So last weekend I took a small group photography class. It was me and four guys. And I was admittedly the one with the least amount of prior experience. As you can see from my featured pictures. (Next class is Lightbox). What became very apparent to me very quickly when we went outside to practice is that I was not comfortable taking up the physical space that the guys were. We did some pictures of our instructor first and the guys just swarmed her and I found myself on the sides. My instructor (a woman) did try and remedy it a few times. And the guys would move when told so. But I really think that they never once noticed me and thought let me move over and make room for Cathy.
To me, this said a lot about both societal expectations and training and my own discomfort in asserting my needs with four guys I barely knew. I am the type of person that is pretty much always aware what those around me are doing. I notice the marital dynamics of a couple three tables over when I am at a restaurant. While it is an occupational hazard it is also who I am. So for me to push myself in between the guys was very uncomfortable and I pretty much tried to avoid it. Which I think could be an entirely different blog post about reaching outside our comfort zones.
I work a lot with transgender and non-binary people. I have walked through many transitions with my clients. It has always fascinated me how people are perceived so differently based on how their gender presentation is read. Especially when people transition to a more masculine presentation they are given more space in the world and often more respect. It is hard to comprehend how ingrained gender expectations are within us. Those guys were nice. One of them even got me lunch. But they were doing what they were trained to do from a very young age. And sadly so was I.
I have challenged myself recently to try and take up space differently. And I have had some successes. When an experience or product disappoints me I am now more likely to verbalize that (though admittedly it is easier for me when I can write something rather than say it). And I have had good results with that. But when it came to taking up physical space that was an area I just was not comfortable asserting myself into.
With the #MeToo movement and a rise in women running for public office, I think we are seeing the beginnings of a shift in our country. I think women are recognizing that asserting themselves can also have positive effects (though I recognize it also can be dangerous in many ways). I hope young women growing up now will learn to be present in the world differently. and I also hope young men do the same.