May 29, 2006

I have just returned from a conference on circuits and systems. It is THE conference in this area, and attracts a huge number of attendees. The banquet this year was particularly entertaining, but not because of the "official" entertainment. The interest was generated by the comments and conversation supplied by one of my table-mates, who seemed to think that my sole purpose for attending this conference was to supply him with some female companionship. I had never met this person before, so I was quite shocked by his attitude, and by the fact that he was so open in his expression of it. I told my colleague who was also attending that there are three ways to deal with this:
a) out-crude him, or attempt to;
b) freak out and call him a sexist pig and storm off, or
c) laugh and smile and make subtle barbs that once in a while actually sink in.
I chose option c), and this seemed to work, as I clearly had the sympathy of the rest of the table (mostly men).

When I got up to leave, he practically chased me around the table to say goodbye. Fortunately I was able to keep him at arm's length by shaking hands. During this interaction it was made obvious that I was at least 4 inches taller than he, and I had a nice clear view of the top of his head :-) Petty, but satisfying.

The most satisfying part of the evening, however, was when my colleague, who also left with me, said "Now I know what you mean". We'd had a discussion earlier when I stated that at these events I was either shunned or the center of attention, and not usually in a good way. He said he believed me, but I don't think he really knew what I meant. Now he certainly does!

He also went on to relate an experience he had as a grad student; he was invited to a gathering held for Women in Computer Science. There was extra pizza, so we went around to the graduate labs inviting everyone to help us finish it off. He and his buddy (also male) found the room, and looked in ... hesitated ... then left. They were totally intimidated by a room full of women. His buddy then commented that "now we know how women in computer science feel."