Thoughts on the Friday of Flossie 2012

I did not know what to expect from Flossie 2012.  I’d been to the About page on their website to find out more (the programme wasn’t available at the time) and discovered that it’s open to all women, whether they code or tinker and in this loose definition I fit, but the bullet points list digital arts, social innovation, open data and knowledge management, research, education, open access and open culture.  So, I knew I wasn’t in store for something heavy on the code, but that’s fine, I wanted to expand my horizons.

I must admit, that I was also apprehensive about it being a Women’s Only event.  I’m not particularly keen on Women Only events, I feel very similar to Trisha Gee about them, but as this one was about Open Source, I felt it would be good to go along as it’s something I want to get more involved in.

Yay! Stickers 😀

Upon registration I was presented with a goodie bag stuffed with stickers from Open Source symbols like Ubuntu, GPL3 and the GNU gnu plus a Google pen and a Google crystal keyring that was so heavy it could double up as a murder weapon.

The introduction welcomed everyone in followed by a welcome from Professor Elaine Chew of the hosts Queen Mary University.  A panel of speakers was brought together which included Laura Czajkowski who is a prominent figure in the Ubuntu community and introduced us to Ubuntu Women.  Alexandra Haché then showed us a short preview video of an interesting research project she is conducting on Women Hackers.

The panel was then opened to questions and it wasn’t long before the subject turned to gender politics and sexism.  Sweeping statements containing phrases such as “women do this” and “men do that” were being thrown around.   “Men give up on problems” was one of my favourites, with the implication that women don’t, ever.  We were no longer discussing Open Source, but gender.  I say “we”, but I was sitting there wishing I had decided not to come.

There was a break in which I grabbed a cup of coffee and talked with a like-minded woman who also felt that the earlier discussion had gotten way off topic.  I guess we were wrong though, because the talk after the break was “Gender issues in Free/Libre Open Source Software Communities” in which I got lesson in all the different kinds of Feminism, which was actually fascinating as I had no idea such strongly opposing views existed under a single banner.  A shame though, as I was here to learn about Open Source.

There was a talk on Linux User Groups, which I believe stated that these places can feel unwelcoming to complete beginners, but it’s not necessarily a gender thing and that the banter exists for everyone and both genders can find this uncomfortable.  This too, devolved into a discussion about how “men discuss things differently to women” e.g. “in a more detached and impersonal manner, while women involve their feelings resulting in them feeling personally attacked”.  I also heard the view that one of the reasons women don’t like technology is because they are more “connected to their bodies than men and feel a need to be moving and not be sedentary in a chair all day”.  I’ll have to tell my male colleagues who go running and swimming at lunchtime that they are doing it wrong.

More of those sweeping statements that made me feel sick, but I saw nodding faces all around the room, so I sadly must have been alone in this.

After lunch the “Arts Strand” began, and I sat through talks about Collaboration in Art, Wearable Technology and sound projects using SuperCollider and Audacity.  These talks were fun and interesting, but were too much into the Art side of things for me, for example a teapot that changed colour when tweeted to and a necklace that shows your heart rate.

The Startup experiences of the “What Size am I?” team

The people behind “What Size Am I?” told us about their experiences as a Startup using purely Open Source technologies and how it affected their development timescales – getting up and running with Django was amazingly easy, but customisation later proved more difficult. This talk felt more like what I would have said to be “on track”, but I guess my expectations were completely out of whack with the event’s aims which seemed to be to discuss sexism in tech.

I couldn’t attend the Saturday part as I had a prior BBQ engagement, which turned out to be a Surprise Wedding, but I don’t think I would have gone anyway – as interesting as some of the talks were, I simply don’t believe I am the target audience as I would rather focus on the tech, irrespective of the speaker’s gender.

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