Jul 13

Nat Torkington

Nat Torkington

Support Open Source: Seduce A Woman Today

I love reading Robin Hanson's blog Overcoming Bias. Today, a post on conspicuous consumption and public causes caught my eye. It reminded me of Tor Norretranders's keynote at EuroOSCON last year, and not just because Robin is keynoting this year. Tor took us through evolutionary psychology attempts to account for the peacock's tail. The tail is bright, colourful, and it makes the peacock an easy target to pick off. Tor's question was: why would any animal invest in advertising saying "eat me"?

Because, the reasoning goes, it attracts mates. Peacocks who can survive despite the handicap of a garish tail obviously have genes far stronger than those of bland peacocks. Similarly, being fat shows that you can afford lots of food, wearing jewellery shows you can waste time and resources and still thrive, and so on. Tor's thesis was that contributing to open source is a form of philanthropy, ostensibly helping others more than ourselves, but that it's a similar "costly signal" to show the strength of our genes--"I have commit access, therefore you should marry me".

Robin's blog pointed to a study that tested luxury consumption and helping (two costly signals) to see how they varied between the sexes. The result was that the possibility of romance increased female public helping and male costly displays. Presumably this defied the hypothesis that women buy jewellery and men open car doors when in romantic situations.

The parallels with software are obvious to me. This logic suggests that men will brag about how much their proprietary software cost when attempting to impress a potential mate. Similarly, women will contribute to open source.

Glossing over what this says about the romantic lives of open source contributors, the article suggests to me that to overcome the shortage of women in open source men just need to romance them. Obviously you can't do this randomly, the gents will need to be thoughtful. Candle-lit WINE and Cheese dates. Ditch the Godiva, give her a box of Arduino microcontrollers for Valentine's Day. Surprise her with a commit bit. You can do this, men.

tags: open source  | comments: 22   | Sphere It

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Comments: 22

  Brenda [07.13.07 04:44 AM]

gnat? r u trolling?

  Dogzilla [07.13.07 07:25 AM]

"Candle-lit WINE and Cheese dates. Ditch the Godiva, give her a box of Arduino microcontrollers for Valentine's Day. Surprise her with a commit bit."

I think these sentences are an excellent indication of why this plan could never possibly work.

  gnat [07.13.07 07:42 AM]

Brenda! Who? Me? Troll? Never!

Ok, maybe a little bit ...

  Carlos [07.13.07 07:54 AM]

The one flaw in this otherwise compelling idea is that it's generally acknowledged that talking about software to people you might like to seduce pretty much guarantees that you will never, ever have sex, ever again.

  Dave [07.13.07 11:17 AM]

Explains why my right hand contributes so much to Open Source.

  Kivrin [07.13.07 04:02 PM]

I was given RAM for Valentine's Day once. But then I'd spend the last month bitching about my fps.

RAM *and* chocolate.

  None [07.14.07 09:00 PM]

And guys still wonder why IT is a sexist, male dominated profession....

Anywhere where someone would use a title like "Support Open Source: Seduce A Woman Today" - even as a joke - has got a pretty serious sexism problem.

  Allison Randal [07.16.07 03:13 PM]

There's an important truth within the humor. No one can tackle the "women in open source problem", it's just too big. But helping one woman find her way is a huge contribution.

  Carla Schroder [07.16.07 04:44 PM]

Gee Allison, I missed the humor part. I guess a lifetime of enduring stupid sexist crap thinly-disguised as humor has blunted my appreciation of Nat' well, if I can think of something besides "stupid sexist crap" I'll let you know.

Nat, if you really want to be cool and revolutionary and all leet, you'll have to figure out how to write about women without automatically including sex, romance, and without emitting stupid faux reproductive biology. It's old; it's mold; it's stale and it's stinky. You think we haven't heard variations on this junk a million billion times? Then you haven't been paying attention.

You really want to help make the FOSS world more inviting to women? Try treating women as humans, instead of wallowing in dumb stereotypes and cereal-box science.

I'm looking forward to your blog on how you seduce men into FOSS.

  gnat [07.16.07 05:46 PM]

Hi, Carla. Sorry the humour didn't work for you. Thanks for writing.

  Doc [07.16.07 07:26 PM]

I found it rather funny, but my humor has often been proven different from say Carlas.
One thing i have to ask: Why should we seduce women into FOSS? Can't they come in on their own without us seducing, asking, inviting, and begging?

  Alex [07.17.07 03:57 AM]

I'm afraid the humor didn't work for me either.

Assuming you're not seriously suggesting romancing women into open source, which is pretty crass, what is the actual point of this article?

  ERM [07.17.07 06:27 AM]

Man - you forgot to mention the most crucial part! Women find penguins to be extremely sexy! So what can be more sexy than an OS with a Penguin mascot?

  Wonderbird [07.17.07 11:23 AM]

Seems like a pretty ridiculous analogy to me...

I suspect that MOST women are "consumers" instead of "creators" of software. I also suspect that most women are also "consumers" instead of "creators" of jewelry... (I suspect the reasons behind both are rather similar) Furthermore: I doubt that most jewelers / programmers are "holding the female down" or discriminating against them through the old "boys club" - I actually suspect that most are THRILLED just to SEE a woman who takes a serious interest in their chosen field - let alone has/wants to build serious skills in it...

As for opening car doors I find myself wondering why I still open the door for my wife when I rarely get any courtesy or appreciation for it (or most other things I do)

Anyway, bottom line, I think you should have had a second cup of coffee before posting that... The overall tone of the post makes you look like a sexist idiot. (Which I hope you are not)

  Jay Palat [07.17.07 01:28 PM]

You may want to check out Signals, Cues and Meaning by Judith Donath of the MIT Media Lab. She did a lecture at google which was available from GVideo earlier this year. She made some interesting discussions on how signals and costs can be used in nature. For instance Antellopes, in the presence of a predator will jump up and down, to signal that they've got energy and speed to waste on jumping. Predators actually follow the signal and go after the running prey rather than the jumping prey.

  raffa [07.18.07 02:57 AM]

How I like the idea of women contributing to open source to get a husband!!
Just imagine! A virtual husband you can make love with on IRC, a man you can switch on and off as you please, a male that doesn't smell, a lover that gives you commit access for Valentine's day... A dream!
Unfortunately, once you've got a husband your contribution will likely become a boring task. The only solution I see is to divorce and start the game all over again. Besides, once you get commit access, what do you need a husband for?

  Anne [07.21.07 06:29 PM]

Hi, I'm new here. Look, here's the problem: your article speaks only to men. If your purpose is to make women feel more welcome in FOSS, it's ironic that this is the only item I saw in the OSCON online orbit today that made me feel like an intruding alien.

The scarcity of women developers is a problem for everyone, not just for men. (The theory about "display" and "helping" may have some truth to it.) Rather than "romancing" women -- no idea how you reached that conclusion -- it would be more effective to become a feminist. Try acting as if women are ALWAYS present, even if they aren't. (If this would cramp your style, you have some work to do.) As a bonus (in case you ARE trolling), women love men who are feminists.

  Thomas Lord [07.22.07 03:53 PM]

Why are we recruiting volunteers of any sex for a fundamentally selfish commercial purpose? It's obnoxious and it's counter to the mission of freedom.

The "joke" of having the boy volunteers recruit girl volunteers is just a distraction from the unprecedented situation of an industrial market place that thinks its own droppings smell so good that it's justified in getting people to trade their sweat equity to the bottom line in exchange for such intangibles as "reputation" and implausible promises of possible future employment.

Now there's a psychology question: How did we wind up with an industry in which the popular mythology of incumbants is essentially one of righteous dominion over the gratis labor of free third parties? I don't care how much Raymond-esque lipstick you put on that pig: it's theft of labor, pure and simple.


  Adam [07.22.07 08:21 PM]

FLOSSpols has some less sexy but definitely pragmatic and sensible ideas for encouraging women in the Free/Libre/Open Source Software world. In a nutshell: pay them.

Link courtesy The Female Perspective of Computer Science.

  ben hengst [07.25.07 07:12 AM]

I'm going to second Allison, about the core of this article. This is not a womens problem nor a mans problem, it's a cultural problem. If we want to see more women in tech then we need to help each other. Men just handing out commit bits does not a great contributor make. You have to nurture any one who you are attempting to groom to be a part of your community or project, no matter there gender, Women are people to and you should treat them as such. Women, again this is an us problem, so theres something that is needed from you as well. Accept our help when it works and set us straight when were not helping.

whew, That said, hope everyone enjoys the rest of there OSCON stay here in wonderful Portland.


  AG [08.22.07 01:34 PM]

> I suspect that MOST women are "consumers"
> instead of "creators" of software.

Er... so are MOST men.

  Ajeet Khurana [08.23.07 12:06 PM]

Surely Nat you had expected this reaction to your title.

Struggling past the title on to the actual post (Yes it exists, in case many of us did not notice), I find the analysis interesting. Flawed by interesting.

Its fundamental flaw is that it draws from stereotypes and then ends with the same stereotypes. Somewhat like starting by saying, let x = 5. Then performing a series of laplace transforms and then coming up with x = 5.

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