tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Edit: I've reached my goal of donations from 30 people, but don't let that stop you :-D

I had some grand plans to write blog posts as part of encouraging folks to donate, but over the weekend I caught a case of the creeping crud, and other stuff happened. Even so, at this point 22 people have donated, which means I just need 8 six five three more people one more person to donate by 23:59 PM Pacific time on December 18 in order to say that I achieved my goal of getting 30 people to donate to the Ada Initiative by my birthday!

In lieu of a longer post, here's a short one that connects two of the topics I mentioned earlier.

I'm male, obviously, so you might think I wouldn't care on a personal level whether or not the open-source community is 2% women (as the best estimates currently place it) or 50%. Sure, I used to be perceived as female, and for obvious reasons, that made it less comfortable for me to study computer science and to participate in open-source projects than it would have been if I'd been recognized as male all along. But, you might think, everything's okay now, right? I might still want the scene to be safer for women out of some abstract moral obligation, but it certainly wouldn't bother me on a personal level to not see any women in the room.

You would be wrong if you thought that, because when I'm at work or at a conference and notice that the people doing work on my level are all men, or almost all men, I wonder why. I wonder what else is going on, what I may not have noticed yet that is happening to drive women away. I wonder what I'm being complicit with without even knowing it. Perhaps more than any of those things, I notice the tone of conversations (both work-related and not) and how, in a strongly male-dominated environment, the tone reflects the lack of gender balance. No, I don't mean that guys at software companies are putting up Playboy calendars and sitting around scratching their crotches all day... not usually, anyhow. I'm referring to more subtle things, like whether a project meeting resembles a group of people cooperating towards a shared goal, or whether it looks more like a contest to see who can display the most knowledge and prove himself the winner. And I'm also referring to whether, during lunches or happy hours, people on a team are capable of talking about anything at all with each other besides just work.

It's not that I think women are intrinsically non-competitive or that they're less likely to be singularly obsessed with work. I do think that given the ways women and men are rewarded and punished for certain behaviors, women in tech are more likely to have interests outside tech and less likely to prioritize displaying how much they know ahead of getting a job done.

I find it depressing and toxic when the only people I work with are men. And I find that to be a distraction from getting my job done. Some people might see it as a distraction when I bring up sexism in my workplace -- for me, it's just something I'm doing in the hopes of creating an environment where I can do my job better, like getting an ergonomic keyboard or sitting near a window. It's not that women's place in tech is just to make guys like me happier, of course. Rather, gender ratios are something that can be measured and that are quite likely to be one proxy for a workplace that's functioning well. A company whose hiring process systematically excludes women is likely to be one whose hiring processes are broken in many other ways as well, and more broadly, that has a culture that's hurting productivity in more ways than just gender imbalance. (Gender imbalance hurts a project or company because it means that people who could contribute more are being pushed out in favor of people who can't contribute as much, just because they're the wrong gender -- and gender is a trait that's irrelevant to performance as a programmer.)

Nothing is going to change without concerted effort, because many men feel they benefit from a professional culture where they don't have to work as hard because they don't have to compete with women. And as I wrote before, one of the groups that's most likely to be remembered as having had an effect is the Ada Initiative.

Thanks again to the people who have donated so far:
  1. [twitter.com profile] Angry_Lawyer
  2. [twitter.com profile] josephcorcoran
  3. [twitter.com profile] ffee_machine
  4. [twitter.com profile] ArdaTisya
  5. [twitter.com profile] nerdonica
  6. [twitter.com profile] chrisleague
  7. [personal profile] cynthia1960
  8. [personal profile] nou
  9. [personal profile] substitute
  10. +n tung (gatoatigrado)
  11. [personal profile] miang
  12. [livejournal.com profile] anemone
  13. Eugene Kirpichov
  14. [twitter.com profile] scouttle
  15. [twitter.com profile] sixty4k
  16. [twitter.com profile] atombeast
  17. Eli Lebow
  18. [twitter.com profile] etrolleybus
  19. [twitter.com profile] aeolianharp
  20. Summer and Carl
  21. [twitter.com profile] acfoltzer
  22. [personal profile] nentuaby
  23. [twitter.com profile] sebfisch
  24. [twitter.com profile] Rohboto
  25. [personal profile] flippac
  26. [twitter.com profile] kowey
  27. [personal profile] gfish
  28. [profile] gwillen
  29. [twitter.com profile] ImreFitos
  30. [personal profile] pseudomonas
  31. [personal profile] yam
  32. [twitter.com profile] PerceptibleBlue
  33. [personal profile] callmesquinky
  34. [livejournal.com profile] rjmccall
  35. [twitter.com profile] musingvirtual
  36. [personal profile] karlht
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Reposting what I posted on Facebook and G+:

Reminder: for my 33rd birthday, I'm trying to raise funds for the Ada Initiative from 30 people. So far, 1213 (awesome) people have donated. (See my previous birthday wish post for the list of people.) I only have a week left till my birthday, so please don't hesitate!

On the off chance that you missed it, the Ada Initiative works to make it possible for women to contribute to open-source software and to free culture initiatives (like Wikipedia) of all kinds. In a very short period of time, their work has been critical in encouraging more technical conferences to have meaningful codes of conduct, which can be the difference between women realistically expecting that they will be harassed just for existing at any technical conference they attend, and harassment no longer being the norm. They also organize hands-on sessions to help women strategize about handling impostor syndrome, and help companies that want to hire women but don't know how. Especially if you are privileged enough to work in the tech industry, and if you recognize that part of your good fortune arises not from your own merit but from the unearned advantages that have accrued to you socially (such as male privilege, white privilege, cis privilege, heterosexual privilege, abled privilege, or all of the above), consider giving something back to help more people live the life you live. And if you do, let me know so I can thank you!

I intended to write an interesting TAI-related blog post every day until I reached my goal of 30 people donating, but you know what intentions are worth. Still, if I get to it this weekend, expect to see posts about some of the following:
  1. Technical confidence, overconfidence, and codes of conduct
  2. What I didn't say (at times when I've been told things like "your views are too aggressive" and "you're making people uncomfortable)
  3. Microaggressions at the Mozilla Summit
  4. Having to earn the right to criticize
  5. Why having every professional space be male-dominated hurts me, and why I'm probably not the only man who feels that way
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
If one wishes to promote the life of language, one must promote the life of the community---a discipline many times more trying, difficult, and long than that of linguistics, but having at least the virtue of hopefulness. It escapes the despair always implicit in specializations: the cultivation of discrete parts without respect or responsibility for the whole.

-- Wendell Berry, "Standing By Words"

Programmers, of all people, ought to understand the power of language. The desktop, laptop or mobile computer you are using to read this blog post would be useless without software, which -- uniquely among the various types of things engineers build -- is constructed solely from language. The magical thing about programming, the thing that drew me to it 18 years ago, is that it turns ideas into reality.

Yet a lot of programmers seem to have a selective lack of understanding of how ideas, as expressed through language (particularly gendered language), construct reality. I find that somewhat curious, given how much time programmers can spend arguing over whether a certain programming language should use a semicolon or a comma for a particular language construct.

When the news about the libuv gendered pronouns patch dispute broke last week, I was going to write a blog post about it. It was going to be a lengthy one, as is my style. But because reasons, I kept putting off actually writing that post. I also avoided reading others' posts about it, because I had some specific things in mind to say and I didn't want to confuse myself.

Today, though, I read Bryan Cantrill's post "The Power of a Pronoun". Bryan is the VP of Engineering at Joyent, the company that sponsors libuv. As Bryan points out, Ben Noordhuis -- the libuv contributor who reverted the patch -- was a volunteer, and thus can't be fired. (At least not straightforwardly.) And, in fact, Ben ended up leaving the project voluntarily after all of this went down. But, Bryan says

But while Isaac is a Joyent employee, Ben is not—and if he had been, he wouldn't be as of this morning: to reject a pull request that eliminates a gendered pronoun on the principle that pronouns should in fact be gendered would constitute a fireable offense for me and for Joyent. On the one hand, it seems ridiculous (absurd, perhaps) to fire someone over a pronoun -- but to characterize it that way would be a gross oversimplification: it's not the use of the gendered pronoun that's at issue (that's just sloppy), but rather the insistence that pronouns should in fact be gendered. To me, that insistence can only come from one place: that gender—specifically, masculinity—is inextricably linked to software, and that's not an attitude that Joyent tolerates. This isn't merely a legalistic concern (though that too, certainly), but also a technical one: we believe that empathy is a core engineering value—and that an engineer that has so little empathy as to not understand why the use of gendered pronouns is a concern almost certainly makes poor technical decisions as well.
In this post, Bryan Cantrill shows he understands something that's woven into the fabric of daily life for many of us: the little things matter, and as I've written before, the little offenses lay the groundwork for the big ones. (Thanks to Valerie Aurora and Leigh Honeywell for their insights in the posts that my own blog posts just elaborate on.) Assuming that Bryan's attitude displayed here is consistent and is part of the culture at Joyent, that means Joyent is a company I would be happy to work at someday.

Contrast this with my most recent former employer, Mozilla. While there are many individuals at Mozilla I could name who share a commitment to inclusion, I'm sorry to say that the company as a whole lacks any such commitment -- and I mean a commitment that is expressed through actions and not just aspirations. I wrote about one such example at great length. But a more recent one happened after I told one of the other members of the Rust team that I was considering leaving Mozilla.

I asked this person (who will remain nameless, since it isn't my intent here to single out individuals or to invite accusations that I'm starting a witch hunt, rallying a pitchfork-wielding feminist mob, or any of the hyperbolic cliches that people terrified of losing privilege use to shame people like me into silence) if there was anything he thought I should know before making up my mind over whether to accept my offer from another company. We spent some time first talking about issues that were (at least superficially) unrelated to the topic of this post. But then he told me that he thought I should know that other people on the team were "uncomfortable" with my "offputting" views about gender. He said that everybody on the team agreed with my views on feminism, it was just that some of them disagreed with how I expressed them. (This is a common derailing tactic.) I can't know whether he was speaking only for himself or whether several other people on the team truly do agree with him, since he didn't name any of the other people who he was citing to back up this statement. In any case, the sole concrete example that my now-former colleague gave of just what was "off-putting" about my views was that several times, I had asked people on the #rust IRC channel not to use "guys" to refer to the members of the channel collectively (as in, "Hey, guys, I have a question..."), since there are people of various genders who spend time on the IRC channel. He said that he felt this was hurting the community because it made people "uncomfortable".

This, by the way, happened not long after Lindsey Kuper, a long-time Rust contributor, wrote about her experience with harassment on #rust, as well as another woman who is a regular in #rust reported that she had received a sexual advance via private /msg from someone who was, presumably, scrolling through the list of users in #rust and looking for the first female-coded name to target for harassment. And so it was clear to me that when my former colleague said he was worried that asking people to use inclusive language would make them "uncomfortable", he was not speaking out of concern for the comfort of either Lindsey, or the woman who another #rust member hit on via private message, or for any other women who contribute to Rust, or for any women who might want to. Rather, he was speaking out of concern for the comfort of people who have male privilege and are so very sensitive about it that a request to think about how other people feel about the language they use would affect their desire to use a programming language.

On the one hand, Mozilla's stated mission is to "keep the Internet alive and accessible, so people worldwide can be informed contributors and creators of the Web". On the other, if we look at actions and not at aspirations, Mozilla's enforcement -- and lack of enforcement -- regarding appropriate professional conduct seems tailor-made for protecting wealth and privilege, for ensuring that even if anyone can contribute to the Web, a privileged few (those who are mostly white, mostly North American and Western European, mostly male, and mostly heterosexual) will retain control over it. I left. I couldn't manage the cognitive dissonance anymore.

In the world of open-source companies, are more of them like Joyent -- asserting empathy as a core value -- or are more of them like Mozilla -- too concerned with privileged programmers' comfort to carry out justice? (Note that if you're too afraid to ask for non-sexist conduct because of who you are afraid you'll alienate, you are implicitly saying that you believe your project cannot survive without the contributions of sexist and willfully ignorant men.) I really don't know the answer. But I do know that empathy won't spread by itself, and that social change takes sustained and diligent effort.

So, for a third time: it's my 33rd birthday in twelve days. If you have more than $1 to spare, you can make it a good one by donating to the Ada Initiative. I already wrote about why I think TAI has had an effect and will continue to have one -- with your support. You can join the ranks of those who have donated so far if you just let me know!

See a more recent post for the list of awesome folks who have donated so far.

Remembering

Dec. 6th, 2013 03:16 pm
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
In lieu of a longer post towards my birthday wish for donations to the Ada Initiative, I'll quote Leigh Honeywell on the 24th anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre:
While Montreal stands out in our timeline as one of the few acts of outright violence documented there, we must remember that the “tits or GTFO”s of the world exist on a spectrum of micro- and macro-aggressions, oppression, and violence that we must be vigilant for in our communities, online and offline.
Every active refusal to use language that includes women; every rape apologist who continues to be a respected leader in the open-source community; every time that men terrorize a company into firing a woman for protesting sexist conduct makes it harder for women to feel safe working in technology, in a way that is more complicated but no less real than the way in which a man with a gun did so in 1989 in Montreal. Every one of these instances is about men defending their turf and protecting the high status of their field from women whose presence might make it less comfortable and lucrative for gender-normative men with traditional attitudes about gender roles.

If you want to help make technology a safer industry to work in for everyone who isn't a white heterosexual abled cis man, then please consider making a donation to the Ada Initiative and letting me know that you did so!
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (computers)
Edit: I've reached my goal of donations from 30 people, but don't let that stop you :-D

For the second year in a row, I'm fundraising for the Ada Initiative (TAI) for my birthday. I'll be 0x21 years old on December 18 (that's 33 in base ten, but who's counting?) If you would like to celebrate with me, please make a donation and let me know. Since I'm turning 33, I suggest a donation of $33 if you can afford it -- but seriously, any amount matters, even $1.

My post from last year about why I support TAI still applies. The events of the past year have just strengthened that conviction. From the harassment and firing of Adria Richards for daring to be a Black woman in tech who spoke up against inappropriate behavior at a software conference, to last month's appalling dispute about whether or not software documentation should marginalize women, to the news that open-source community leader Michael Schwern committed domestic violence, to some stuff in my own life that I'm not quite ready to write about yet, it's been clear that there's a lot more work that remains to make it safe for women to work in the tech industry, especially intersectionally marginalized women.

The Ada Initiative is one of the few groups that exists solely to work on that problem, and they have been very effective at it so far. TAI "specifically welcomes trans women and genderqueer women" and "[strives] to be an intersectional social justice organization" (quoting directly from the About Us page).

As with last year, I'm asking that people donate directly to TAI, using their donation form, and then let me know. My goal for this year is for 30 people to donate (why 30? Last year, my goal was 20, but 27 people actually donated, so I think I can improve on that this year). If you don't let me know, I won't be able to know if I reached my goal, and I'll be sad. You can let me know by commenting on this post, tweeting at me or commenting on my Facebook wall, or -- if you prefer to be private -- emailing me (catamorphism at gmail.com) or sending me a private message on any of the services I use. Also, I will assume it's okay to thank you in a public post by the name or pseudonym that I know you by unless you tell me otherwise. You don't have to tell me the amount that you donated.

If you've donated to the Ada Initiative this year already, great! If you can, please donate a little more for my sake :-)

As with last year, I am going to try to post something on my blog every day until I reach my goal of 30 donors, even if it's a link to a post written by someone else or an older post of mine. I'll have the first installment -- my thoughts on the aforementioned libuv gendered pronouns patch dispute -- up either tonight or tomorrow!

To make things more fun, I'm issuing a challenge: write a blog post (doesn't have to be long) about anything related to diversity and inclusion in open-source, software more generally, computer science academia, or free culture (e.g. Wikipedia), broadly construed. Then, comment here with a link to it, before 00:01 Pacific time on December 18. I happen to have an extra Ada's Angel T-shirt that I will send to the person who writes the best post (in my opinion). Another option is to add a page to the Geek Feminism Wiki or improve an existing one -- in that case, leave a link to your edit. The T-shirt is black, size XL straight-cut, with the Ada's Angel design on the back and a smaller design at the hip.

Thanks!
ETA: Thanks to those who have donated so far -- see a more recent post for the current list.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
"I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.' Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

-- Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Content warning: discussion of rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and victim-blaming in linked-to articles.

I'm about to submit I just submitted a pull request to add my name to the Tech Event Attendance Pledge. Specifically:

  1. I will not attend any tech events where Joe O'Brien (also known as @objo) is in attendance.
  2. I will not attend any tech events without a clear code of conduct and/or anti-harassment policy.

For me, the first item is likely to be a moot point, since I'm not a Rubyist (although I play one on TVpodcasts). Even so, I think it's important for me to explicitly say that a space that's unsafe for women is a space that's unsafe for me. And a space that accepts harassers, abusers, or rapists who have not been held accountable or shown remorse for their actions -- whether we're talking about Joe O'Brien, Michael Schwern, or Thomas Dubuisson, just to pick a few out of many examples -- is an unsafe space.

The second item is more likely to affect my day-to-day activities, but fortunately, the two conferences I'm most likely to attend in the future already have anti-harassment policies. Open Source Bridge's code of conduct is a model for all other events of its kind. And ICFP (along with all other SIGPLAN conferences) has an anti-harassment policy. At this point, there's no reason for any conference organizers to not have already done the work of establishing an anti-harassment policy (and it's not much work, since the Citizen Code of Conduct is available and Creative-Commons-licensed to permit derivative works; it's the basis for Open Source Bridge's code of conduct), so there's no reason for me to speak at or attend a conference that doesn't have one.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Crossposted to geekfeminism.org.

The Empowermentors Collective is, in their own words, "a skillshare, activism, and discussion network for intersectionally marginalized people of color in the free culture and free software movement." Also from their Web site: "We see radical potential in free culture and free software (often marketed as 'open source software') to work against ableism, racism, cissexism, heterosexism, sexism, and classism."

I think this collective is a great idea, and while it's not something that is open to me, I'll do my best to spread the word about it. But one place I can't spread the word is on any mailing list, forum, or syndicated blog post associated with my company. Since I work for an open-source company, Mozilla, that might employ people who are eligible for and interested in Empowermentors, that's too bad.

Why is that? The Mozilla Community Participation Guidelines say: "Some Mozillians may identify with activities or organizations that do not support the same inclusion and diversity standards as Mozilla. When this is the case: (a) support for exclusionary practices must not be carried into Mozilla activities. (b) support for exclusionary practices in non-Mozilla activities should not be expressed in Mozilla spaces." Empowermentors is exclusionary: it excludes white people, like myself. I support their right to create a safe space so that people who are oppressed can have one place that won't be dominated by people in an oppressor class who may (even in a well-intentioned way) engage in derailing and silencing. So I can't mention the group in a work mailing list email, or a post on Yammer (if I used Yammer), or in a post on my blog that is tagged so as to be syndicated to Planet Mozilla.

This illustrates a problem with codes of conduct that don't explicitly acknowledge social power dynamics and call out the difference between a group that has a history of being oppressive doing things that reinforce the system of oppression in which it operates, and a historically oppressed group engaging in self-defense. Compare Mozilla's Community Participation Guidelines with the code of conduct for the Open Source Bridge conference: "Communities mirror the societies in which they exist and positive action is essential to counteract the many forms of inequality and abuses of power that exist in society." With this one sentence, the organizers of Open Source Bridge communicated that the purpose of the entire code of conduct is to protect people who are abused, not to protect abusers.

Exclusionary groups that are for oppressed people are a positive force, because they give oppressed people time and space to talk about their oppression and/or just live their lives without explaining -- or worse, justifying -- their experiences all the time. For example, programming study groups that are for self-identified women only are a great thing, because it's easier for women to learn when they don't have to worry that if they say something silly or admit they don't know something, the men in the room will hold it against their entire gender. As another example, when I was in college, I didn't understand why the Black students' organization had to exclude white students from participating. Now I understand that white people dominate almost every space, and having an organization where Black students at an overwhelmingly-white college can talk amongst themselves doesn't hurt white students and helps Black students succeed.

But the Mozilla guidelines lump together these socially beneficial groups with white supremacist organizations or the Boy Scouts of America (which excludes queer men from serving as troop leaders). That's a problem. As the Open Source Bridge code of conduct shows, it's an easy problem to solve, as long as the priority of the people writing the code of conduct is to promote justice rather than to suppress tension.
tim: protest sign: "Down With This Sort of Thing" (politics)
I read a tweet from Neil deGrasse Tyson that someone retweeted in which he says: "Advice to Students: When choosing a career, consider jobs where the idea of a vacation from it repulses you."

I like snorkeling. My job doesn't involve snorkeling. Does that mean I should quit my job and find one that requires snorkeling? I don't think so, because there aren't too many jobs that involve both snorkeling and computer programming, and I like programming too. Maybe there's some marine biology job somewhere that would require me to do both. Well, what about riding my bike? I still wouldn't be able to do that as part of my job. I like many things, and am unlikely to find a job that involves all of them. On the extremely rare occasion that I'm allowed to take a vacation that doesn't involve having surgery, I do things that I like to do that I can't do at work.

I'm poly, which means that when I have relationships, I prefer them to be based on informed consent rather than rigid rules that originate in cis men's need to control everybody else's bodies. That's not necessarily right for everyone, I'm just talking about me. One of the great things about being poly is that I don't have to find a single person who can fulfill all of my needs. I don't expect to be able to do that. So why would I expect one job to fulfill all of my needs?

A worker who doesn't want to take a vacation is a manager's dream come true (and in the Bay Area, it's said that companies like Netflix that have unlimited paid time off actually exert intense informal pressure on workers not to use any of it). Such a worker can potentially make management very happy. I've never heard of a CEO who never took vacations. The people I know who measure their job satisfaction by the number of hours they work are usually software engineers -- people who labor so that other people, generally not working 90-hour weeks, may profit. (It's true that in a startup, people may work long hours in the hope of profiting themselves, but this certainly isn't the norm.)

The US provides workers with the least amount of vacation time in the world. For middle-class Western Europeans, a job with three weeks of paid vacation time -- considered generous in the US -- would be shocking. Does that mean that Europeans who are scientists, engineers, teachers, and doctors love their work less than American scientists, engineers, teachers, and doctors love theirs?

Neil deGrasse Tyson might love his job enough to never take a vacation, but I don't love my job less than he loves his just because I sometimes want to do things that aren't in my job description. Different people are different; liking more things doesn't make a person less virtuous than somebody who likes one thing to the exclusion of all others. Just as we create unrealistic expectations by enforcing lifelong monogamy to the exclusion of all other ways to structure relationships, and teaching young people that they can undoubtedly expect to find just one person who can give them everything they need, we also create unrealistic expectations by teaching the young that they can expect to find one job that they love so much they never want to do anything else.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I stayed at the office until about 11 PM trying to git bisect this performance regression (that it's possible that only I am experiencing; perhaps the space-time continuum around me and my MacBook is just flawed; 20 seconds for parsing libcore instead of 8 seconds seems like a big deal, though, and that applies to other phases as well), got results that didn't make sense, started over, and left without finishing (each bisecting step takes 5 to 15 minutes, depending whether it's rebuilding LLVM). If I were cleverer, I'd have figured out how to write a script to automate it.

In any case, as I so often do, I left feeling like I was the worst programmer ever *and* hadn't even succeeded in doing anything that was just for me today. I'm way behind schedule on rustpkg, what I'm ostensibly supposed to be working on; I started bisecting performance stuff because that was blocking me on rustpkg, and I started doing other stuff in the background like bug triaging since I needed *something* to do while waiting for compiles, but still, there's something I'm supposed to be doing and I hadn't gotten very far on it.

But before I left, I read the news that the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River -- over which I would otherwise have been driving tomorrow night (I'm driving down to Seattle so I can catch a plane to San José so I can look for apartments on Saturday and Sunday, then fly back up to Seattle and drive back to Vancouver on Sunday for my last week) -- collapsed, because a truck driver ran into part of the bridge, which caused the bridge to collapse.

I started thinking about how it would feel to be that truck driver. If I make a mistake at my job, usually I just feel bad about it, or in the worst case, a few people get annoyed with me. This person made a mistake at their job and caused a bridge to collapse. All by themself! (Probably some of the blame goes to the civil engineers who designed the bridge, but even so, lots of other people managed to drive over the bridge and not make it collapse.)

When I get frustrated with my work, lately I've been thinking, "well, if all else fails, I could become a truck driver." I like driving and I'm happier when I'm in motion. There are lots of things that appeal to me about it, actually.

But the fact remains that as a programmer, no matter what I do, I know I'm not going to make a mistake that will immediately destroy a bridge.

So I think I'll keep my day job for now.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I've got a new blog post up at geekfeminism.org about structureless organizations and whether or not they are good for people experiencing marginalization in the tech industry. You can also read my past posts on geekfeminism.org.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
When I was a grad student at Portland State, during 2008-2010, I took a second job in addition to my research assistantship, doing scientific and technical editing for a company called American Journal Experts (AJE). AJE hires grad students to copy-edit academic articles written by authors whose first language wasn't English. The rates they pay are very low -- because the rates are based on the article length rather than on time spent, and because many papers were in seriously poor shape, I usually found it necessary to spend so much time on a single paper that my rate came out to minimum wage or below. But, it was a job I could do from home at any hour of the day, and because my research assistantship didn't come with health insurance, I had very little choice but to take a second job so I could pay the student health insurance premiums (which tripled in cost during the four years I was at Portland State).

Anyway, AJE hired grad students as independent contractors, and for all I know, they still do. However, in the US, "independent contractor" is a term with a very specific meaning. A company can't just hire anybody they want to as a contractor -- they have to follow certain rules for how they treat that individual. As AJE began to exert more and more control over how I did my editing work, I began to think that I was really an employee, so I filed an SS-8 form with the IRS to request reclassification as an employee. That was in April 2010.

I never got a reply from the IRS beyond the initial one saying my letter had been received... until this past weekend, when I happened to be at my former housemate's house for a party and she handed me a letter that had been sent to me there. The letter was dated January 2013 and in it, the IRS stated that I had indeed been an employee of American Journal Experts, as per the legal definition of what "employee" and "independent contractor" mean in the tax code. The letter also stated that normally, the IRS tries to get both sides of the case in an SS-8 reclassification -- the employee and the employer -- but that AJE never replied to their request. I guess this may have been why it took more than two and a half years for the IRS to process my SS-8. (I was surprised by the length of time, since in 2006 when I requested (and was granted) reclassification as an employee after I'd worked as a contractor for Laszlo Systems, I received a response from the IRS very promptly.)

What this means for me concretely is that although I paid self-employment tax for the years when I worked for AJE, I didn't really have to, because AJE should have been paying half of my FICA taxes. Unfortunately for me, the statute of limitations on tax refunds is three years (from when I filed my return), so I can only file an amended return for 2010; 2009 and 2008 are water under the bridge.

This means something for a lot of other people as well: AJE has hundreds of grad student contractors, or rather, employees, and because their jobs are no different from my former job, they can all file SS-8 forms as well. I don't know what will happen if AJE continues to hire new employees while misclassifying them as contractors.

To help anyone who might want to do this, here's a PDF link to my filled-out SS-8 form that I submitted in 2010. The form mentions an auxiliary letter, and here's another PDF containing both that letter, and the reply I received from the IRS 2 1/2 years later. The IRS really gets a bad rap, but both times I've gone through the SS-8 process, I've been impressed by the clarity and thoroughness of the letters I've received in response. My auxiliary letter mentions some supporting documents that I haven't included in the PDFs, but if you want to see the whole package for whatever reason, let me know.

At this point, you might be saying, "what's the big deal, Tim? Don't companies abuse independent contractor status in this way all the time?" Yeah, they do, but I think it's a big deal every time that they do, because every time that they do, it's one more reminder to all of us that corporations get all of the privileges of being people and none of the responsibilities. If people (specifically poor and working-class people and people of color) get punished when they break the law, corporations should have to follow the law too, whether or not they like the laws, and whether or not the laws are convenient to follow.

Feel free to pass around this link to people -- it's public -- either because they've worked for AJE, or because they've done similar work, or just because they want an example of a filled-out SS-8.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Over on geekfeminism.org, I wrote a reflection on Joseph Reagle's article "Free as in sexist?": "Open Source, Closed Minds?" I've written a few other posts on geekfeminism.org that I forgot to link to here:
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
"So, it's meme time. Describe-what-you-do-using-the-most-common-thousand-words-in-American-school-fiction time." [personal profile] pseudomonas pointed out that the corpus used here is a bit weird, but constraints are fun, so I'm going to roll with it anyway.

People tell computers to do things by writing words. To make it easier, they come up with different "word sets" for the computer. There are word-sets that are built into computers, which we say are "low". And there are word-sets that people use to tell the computer what to do, which we say are "high". I work on one of the high word-sets.

One of the things that happens when people tell computers what to do is that people can get confused. Then, the computer does the wrong thing. When that happens, cars might not want to stop, or an up-goer could burst into fire. To make people less confused, a high word-set can have "types". A typed word-set doesn't let you put one sort of thing where a different sort of thing is supposed to go. We say a typed word-set is "safe" if someone showed that if your words use types the right way, then your words will do the thing they stand for and the computer won't get stuck trying to do it.

When people tell computers what to do, they usually want the computer to do it quickly. Some of the high word-sets are safe, but not so good for making computers go fast, because the words in them are very different from the low word-set that the computer uses. Other word-sets are very close to the low word-set, but they make it easier to get confused when you're writing words. The word-set I work on makes it easy to tell the computer to do things quickly, and also easy to be less confused while using it.

Finally, a computer you buy now is usually made of lots of little computers. It's hard to think about what all of the little computers should do at the same time, because you only have one brain to think with. One way to think about telling all the little computers to do is to stop them from sharing memory with each other. Instead, you can make them talk to each other by sending notes to each other. The word-set I work on lets you use this "note-passing" way of getting all the computers to do work at the same time.

How do we turn the words we write into things a computer can actually do? The answer is that we write more words to tell the computer how to turn words from our high word-set into words from the computer's low word-sets. Those words we write help the computer turn a few big words into a lot of small words. I work on one of those "computer-help things" for our high word-set. I fix parts of it where people got confused before, and sometimes I help change it to handle new and different words.


I'll just make one observation here: "computer" is in the corpus, but "language" isn't.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
On January 2, 2012 I started work at Mozilla as a seasonal employee working on the Rust team. In March, I was offered and accepted a permanent position, and as of today I've been full-time (which is to say, not an intern -- sometimes "full-time" gets contrasted with "contractor/seasonal", in which case my one-year anniversary wouldn't be for 3 more months) for one year. Post-master's-degree, I've had five different full-time jobs including my current one, and three internships including Mozilla, but I've never stayed at any of them for more than ten months other than Mozilla. I guess that says I like it here?

This year was full of more heartbreak, fury, grief, and difficulty than I would have ever expected to experience in conjunction with a job. On the other hand, working with the Rust team has been as much of a pleasure and a joy as I can imagine any compiler engineering job being. There's a change that I'm hoping to make happen early this year that I'm hoping will help me contribute more fully, but in the meantime, I'm just taking a moment to remind myself that I made it. Especially after how I got pushed out of grad school, it's been a relief to work with people who support me. Thanks to Dave, Graydon, Patrick, Brian, Niko, Alon, Donovan, Andrew, Jesse, Lukas, Christie, and everyone I'm forgetting about for the laughs/lunch companionship/collaboration/help/advice/IRC conversations/etc. Also thanks to the summer interns -- Lindsey, Paul, Eric, Brian, Sully, Ben, Margaret, Stephen, Elliott, and (again) everyone else I'm forgetting -- for bringing needed enlivenment to the office :-D
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I was working on a post about impostor syndrome, but it got long, and it's not going to get finished tonight. So instead, a quick look into the geekfeminism.org archives: back in August, Mary Gardiner (the other co-founder of the Ada Initiative, along with Valerie Aurora) pointed out: "people love to support geek girls, they are considerably more ambivalent about supporting geek women." It's a great post, and you should go read the whole thing.

I think the issue of why adults seem more willing to support young female (or, possibly, just CAFAB) geeks while (for example) criticizing programming events for teenage or adult women as being "exclusionary" also relates to the issue of ownership that I talked about yesterday. A five-year-old who wants to take a Star Wars water bottle to school isn't a threat to adult male geeks' turf. She's not competing with them for jobs, and she's also not doing the same work as them and (in their minds) lowering its status by making it work that a woman could do. She's just a cute kid. Talking about the structural factors that exclude young adults and adults from working in tech and being part of geek culture (where the latter is often necessary for the former) if they happen to be socially placed as female is harder. It's less comfortable; it's more threatening to the systems that reinforce some men's notions of their value and worth, as well as giving them unearned advantages, like getting paid more than women for doing the same work. It's also hard to talk about how endemic sexual harassment and sexual assault are in supposedly "professional" spaces in the tech industry -- an issue that (we'd at least like to think) is not so looming for kindergartners. It's hard because talking about it honestly means beginning to acknowledge that rape and abuse happen because all of us get taught to accept and sometimes even encourage them; not because a few aberrant individuals are monsters.

Changing minds -- even just creating a space where we don't stop encouraging everyone who's not cis and male the minute they turn 11 -- is long, hard work. The Ada Initiative is doing that work, and if you support them, you'll be helping with it. And if you let me know, you'll be helping me get 8 more people -- for a total of 20 -- to donate for my 0x20th birthday! By doing so, you can join the ranks of the fantastic [personal profile] miang, [personal profile] yam, [personal profile] cidney, [personal profile] nentuaby, [twitter.com profile] leilazilles, [personal profile] pseudomonas, [twitter.com profile] davidcarr_2001, and [personal profile] pastwatcher! (Just to name the people who donated non-anonymously, in the past 24 hours.)
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I promised I was going to post something related every day until I reached 20 donors for the Ada Initiative for my 32nd birthday. So far: 3 down, 17 to go!
I'm going to start with Valerie Aurora's absolutely brilliant post, 'Connecting the dots: "Everyday sexism" and the École Polytechnique massacre'. Valerie Aurora is a co-founder of and executive director of the Ada Initiative.

Really, I could just link to this post, tell you emphatically to read it, and leave it at that. But there's a little more I want to add, since the topic of Aurora's post is an incident that directly affected me: not the École Polytechnique massacre, that is, but the most recent events involving the the Planet Mozilla controversy and the harassment of my colleague Christie Koehler that resulted from it.

Aurora writes:
This anniversary is important for women in technology in part because it connects obvious, overt crimes against women in technology with the ugly root system of "everyday" sexism that feeds and sustains it. Lépine left a long note explaining why he targeted women: feminists had ruined his life ("les féministes qui m'ont toujours gaché la vie"). In particular, he told people that women in technology caused him to be unable to get a job or complete a university degree in technology.


It's pretty obvious that there is a parallel -- in intention if not in effect -- between the massacre and the death threat that Christie received from a person who had an interest in what goes on in the open-source community. In my opinion, these two examples of hostility -- from men in the tech community, aimed at women in the tech community -- clearly show the source of a lot of the more everyday, more insidious hostility towards women in the software industry and especially open source. The hostility comes from men defending what they believe to be their property. Lépine believed that he was entitled to have an engineering job -- to the point where he should not have to face competition from women who were as qualified as he was, or more qualified than him. To defend his turf, he literally murdered women who were potential rivals with him for jobs. As with any hate crime, his action also served as a warning to all women who might consider studying or working in engineering: that if you encroach on a man's turf, he might defend it by killing you, and that engineering is a man's turf.

While less harsh in its consequences, a death threat from someone who believes that the open-source community should be a heterosexual men's club serves the same purpose: to terrorize, to instill fear in any women who participate or might think about participating that if they question anything about how they're being treated, someone might hurt or kill them. Hans Reiser, who was at least formerly an accepted and influential member of the open-source community, made this less hypothetical by murdering his wife, Nina Reiser. While Nina Reiser was not a programmer herself, this incident shows that committing extreme violence against women is not incompatible with being in the open-source community -- that you can't assume that just because someone is your colleague, or works on the same project, that they're not capable of hating women enough to kill one.

So far, I don't expect what's been said to be too controversial. But, as Aurora did, I also want to problematize the incident that set off the Planet Mozilla controversy and gave rise to the discussions that made at least one person (whose identity is not known at this date) feel so passionate about defending the right of some other people to use a work space to say certain things that they were willing to threaten somebody's life over it. That is: a paid Mozilla contributor made a statement on his blog, which was syndicated on Mozilla's blog aggregator, encouraging readers to sign a petition that says: "I support the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman."

Now let's talk about what this means. Opponents of universal marriage might say that they don't hate or fear gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, intersex, genderqueer, transgender, or transsexual people -- just that they want to make sure that "marriage" "means what it's always meant". But clearly, this "always" statement is based on universalizing a very particular white, heterosexual, monogamous, middle- to upper-class, Protestant, Western European definition of "marriage" (and it might be something even more specific than that) in a way that denies history. So the concept of "not wanting to change what it's always meant" is a red herring, since there is no single thing that marriage has "always meant".

I think what's really going on is about ownership as well. The aforementioned privileged group (a subset of individuals who are white, heterosexual, Protestant, and so on) believe that they own the concept of marriage and have the right to exclude people from it as they choose. They think marriage belongs to them. Let's make a table. By the way: when I say "fundamentalists" in the heading, I'm not meaning to imply that all opponents of universal marriage are religious. I also don't mean to blame the abstraction of "religion" for the misguided beliefs of real, concrete human beings. They are responsible for their beliefs, which can't be blamed on an abstract concept. I'm religious myself, so I know that many religious people hold open and accepting views, and many non-religious people hold bigoted, narrow views. Rather, the group I mean to name is that group that uses obsessive, almost fetishistic attention to the literal meanings of words (always according to dictionaries they wrote) as a weapon. Many of these people identify as religious, but not all.

Violent, misogynist men in the tech industryFundamentalists
Believe themselves to be superior to womenBelieve their relationships to be more sacred than, more moral than, better for society than, better for children than, just all-around better than queer people's relationships with each other
Rely on their roles as hackers, programmers or engineers to reinforce their self-esteemRely on the concept of "traditional marriage" in order to feel good about themselves and their relationships
Feel that open-source belongs to them and they have the right to enforce who enters geek/nerd/hacker spacesFeel that marriage belongs to them and they have the exclusive right to decide whose marriages the government recognizes
Are sometimes willing to use outright violence, or at least threats thereof, to protect their turfUse legislative and rhetorical violence to protect their turf, diminishing the quality of queer people's lives in real and concrete ways

Some people might say that fundamentalists don't deserve to be compared to murderers. Honestly, I couldn't care less how fundamentalists feel about being compared to murderers. When fundamentalists start thinking about how it feels for me when they tell me their relationships are better than mine, maybe then I'll start thinking about how they feel about the comparison. My activism is not to "convince" or "persuade" fundamentalists that it's more rewarding and enriching to see oneself as equal in worth and dignity to others than to see oneself as others' master, anyway -- I don't think I'm clever enough to convince them of that. My activism is to convince people like me to not sit down and take it.

I'm not saying that fundamentalists' feelings don't matter. Everyone's feelings are real, everyone's feelings matter. But there's a difference between having a feeling, and compelling someone else to care about it. If a fundamentalist tells me it hurts their feelings to be grouped together with violent people, I'm sure that they really do feel that way. But I can't address their concern if, when I engage with the person, all that happens is that they:

  • tell me that their intentions ought to govern me (i.e., that I'm not allowed to have any feelings about their words or actions that they didn't intend to make me have)
  • tell me that I'm obligated to sacrifice my autonomy to protect their abstractions (e.g. "traditional marriage")
  • refuse to acknowledge that it hurts to be told that you're inferior
  • even, sometimes, refuse to acknowledge that their actions could make people feel inferior

I have seen this pattern from both fundamentalists and misogynists too many times. Were I to spend my compassion on such people, I'd be entering into an abusive relationship: one where I am asked to consider another person's feelings, but they don't consider mine. I can't afford to pay that price. And that's the long way of saying that yes, I've considered what it means to draw an analogy between people who advocate that the state should repress queer people and people who commit violent crimes, and no, I'm not going to censor myself for the sake of the feelings of people who already hold power and privilege.

And, of course, I am not saying that rhetoric and murder are literally the same. They are different. But we can all agree on that. Where I disagree with some is that I'm not satisfied being told "You should be grateful we're only suggesting to other people that you're disposable, rather than killing you directly." Saying that we're second-class -- by designating us as the one class of adults that isn't allowed the basic freedom of having our relationships recognized as serious and committed -- as adult -- does send the message that we're disposable.

So, I believe that when an open-source community like Mozilla tolerates anti-universal-marriage rhetoric in a form that lives under a Mozilla domain name, that is tacit endorsement of an entitlement, on the part of fundamentalists, to claim marriage as their own and to use rhetorical violence -- language that implicitly (through appeal to a host of cultural baggage about the relative value of heterosexuals' and queer people's relationships) proclaims people like me as less good and less deserving of fair treatment than heterosexuals are. The spirited defense, in terms of so-called "free speech", that quite a few members of the community mounted of their right to use the blog aggregator in this manner -- as well as the total failure of Mozilla leadership to condemn the anti-universal-marriage statements as contrary to Mozilla's philosophy of openness and inclusion -- connotes, to me, the way in which violence against women and subordination of queer people are intertwined. And if it wasn't clear, the fact that one of our colleagues, a person who works in the same office as I do, explicitly told Christie and me that we didn't belong at Mozilla and should go somewhere else, as well as the fact that this person faced no concrete consequences for what he did, drives that message home. And if that wasn't clear, the fact that somebody with a stake in it was so passionate about fundamentalists' right to use any platform to defend their turf that they were willing to make a death threat drives home -- tellingly, aimed only at Christie (not at me, though I've been equally vocal) and shot through with disgusting comments about her gender, sexuality, and body -- that it's all connected.

You might ask me at this point whether I'm engaging in mind-reading when I argue that fundamentalists are really defending their turf, rather than defending "traditional marriage". I don't have time for that question. I'm entitled to interpret what you say, just as you're entitled to interpret what I say. A basic measure of respect adults grant to each other is to recognize that other people won't automatically trust you, assume you're telling the truth, or believe you when you state your motivations. I'm happy to hear someone tell me that I'm wrong or that I'm right, but deflecting attention from the content of what I'm writing by questioning my right to have higher-order thoughts about my social superiors -- insinuating that I'm obligated to believe that cops never lie, teachers tell the truth, and authority figures are always open and honest -- is just a way of derailing the discussion from substance into vacuous meta-discussion.

So what does this all have to do with the Ada Initiative? Well, I think the problems we have in open source are not primarily due to the relatively small number of men who are willing to commit physical violence or threaten it in order to keep open source a boys' club. Rather, I think they're due to the large majority of men in the community who are sympathetic to women's issues, who want to change things but aren't sure how, or who stay silent at everyday sexism -- the remarks that, as Aurora showed quite well, create an environment where more serious acts of violence flourish. The work of the Ada Initiative is helping make it easier to do the right thing instead of staying silent. Their work on codes of conduct for tech conferences has already made it easier for a woman in the software industry to attend a professional conference without worrying she'll be sexually assaulted or harassed -- something that almost all men in the industry take for granted.

I support the Ada Initiative because I stand with cis women, with trans women, with trans men, with genderqueer people, with queer cis men, who don't want to own the world -- who don't want to control a community or an industry -- but who just want to govern their own lives. People who want to make a good living, do honest work, and collaborate with others to build tools that will make life easier and better for people. These are modest goals, but if enough of the industry remains complicit in misogyny, they won't be achieved. Likewise, as queer people, we don't want to define marriage for everybody else and exclude people who aren't like ourselves from deciding what it means. We just want to live our lives, too: paying our fair share in taxes, visiting our partners in the hospital, raising children if we choose to, transferring property when we die, and so on. And where these two threads come together is that I still work in an industry that doesn't recognize that opposition to universal marriage is both a mainstream political view and hate speech that makes people in a minority group feel unwelcome and unsafe.

If you agree with me that the Ada Initiative's work is important, please wish me a happy 32nd birthday and make a donation. And then let me know. By doing so, you can be as cool as [personal profile] juli, [personal profile] etb, and Henry!
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I've mentioned obliquely that I've been dealing with some money issues this past year. I'm paying off a large amount of debt for health care (both emergency and planned care). Though I've been covered by health insurance the entire time, because as a trans person, I'm considered a second-class citizen, my insurers can arbitrarily decide not to cover my care. So a third of my net paycheck every month goes to paying off those debt. I'm about to move to a place without indoor plumbing just so I can pay back that debt faster and waste less money on interest.

Even so, I decided to donate to The Ada Initiative (TAI) this year, which is a non-profit organization that works to increase the representation of women in open-source software as well as other open culture projects (like Wikipedia). I've donated to TAI before, but this time I donated at the Ada's Angel level. Partly, the timing was because TAI just completed a successful fundraising drive and while I wasn't able to be part of helping them reach their goal, I wanted to get in on the tail end of that (and snag a totally sweet T-shirt); partly, it was because I just got my quarterly bonus at work. Given that I make my living writing open-source code, donating 10% of my net bonus to TAI seemed more than fair.

I donated to TAI because I benefit from sexism, and I donated to TAI because I benefit from having a more inclusive and more egalitarian work environment. Paradoxical? Not if you're familiar with intersectionality. Because I'm male, and have conditional cis privilege (that is, it's rare for people to question or invalidate my sex and gender unless I choose to mention that I have a transsexual body), unearned privilege accrues to me that makes my life and, particularly, my career easier. Other guys in my industry recognize me as "one of us". It wasn't always that way for me, so I know what the difference can be between being seen as a man and being seen as a woman. Maybe because I was never seen as a typical woman (whatever that means!), I avoided a lot of the worst of sexism and harassment. But I know that it's easier to work in software now that I'm being seen as who I am; fortunately, being seen as who I am also makes me happier than pretending to be someone I'm not. It's easier to interact with colleagues when they don't make joking comments about how they hope your spouse doesn't mind them going to lunch with you. It's easier to form social connections when you're not seen as useless because you're perceived as neither male nor available for sex. It's easier to work when people are willing to talk to you behind closed doors, because they don't see you as a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen. I enjoy those benefits now not because I work harder than women, or because I'm smarter than they are, but simply because men recognize me as being like themselves. Donating money hardly makes up for having that unearned privilege, but it's a start towards leveling the playing field.

The other side of it is that I'm a queer man and a trans man, and a man who's not comfortable being in environments that subordinate women. I find homogeneous groups to be toxic. While TAI doesn't focus specifically on addressing homophobia and transphobia in open-source, what makes the environment safer for women is frequently also what makes the environment safer for queer men, trans men, and non-binary-identified people as well. The same kinds of "humor", "jokes", and political comments that get used to mark a space as unsafe for women are also used to marginalize those who are seen as men who aren't doing masculinity well enough: queer men. While some of the details are different, as a queer man I want the same thing that women in my industry do: to be seen as an equal partner and to be able to get through the day without hearing casual reminders that the people around me see me as inferior. So while it's easier for me to work in tech than it is for many women, I would still be more comfortable if it wasn't the case that my comfort comes at the expense of somebody else.

That's why, even though I didn't have a lot of money to spare right now, I donated to TAI as an investment in continuing to be able to work, continuing to be able to use the skills I've spent a lot of time developing. There's not much point in saving money if a month or a year or three years from now, I'm no longer able to work because the stress of being in a marginalized minority group gets to be too much for me. I trust Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner, who lead TAI, to choose the right priorities to change the culture. Already, TAI has had a significant effect in encouraging open/tech conferences to adopt anti-harassment policies. Making it possible for a woman to attend a technical conference without being afraid she'll get groped is hardly all that needs to be done to make the field open to everyone, but it's a necessary step along the way.

With that said, I think it's important for the voices of trans women, women with disabilities, and women of color to be heard more often and in greater numbers when determining our priorities. The movement to include women in tech shouldn't just be for white, abled, cis women. I think that there needs to be way more diversity even within the group of women interested in pushing for greater inclusion and equality. Women facing intersecting oppressions have issues that women whose only axis of oppression is gender either don't face, or don't face as severely, and only they can say what their own liberation would look like. And if "include women in tech" actually means "you have to be white, cis and abled to be a woman in tech", that isn't really inclusion at all, because it means there's a restrictive standard that women have to meet to get included that men aren't subject to. So I think there's change that needs to happen in this department, but that isn't a reason not to support organizations that exist right now.

My inner concern troll, which is harder to ignore than any real-life concern troll on the Internet, says, "With so many bad things in the world, why support women in tech, who are already privileged enough to have gotten the training required to even consider entering the field?" But that's a false choice: it falsely frames an unjust distribution of resources as genuine and inevitable scarcity. Justice for one group of people doesn't inherently come at the cost of justice for another group. Really, a better question is "when privileged men in tech enjoy so much status, why shouldn't women have the same opportunities?" It's awful to use the suffering of some "other" (whether that's people in another country, in another social class, or whatever) as a distraction because you're terrified that you might lose your privilege if more people have access to it. It's also awful to suggest that women should be satisfied with having enough food, where white, cis, hetero men in developed nations consider themselves entitled to far more than that.

The fact is that almost every issue in the world is less important than something else. Perhaps every issue, because how can you come up with a total order that ranks all problems by importance? Such an ordering would inevitably be biased to one person's, or one group's, priorities. I believe that no one is going to look out for my survival as a queer trans man if I don't, and by investing in my own ability to continue to make a living as a queer trans man in the world, I'm just doing what anyone who is obligated to be responsible for their own survival would do.

You can derail with "many bad things in the world" all you want -- deciding on the most important thing is a great way to stop people from doing anything -- but the fact remains that a world in which the best jobs are unavailable to women is not a just world. And a world where women can only have these jobs if they're ten times better than the average man and willing to undergo humiliation is not a just world either. Saying I should support "starving people" (othering!) instead is saying that everyone should settle for less. It's deflecting attention from what the most privileged people have in order to urge us to accept whatever standard of living is slightly higher than the lowest possible one. All we're asking, after all, is for people to have the same opportunities regardless of the gender they're socially placed in.

If you're someone who has enjoyed the privilege of working in the tech industry, particularly in open source, and particular if you haven't had to fight exclusion because of your social placement, I encourage you to give back just a little bit of what you've reaped by donating to the Ada Initiative. That is, at least, if you think everybody should have the same opportunities that you had.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Back in July, a person claiming to be a Mozilla community member made threatening comments on my colleague Christie Koehler's blog. The comments were also directed at me, referring to "you two" -- Christie and me being two of the people who have been most outspoken about Mozilla's problems with equality. The anonymous commenter wrote "we don't want you around", and told us that if we didn't like Mozilla's policies about discrimination and harassment, we should go somewhere else. It's unclear which "we" the commenter intended to speak for.

These comments were absolutely a threat. Saying "we don't want you around" strongly suggests intent to create a working environment that will be hostile for us, and indeed, on its own, it is a comment that contributes to a hostile working environment. The nebulous "we", as well, is the kind of comment that provokes fear over just how many colleagues of ours "don't want us around".

And these threats were in retaliation for Christie's and my public speech about our grievances as LGBT employees of Mozilla. The message is clear: if you speak out about how you're being treated, you will be threatened and harassed.

On the Internet, few actions are truly anonymous. Christie's blog software records commenters' IP addresses. Also, every time you send an email, the headers include the IP address of the computer you used to send it (unless you go to some effort to obscure your identity). Mozilla has some well-trafficked internal mailing lists, and I save a lot of the email I receive in them. These facts together meant that I was able to confirm with a high degree of certainty that the comment really was written by a Mozilla community member: a Mozilla employee who works in the Mountain View office, where I also work. I'll refer to this person as "X". Christie contacted Mozilla's HR department, who contacted X, who admitted that they did indeed write these comments, giving us total certainty about the commenter's identity.

The article from a former Kixeye employee using the handle Qu33riousity, in which he calls out the company for its environment of homophobia and racism, has been making the rounds. Some people find stories like that one shocking. To me, it's just a much more extreme example of what happens when companies tolerate casual homophobia, sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression. When there are no consequences for abusive behavior, that behavior escalates to an arbitrarily great extent: an absence of consequences for small violations gives people permission to disrespect others in bigger ways. And that's one reason why it's so harmful to tell a person who is experiencing oppression to "just get over it" and "not be so sensitive".

After X made their comments, and during the long interactions with HR that Christie shared with me, in which she tried to convey to Mozilla administrators that X's behavior was abusive, not just part of a "conflict" between two employees, I experienced stress in a couple of ways. My IBS (a stress-induced illness) got worse. I had trouble sleeping. It got harder for me to focus on work. It's hard to concentrate on what you're doing when you've been told your co-workers don't want you around.

What should a company do when an employee has engaged in public retaliation against other employees for speaking up in favor of civil rights? I think that since the original hostile comments were public, the person who has made those comments should make a public apology, with their name attached. A public apology shows that they take seriously the harm they have done to the community. And X did harm the community: for one thing, they harmed me and Christie, who are part of the community. For another thing, they increased the level of hostility in the community towards LGBT participants. X is a person who has previously claimed to be an LGBT ally, but their actions make clear that they are okay with LGBT people as long as those people merely participate in a social order controlled by heterosexual men, and don't question heterosexual male dominance. Excluding LGBT contributors hurts the community because it arbitrarily excludes people who have something to bring to the project based on criteria having nothing to do with merit.

Instead, Mozilla HR treated X's actions as an individual slight against other individuals, completely ignoring the way in which X hurt the community. The message I take from this is that I'm not part of the community. X, as well, denied having harmed the community and even threatened to report Christie to HR for harassment after a brief email exchange in which she requested that X make their apology public. By encouraging Christie to resolve the matter directly with X, then Mozilla HR put Christie in a situation where she would be the target of more abuse.

Though X refused to make a public apology, and HR declined to ask them to do so, I still have the option of naming them in public. I'm choosing not to, since I fear that I would experience further retaliation for doing so. Several of the comments on Christie's blog post from earlier expressed disbelief that someone who was really in the Mozilla community would do such a thing. If I were to name X, they (and others) would have to deal with the cognitive dissonance of knowing that yes, it really could be one of us. My past experience tells me that people often deal with this kind of cognitive dissonance by blaming victims. Perhaps some people would decide X's comments weren't so bad after all, that there was a justification for them, that Christie's and my actions somehow justify abuse. I don't feel like there is a right answer for me in this situation: naming X would expose me to further abuse, while by declining to name them, I know that I may be accused of making it all up. Because there is no right thing for me to do in this situation, I'm choosing not to name X not because I think it's right for them to have privacy while we pay the costs of the actions, but rather, out of fear for my personal safety and my livelihood.

X's actions were one point along the same continuum that includes what Qu33riousity describes at Kixeye. They also lie along the same continuum that Skud describes in "On being harassed":

Have you ever had to show your male colleagues a webpage that calls you a fat dyke slut? I don’t recommend it.

Christie's and my experiences, and Qu33riousity's experiences, and Skud's experiences, are all different. I don't mean to equate them. But the common element involves environments that enable harassment: that make people feel like it's okay to harass a colleague because they're queer, female, or a person of color. The common element is environments in which people who are queer, female, and/or people of color are routinely considered less than other people, where they're treated unequally.

I just want a working environment in which I, and all of my colleagues, can be safe, and free to collaborate productively together. And many people at Mozilla feel that they have that already. I don't feel that I do. I just want to be treated the same way as everyone else; I want to be able to expect what many of my colleagues expect, which is that they won't be treated unfairly because of their sexual orientation. I also want to feel confident that if I speak out about how I'm being treated, my concerns will be taken seriously and that I'll be respected. I want to know that I won't be shamed for "playing the victim" or be treated with contempt if I say that it hurts when people attack me. I'm just asking for what most people who are not in a gender and sexual minority can already expect.

A public apology from X would help ameliorate the harm to the community that they chose to do with their anonymous comments. I'm sad that creating a safe and productive environment for everyone isn't important enough to Mozilla for that to happen. X told Christie that, in effect, they refused to make a public apology because it would make them look bad. This is the definition of abuse: being asked to put your abuser's needs ahead of your own. We were effectively told that our safety was not as important as X's reputation. And no one in a position of authority stepped in to counter that message.

I'm also copying what Christie wrote below, since I think it's that important.


Back in July, someone claiming to be a “Mozilla member” made threatening comments here on my blog, directed towards myself and my colleague Tim Chevalier. I reported the comments immediately to Mozilla HR. It look nearly three months, but I can now report a resolution.

The person who left the comments is a Mozilla employee. They have been contacted by Mozilla HR and directed not to make these kind of comments to Mozilla employees or community members in the future, or else face disciplinary action. They have also issued an apology to me personally. Unfortunately, the person has declined to provide a public apology and isn’t being compelled to do so.

I find the lack of a public apology disappointing and a detriment to the Mozilla community. Those who violate community conduct standards should face the consequences of their actions and they should have to face them publicly.

Why? Many reasons. Without having to face consequences, abusive behavior is likely to continue, and likely to escalate. When those who violate conduct standards are held publicly accountable for their actions, it gives those who might have been a target of such behavior in the past a chance to finally speak up. And, it demonstrates that the Mozilla community takes its employees’ and contributors’ conduct toward one another seriously and doesn’t tolerate abuse. A public apology gives those who transgress an opportunity to make amends with the community.

In the case of the person who left the threats on my blog, their desire not to look bad is being placed above our (mine, Tim’s and others from marginalized groups) need to feel safe, and thus represents a refusal to acknowledge their deleterious effect on our entire community.

The commenter’s actions harmed not just the two of us who were the direct targets, but the Mozilla community as a whole by setting the example that if a queer person feels they are being discriminated against at Mozilla and speaks out about it, they will be penalized with a public threat. Why was the original comment a threat? Because saying “we don’t want you two around” implies that they would do their best, either directly or indirectly, to make sure Tim and I were not able to continue to be around. Furthermore, their use of “we” created anxiety that there was not just one, but many people at Mozilla who wanted to force out people who speak out against discrimination.

More generally, the commenter’s actions set a precedent that if somebody is in a vulnerable minority group, they must choose between being silent and accepting what they experience as discriminatory treatment or risk being humiliated and threatened if they speak out against it. Being in a situation where the only choices are to accept abuse without criticizing it or be retaliated against for speaking up, is unfair. A community where people in minority groups are treated unfairly is one that many such people will either leave, or not join in the first place, because they don’t feel welcome. And driving away people in minority groups hurts the community. It deprives the community of all that minority group members can contribute, and means Mozilla won’t have the best employees and contributors it can possibly have.

In the lack of acknowledgment that the commenter’s actions harmed the community, I hear unwillingness to say that Mozilla values its contributors who are queer. If harming us does not harm the community, then the only logical conclusion is that we’re not an important part of the community. It’s hurtful to see that the facts apparently point to this conclusion.

While it’s true that I could reveal the identity of the anonymous commenter, I don’t feel comfortable doing so publicly, here on my blog because I fear a lack of support from the Mozilla community. On the one hand, many of you expressed your outrage and disapproval of the commenter’s behavior, but on the other hand, some of you also expressed doubt that the commenter could even be part of the Mozilla community. Also, I have not seen a lot of outspoken support for those who speak up on these issues, and have certainly experienced a lack of institutional support on behalf of Mozilla leadership.

What I will do is encourage those of you who have been the target of threatening behavior, even if it seems insignificant, to document and report it.

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
This post is cross-posted to the Geek Feminism Blog.
"Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. " -- Rebecca Solnit, "Men who explain things"

A Problem with Equality

In March 2012, Gerv Markham, who works for the Mozilla Corporation dealing with issues of community and governance, ignited a controversy about what kinds of content Mozilla tolerates on its Web properties. That debate opened the broader question of whether the Mozilla Corporation should have a code of conduct for its employees, as well as whether the Mozilla project as a whole should have a single code of conduct for its employees and volunteers. An internal -- but world-readable -- discussion on Mozilla's online discussion group, mozilla.governance, ensued, examining the nature and desirability of community standards for inclusion.

That was about as neutral and objective as I'm going to be in this essay. In what follows, I analyze the controversies of March and April, while sharing a hefty quantity of my own feelings and opinions about them. These opinions are my own and solely my own. While I'm an employee of the Mozilla Corporation, in what follows, I am speaking only for myself. I'm not writing from the perspective of someone who has formal education in political and social analysis; the only authority I claim to have is on my own lived experiences. Thus, I don't have citations at hand for every idea; moreover, much of what I am saying here has been said before, by people who make it their calling to interrogate sexism, homophobia, racism, and other social structures of domination. I'm writing for an audience of people who think critically, reflect openly, and draw their own conclusions.

Disclaimers: please read them.

About 30 more paragraphs )

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tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

March 2014

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