Being a Man in a Women’s Room

Elvis and the girlsOver the past month, three people in my office have lost a parent to illness or old age. Two months ago I had surgery and just in the last week someone else in the office came very close to requiring surgery. One of the people who lost a parent is expecting a baby. The other person who almost had surgery just lost a parent.

There are actually two mothers-to-be among us. After a long summer of grief and tribulation, the office today finally had the formal dual baby shower. Like all the men in the office, I found something else to do while the ladies oohed and ahed over the cute, color-coordinated and practical gifts. Baby showers are, I suppose, one of those rare social occasions where women focus mainly on what men would consider to be practical things.

Not that women are impractical by nature. I think that if all practical life-managing inventions were tallied up, most of them would probably be attributed to women. But we men for some reason just don’t think of women as being very practical when there are no women around. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we don’t much enjoy having to prop up fur-covered toilet seats with our knees. But I digress.

The baby shower was a welcome respite from grief and consolation, I think. And I could not avoid the inevitable, “Michael, don’t you want to eat lunch?” from one of the passing ladies. I strove to do stuff until most of the shower had passed, and then I strode manfully into a room full of mommies and mommies-to-be and said proudly, “Is this where the stag party is?”

Except for a brief declaration that “Michael is a great name for a boy” (“Yes, I think you told me that”), I tried my best to fade into the woodwork and wait for a moment to break for the food table. The ladies had gone all out for this luncheon. We’ve had pot luck lunches at the office before, and catered lunches. I have to admit that the chicken salad today was delicious. I’m not sure what was in it, but I recognized all sorts of flavors. To call it a mere chicken salad would be a discourtesy to the manager who made it.

Being a man in a woman’s room, I suppose I may have inhibited some of the comments the ladies might otherwise have made among themselves. I don’t know, but as I sat waiting for a chance to break for the food, I couldn’t help but notice something about the group dynamics.

Women are very social creatures, but they are also territorial in a fierce way. The thought had struck me last night, as I watched “Miami Vice”, that women draw lines much more quickly than men. There was a scene where two women briefly squared off in a bar. It was just a flicker of conflict. I’m amazed the director thought to put that moment into the film, because it spoke volumes about the perceptiveness of women.

Women just seem to know stuff. All they have to do is look around a room and they know who stands where and with whom in a group. As I sat in Elvia’s Cantina later on in the evening, I watched an older gentleman walk up to a lady at a table and ask her to dance with him. It meant nothing to me. But I didn’t realize until much later that he stayed with his companion. For whatever reason, he had apparently come into the Cantina separately. Maybe he was parking the car. Maybe they came separately. I completely missed the connection until my companion (a woman) pointed out to me how well they danced together.

Well, I often identify connections and relationships that other people don’t see, so I labor under no illusions about the infallibility of a woman’s intuition, but I have a healthy respect for it. Women most likely developed that intuition as a survival instinct, or it was a God-given gift to creatures who would be subjected to the abuses of a male-dominated world. If only women were as good judges of the men they choose to be with as they are of all the people they observe. Well, maybe some women just get luckier than most, given how rough the inventory usually is.

So, I looked over the dynamics of the group and noticed that senior employees were hanging with senior employees. But I also got the sense (without knowing my coworkers well enough to be sure) that the moms were sort of congregating by ages-of-children. The coalescence of small groups may have been determined in part by department, but I’m pretty sure that ladies at similar points in their life experiences were sitting together more than not.

The guests of honor, when they left the limelight, visited with two of four tables of adoring coworkers. The second table was the senior table. Now, there was at least one supervisory relationship there, but it just struck me as something of an instinctual appropriateness that the two mommies-to-be settled where they did. Nearly every woman in the room was a mother. They had all passed through this rite of life experience in their own times. Some of them may make the passage again.

I felt like an intruder, and the feeling reminds me of those “primitive” societies that separate men from women. There may be no formal rules of separation in the industrial world, but we definitely observe some boundaries between the sexes. There are some places where men should not tread…unless the food is free and good. Then we really don’t care who we’re trampling.

The point is, if there is a point, that I just came for the food, everyone pretty much knew that was why I was there, and even as I joined the event I remained partially outside of it. There was a line I neither crossed nor was asked to cross.

But somewhere in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder how that affected my social standing in the office. Did I just score points, lose them, or trade them?