Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Train Tales, Part 2.

So, same journey as last post, but on a different train. Two men, aged 23 an 25, were sitting behind me. They were strangers to each other, but making small talk about their lives and why they were on the train. The 23 yr old had left school at 16 with no qualifications and tried various jobs, before becoming a carpet-fitter to a man who was close to retirement and would let him take over the business in the near future. The 25 yr old was a university educated, newly qualified music teacher, who until recently had been a 'freelance musician'. He was going to visit his girlfriend who worked in a very specialist occupation that requires you to live in certain places in the UK [in the interests of anonymity I won't say what it is, because it actually is that specialist- there are 24 sites in the UK where such a person could work]. They had been dating since high school and had frequently lived separately- for example during university and now. They discussed how this was hard, but 25 yr old, commented that if you made it work, it could work. At which point, 23 yr old asked why doesn't SHE get get a job near you. 25 yr old got a bit flustered and explained that well, she had trained for years at university to do this job. 23 yr old interrupted and said, yeah, but she could work at X [Similar site slightly further south- which was actually laughable as like in academia, I wouldn't imagine these jobs are that common or easily got]; 25 yr old even more flustered tried to explain it was a newish job and maybe in the future... He then changed the subject. At no point, did either man suggest or discuss the fact that as ex-freelance musician was a teacher, HE might find it easier to move near HER.

I thought this conversation was interesting for a number of reasons. First, because I think 25 yr old genuinely respected his girlfriend's career choices and had no expectation that her life would resolve around him, but that he also was unable to articulate that to another man. In fact, he became flustered, slightly defensive, and eventually changed the subject. There was no assertion that the choice they made as a couple was valid. There was also no discussion whatsoever that a man might move for a woman, despite the fact his occupation might point to this as a more obvious choice. 23 yr old to my mind was slightly immature and I don't think he was being intentionally sexist, rather I think he just couldn't envision the alternative options available to this couple. He afterwards commented that he was meeting his 18 yr old sister that night and she was bringing her friends, which was said in such a way as if to suggest she was bringing him a large box of chocolates. And, 25 yr old did the uncomfortable, aren't you lucky laugh, which showed he didn't really agree, but didn't want to offend his conversant- but which subleties the 23 yr old totally missed- as demonstrated by his elaboration of this topic. In some ways, I think this was about two different types of masculinity meeting and not really knowing how to connect- both assuming that the other shared their worldview, and then getting confused when the other wasn't interpreting the conversation in the correct way. But, it also demonstrated the different ways that female autonomy is dealt with by different men. Make of that what you will.


Red said...

"I think this was about two different types of masculinity meeting and not really knowing how to connect."

This is why feminism needs to engage men. That 23 year old won't listen to us women. But he will/may listen to other men, esp those closer to him in age.

We can empower women as much as we want (and I want it), but if the men aren't brought along, our efforts to gain gender equity will always fall short.

Feminist Avatar said...

I agree.

Anonymous said...

Two things:

1)aren't you ignoring the important element of this conversation, which is the class one. Working class jobs don't tend to be so highly specialized that there are only a few places in the country you can do them, so from that point of view, asking why someone can't move isn't entirely unreasonable. My current job is something pretty odd ( a lot less than 24 offices in the UK I could relocate to), but I'm sure if I really wanted to relocate, I could, it would entail a sideways move into something slightly different. The point is I don't want to. I look for a job near where I want to live, not vice versa. Which is how I got my current job, more of less by accident.

2)Why does feminism need to engage men? In a situation like this there is always going to conflict between two partner's interests.

Now drop the assumptions and assume it's a lesbian couple. One will still have to move. Who will end up moving? Well assuming one isn't willing to relocate anyway, it is the one with less power in the relationship. You can't empower women by making sure that men give them permission to do stuff. "Engaging" men to be nice to women is an irrelevance, if the balance of power still lies with men. The problem is the balance of power, not the beliefs of either party.

Feminist Avatar said...

It's not so much that it is unreasonable for him to ask why one partner in the relationship doesn't move (or that the w.class dude didn't realise that her job was so specialist)- the problem is the assumption that it would be the woman who would move (which was exasperated in this case by the fact that her job was more specialist than her partner). And, that neither of the men brought this up as an option. The problem is that the assumption is that his employment trumps hers.

And you're right in every relationship where there are two working partners, regardless of sex, this can be an issue. And, yes it is often the partner with the most power who wins. But, equally, if we want to move towards a more equal footing for such discussions to happen, we need to move towards a situation where it is presumed that both partners have rights and that one would not 'naturally' follow the other due to gender or any other reason.