Matthew Garrett on ally work and the Linux community

Matthew Garrett gave this brief talk encouraging geeks to be vocal feminists/feminist allies, at LUGradio Live UK 2008 (LRLUK 2008).

One reference in his “Community Hate Time” talk is to the “upskirt” photo published by Nicu Buculei at Planet Fedora a couple of weeks ago, which we discussed here at Hoyden.

{Sorry about the sound. Best transcript I can manage follows. Please ignore the first few seconds and the man with the giant prosthetic schlong – I have no idea what’s going on there, and don’t want to know.}


“Hello. My name’s Matthew Garrett, you may know me from such [unintelligible] . I’m here, briefly, to talk about how much I hate the Linux community. Now – this may seem a controversial statement. The Linux community has a lot going for it.

My major issue with the Linux community is that the Linux community is very, very bad at telling people that they’re being dicks. This ties in with what Emma was saying in her presentation earlier – “Don’t be a dick.”

You would think that this would be a nice, straightforward rule for people to follow. But of course, we’re all geeks, we’re all completely socially inept.

The real lesson to be learnt is that when people tell you you’re being a dick, the immediate response should not be, “No I’m not.” The immediate response should also not be, “I’m going to set fire to your face.” [laughter] In itself, that is an example of being a dick. And as I just said – don’t do that.

Those of who have, at various points in your life, been told that you’re being a dick – this is ok. It’s fine. We all understand if you’re a dick. As long as you’re perfectly happy to try not to do that in future.

So I’m going to run over a quick few ways of – a few situations that I’ve seen in the past year or so, of the open source community. Uh – right, so.

One of them: If somebody tells you that this joke you just told is offensive, the correct response is along the lines of: “Sorry. Can you help me try to avoid the situation in the future?” The correct answer is not: “You don’t have a sense of humour, and by the way, grow up.”

There may be some people in the audience here who are at this point thinking that I’m some kind of giant flaming hypocrite, because I often say things to offend people. The difference is, I’m doing that deliberately. I’m a professional. [laughter]

Other things you should not say: Do not use “rape” as an analogy for something that has been done to your fstat file. One of these things can be fixed with a text editor. [laughter, applause]

If you’re on a bus, and, ah, say, you happen to find sitting opposite you on the bus is an attractive woman wearing a reasonably short skirt, with her legs arranged in such a way that you could perhaps, if you tried hard enough, see somewhat up that skirt: the correct thing to do is – uh, I’m not actually sure what the completely correct thing to do here is. One thing that you should not do is take a picture of that with your cameraphone, and post it to Planet Fedora, along with a brief statement saying, “Oh, this was just with my cameraphone. Uh, the things I could have done with a bit more time and a proper camera, uh, but I didn’t want to get my camera out in case I scared her.” [laughter] That’s also doing it wrong. Don’t do that.

And – this one, again – if you’re hugging somebody, and they say, “Stop hugging me, or I’m going to punch you in the face,” if, thirty seconds later, you find that you’ve just been punched in the face, this perhaps indicates that you were doing something viciously wrong.

But my real concern with the Linux community is not so much that people do these kinds of things, it’s that there seems to be very few people willing to stand up and say, “You’re being a dick.” We need people to be willing to say “you’re being a dick”, and we need other people to support people telling people they’re being a dick, and there’s probably another level of indirectness involved as well somewhere.

But don’t be afraid to tell people they’re being dicks; and, if you’re told you’re being a dick, then think about why somebody has said this to you instead of becoming immediately defensive. ”

[with a tip o’ the hat to snerd.]

Categories: gender & feminism, language, social justice

Tags: , ,

6 replies

  1. Matthew Garrett, I despair sometimes, then I read someone like you.


  2. Thanks for writing the transcript. I loved this comment:

    Do not use “rape” as an analogy for something that has been done to your fstat file. One of these things can be fixed with a text editor.

    Three cheers Matthew Garrett!

  3. Ditto Kieran’s praise. Comapring pretty much anything to rape is a HUGE pet peeve of mine.

  4. That’s a rather unfortunate still presented when the video loads up and before one presses play! The partially naked man with the artificial phallus is not Matthew Garrett, he appears to be an MC (presumably of the lightning talks session Garrett is speaking in). A “how not to be a dick” talk might come across differently if presented in that costume.
    “you may know me from such [unintelligible]” is “you may know me from such previous events as LugRadio Live [laughter]”

  5. That’s a rather unfortunate still presented when the video loads up and before one presses play!
    Ah, I see this is addressed in the post too. Sorry about the double-up on that warning.


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