Monday, November 16, 2009

Geographical differences (unedited)

Tonight, someone told me that the weather in Alaska is more bearable (cold-wise) than the weather in Montana and the Dakotas. Interesting. Maybe I should reconsider my crackpot dream of moving to Montana if things don't work out in New Jersey. (This is similar to the dream I had last year of moving to Portland if things didn't work out in New Jersey.)

[This was almost the end of my post. I needed to post one more time tonight to be caught up for my NaBloPoMo goal--if not posting every day, then a post for every day since I started--and I almost had no ideas except that line about Alaska.]

Today, I realized another reason I am happy here.
I'm not sure what to call it or what exactly the "reason" is, just something that happened made me think, "This is place is different in a way that's important."

Maybe it could be summed up in one or two lines--maybe this story illustrates some fundamental difference between where I live now and where I used to live--but I'm not sure so I'll just tell the story.

I may not have written about this last year, for fear of offending anyone, but parties that I attended last year sometimes made me miserable.

The men would be in one room and the women would be in another. Or if we were out to eat, the men would sit at one end of the table and the women would sit at another. Couples would sit in the middle so that sometimes the men and women would be in some kind of couples conversation, but either party could also lean over and join the conversation of their appropriate group at either time.

Even after I caught on to what was happening, I'd sometimes inadvertently find myself in the women's room.

I hated the women's room.

The conversation was, in a word, insipid. It was mainly about babies and rings. Babies and rings, babies and rings. It wasn't just that women would talk about their own babies or show off their own rings; other women who were not present would be under scrutiny. At one party, people went on the Internet to look at pictures of the engagement ring of some girl they didn't like so that they could pick on it/her. Wedding ceremonies were discussed--and don't get me wrong, I would tell complete strangers about the 1920's-speakeasy-themed wedding that I was going to be in--but sometimes it seemed that the discussion leaned toward the extravagance of the ceremony and reception. How much a fancy hall cost, how much flower arrangements that only flower arrangers would appreciate cost, how much each plate cost, etc.

Once I was annoyed and announced that I never wanted a diamond engagement ring since diamonds are linked to environmentally unsound mining practices and human rights violations, and furthermore I think the money could be better spent on something else. If I were ever to get engaged, maybe I'd tell him to donate the engagement ring money to some cause. (Actually, that would be awesome.) I wasn't doing it to be nasty; I was being honest.

At one of these parties, a friend turned to me in desperation and said, "Tell me what's going on with your life! Have you read any good books lately?!" We muttered--trying to be quiet so as not to be heard and offend anyone, "Don't these women have anything better to talk about? There's so much happening in the world today! We just elected the first black president, for one thing!"

I also met a lot of women back home who were basing their lives around their husband's ideas and careers. Where they were living was determined by where it was convenient for their husband to live. Where they worked or went to school--what types of opportunities they pursued--depended on their husband. It seemed to me that these women were not merely compromising, but following, giving everything, as though they had no dreams or goals of their own. In my mind, these things--women shaping their identity to their husbands and the party conversation topic of women--were related. NJ just seemed so damn old-fashioned. This is what I wanted to get away from; I wanted to leave before this became my life.

- - - - - -

I always imagined that the men were having fascinating conversation in their room, even if all they were talking about was their careers.

One time, I purposely sat at the men's end of the table. I awaited the fascinating conversation.
I was totally ignored. This wasn't sexism; if I'd had something to contribute to the conversation, I'm sure the men would have welcomed it. I just had nothing to say about football, baseball, comic book characters, or action movies. Or action movies based off of comic book characters.
I laughed at myself when I realized that this was what I'd been missing! I brought this up with a male friend later, and he laughed, too. I think we concluded that the different and interesting conversation came up when the men and women were talking together.

So why did so many parties split into men's rooms and women's rooms?

- - - - -

I don't know, but I realized tonight that in Portland, I haven't been to a single party like that. At a party tonight, men and women were in the same room. Sports were on TV; some women watched it, some men watched it, others didn't. Everyone talked.

- - - - -

However, not too long ago, my friends and I went to a women's meetup and with one exception, the married women at the table talked about nothing but their marriages and their husbands. Mainly their husbands. What their husbands did. It was like they defined themselves by their husbands. (There was one married woman at the table who didn't talk like that. She was fun and friendly.)

If this exists in Portland, then maybe what I have in Portland which I value so much exists in New Jersey, too, and I was just looking in the wrong places. Maybe I can find it anywhere.

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