There’s a building on my campus called the “Women’s Resource Center”. Its purpose is exactly that. There are two small libraries, a crisis center, family support center, breastfeeding room and also resources for sexual and dating violence. On a campus where I often feel alienated, this building has been a safe haven for me. It is quiet and the décor is warm and though they are often already occupied by the time I get to them, there are many little nooks with small cushioned chairs that are a delight to my sensitive back. There's also an open conference room where, if not reserved is open for use. It's just a really nice building where I can go and be surrounded by other serious but friendly female scholars.
I joined one other girl at the long table in an open conference room and we both studied in silence. Fifteen minutes later another girl joined and the silent studies continued. Twenty minutes went by and we were yet again joined by another quiet scholar. AND THEN THE MEN SHOWED UP.
The first guy came in making a set of noise, banging his skateboard against the wall recently painted coral walls. Then he sat with a thump and removed the plastic cover from his coffee cup and the quietude of the room was replaced by in a series of loud slurping sounds. This carried on for a good ten minutes during which whatever concentration I was able to hold deserted me. Every now and then I glanced up at the other girls to see if this was a case of me being overly sensitive. Coincidentally on each occasion look up it was at the same moment when an annoyed glance was being shot in the direction of the commotion.
Ok, so one loud coffee drinker was in out midst, eventually his beverage would be consumed and our peace would be restored right? Wrong.
ANOTHER DUDE SHOWED UP.
This time there was no skateboard to bag against and scuff the beautiful walls, no, but he too was armed with a latte and, after removing his laptop and a stack of papers a bit and setting them on the table with a thud he sat beside me. Then reaching both arms on each side, he gave a stretch, one during which his palm came dangerously close to my cheek. My blood ran hot as I leaned back in my chair and looked at this new intruder, who seemed to not realize there were other people in the room besides him.
After a few sips of his coffee it was clear that he would not regale us with the accompanying sound effects like his fellow man. I decided to focus on my work again when alas, the table and floor began trembling. Was this an earthquake? I sat up straight. The shaking continued, but not stronger and I would soon learn that this was no seismism, but the boy next to me was shaking his right foot at a manic pace and with it, the entire conference table and floor convulsed.
My focus was gone. The shaking was so much that my computer vibrated beneath my palms. You see, not only was he shaking his foot, but with each shake his knee knocked against the bottom of the table. 'Why do men ruin everything?' I wondered to myself.
Ok I admit, I was going a bit overboard with my thoughts, generalizing all men based on the behavior of this one guy who, for all I know could have been a St. Vitus's dance patient. But then, just as I was about to forgive his malady he again stretched and this time, his outstretched palm was less than a foot away from my face. That was it. I quietly packed up my books and computer and left. Riding my bike aimlessly around the campus I wondered 'Why are men this way?'.
Now this matter of shaking the table and being obnoxious is a bit trivial but it got me thinking how in many instances, like say for instance someone smoking in a clearly designated non smoking area, or someone on their cell phone in the silent area of a library, nobody says anything. The socially acceptable thing to do when someone is breaking the rules and you're being impacted, is to remove yourself from the situation or deal with it (suffer) in silence.
I know I could have asked him to stop shaking the table, or to please keep his hands away from me, but I didn't. You see, in my experience that doesn’t usually go over well. People get offended easily.
Like any person who has lived somewhere else, I often wonder what would have happened if an incident had occurred in ______ instead. For me the blank is always Antigua. Perhaps he would have been rude and told me about my mother. Perhaps he would have said 'Oh, sorry sorry Jack'* and stopped. But the thing I realized is that I would have been more likely to ASK him to stop had I been in ______.
Part of my decade long assimilation into America society was learning that apart from in big cities like NY and LA where anything goes, people generally don’t speak out and ask others who are misbehaving to stop. At one workplace a newly hired coworker had a habit of spraying essential oils into the air, just for so. It was the most renk scent you can imagine and everybody hated it, but nobody said anything. So she kept at it, every half an hour or so or whenever the scent started to fade *spritz spritz*. It made us all nauseous but still, nobody said anything. I was fairly new so was ab it invisible to begin with but I sat in silent solidarity while, when she wasn't around everyone in the office lamented her audacity and the unpleasant scents and when she returned they forced smiles and asked her 'How's it going?'.
Eventually as her desk was next to mine, and I got the brunt of it, one day I couldn’t' take it anymore and so spoke to HR and a couple days later they told her to cut it out. The air quality was restored and word got around that 'someone' had spoken to HR. Everyone was relieved but horrified that someone had the heart to speak up. All of this to say is that I learned that you do NOT confront people when they are doing something that is unacceptable or bothering you.
So yesterday what was once a haven away from the madding crowd was infiltrated by some very disruptive boys and instead of confronting them, I got up and left and a day later I'm still thinking about this. This incident was very trivial but things usually start small and I write this because I've discovered my desire to undo my socialized silence.
And I just wish that men would be more considerate in general. That they would chose to be on their best behavior when in the presence of women. And especially when they are in spaces dedicated to women.
What do you think?