Saturday, March 10, 2007

In the Company of Men

So I was sitting in the hot tub after our Master's swim workout, completely surrounded by men. Now I'm not complaining, but it's not the first time in my life I've wondered how I always seem to end up in the company of men. Of course, sometimes it is my interests that bring me into the all-male circles. If you're piloting an airplane or riding your vintage British motorcycle, chances are that your companions will be mostly male. All the years I was skydiving, there was about a one-to-three female to male ratio, and even at Ironman Florida, I think it was about a one-to-four ratio of entrants, though things have been changing in the triathlon world, especially in shorter events. One of my favorite Olympic-distance triathlons tipped the balance last year, finally having more female entrants than males.

It's not just a numbers game though, though I know that's a contributing factor. There's something comfortable about hanging out with men that I don't always get around women. My college roommates were all men, with one disastrous exception that ended with my female roommates complaining that we didn't sit down and have dinner together and "talk" enough, that I didn't want to go shopping with them that weekend, that whether or not we got matching towels for the bathroom was not something I worried about. My male roommates were more concerned with who would lose the coin toss to go out in the rain for beer and chips, or where we were going to go on our weekend road trip. I think somewhere along the line, I missed out on receiving the instruction manual for caring about hairstyles, manicures, shoe shopping, celebrity gossip, or who is angry with whom about what.

Becoming an athlete and then a mom has given me an opportunity to meet more women that share my interests and perspectives. My friends are an eclectic group, not all athletes, but mostly women who have serious interests of their own. Best of all, they are secure in themselves, something I think that women in our culture largely struggle with. It sometimes gives me a feeling that I am walking on eggshells, because the slightest word or misstep can cause ripples of hurt feelings that then move outwards in ever-larger circles until the repurcussions feel overwhelming. You can tell a guy friend "Dude, that is the ugliest shirt I have ever seen," or "you're getting really grey on top" but say that to most women and you've just signed up for seven years of hell. A male friend of mine recently came back from vacationing in Europe and was joking about how much weight he'd gained, patting his slightly-rounded belly and laughing while his friends ribbed him about living the easy life and abandoning our morning workouts. It's a scene I can't even fathom seeing women play out. If a woman says she's gained a bit of weight, her friends are all supposed to reassure her that she looks terrific, not laugh about how fat she's getting. For all of women's lib, the female gender can still be decimated by five pounds of lobster bisque.

Sitting in the hot tub, listening to my friends whoop and grin over our team's latest basketball victory (Go Ducks, Pac-10 champs!!!), I had to smile. While I adore my female friends, especially my bestest pal K., I'm also grateful for the men in my life. They've taught me so much (and not just about clutch plates and free throws), but about life from a different perspective. And after all, I'm married to one, and trying my best to raise my son to be one too.


TriJack said...

five pounds of lobster bisque - mmmmmm!!

i must admit that given the choice of it being all guys or me being the only guy surrounded by women, in the hot tub, i'd have to choose the latter!


penney said...

Hi Robin,

I agree there's still a need for more strong, sensible, and confident women out there. I've got your same "surronded by men" feeling in my workplace. It's not bad, it's just that sometimes I wonder, "Why?" Sport seems to help - providing self confidence and self worth for a lot of women. Another thing that really helps is mentors like you - strong smart women (and men), who are secure in themselves, and act as good human beings.

We'll just keep doing our best and hope that everyone else catches on. I've really enjoyed your reading your blog.