Well that was pointless. I talked to this chap, he didn't seem to have very much clue what he was doing, he looked about 14 and frankly terrified of me, but I tried to answer his questions without too much handwaving/ranting, and filled in his survey, and let him take a picture of The Geek In Her Working Environment, har har. My god, though, my desk is a mess. Coffee and books and a DVD and some half-wilted roses in a vase and biscuits and a contact juggling ball and a stuffed badger and a waving maneki neko and biscuits and speakers and torn-off pages of my poem-a-day calendar (Robert Frost's 'Fire and Ice' yesterday, ace stuff) and cherry 7Up cans and heaps of paper and a hairbrush and a load of books on Ubuntu, XSLT, Perl, SOAP, and Web Design. He asked if he could "observe me working" for an hour, and I panicked and said no. For one thing, I'd have to get my office-mate to agree to it, and for another thing, well, just NO. Also, no.
I asked $boss beforehand about the women-in-IT thing, why there are fewer women. "It's because IT is so dull," he said. "No it isn't!" I protested. "It's fascinating!" "Well, then it's probably because women aren't mathematically minded, isn't it. They can't do the logic." I did my best impression of a girly flounce (imagine an elephant doing its best impression of a ballerina) and said "That's a hateful thing to say!" (Well, obviously I couldn't reply logically, could I.) "But it's occam's razor, isn't it," he said, leaning back in his chair. He blinks the double-blink that's nearly a flutter of the eyelids, the one that means he's struggling to stay deadpan. "What's the simplest reason why women don't do computing? They haven't got the brain power." That's nearly a smirk, but it's suppressed. "Occam's razor?" I open my eyes wide. "Haven't tried that. I use Gillette." Collapse (as they say) of stout party.
(I feel like I'm misrepresenting him horribly: you'd need to hear him, to see how he says these things. It's all just trolling. Usenet banter. It's the Oxford way, as we say. Playing. You're never more than 5 metres from a pun. On usenet, nobody knows you're a swan.)
After talking to the student fella, I said to $boss "He asked me whether my colleagues have different expectations of me because I'm female. I said, dunno mate, you'd have to ask them." $boss opened his eyes wide. "That'd be illegal!" he said, in mock shock. He thought about it, then looked actually baffled. "But if I ... I mean, you're saying... if I asked $colleague to do something rather than asking you... because you're... I dunno, because you're a girl, then.... well... but that'd just be ridiculous!" "I'm assured by my feminist friends that it happens all the time," I said. "But it's just absurd!" he said. I had to agree.
It's not that they don't notice that I'm female: but in the grand scheme of things it's just another small seam of new opportunities for witticisms. Even at our most serious, it's just a data point. It's the user-agent string. (Does this work on yours? Ooh, dunno... let's try. What happens if you change that value there? Hahahahaha it all breaks! Wow, cool error message.)
The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of the user-agent string as a metaphor for gender.