Jane Wakefield: On sexism and bugs

It's Christmas time again and parents around the UK desperately rack their brains to come up with the perfect gift for their offspring

Barbie.com may offer the answer to every little girl's dreams with its Barbie PC, complete with pink flowers adorning the screen and keyboard. Mattel, the people who make Barbie, also offers a racing car shaped computer for the boys.

The computer industry is obviously still living in the days of Peter and Jane, the books a generation of kids grew up on, believing mums and daughters wore pinnies and lived in the kitchen while dads and sons took things to pieces in the garage. Nowadays such books are banned from schools and teachers spend their time making sure the boys play in the home corner and the girls play their fair share of footie. What good is being done by our teachers is being undermined if those little girls are going home to log on to the fluffy world of Barbie on their flowery PCs.

Such perpetuation of stereotypes has to be a bad thing, especially given the perception that technology is still a "boys' thing". While women in techie jobs are still in the minority, on the Internet the girls are catching up. According to a MORI survey, women now make up 43 percent of the online population. Women are also spending more, although one study found that women prefer to window shop rather than buy.

This might account for the slow start women sites like handbag.com and charlottestreet are experiencing. The Daily Mail, backers of charlottestreet, announced this week that they are not entirely happy with the success of the site and will be making changes to attract more users.

I think part of the problem might be that women resent the idea of having special sites dedicated to them. Women's magazines have always been as avidly read by boyfriends as by the women themselves and it seems an odd idea to have women-only Internet sites. I personally have not logged on to any of them, not out of burning feminism but more because I am just not very interested. The idea of "chatting" to other women about issues that affect me is one of the biggest turn-offs I can imagine and if I want to go Net shopping I will go to specific shopping sites.

As we sit among the debris of wrapping paper and pine needles this Christmas, only a few of us will still be worrying about the millennium bug. Most people are bored with the bug, having spent the year listening to contradictory information about the problems it will cause. I personally was on the side of the doom-mongers and was getting quite excited about the idea of empty shelves in supermarkets, empty cash machines and lights out across the country. I used to love power cuts -- it was always so much more exciting to sit in candlelight although no telly was not so good. Now it seems there will be no problems, other than a few administrative errors weeks after the date change.

One advantage of lingering fears about the bug means people aren't going on holiday this New Year's Eve. So I am taking advantage of the cheap flights and am off to the Bahamas. See you all next millennium.

Happy Christmas one and all.