Outreach Program for Women: Calling it how I see it

From Zaori
Posted by Apheori (talk) at 1 March 2013

OPW, the GNOME Foundation's Outreach Program for Women, is an endeavour to get more women involved in FOSS. It operates in the form of remote online internships offered by the member organisations, including GNOME, Mozilla, Wikimedia, and others, targeted specifically at women. After applying for a current term, accepted interns then spend a few months working on and with their respective projects, receiving a $5,000USD stipend for their efforts.

I am one of the interns for the current term, working on design initiatives for the Wikimedia Foundation and learning the tools, practices, and pitfalls of the trade as well as of the specific codebase and community.

My experience with Wikimedia has been overwhelmingly positive. I have had the opportunity to work with several teams, in particular Editor Engagement, and talk to many folks who are nothing short of brilliant - it is an amazing environment like nothing else I have encountered precisely because of the kinds of people the movement attracts. As for the work itself, I bloody love it - painful as some of the tasks have been, and some of the code involved has been to read, I don't think I have ever been happier working on anything.

It saddens and angers me that this opportunity came because of a gender-based outreach program.

I would argue that such programs should not exist - that indeed they are sexist and demeaning. While the intent is valid enough, this approach of targeting specifically and only a certain under-represented demographic is, if anything, apt to make matters worse, or at the very least call into question the competence of all those who do wind up participating. Maybe affirmative action gets immediate results in terms of ensuring diversity, but it also does a damn fine job of devaluing the individual, their position, their experience, and even their sense of self-assurance. Nor does it effectively combat societal imbalance, not in the long run. Broadly providing people a free pass because of their demographic does not combat racism or sexism - it simply promotes another form of the same.

However this isn't how people think. We think in terms of the immediate and what is in front of us, in terms of problems to be solved and of opportunities and possibilities. I didn't think about any of this when presented with this opportunity; I just wanted to overthow Gerrit and stick things up AuthPlugin and bathe in fish. While some little things nagged here and there, is was only later, talking to a friend, that I finally figured out what now seems so wrong to me about the entire thing.

I asked:

Was I granted this opportunity because I am worth it - because I have the potential and the talent and the skill that makes someone awesome and worth bringing onto the team - or simply because I am a woman? And if I am worth it, why do I need this special treatment? On equal footing, am I not capable of achieving the same as a man, or is this particular approach necessary to overcome an inherent handicap of my gender?

I am not handicapped.

So yes, I am angry. I am angry at the insinuation that I cannot stand on my own. I am angry that people believe that women need special treatment, that we need to be given opportunities, that we cannot act on our own agency and learn to take chances that come up, because if we never have to take those chances, we very well never will learn. I am angry that this comes up here, casting a shadow over what I love and calling into question my involvement with a movement that means a great deal to me - especially after recent experiences working with it more directly.

And there is a shadow. Many of my friends are men, but how I came into this opportunity that might otherwise have appealed to some of them has created a rift between us, and there is nothing I can do to alleviate the subsequent awkwardness and resentment (unconscious though it may be). After all, what sort of message does it send to those who are needlessly excluded from programs to which their friends are welcomed with open arms simply because of their race or sex?

We don't need this. Men don't need that message. Women don't need special handling.

I am fucking amazing and it has nothing to do with being a woman.

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