That last post was depressing, and rather more emotional than I am accustomed to writing. I should probably point out that I’d been trying to write it for about a month, but had been finding it understandably difficult, so most of the sentiment there has calmed down a little. By which I mean, it had calmed down the point where I was able to write about it. In other words, I am fine, but thank you to everyone who sent me their support. And what I wrote still stands, even if it’s not entirely up-to-date.
Now, feminism. One of the wonderful opportunities I’ve had this summer has been the Edinburgh Fringe. For non-Brits out there, this is a 4-week theatre festival held every August in Edinburgh, and basically consists of the am-dram world relocating to Edinburgh for a month, putting on several thousand shows. I went for a week, as a reviewer with a student-run theatre website, which was brilliant because they provided a flat for a us, and finding accommodation during the festival is an absolute nightmare. There were ten of us staying in a shabby but cosy four-bedroom flat, which we used as a base for reviewing. Since we had reviews to write, we all spent quite a lot of time in the kitchen area, lounging on sofas in our pajamas on our laptops, talking about theatre and watching videos of cats on the internet. Blissful.
On the fourth day, I was paired up to review with the only boy in the house. Yes, it was nine girls, one boy. This had been mentioned briefly on the first day, when deciding that he should probably get the single room to himself, but otherwise hadn’t been an issue. He wasn’t the sort of guy to make an issue out of it or make anyone feel awkward – in fact he was ridiculously sweet and mild, and generally great to live with. Quiet though – I hadn’t actually really spoken to him until we were paired up together. We saw a show, and went to a cafe to talk about it and make notes for our reviews. I asked how he was enjoying Edinburgh, and didn’t we have a great dynamic in the house? And he nodded and shuffled and looked vaguely nervous, so I asked what was wrong.
And this boy, this quiet, shy boy, looks at me and asks ‘Is this what girls are like all the time?’.
So I ask what he means, and he explains to me that he’s never really seen girls talking and acting the way we have. He went to an all-boys school, and doesn’t have many female friends because (he admitted) he finds it really hard to talk to girls. Women, to him, were these exotic, almost mythical creatures he’d heard about but hardly had any time to interact with. But living with nine girls in an apartment that was very much a women’s space had given him a perspective he’d never seen before. He’d heard us talking, about, well, everything. Theatre and politics and fashion and sex and relationships and kittens and basically anything else that came into our heads. He’d heard us be frank and direct when talking about sex, about our boyfriends and girlfriends and exes, about the beauty standards we did or didn’t accept. This was the week after I wrote about Assange, so a lot of what we were talking about was that, and rape culture in general, and all the horrible comments various politicians had been making about ‘legitimate rape’ and women making the whole thing up. Oh, and we talked about Fifty Shades Of Grey, and how there has to be better erotica out there. And because there had been nine of us, and because this guy was so quiet, we’d all acted very much like we were in a women-only space.
This isn’t to say this was in any way deliberate. None of us were trying to make him feel awkward or excluded, and once we’d had this conversation I started to make more of an effort to include him. I think the point is more that, because it felt like we were all girls, we instinctively acted in certain way. It wasn’t conscious – I certainly don’t make a decision to behave one way around women, another around men. But once he’d mentioned it, I realised how right he was. And I realised, much as I hate to admit it, how nice that was.
I went to an all-girls school, so for me that kind of environment is normal. I know for others it was strange and suffocating and unnatural, but it just happened to work for me. When I came to uni, living and working and having classes with boys was temporarily the most exciting thing ever, until it became standard. And I thought that was that. But I think about how much I enjoy the dances classes I take where I’m surrounded only by women, and how refreshing that is. I can’t explain quite what it is, but somehow we all seem more relaxed and easy-going than elsewhere. We’re panting and sweating and contorting our bodies into unattractive positions when we warm up, and every non-perfect aspect of our bodies his highlighted by the exercises and the tight dance-clothing, but somehow none of that matters.
I don’t think I act differently around men. Oh, sometimes I’m flirting and hoping that sex is on the cards, but that’s not true for every man I meet (despite what others may think), nor is it really the case in a mixed group. I should be just as relaxed around men as I was in that Edinburgh flat, or in a dance class, but somehow I know I’m not. I’m not saying I dislike male company – I love it – and nor am I blaming my male friends, or implying I’d prefer an all-female environment all the time. But there is a difference, it does affect the way I feel and behave. And I think it affects other women too, in a way that is noticeable to an ‘outsider’ (in this case my fellow-reviewer).
This isn’t really a problem, nor do I intend to offer any kind of solution. It’s just something that made me think, and is interesting only really because I’d never noticed it before. If I’m going to finish on some kind of closing thought, it’s that I am living in a mixed household next year, and I intend to be sitting in the living room in my pajamas, painting my nails while reading feminist articles on the internet. I’m not sure if that proves anything, but it seems like a good way to spend an afternoon.
[Post script: I know I am making huge generalisations here, and also being really binary when it comes to gender. This isn’t intentional – I’m trying to describe my own experiences rather than making any kind of definitive point. There are some women I don’t feel comfortable around, some men I treat as if they’re girls, and with my genderqueer friends, it really depends on the person. But in general, this is a difference I have noticed in myself, and I’d be interested in hearing anyone else’s point of view on this. I hope that’s an acceptable, if badly-worded explanation.]