When I was in high school one of the first clubs I joined was a mock United Nations club. A friend and I checked it out because we thought it was funny that the name read as one word became “unclub.” We wanted to be part of an “unclub.”
The U.N. Assemblies were some of the best times I had. Students from all over the county would get together and debate history and politics, and we loved it. We followed the same guidelines including points of order, which led to a very funny moment where a U.S. delegate, pretending to be Nancy Kerrigan, responded “Why me?! Why anyone!?!” when told he was speaking out of order (Tonya Harding had originally taken the floor). You probably don’t see the humor in it, but we all did.
My last year in high school our history teachers did a horrible thing. They saw how much fun we were having, how much we enjoyed history and politics, and they forced all their students of a certain year to join. They didn’t love it, and so they made their own fun. They didn’t represent their countries accurately, and unfortunately they weren’t relegated to secondary countries either. The teachers wanted them to participate!
Imagine trying to debate sanctions against Cuba when neither the US nor Cuba gives a shit. The students representing the President and Vice-president stopped trying to maintain order, sometimes even abusing their power, and the page system (passing of notes between countries), which used to be the best part, was used to continue the regular hallway harassment that so many of us had at least escaped when at U.N.
We couldn’t love it anymore. The worst part about it was that they didn’t love it either, they were just making the most of it to get a better grade.
I can’t help but think about this whenever the issue of Women in Open Source comes up. I haven’t heard proponents say much more than there just should be more women. Sometimes someone mentions pay; there should be more women in technology and open source because it pays well. This worries me. I’ve heard this tune since elementary school. As a girl gifted in math there were endless field trips and career nights encouraging me to pursue a career in technology. It was really interesting to hear from women who did these jobs, but when I think back I don’t remember whether any of them really loved their jobs.
The message that did get through was that I should want these jobs because women are just as smart as men and they pay well. There was a pressure, as if in not pursuing these fields I was letting my gender down. That wanting to be a dancer or a mother, with my brainpower, was perpetuating a stereotype that would continue to crush my less gifted “sisters.” I wasn’t being freed of gender roles, I was having a new one thrust upon me.
I still don’t know what I want to be, but as I’m approaching 30 there are two things I love in this world beyond anything else: being a mother and dancing. Math is still up there, too. I tear up when I realize I’ve forgotten how to do calculus. Coding, however, has just never drawn me in. Maybe it’s backlash against the old pressure, but I just don’t love it and no one yet has been able to tell me why I should and I think my anatomy is neither here nor there on the matter.
The men that I know who work in open source, especially the successful ones, they love it. They love what they’re doing and they love it even more because the people they work with love it just as much. I’m not sure the politics of open vs. proprietary come into play directly, so much as that in open source you’re given more freedom and greater trust to make some great code. It’s like pulling Iran out of the country hat right after the “elections.”
Here’s what I think we should be asking before we start making assumptions: Who loves coding? Why? What do they have in common? Are there women out there who love it but are locked out of the industry? What about men? What about the disabled, or other races? I’ve seen statistics on women in software development vs women in open source. How about statistics on people who are in software development because they love it and people who are in it for the money? Dream job or desk job?
I don’t think the popular kids secretly yearned for a forum to discuss how much of a country’s GDP is already going to U.N. efforts, but just didn’t have the courage to join up. One thing’s for sure though, paying them to show up just because we think they should be there is going to have more negative effects than positive.
We need to reach people who will love it and treasure it for what it is, and maybe we’ll need to accept that it just isn’t appealing to a wide range of people. There are so many important roles in open source, I have a hard time believing that we must have diversity in each area to have a diverse voice in the product. I’m not saying that I think we shouldn’t try, I’m just not comfortable making an assumption based solely on gender, and afraid of what will happen if we do.