the windmill tilters by Christian Schaller: "And before someone
starts shouting at me for not realizing that sexism do exist in the open
source world, please save yourself the energy. I am sure it exist, along
with racism, anti-semitism, bigotry, general intolerance, gay and
lesbian hating, supremacism, communism or whatever evil you want to come
up with. I just don’t buy into using them as the default fallback
whenever the reason for something needs to be explained." (In fairness,
Christian has added a comment indicating that "a longer conversation
with a female coworker about the issue and her relating her experiences
is causing me to re-evaluate my stance on how much sexism there actually
is in the community in general.")
Permission to suck by Abi Sutherland: "So one thing women in Open
Source—or anyone who is a minority in a skills-based group—need is
Permission to Suck. They need the understanding, from themselves and
others, that any and all suckitude is to their account alone, just like
it is for the majority."
Backlash: feminism considered harmful by Matt Zimmerman: "We have a
problem in the way that women in free software are regarded and
treated... What I want to discuss here, though, is how people are
received when they speak up about this, for example by criticizing
sexist behavior they have observed. Often, the problem is denied, the
critic themselves is personally attacked, and the victims are blamed. In
short, there is a backlash."
RMS and virgins by Matthew Garrett: "My point here isn't to claim that
[RMS]'s a bad person as a result. I've got personality flaws large
enough that you could probably drive a bus through them, but I'd be
slightly upset if people thought I was evil because of them. My point is
that nobody is above criticism, and if someone behaves in a way that
offends a large subset of the community then they should to be
criticised. Failing to do so sends the signal that we don't care about
those who were offended, and at the same time provides no incentive for
people to change their behaviour as a result. And yes, I think those who
have high profile positions in the community should be held to higher
standards than others..."
RMS’ emacs “virgins” by Chani: "so… I didn’t comment on this little
incident, even though I knew I should. I mean, it’s RMS, I don’t really
expect him to change. and it’s easier to just ignore it and pretend it
didn’t happen. thankfully, lefty tackled the issue for us. ok,
publishing private mail is rude, but I’m glad he did. the comments
section makes me sad… btw, I have never heard of this “cult of the
virgin of mary”. I interpreted RMS’ speech the same way lefty did, I was
just too shy to speak up about it."
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