Is a computer male or female?
A language instructor was explaining to her class that in French, nouns, unlike their English counterparts, are grammatically designated as masculine or feminine.
“House,” in French, is feminine = “la maison.”
“Pencil,” in French, is masculine = “le crayon.”
One puzzled student asked, “What gender is ‘computer’?”
The teacher did not know, and the word wasn’t in her French dictionary. So for fun she split the class into two groups, appropriately enough by gender, and asked them to decide whether “computer” should be a masculine or feminine noun.
Both groups were required to give four reasons for their recommendation.
The men’s group decided that computers should definitely be of the feminine gender (“la computer”), because:
- No one but their creator understands their internal logic;
- The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else;
- Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long-term memory for possible later retrieval; and
- As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.
The women’s group, however, concluded that computers should be masculine (“le computer”), because:
- In order to get their attention, you have to turn them on;
- They have a lot of data but they are still clueless;
- They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE the problem; and
- As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you’d waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model.
(Sociologically, this seems like a good example of a pervasive technology serving as a mirror to spoof cultural attitudes.)