This picture speaks words seldom spoken. They are hard to verbalize, and when they find voice, they often land soundlessly like a butterfly on a bear.
One might suppose these men are rude, inconsiderate, unconscious even. They aren’t, not in the slightest.
And yet, here we are. Me squashed in between, careful not to take up space, while they sprawl to the edges usurping every available inch of offered comfort.
“That’s just how I sit,” my husband laughed when I showed him the picture.
“I’m aware,” I said. “A woman would never sit that way.”
“Well that’s because you were brought up to be lady like.”
While this is true, I think Women’s Lib addressed this particular outdated obstacle.
These days, a woman wouldn’t sit like that because she wouldn’t impose. Women, more often than not, hesitate to take more than her share.
A man however, takes what is there. A man goes about his merry way flying the full expanse, like a bat in an attic. But a woman sees. A woman is careful not to upset or to overstep. She doesn’t want to be rude or pushy or too big for her britches. A woman puts herself in charge of everyone’s comfort and deems hers last.
So this is how we go along. Men talking over women, taking credit for the same idea a woman just said that went unheard in a meeting. Women taking on extra work or volunteer tasks because no one else did. Why?
Because the man is a bat, he is blind to the plight of the asker, but the woman sees, and when she sees, she feels badly. Her heart bleeds out onto the floor and she’s guilty for the mess. So while she cleans it up and plans out all her other to-do’s, and even though she’s physically and mentally exhausted, she raises her hand and asks for another.
The fastest solution to this systemic mess lies not with the men, but in the messages women carry inside of us and the seeds we’re still planting in our girls.
The truth is, when we take up space, when we say no, or set a limit, when we show up in all our glory, we feel selfish. We feel guilty. And it is this that perpetuates our plight more than anything. Because rather than tell those feelings to take a leap, we blame the men for being rude and we become victims.
They aren’t rude and we’re only victims if we allow it. Men’s convenient blindness fits like a puzzle piece into our guilt-ridden caretaking, into our age-old inherited belief that we aren’t deserving.
Now, I’ll tell you, I’m raising my boy to see. I showed him this picture and we had a long conversation about the grains in the bread which add so much to the nutty flavor, but which you couldn’t pick out if you tried.
I didn’t tell him because I want him to suffer from the same mind numbing-guilt and hyper focus on other’s comfort that many women carry. I just want him to be aware and kind and considerate. I want him to be right with himself.
But, I also want him to be with a woman who doesn’t expect him to guess how she’s feeling.
Ultimately Ladies, if you want more room in the middle seat of the airplane, you’re going to have to ask for it. You’re going to have to manage the false beliefs and uncomfortable feelings that come up when you do, and forge ahead.
My son must have been listening because the other day he told me about being in the car with a male friend, and a female friend between them.
“I looked down Mom, and she was sitting all scrunched up, and he was sitting with his legs spread apart into her space. But then I looked at my legs, and I had given her plenty of room. She may have been uncomfortable but it wasn’t because of me.”