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Sex encoding initiative - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
Sex encoding initiative
I can't remember now if I wrote about this at the time (I suspect not) but last month I was on the interview panel for my replacement at my previous job. Yes, I know, that's unorthodox; but a) they decided they'd changed the job description enough that it didn't matter, b) this was the third round of interviews to try to get someone to fill the post and I think they were getting desperate, and c) I'm female. The third point wasn't explicitly stated, but it was almost certainly a factor, just as it was in the composition of the panel that interviewed me for the current job. (For that, I got the inside word on the people I'd be facing in the interview from a friend in the department. "A and B are the real geeks, the ones you'd be actually working with. C's a project manager. And D's a woman.")

I don't get it, to be honest. I'd much rather be interviewed by people (of any gender) who might know whether I was capable of doing the job than by somebody else who's been chosen for the fact that they happen to have breasts. Besides, if I'm applying for a job in a mostly-male department, or at least somewhere sufficiently biased in that direction that they have trouble digging up a woman who can reasonably be on the interview panel, then surely it's actually giving a false impression to say "look, we are all inclusive, we have women too". If I'd wanted to do the work I'm doing now in a mostly-female environment I'd've been looking to get a job as IT officer in a convent school ...... sorry, where was I?

Oh yes: interviews. Today I was asked to be on another interview panel, not in the department, but for an external project; and this time I was explicitly told that it was (partly) because I was female. (Though to be fair, the other reason was that I fulfilled the "technical enough to know if people are bullshitting" criterion, which is the point of the exercise.) "They said it'd be even better if I could think of a woman," said the person who was asking me, "and I thought, well, I think of women all the time! Ha ha! And then I thought of you." Arf.

Really, though, being singled out as female like that just confuses me (and particularly when it's done so clumsily). It's not that I don't feel like "a woman" (at work or elsewhere); it's just that at work, I'm first and foremost a geek. When my boss talks about Hot Chicks Who Know The Command Line (NB: I started this conversation, so don't blame him) he's not talking to a Chick Who Knows The Command Line (hot or otherwise), he's talking to another geek. That overrides the biological configuration. Okay, so he's a PC and I'm a Mac, but we're both running Linux. My femaleness is a data point, sure; it comes up (hurr hurr) in the sort of literate geeky banter that goes on all the time; the sort of conversation that sees the journey from the sublime to the ridiculous as the kind of shuttle run for which they should put on free buses every 10 minutes. The general tone of a lot of my conversation with colleagues is, well, let's say "putting the 'rude' into 'erudite'"; there, gender (and sex, and sex) is as much fair game as anything else. But it's not the point. The point is the wordplay; everything else is just a tool. Oh, behave.

Part of me wants to write more about this because I find that sort of environment, that sort of conversation, the sort of geeky intellectual ribaldry so much fun, and I wish I could share that. (Okay, in one sense it's outrageous that three people should be using a combined total of approximately 100 years' worth of education to see who can make the cleverest, most intertextual and interdisciplinary knob jokes. That's decadence. That's why it's fun. And hey, we do all do other things with our knowledge, too...) Other parts of me are terrified of misrepresenting the sorts of things that are said, and provoking outrage -- and accusations of all sorts of -isms. The weirdest thing, though, is outrage on my behalf by other people. "They shouldn't be allowed to say Things Like That to you!" "But I'm not remotely offended. I think it's fucking hilarious." "Well you should be offended!" "Why?" "...."

Part of the argument seems to be that Other People Might Be Offended. Well, sure. Plenty of people would be offended if I said to them some of the things I say to my friends and family. That's why I don't say those things except to friends and family. It's all about register. Part of the process of developing social relationships is the process of finding where people's boundaries are, probing them; sometimes, depending on the nature of the relationship, it involves deliberately pushing at them, encroaching, invading; sometimes it's more about keeping one's distance and maintaining a stretch of neutral territory (or bullet-riddled no-man's-land) inbetween.

All these tactics are fine. But personally I don't like trying to conduct conversations from either side of no-man's-land -- nay, nor no-woman's-land either, though by your smiling, etc., etc., sigh. I'd rather ride out into that wasted land and meet the other side for a skirmish -- or a handshake, or a hug. Whatever sort of contact ends up being made.



[I don't feel I've expressed any of this very well, but constraints of time and tiredness are going to defeat me and this is exactly the sort of post that would never make it through the internal filter if I wasn't determined to post something every day, so posting it is kind of the point of the exercise. Think of it as a work in progress.]
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Comments
kaberett From: kaberett Date: November 15th, 2007 11:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Even as a work in progress it's gorgeous. Thank you.
teleute From: teleute Date: November 15th, 2007 11:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
It made total sence to me. It reminded me why I miss UK/geek humor so much (I don't get to make gutter puns any more, no one gets them), and why it annoys me when people attach meaning to gender when the menaing should be based on your qualifications for (and willingness to do) the job. In my case it's the issue that every single person I know that tutors is a woman. Is it a problem? No. Could it be construed as a non-inclusive, non-PC, sexist issue if someone decided to make it so? Sadly yes. Meh.

But then I heard today that they're telling Santas in Sydney not to say "ho ho ho" because it's offensive to women. I think I'm going to find a new planet. Know of any good ones?
beingjdc From: beingjdc Date: November 16th, 2007 12:03 am (UTC) (Link)
I pretty much have to be on all our interviews, as the only man.
ali_in_london From: ali_in_london Date: November 16th, 2007 01:56 am (UTC) (Link)
The weirdest thing, though, is outrage on my behalf by other people. "They shouldn't be allowed to say Things Like That to you!" "But I'm not remotely offended. I think it's fucking hilarious." "Well you should be offended!" "Why?" "...."

From my perspective there are two points to this. One in the more formal HR-professional angle, and is a "what if". It's fine if everyone currently involved in the banter is happy with it, but what if someone joined the team who was not comfortable with the level of joking. Would there be a way of that person to raise their disconfort (without, of course, being uncomfortable about raising that discomfort) or would they be expected to tolerate it? That is, is the enjoyment and engagement in such banter a "required qualification"?

Secondly is it possible that the people being outraged on your behalf may be making the assumption that part of the (c)rudity is a selection of joke about birds, babes, girlies or whatever generic tern of the week for objectified women and if that kind of banter is happening then then people around you are seeing you less as a person and more as an object. Perhaps this explains their defensiveness?

Then again, the last piece of sexism in the workplace I experienced was when I nearly got volunteered for a somewhat complex context-switching job because since I'm female of course I can multi-task better than the rest of my colleagues.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 16th, 2007 01:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
That is, is the enjoyment and engagement in such banter a "required qualification"?

Nah. I really don't think it is. We don't do it (hurr hurr, 'do it') with the people who don't like it or don't get it. I suppose that makes it look like some kind of favouritism, but, I mean, honestly, people do get on better with some people than others. I'm just as talkative with the people who aren't saucy geeks, but it's more self-deprecating and less swearing.

birds, babes, girlies or whatever generic tern of the week for objectified women

I guess. FWIW we're just as bad about blokes (I'm not the only bi person round here, by a long way), I mean in terms of objectifying them... it's just there aren't quite so many of those sorts of terms for men.

since I'm female of course I can multi-task better than the rest of my colleagues

Oh god, I get told that too (but in an ironic knowing-it's-a-stereotype kind of way). Mind you I probably don't help my case by routinely having four virtual desktops each of which has at least one Firefox with at least 50 tabs. Plus at least one terminal window with two tabs, one of which has 7 screens, one of which is ssh'd to another server (though not running screen on that ... yet). Um. It's not so much multi-tasking as faff, though, really.
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: November 16th, 2007 03:25 am (UTC) (Link)
" .. and the phany in epiphany."

Lovely essay, and this sort of thing leaves me feeling obscurely smug about heading a three-person team with one woman, one man, and one gender-obscured me, which also, as of next week will consist of one pale Celt, one person from northern China, and one native-born Nigerian; though here what matters is that only one of us is Francophone. [ Have I cheered enough about getting the programmer I wanted yet ? ]
j4 From: j4 Date: November 16th, 2007 01:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
and the phany in epiphany

Arf! I like that.

Your team sounds marvellously diverse. This department isn't really very ethnically diverse*, but that issue is such a minefield that I really don't want to try to address it here... :-/

* I just typoed that as "ethically diverse". We probably meet that criterion. I mean, there are some people here for whom ethics isn't just a county in the thouth-eatht of England.
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: November 16th, 2007 03:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Your team sounds marvellously diverse.

My team look like a poster for a rather self-consciously "ethically balanced" movie, to be honest.

Mind you, this is in a city where the popular reaction to the first black St. Patrick's Day queen was "it's about time for a change, we've been having Italian and Inuit ones for years..."
filecoreinuse From: filecoreinuse Date: November 16th, 2007 09:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Isn't the woman on the interview panel a defense against "OMG! You didn't give me teh job 'coz I was females," or somesuch?
jvvw From: jvvw Date: November 16th, 2007 09:46 am (UTC) (Link)
The OU often has interview panels without women on them and the OU is very hot on EO and stuff like that (and they make you do training before you're allowed to be on an interview panel). They do get fussy about having somebody from a different department on each panel though. It's often really hard finding people for interview panels generally. The people recruiting obviously have a vested interest but it's a bit of chore for everybody else who ends up being on the panel.
lnr From: lnr Date: November 16th, 2007 10:10 am (UTC) (Link)
When we were interviewing for the job that's Stephen's just started here at work we had amongst other things an informal panel discussion. This had 3 women on it in the end, basically because Caroline's management and Julia and I were going to be working with him. It never occurred to me that if this wasn't the case then they'd have had to find some less relevant woman to be on it instead. I guess we're lucky that there are so many of us here, in a department where there aren't anywhere near 50% of women among the students.

I'm glad I wasn't part of the formal interview process though, I'd have no idea what to do or say.
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: November 16th, 2007 11:33 am (UTC) (Link)

The beauty of Linux

Okay, so he's a PC and I'm a Mac, but we're both running Linux.

"There is more in common between the sexes than within the sexes." [a (prescient) C19th female writer whose name I don't recall, but you might!].
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