Celebrity programmer Eric S. Raymond has aired a theory that feminist activists are trying to find a way to lay false sexual assault claims against male leaders of the open source community.
Raymond is best known for his seminal tract The Cathedral and the Bazaar, and remains active in the world of open source, which he has championed since the late 1990s.
In a blog post this week, Raymond, often referred to as "ESR", dropped this bomb on the internet:
The short version is: if you are any kind of open-source leader or senior figure who is male, do not be alone with any female, ever, at a technical conference. Try to avoid even being alone, ever, because there is a chance that a 'women in tech' advocacy group is going to try to collect your scalp.
Raymond's evidence for his assertion comes from an unnamed “source I trust” with whom he shared an IRC chat.
The source accuses some members of The Ada Initiative, an organisation that “supported women in open technology and culture through activities such as producing codes of conduct and anti-harassment policies,” of “trying to pre-generate outrage and collect scalps.”
“The MO was to get alone with the target, and then immediately after cry 'attempted sexual assault',” Raymond's source alleges, going on to say that Linux kernel supremo Linus Torvalds is never alone at open-source events because he is aware of the potential for such incidents.
The motive for such attacks, it is implied, is to expose sexists who hold positions of influence in open source communities and precipitate their replacement.
Raymond goes on to say that “this report is consistent with reports of SJW [social justice warrior] dezinformatsiya tactics from elsewhere and I think it would be safest to assume that they are being replicated by other women-in-tech groups.”
The anonymity of Raymond's source means it is nigh-on impossible to assess the credibility of his relayed allegations. That he's essentially circulating a wild conspiracy theory makes it even harder.
What is certain is that Raymond – who once claimed Iranian terrorists were out to get him – has form suggesting efforts to oppose and reduce sexual assault aren't sincere. In this 2013 blog post he alleged there was a “crazy inflation of rape statistics” on US college campuses, and went on to say “female students can now accuse men of rape and expect the claim to be evaluated under circumstances that deny the man any right to due process and the presumption of innocence.”
Evidence of sexist acts and sexual assaults in the technology community, such as those on this list on the Geek Feminism Wiki, aren't hard to find.
Nor are incidents in which women have complained that the technology industry's culture is rather macho. In 2013, Sarah Sharp, who then ran USB-compatibility efforts in the Linux kernel, urged Torvalds to stop verbally abusing fellow kernel developers and encourage more civil conversation with developers of any gender. That complaint was widely applauded and the kernel development community responded, in part, by creating a "Code of Conflict" outlining acceptable behaviour.
Sharp, however, eventually quit kernel development because she felt the kernel community's response was toothless and ineffective.
Torvalds defence has always been that his ire is directed at bad code, not its authors. Women's groups retort that a culture that permits such abuse is not welcoming to anyone, and especially hostile to women. That culture is therefore held to be unhelpful for an industry in which skilled workers are nearly always in demand, either for paid employment or volunteer roles.
Raymond's allegations are unlikely to quell such arguments. ®