Open Source and Women's Studies

One of the best things that happened to me during college was that I discovered and got involved in the Women's and Gender Studies program at my school. Though I went to college very interested in gender and sexuality stuff I'm not sure that I ever really intended to come out of the experience with a second major in Women's Studies, but I did, and I think it was a really great thing.

Making sense of that experience, since graduation has been more difficult, as I'm probably not directly going to go work "in the field" (if there is even a thing there,) and I find my academic interests [1] taking me elsewhere.

The thing that the bright eyed 18-year old tycho found so intriguing about women's studies is that on the first (or second) day of the first class, the professor handed us a packet of readings photo-copied from her books. And the readings weren't just "clever parsing of the literature in a forum even undergraduates could handle," but the key (or parts of the key) documents themselves. From the beginning I felt like a participant in a larger discussion, which is something that I didn't get from my other classes.

While in the end I learned that participating in these discourses is something that you sort of have to fight your way into, I also came to the conclusion that I didn't much want to be involved in a field that didn't value thought and participation of its students. And so I dove into Women's Studies and I don't regret it for an instant.


While I don't tend to buy into the software-is-freedom argument, [2] I think there is something very freeing about open source in the same way that I found Women's Studies so academically freeing. The invitation to participate in the software development progress that open source represents is really powerful and even if you're not a programer in the traditional sense, the invitation to participate in a serious discussion about the shape of the tools that we use is pretty powerful.

At least I think so.

[1]One of the conclusions that a historian friend and I came to is that Women's Studies is prone--particularly in the higher levels--to becoming a method and a perspective rather than a particular or unitary subject. This translates rather poorly once it gets out of your head, but is useful in maintaining a measure of intrapersnal coherence.
[2]The idea that open-source software is good and we need it because it is our freedom from corporations and government strikes me as missing the larger picture. Open source is good (and we need it) because it results in higher quality software and because it's more useful. Having said that, I think that revolutionaries are pretty likely to use Linux or BSD because it is accessible and legal, not because there's something intrinsically freeing about having accessible source code. As a slogan I think there's something to the notion that "you can't code your way to freedom."
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