Every now and then you will be standing in the middle of somewhere familiar, and then you’ll notice something. Something different, something… off. And you’ll look around and it’ll take you a moment, but then you’ll realize what it is. And then you have to go through a sort of mental re-orientation, because the surroundings are no longer the precisely familiar and forgettable ones they were a moment ago.
At lunch time I went to Subway, and was standing in line. Shortly after I got there, there was a man in front of me, waiting, and a group of three men in front of him, getting their subs made, and another man in front of them at the cash register. “Lotta guys here today”, my brain thought. Then I noticed another man at the soft drink fountain. And a table with two men beside him. And two more tables with men on the other side of the aisle. Hmm. I casually turned around. Three men in line behind me, and the remaining two tables held groups of two and three men respectively. With the exception of two female employees (the two women were making sandwiches, the male employee was at the cash register), I was the only woman in the place.
Now, it’s not uncommon for there to be a lot of men at that plaza, especially around lunch time. There are a lot of industrial businesses (including Toyota) up the road, and there’s a Subway and a Tim’s and whatnot. But I don’t recall ever being the only woman in a full place there before. It’s an odd feeling. It wasn’t scary or anything, but it felt rather… minority-ish, though not the same as it felt arriving at York straight from good ol’ Neustadt. I actually remember thinking, upon being on the streets of Toronto, “No one’s white!” It’s not that I have issues with people not being white, it’s just that, in Grey County, everyone is.
I’m fairly fortunate in that I tend to be largely invisible in public. My appearance isn’t noteworthy in any positive or negative way. And I’m not the kind of woman men visually chew and swallow on a regular basis. I suspect that would get very annoying very quickly. As it was, observing so many men, I felt almost anthropological. 🙂
And then I wandered next door to Timmy’s to get my first RRRoll Up the Rim coffee of the season… and lo and behold, more men. There was only one other person in line – a man – and most of the staff was female, but almost all the tables were full, and at only one two-seater table were there women. There were at least two dozen men. At that point, it really started to feel odd. But again, it also continued to feel like I could observe them unseen. I resisted the urge to hide amongst the plastic plants…
Maybe I’m just more sensitive to such things having just finished reading Self-Made Man. And I am an inveterate people-watcher. It makes me wonder about other people’s experiences. What would it have felt like for the roles to have been reversed – to be a man in a room full of women. To be a single black person in a room full of white people. To be a single disabled person in a room full of the able-bodied.
It’s amazing how different you can feel when really, comparing most of the major general points of humanity, you’re exactly like everyone else in your surroundings. And given how acutely I noticed it in a non-threatening environment, it provides a hint of how terrifying and helplessness-inducing being a vastly outnumbered minority in a hostile environment would be.
* Title quote courtesy of Barbara Smith.