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Women and GNU and RMS (was Re: something else)

From: Sandra Loosemore
Subject: Women and GNU and RMS (was Re: something else)
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2019 17:22:03 -0600
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:60.0) Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/60.8.0

On 10/30/19 8:00 AM, Marcel wrote:
What I also see is a list of thirty men pretending that the leader of
the movement they volunteer for excludes women, yet I cannot find the
name of a single woman (forgive me if I missed it) in your list. I know
there are women participating in GNU, so the question is, were none of
them willing to participate in your power grab?

For those of you who don't already know me, let me introduce myself: I'm Sandra Loosemore, I am female, and I've been involved with the GNU project since 1991, when RMS hired me to write the GLIBC manual as a FSF employee. Nowadays I am a maintainer for GCC and Binutils and an occasional contributor to GDB.

I haven't seen anything resembling a "power grab", so by definition I'm not on the list as participating in one. I did previously send some comments to the private gnu-and-fsf@ address that was previously announced as the place to send them, though. To paraphrase and expand what I said there (speaking only for myself, and not attempting to be a representative for all "women participating in GNU"):

It has bothered me for a long time that there are so few women participating in the GNU community. I think I might be the only female maintainer on either GCC/Binutils right now (I haven't gone through the lists, but the others I used to know about have stepped down). The photos of the attendees at recent Cauldrons show a group that is roughly 99% male. The steering committee is 100% male. There is something wrong with our community that we cannot attract more women, and we need to fix it, because a developer community that consists almost exclusively of old white men is not sustainable.

I have never personally experienced or even witnessed any form of sexual harassment from anyone in the GNU community, including RMS. I've also always felt that my technical contributions have been taken seriously by my colleagues. OTOH, it's clear to me that some women have indeed felt threatened by RMS's behavior, been put off from participating by offensive sexual comments and "jokes" from others in the free software community, or felt that they were being belittled or ignored because of their gender. It's also clear to me that a lot of men are aware of this stuff going on and find it offensive and inappropriate too.

And then there were RMS's disgusting public comments defending sexual exploitation of minors, which were plastered all over the news and social media last month. The absolute worst thing the public-facing representative of *any* organization can do is bring negative publicity to the organization about things that are irrelevant or contrary to the organization's mission. As a result of RMS's comments, all of a sudden the public conversation about the GNU project was not about how good our software is and how free software is taking over the world and beneficial to everybody, it was about how we're an organization with an ingrained culture of harassing and demeaning women, and that we have such a cult of personality surrounding RMS that our policy is not to challenge the remarks and behavior of our Fearless Leader no matter how offensive they are -- not just to women, in this case, but to anyone who cares about human rights. It's been a public relations disaster for the GNU project. :-(

IMO, to regain control of our public image, I think we have to take some explicit and public steps to disassociate the GNU project from RMS's comments. If the CEO of a corporation made such controversial and offensive statements, the board would likely demand his immediate resignation as part of damage control. I think the FSF and GNU maintainers collectively have a similar responsibility as custodians of the GNU project, and I do think RMS needs to resign for the good of the project. I appreciate his past technical contributions and his promotion of the concept of "free software" to begin with, but he is not a good public ambassador for the GNU community and has not seemed to do much actual leadership of the project (either technical or management) for many years now.

My perspective is that the GNU project's mission is to produce high-quality software that is free for everyone to use, and we should welcome contributions from anyone who wants to support that mission. We certainly should not make affirming support for RMS's non-free-software-related beliefs necessary for people to contribute to the GNU project, or to take a GNU maintainer/leadership role. Nor should there be any kind of personal loyalty oath to RMS involved in being a GNU contributor or maintainer.

BTW, I'm not sure if this has come up before, but the "GNU" brand is not the personal property of RMS. The trademark is owned by the Free Software Foundation (it shows up in the search at as registration #4125065). So I think it is probably ultimately the FSF's responsibility to protect their brand and decide who they want to put in charge of overseeing it. OTOH they rely on volunteer labor to do the actual software development, maintenance, and release management for each individual software package, so it's important to take organizational decisions that strengthen the developer community rather than weaken it.


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