I was one of the participants invited to the FSF's Women in Free Software mini-summit which happened on the same day as Software Freedom Day this year. That was this past Saturday, September 19th.
I was feeling hesitant going in, given the controversy over "why would the FSF run a closed event about such an important topic" and just a general burnt out feeling about the subject on my part. Honestly, I've tended to avoid being much of a feminist in the past and simply hope that people will stop bickering and leave me to my code, especially in the aftermath following well-publicised incidents. This is despite the fact that the thing that got me involved with free software originally was Debian Women, back in late 2004/early 2005. I needed a hook, and yet I haven't felt confident enough to reach out to others now that I'm in.
I see now that there are valid reasons for having an event that is purposefully small. We all fit in a nice conference room at the FSF office, the atmosphere was very intimate, we got to learn everyone's names (and even remember them). I met some great local free software people who I hadn't met before. Food was take out from My Thai, an excellent vegan restaurant in Boston's Chinatown. While it sucks to be exclusive, in my opinion the small size really had an effect on what we got done and how we felt at the end.
The official minutes from the meeting are online here, and there's a picture and brief blog post from Deborah here. The picture was taken using Cheese! I'm in the middle wearing my ever-popular Best Practical "my free software runs your company" t-shirt.
There are only a few things I want to highlight myself.
It was a great idea to invite someone who is involved in freedom movements but is not necessarily heavily involved in free software in particular. Hillary brought fresh insights and helped us draw parallels and come up with ideas that I don't think we would have thought of otherwise. It's easy to get used to parts of a community as being "normal" and I am so happy that we have allies who can show us where we've internalised or just have learned to ignore sexist parts of the community. Women in free software are already in free software—and we need to learn to reach out to others who aren't in already.
Cooperative power. There are groups of people that just aren't attracted by FOSS marketing that challenges you to "prove yourself the best" or similar. Just because someone doesn't like coding at 3am doesn't mean he doesn't like coding. If we want to succeed at our mission, we need to stop thinking win-lose and start thinking win-win. This applies to being more inclusive in general, not just for women. It also applies to valuing contributions from those who don't code. We need them too.
There are times when I don't speak up and I should. There are times when I don't blog (or participate in discussions via other media) because I don't feel like dealing with potential community backlash. I am very careful about not stepping on peoples' toes, because I've seen other people get trampled on and am not particularly excited about experiencing that myself. While I'm trying to cultivate courage in myself, it was good to have a reminder that it's not just me.
The current plan is to hold a bigger event that is open to all in the spring. I am so excited about the momentum we are building! I think the biggest thing that I took out of this is that there are still things wrong with the community and that I shouldn't be afraid to speak up and be an activist. Watching people like Deborah and Hillary talk perfectly seriously about making very long-term plans and reaching parity was incredibly empowering.
We can do so much better. The time to do it is now.