In a comment yesterday (somewhere in Janet’s Undead Thread, I think) Francesca mentioned a female student who was uncomfortable as the only woman in a class. It reminded me of something that happened to me quite a few years ago, in the early 1980s when I was maybe 35 or so. I was participating in a small group that met weekly to read and critique the members’ poetry. By “small” I mean it was never more than six or eight people, and the majority of those were women. That was not a problem for me—writing poetry is not a very macho activity, and I am not a very macho guy.
One night I found myself the only man present. For some reason we were meeting in the apartment of one of the members, a middle-aged divorcee, instead of in the usual institutional meeting room at the Civic Center. I wouldn’t have thought anything about being the only male, but somehow the fact that we were in this woman’s apartment made it a little uncomfortably social, even intimate.
Before we got started on the poetry, the woman whose apartment we were in announced dramatically “There’s something I want to share with everybody.” Then, after a pause while we focused our attention on her: “I’ve started a new relationship.”
This set off a lot of warm cooing—these were not just women, but southern women—from everybody except me. I’m sure my memory is exaggerating this, but it seems to me that I bolted from the apartment as if they had threatened to set me on fire. I remember feeling almost panicked by a sense of suffocating and totally inappropriate intimacy, and that I must get away before the talk went any further. At any rate, I left, quickly.
I draw no particular lesson from this; it’s only amusing. The interesting thing (if any) is that it wasn’t the fact of being the only man in a roomful of women that bothered me, it was the particular turn that the conversation took. I could have had that conversation comfortably with one woman, but not with six.
I never went to another meeting of the group, by the way.