Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Stereotypes

Stereotypes are a funny thing. I think that most of us have spent our lives dealing with stereotypes, more more obvious than others. I don't know how it came up, but while I was in a conversation today with Tuxgirl, we started talking about the number of female computer geeks. Those of you who work in the tech world have already noticed that there's a lot more guys than girls. A lot. Of course, this leads to stereotypes about female geeks, or rather, the common belief that they don't really exist. At one point, she pointed me to a page talking about the dos and don'ts of encouraging women in Linux. The point that struck me was "don't treat women stereotypically" (don't follow the link if you're opposed to the 'f-word'), wise advise in any situation.

Actually, I think that when it comes down to it, the entire document was about stereotypes. This point in particular mentioned that the male geeks, when explaining something, would use analogies to cooking or babies. This strikes a couple of chords with me. a) I'm a cook and b) my wife and I are getting ready to have a baby. Rarely does an hour, much less a day, go by that I don't talk to somebody about food. And lately, I've had a lot of conversations about babies with coworkers, most of whom are men.

What I'm getting at is that stereotypes go the other way too. In fact, I'd say that male geeks are doing a pretty good job at building up a stereotype of being good cooks, or at least being into cooking. I blame Alton Brown. But it reminds me of when I was going to cooking school in New Hampshire. Rumor quickly spread among my fellow churchgoers that I was a chef, and suddenly all of the women that I went to church with were either apprehensive that their cooking skills could never match mine, or picked up challenging attitudes towards me, because what right did a man have to be in the kitchen, unless he was washing dishes? Ironically, most of the guys were perfectly okay with it. Another guy, whom I will refer to as Papa Kane (as everybody else did), was considered by most to be the best cook in the congregation. He and I got to be good friends while I was there, and I we both loved picking each others' brains.

Back to the geek and cooking stereotypes. I've spent the last 12 years in the tech industry. I even telecommuted to a Utah ISP while I was living in New Hampshire (had to pay the bills somehow). I started writing code professionally (as in, for a living) a good 7 or 8 years ago. Tuxgirl is 22, and so even if she started professionally at 17 like I did, I'm still ahead of her in experience alone. But let's face it, she could probably code circles around me (except in Perl). But I think I have her beat on cooking, even if only because I went to school and got a degree in it (I was a lousy cook before I went to school for it).

The thing is, I don't fight stereotypes the same way as other people. I mess with people. In Utah Valley, it's even easier to do than a lot of other places because, as near as I've observed, they're a lot more fond of stereotypes. Facial hair is less common here because it's against the dress code at the local university, and that seems to have an effect on people in the area. I've been sporting a beard for some time now, and a goatee for some time before that. It draws a lot of stares in the supermakert, and some people actually ask me about it. But when I get into conversations with people that don't know about my culinary training, I have a lot of fun watching eyes pop, etc. On the other hand, when I went to my cake decorating class, I left all that at the door. When asked, I told them that I loved to watch cake competitions on TV, which is entirely true, and left it at that. I didn't want people to get any more nervous than the beard might have already been making them.

The moral of my long-winded story is, knock it off with the stereotypes. It doesn't help anyone that you're dealing with, and you run the risk of running into people like me that like to mess with peoples' minds.

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