I recently attended a mixed-gender event at which women are underrepresented (I seem to do that a lot), and That Dude* was there. He is the dude who outwardly purports to treat everyone the same, i.e. to be slightly off-key with everyone… but oddly enough he just happens to be a tiny bit more aimed in his awkwardness and clumsyness around the ladies. So, although he’s forever bumping into everyone, he’ll bump the guys in the back, and the ladies right in the butt. He’ll poke the guys in the sternum, and the ladies in the boobs. Hmm. And when the ladies approach the guys about it, they’re often met with disbelief and confusion because we’re deliberately being exposed to slightly different experiences. That Dude is surprisingly sly, for someone so naive and klutzy. Double hmm.
Anyhoo, he was there, and he was a bit vexing, but from my point of view not unmanageably so. I’m very slow at picking up physical skills, so he liked me well enough… until we started to do something I turned out to be good at – in fact, nearly as good as him, although he’s literally had two years’ training for every hour of mine (I suspect my superpower consists merely of following the instructions I was given, cos it turned out the instructors knew a thing or two… but there you go). At that point, his opinion of me did a u-turn. I was no longer the unusually fierce yet ultimately pathetic wee bunny he thought me to be. I was a woman whopping his ass. In public. In the presence of his peers. Which I’m not and I’ll never be, because I’m female, and it’s deeply insulting that I would even dare to try.
And that, boys and girls, is what sexism really means.
Needing to fix this untenable situation, That Dude switched scripts. The behaviour of the challenged misogynist is as stylized as it is vexing, and I have dealt with it throughout my work life. It’s deeply amusing to watch someone going through a very silly dance all alone when you know you won’t have to deal with him ever again… which is why at this point I messed up. I messed up bad.
It never occurred to me that the instructors may have noticed the behaviour, may be equally unimpressed by it, and may be looking for a good enough reason to kick That Dude out. I didn’t pay any attention to the fact that the most egregious behaviours only took place safely away from anyone remotely in authority. Although I firmly saw the training area as the instructors’ space, where their authority is supreme and their rules apply, I saw the problem as uniquely mine. So I dealt with it quietly and effectively, greatly enjoying myself in the process… and in doing so, I allowed That Dude to stay there.
I guess I’m so accustomed to the people in charge either not caring about that sort of problem or actually being part of it that I’ve yet to truly realize that I now hang out with better people. That may in part excuse my behaviour. I find it troubling, though, that my self-defense training seems to be reaffirming this self-imposed isolation. I should be able to handle my own conflicts. I should practice resolving my own problems, rather than farming them out to the authorities. That’s how you build resilience, right?
This is the first time it’s brought to my attention that group dynamics also matter. That it’s not just about me: it’s about all of us, as a functional group. And if as individuals we’re so fixated on looking at our problems, our skill sets, our responsibilities, we can end up entirely failing to solve situations at group level.
(* I’m sure a female equivalent exists, but I’ve never been a male, so I can only comment on this side of the equation.)