Gendered Community

So I had the most wonderful conversation with my friend Liza last night, it was thought provoking, challenging, creative, abstract, the whole shebang. The best part about it, as I find with all great chats, is how much what we discussed stayed with me long after we had gone our separate ways. These were notions that I found myself unable to stop chewing over, and I thought I’d try and work out some of these ideas here.

So here in New Zealand, Liza and I work at a small camp; we run activities for schools, private groups, and even operate something akin to what most Americans can identify as “summer camp”(which I have been discovering is not quite as common across the globe). An operation like this, which also employs a predominantly international staff, requires that a fair few people live on site. We also have a fairly limited budget, something I think most camps struggle with at some point in time. The living space therefore, becomes….cramped to say the least.

With about 14 of us living in the equivalent a 1 kitchen, 3 bedroom apartment, there was always going to be clashing. Personal space, alone time, true privacy, these are things of the past. When your shoulder-to-shoulder its going to be hard to avoid stepping on a few toes, and while I think we’ve worked out the bulk of allot of our issues, people are always going to have a shorter fuse when the option to withdraw into themselves is removed.

This in mind, what we found, and discussed last night, was that when the inevitable clashes occurred, they almost always happened along gender lines. As a group of mature adults, it felt oddly primitive that we kept dividing along something so basic. There had to be a reason beyond this, right? Surely something more profound was at work, splitting us up like so.

The answer was yes and no. Upon examination, Liza and I found there was a devious social construct as play here; and while it placed us into these gendered groups, it played into how we, as men and women, had been raised and trained to interact with one another. Our brilliant discover came in the form of a pair of kitchen sinks.

For a brief period of social experimentation, our two sinks were divided; a sink for men, a sink for women. Both sinks would slowly accumulate dishes over the course of the day, however the next morning, sure as the sun rises in the east, the women’s sink would be empty, with the men’s usually still housing a grimy plate or two.

What this showed us, was that the women in the house had, silently and without fanfare, formed a community. There was an immediate realization that, “If I clean this dish, it benefits the group, and someone will likely be more apt to clean another in the future”. Not only this, but after seeing this, we took it even further, and found that in general the women in our house had, in the 4 or so months they had been here, formed much stronger bonds than the men. there was a fullness to their friendships that simply hadn’t come into being between the men yet.

The idea we latched onto was, the nebulousness of white culture. Now, this isn’t going to be an examination of race, maybe someday in the future I’ll try getting more into racially charged blog posts if I ever feel qualified, but for now, it’s just going to be the lens through which Liza and I examined gender. The more endangered a particular group is, the greater the community they build will be. A great deal of this can be pressure from whatever group is benefiting from a supremacist culture, resulting in a people being viewed a certain way regardless of the reality, or the new community forming as a support network.

As groups become less at risk, that sense of community may drop off. I think that’s why in America it becomes easy to point to specific keystones of “black culture” while the same can’t be said of a “white culture”. It isn’t there, because we haven’t been made to need one. As a group is less actively repressed, how individual a society will allow them to be seems to dramatically increase, with white men being at the top of this structure, confident that all of who and what they are can be attributed entirely to themselves, and nobody else, while at the same time being unaware of the lack of community in their lives.

This was what happened in our house. The women, recognizing there was a support system to be cultivated between each other, formed a community almost immediately, while the men(all of us white), chose to keep ourselves as individuals, and only worry about our dishes, our job, the things that impacting us. Our friendships are, just now after months, beginning to encroach of the same depth our female counterparts had after a few weeks, because we had never been taught or required, to need one another.

This can be extrapolated in myriad of ways. I think it speaks volumes about various problems that need to be solved both at home and abroad. I would love to hear responses and feedback on this, as a white dude I really don’t know how much of this I have accurately inferred or correctly gleaned. I’m not trying to ask anyone to explain things to me on this, as I’m sure those of us who had done the explaining  in the past are sick of doing so, but I would love to hear thoughts, were I’m right, were I’m wrong. Disagree with me. It’s what makes for good conversation, and good conversation makes for change.

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