Thursday, April 17, 2008

From my "in the mist" series

From the blogger who brought you pithy observations on Marylanders, Missourians, Canadians, the French, and the Czechs, I now present notes from my latest anthropology project:

The world of XY.

As the only female in my Tai Chi class, I am privy to the conversations of eight representitives of the male species. After class, we all usually hang out a bit longer and chat. Anyway, here is the list of conversation topics from last night:

Pipe bombs --> bulldogs --> prison sex --> juicers

I kid you not.

Pipe bombs: This conversation is cross-referenced with "small-town observations" (see stories of Mom's house). Apparently, ten years ago, there was a kid in Salisbury who tried to make a pipe bomb and blew his thumb off. At least three people in the Tai Chi class, not including the guy who told the story, knew this kid or had gone to school with him. (Actually, one of the guys was unable to confirm that the kid he was thinking of was the one the others were talking about, which naturally causes one to wonder if there was two kids who blew their thumbs off while making pipe bombs about ten years ago. Distressing.)

Bulldogs: Standard conversation on bulldogs about inbreeding and danger. Included story of mutilated kid and also commentary on existing pit bull laws in Salisbury.

Prison Sex: This started with a conversation on baggy pants and ended with an exploration of the origins of said fashion statement. The explanation given was that, back in the day, men in prison would wear baggy pants to attract a mate.

Juicers: Commentary on which brands of juicers were the best, what you could put or not put in certain juicers, the possible disadvantages of buying a juicer that removes citrus fruit peels.

But I jest. Sort of. The thing is that guys are interesting observation subjects and groups of guys are (duh moment coming) very different from groups of females. I could really feel a difference back when I had a yoga class right before my Tai Chi class. Everyone in the yoga class was female, and the atmosphere was much more competitive. You could see women looking around the classroom, comparing themselves with each other. Who could stretch the furthest, who could balance in a pose the longest, etc. In Tai Chi, there is none of that--at least, none that I've picked up on. There is more a sense of cooperation, though perhaps this is because some of the forms and activities require the cooperation of two people, whereas in yoga everything was solo.

This is not the first time I've been the only (or one of the only) females in a group of males. When I was in high school I joined the all-male drum line in the marching band my junior year. I got grief from the guys until I pounded on one of them with my bass drum mallets. After that, things were fine.

Then there was the Army, where I was one of a few females in my unit. I was never accepted into the group, and at social functions I was never really sure if I belonged with the Army wives, preparing food in the kitchen, or the Army guys, slurping beer on the couch. (I usually wound up playing with the kids and/or dogs). The women who were accepted by the guys were generally the ones who had proven themselves exceptional in the more physical aspects of Army life. The rest of us? Well, we were subjected to the rumor-of-the-month mill, which always involved speculation about our sex life. As one of my female drill sergeants put it, "If you are a women in the Army, you are either a dyke or a slut." And she was absolutely right.

Depending on who I did or didn't spend time with, I had both labels applied to me. If I hung out with guys, the first sergeant would call me into his office and tell me that rumors were circulating about me and that I should be more careful. If I tried to hang out with the few other women in the unit, thinking that to be the safer option, I was a dyke. Sometimes I wonder if my complete failure in the Army was due to their inability to put me into a neat category. This inability extended far beyond the realm of sex, though that may have been the most basic failure at categorization.

So, there you have it. Yet another one of my morphing 'blogs that ends abruptly.


At 11:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love it. Great blog, no matter how abruptly it ends.
I wish I could find a link to a good "full of win" pic.

At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...and I gotta tell ya, I connotated "Gorillas in the Mist" from the blog title, after-the-fact. The ensuing mental image of "Men in the Tai Chi Mist" is amusing.

At 8:30 PM, Blogger Violin Woman said...

Heheh. I'm a female engineer. I've been privy to more than a few guy groups over the years. My favorite story was from the Society of Physics Students lounge at Towson. They had put up various physics diagrams and problems on the white boards, but everywhere you would've ordinarily seen an arrow, someone had drawn a little penis. I kid you not. I saw that as proof that none of them were "getting any."

At 11:39 PM, Blogger STAG said...

Its funny, my experience with gender loaded groups is exactly opposite to yours....the guys were more competitive, and the gals were more co-operative. Maybe the dynamics are different in a gym.

You didn't fit into the Military because you didn't fit yourself into the military. This is not a bad thing.

At 4:27 PM, Blogger Ovonia Red said...

Stag, I gotta disagree about the competitive versus cooperative nature of men and women. I've worked in all-female offices before, and it was absolute hell. (And I've known many other women to say the same thing). I think perhaps men are more overtly competitive, when they are competitive. With women, on the other hand, the competition is a bit more... well, I was going to say subtle, but that doesn't accurately communicate my meaning. I think women are competitive in a way that men might not easily recognize if they haven't been exposed to it before. That may be because when women have to compete with men, they are expected to follow the masculine rules of competition. I can't, off the top of my head, think of an instance where women and men had to compete following feminine rules of competition--though if I really thought about it, I might be able to come up with something.

The nature of women's competition stems, I'm sure, from biology ("must beat out all other women to find acceptable mate"). Maybe it is just that women had to beat out other women but had to, at the same time, appear nurturing and feminine to men. Who knows.

At 10:09 AM, Blogger STAG said...

It might also be that guys "enjoy" competition for its own sake, and gals take it more a means to an end.

Also the playing field is different...guys will pick on the other guy's work, and women will pick on other women's personal lives and apperance. A guy would never nag another guy into an eating disorder.

As you said, the study of species XY is very tricky, full of inconistencies and generalizations that are rarely subject to validation.


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