Feminism, women’s rights, equality in the workplace: those subjects have not historically been of particular interest to me, though I do of course support these and all other lofty notions. My support is manifested inwardly, and sometimes with the occasional remark designed to bolster another, more daring and passionate advocate of these issues.
Despite my distance, I am aware of the ramifications of the misogyny which dominates the world, the pain and suffering of women not as fortunate as myself, but like most people I feel helpless to do much about it other than to feel aware and grateful for the privileges I enjoy.
However the other night I had an experience that made me feel like a feminist and I am wishing, in hindsight, that I had had the wherewithal to speak up. Not because it was an enormous and meaningful happening, but because it made me aware of how endemic this sort of behaviour is and also how accepted.
Pete and I were attending a local event; he immediately began to circulate and visit around while I sat at our table and observed the small crowd. A man who is new in town asked if he could join me for a moment and I was glad to welcome him as I have heard a lot of good things about him since he moved here. He has a fairly high-profile job in the community and seems to be enjoying a great deal of popularity. Pleasant-looking, with a demeanour that suggests someone who is open and interested in everything, he immediately began to talk to me. I find someone who will speak first very reassuring as I am sadly lacking in social skills and generally need a person who will jump start the conversation.
With this fellow, there was to be no conversation; he didn’t stop talking for the entire 10 minutes he graced me with his presence. I have been the recipient a barrage of words from others, in other circumstances, and have often been charmed due to the content or (I am so shallow…), the pulchritude of the speaker.
In this case, the torrent was all about him; in the space of those few minutes he managed to tell me about every job he’d had before coming here and how he felt about those positions and he even managed to sneak in a lot about his hopes and dreams for the new job in Watson Lake. The only remark not about his very own self was when he described the day’s weather in detail, exactly as though I had not seen it.
I found myself bored, and resentful. This guest at my table did not once ask me how I was, how long I’d lived here, what I did for fun or work; nothing at all about me was of any interest to him. Hazarding a guess, I would say that outside of his own self, there was no one else at all who was of any interest to him.
As soon as I realized I was bored and resentful, I tuned out, refusing to offer the obligatory nod or ‘umm’ or any sort of acknowledgement or encouragement. It was a testament to his conviction of his own fascination that he didn’t seem to recognize my blatant expression of ennui. The monologue was brought to a close when I excused myself, without explanation or farewell. The lower half of my face was numb from holding my polite smile and it tingled as I searched the room for Pete.
Reliving this non-event later in the comfort of my own home, I realized that this man’s behaviour is typical of how men talk to women in many instances. They don’t talk ‘to’, or ‘with’, they talk ‘at’. I think this is a common complaint with women; I seemed to recall I have read about it in women’s magazines, those publications I read while waiting somewhere but don’t think to buy for myself.
Considering women are half the workforce and that many occupy jobs like captaining ships, flying helicopters, running giant corporations or reporting on wars, men could safely assume that they may encounter one who would be intelligent, informed, and even amusing in a conversation.
I understand women talk twice as much as men do; this has been researched and documented. The women’s talk must be with one another. Men, such as husbands, listen to women when they have no choice; they probably tune out much as I did the other night to my table guest.
Pete is almost as guilty; when he comes home from the mine he walks in the door and immediately begins to tell me about the road or what he saw on the road before launching into a rundown of his two weeks at work. The only time this routine changes is when there is something on the property or in the house that has been visibly broken or damaged or I am wearing a bandage or sporting a black eye.
Remember conversation? Those exchanges that left one feeling uplifted, curious, invigorated, and sometimes pissed off? I haven’t had one of those in a long time, and I miss them.
A good conversation is different things to different people but to me a good one is loaded with risk, courage, openness and grace. It is when there is an unspoken agreement that for the length of time of the conversation, it is safe and welcome to honestly express yourself on any subject that arises. It is like figuratively joining hands and embarking on a journey into the unknown. Agreement is not necessary, and disagreements may be expressed with passion and drama. Flights of fancy are welcome, as is waxing poetic. No judgments will be made. Quoting word-for-word from popular media sources is not allowed, nor is any mention of weather unless it is a hurricane or something of equal import.
Some of the most memorable conversations in my recollection featured not only both genders but also some cross genders and trans genders.
Well, all I can say now is that the motor mouth of the other night, unbeknownst to him, suffered the loss of a rare opportunity.
We could have talked about the popularity of annual testicle festivals, a subject sure to interest any man who possesses them – there is a huge one in Clinton Creek, Montana, this summer.
The universal principle of us versus Them always makes for a good conversation, as does the question of whether or not wearing socks to bed increases one’s life span.
One of my current hobbies is learning to bend spoons with my mind, and I am a sesquipedalian: most folks would love to talk with me.
Heather Bennett is a writer
who lives in Watson Lake.