Girlspace: no boys allowed

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.]


4 thoughts on “Girlspace: no boys allowed

  1. I know what you mean, and carrying on from your unintentional generalisation (yes it doesn’t apply to everyone) I think there is a trend on how men and women interact with their own gender so a boy in an all girl environment or visa versa might feel uncomfortable and when you have the genders mixed everyone does act slightly different.

    And it works both ways as well. Generally I don’t enjoy the company of men (for those who don’t know me, I’m a bloke :D). I prefer the company of women, and it’s not for sexual reasons at all, I feel more comfortable, I feel like I can talk more freely, I can be more myself and just generally the conversation is a lot more stimulating. I’m more then comfortable being a guy so it’s not repressed gender issues, I just prefer the company of women. And I’m sure there are women who feel the same way about blokes.

    Also I have several pieces of classic literature which would blow 50 shades out of the water if you would like. Proper works, well written and that have survived the test of time. I recommend Venue in Furs by Sacher-Masoch (guess what his name has been lent to) 😛 or perhaps Story of the Eye which I’ve just got but not read yet.

    I would recommend the Story of O (which I have to you before) but recently 50 shades has managed to take over that book as well. I recently replaced my lost copy from amazon, and the one they sent had “Before 50 Shades of Grey there was…”. I was so angry that I’m debating sending it back. The Story of O is in another league to 50 Shades which I’m afraid (and sorry to any fans of the book) I can’t stand. Anyway, I’ll rant about it on my own blog, not here. Sorry :S 😀 xx

      • Just want to say something to Aescer, since he hasn’t yet read ‘The Story of the Eye’, and to everyone else:
        I have read ‘The Story of the Eye’ – it’s very extreme and (not that the other masochistic/sadistic books aren’t) and tbh not everyone might find it that sexy, rather a bit grotesque in places. I’m all for decent erotic literature/erotica but Georges Bataille is DEFINITELY not for the faint-hearted. Just a warning to other people reading this who might prefer to read something a little milder. If you’re just after a bit of spanking and bondage, don’t read this book. You might get more than you bargained for!

    • Yay, all of the sexy erotic BDSM literature! Thanks for the recs – Delta Of Venus by Anais Nin is also beautiful. I will put all of the others on my reading list. (And of course I know about Sacher-Masoch – what do you take me for? 😛 )

      You’re not the first guy I’ve met who’s said that he generally prefers the company of women, probably for those reasons. And I do know a few women who hang out mainly with men as well. So yes, I made a lot of huge generalisations. I think the general point was that we do change the way we act in mixed groups, and that is interesting. Or… something.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s