Archive for the ‘Freedom’ Category

I have never understood why gender matters. To me, it doesn’t. I have never had difficulties in speaking with men as equals, and generally they have responded in kind. I have a number of friends across the transgender spectrum, and have never struggled to accept them for who they are – their gender does not matter to me beyond knowing which pronouns they would prefer me to use. In many ways, I am “gender blind”.

This has all led me to be confused by the apparent necessity for women-oriented Open Source projects and communities, such as Ubuntu Women. I can understand, on an intellectual level, that not all women are as comfortable as I am in a room full of men, but never before did I truly grok the problem.

Lately, I have had something of an epiphany.

Just over two years ago, I became a mum. This threw me into the world of play groups, sharing baby woes and breastfeeding support. This world is inhabited almost entirely by women. It is a world I never knew existed, and one which has given me a totally different perspective on single-gender communities. Suddenly, I was on the other side of the balance – I was, in terms of gender, part of the majority. Seeing my husband struggling with it all has been another eye-opener. He was uncomfortable, and just didn’t quite know how to fit in, because he was different.

Slowly, slowly I have come to realise that, in a way, I was right all along, and gender doesn’t matter. What matters is affinity, and recognising shared experience. It is always difficult to get involved with a new group of people, but instant affinity gives you an “in”, a starting point for them not to be faceless strangers. That affinity could be appreciating the slogan on someone’s T-shirt, noticing that they’ve got an ORG sticker on their laptop, or something they happen to be talking about. That affinity can also come from gender. And now I think I understand.


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Recently it was International Women’s Day. This is a concept I struggle with. I have lately had something of an epiphany, but that is for another post. Right now I want to talk about the competition Ubuntu Women ran. The idea was to gather a repository of inspirational stories about how women got into using Ubuntu, and entries were accepted from across the world. I didn’t quite manage to write the how part, but did accidentally write about why I got into Ubuntu. I didn’t win, and didn’t expect to, but I was both surprised and flattered when Jono Bacon read it out while announcing the winners because it was “so cool”. Both the writing and the response have been part of why I’ve re-started this blog, so it seemed appropriate for me to share my entry here.

Learning To Fly

Some years ago, I used to travel everywhere by bus. The company that ran it was called Microsoft, and I used the Number 3.1. It generally got me where I needed to be, but it took a bit of an odd route to get there, and it would often stop at seemingly random points. If I fancied a change, I could take my walkman, or a book. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but it did ok, and I was used to it. After a while, the company decided to upgrade all their busses and change all the routes – and put the fares up. I went onto the Number 95, and everything looked nice and shiny, although I missed my stop a couple of times because I wasn’t used to the route. After a while I realised that although the route didn’t take the same detours, it took new ones, so I didn’t really get where I was going any faster. The busses all seemed to get a bit dingy after a while, too. Still, I had my CD walkman, and it became familiar again.

Eventually, I took the plunge, and got a car. I loved the freedom – I could go where I wanted to go, when I wanted to go. I wasn’t constrained by having to have the right money, and I didn’t have to stop for the sake of everyone else. It was a SuSE, and it was mine and I loved it. Except, any time anything went wrong I had to ask for help. When the radio stopped working, I had to get someone else to fix it. If I couldn’t find a particular stick or button, I had to get someone to show me where it was. It also wouldn’t play any of my old CDs. In short, it was frustrating. I tried a couple of other cars, but they weren’t any better. I took ages getting my Debian to even start, and somehow had a knack for stalling it before I got to the end of the street. Eventually, I gave up and went back to the bus – the XP route now had air conditioning and contoured seats, and I could cope with the delays (and occasional breakdowns) because it did tend to get me there in the end.

Then one day, something quite miraculous happened: someone gave me a pair of wings. In only a couple of lessons, I was flying! I no longer have to wait for the bus, and I don’t need a mechanic to come and rescue me any more. If I want different music, I can just pick up a media player and set it going. If I want to dye my wings a different colour, that’s easy too. I decide which route to take – I’m not even limited by roads any more. The best thing is that flying feels so natural – like walking only better. I call these wings “Ubuntu”.

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