Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sub Notes: Noticed In Passing

The other day, Tom mentioned different aisle-blocking behaviors. He mentioned that women are the only ones who walk in a line, thus blocking those behind them from getting around.

I’ve been thinking, and that is not always a good thing. Because…I'm about to make poor Tom sorry for asking perfectly nice rhetorical questions.  Part of my job in high schools is preventing hallway blockages during passing periods. And those minutes add up. So I’ve begun to think of myself as somewhat of an anthropologist of adolescence. And what are schools but teenaged microcosms?

True, several males never travel in a straight line the way females do. I think it’s a dominance thing. A straight line is cooperative in nature.

Girls form cooperative packs. It’s what we do. Some girls do use those groups to dominate others. Movies like “Mean Girls” are legendary for portraying the negative aspect of girl groups. But I’m convinced that the tendency to form cooperative groups is hugely beneficial to women. It allows them an opportunity for mutual nurturing, protecting, and empowering of the members—and their children. No question those female groups encourage, in lots of different ways, successful child rearing. And anyone who doesn’t realize how vulnerable women can be on their own has never been sexually assaulted, groped, or harassed.

Girls and women will engage in cooperative behaviors that you’d never see boys and men do, like fix each other’s hair or whisper or apply each other’s makeup. They’ll also stand up for each other. Fiercely. And men know this.

Boys are just as legendary for tryng to establish dominance over other boys. When they stand together in a large group, their behavior is almost always competitive. They’ll give each other playful shoves. Or if a small group is sitting in the classroom in a casual mode, I’ve noticed one boy will often try to sit on the desk to raise himself higher than the others. (I never let them. Not only do I not want them breaking the desks, but I want to keep them in a psychologically cooperative group with myself as the one in charge.)

Mixed-gender groups have a whole different dynamic. Sometimes several boys will walk side by side if girls are in the group. I think it’s that they have to submit in a sense in order to join. If a girl tries to sit higher than a group of boys, sometimes I do let her for brief periods of time. I’m not trying to be unfair. I think there’s a weird little paradox going on that says she is accepting the boys by diffusing any threat. I don’t remember ever seeing a boy try to sit higher than a group of girls when no other boys are present. Groups of women are, as Tom mentioned, intimidating. And they are supposed to be. Groups wouldn’t give women a sense of safety if they weren’t.

Once I subbed in PE and a male teacher asked me to monitor the girls’ locker room “to make sure they don’t kill each other in there.” I laughed to myself. If a girl is mad enough at another girl to attack her, she won’t do anything as nice and simple as attack her. She’ll make her life absolutely miserable by attempting to ruin her social status and kicking her out of the group.

Anyway, Tom asked if those aisle-blocking women are trying to get attention or what. I think they’re just doing what comes naturally and are so focused on their little group that they just don’t think about the larger group out there. But what of those women who habitually block aisles on their own using just their grocery cart? I hate that! Or did, till I thought about it and realized I’ve caught myself doing the same thing—when I was so heavily focused on a small group that I was shutting out the rest of the world. That small group wasn’t even there, either. It’s called “family.”  Go figure.

“When you really know somebody you can’t hate them. Or maybe it’s just that you can’t really know them until you stop hating them.” ~Orson Scott Card in Ender’s Game

“We are no longer the knights who say ni! We are now the knights who say ekki-ekki-ekki-pitang-zoom-boing!” ~Monty Python


  1. Actually, Tammy, I found your comments quite interesting and not offensive at all. But please understand, I'm not saying that men behave better than women in any general sense. Indeed, as you correctly pointed out women are much more cooperative than men and men generally behave more objectionably than women in social situations. I often joke that most men are Neanderthals for this very reason.

    In pointing out that the women are really just focused on cooperating amongst themselves you actually pointed out to me why I object to their behavior in this area. They're cooperating with themselves - but NOT with the rest of us.

    I've seen men in similar situations and in every case that I've observed it, if men are blocking the hallway some of them will move behind the others to make room for someone to pass. That's even true where the line is mixed. You'll find that the men are the ones who move aside.

    So I guess what we're saying here is that in this special case men see moving out of the way as a cooperation with the general group whereas women see walking together as a cooperative effort, but are focused on their immediate group. Interesting how the two sexes can see the same situation so differently.

    BTW, found it interesting that you included a quote from Ender's Game. Didn't know you read Science Fiction.

  2. "Anthropologist of adolescence" — I love that!
    Interesting observations, and so is Tom's reply.

  3. This was very introspective and thought-provoking, Tammy. It really prompted me to contemplate how girls/women behave vs. males.

    (I love "Ender's Game." Have you read his "sequel" which is "Ender's Shadow," which is the same story but written from a different character's perspective?)

  4. Interesting and thoughtful post.

    In my all girls' high school we had to keep to the right and walk in single file. The nuns stood at the end of the halls to make sure we didn't get out of line. Things have changed.


  5. Being interested in medicine and psychology over the years I've encountered a number of interesting facts about the differences between men's and women's brains.

    Men's brains are larger, BUT..

    Women's brains are denser. That is, they have more neurons in the same space. I've never seen a study done that calculated which brain really has the greatest processing power. I suspect the researchers are afraid to publish regardless of which side 'wins'.

    We all know that the brain is composed of two parts, the left brain and the right brain. These two halves of the brain communicate via a bridge between them called the corpus callosum. In women the corpus callosum is MUCH wider than in men. The theory is that women as a result have a much larger capacity for forming connections between discrete perceptions and that men have a much greater potential for focusing on single topics doggedly.

    Most of the researchers seem to believe that these adaptations came from the need for women to handle details in raising children and from men needing dogged focus in hunting in hunter/gatherer societies.

    I once saw a video of a test run with college students of both sexes. The students were asked to wait in a room until the researchers were ready for them. The room was like a small walk-through closet with floor-to-ceiling shelves loaded with hundreds of items.

    After they were called out of the room the differences between men and women was amazing. The test was really a measurement of how many details the students could recall.

    Typically, when asked to describe the room the men said something like "It was white - I think - and there were a lot of shelves." But the typical woman said "There were many shelves loaded with the most interesting things. I saw a doll there that looked like it was from the 30's and it was in remarkable condition. Oh, and there was this lovely little painting etc etc."

    Is it any surprise that men recognize a palette or 8 or 9 colors, but that women talk in terms of shades in the 100's? It isn't that men don't see the same colors or recognize that they are different - it's that men categorize them into simpler sets, namely the primary colors.

    These differences result from the differences in our brains. Women's brains are focused on connectedness. Men's brains are focused on single-minded goals.

    Or.. As it applies here, the man's goal is to make it from where he's coming from to where he's going to as quickly and efficiently as possible. Whereas the women are focused on their connections and cooperation within their own group. Male hunting groups require cooperation. But the cooperation is one that is loosely connected between individuals pursuing their own goals within the overall hunt.

    One of the most interesting aspects of all this is that they also studied the brains of gay people and guess what. They found two new distinct brain structures that didn't fit either of the above precisely. Gay individuals had their own distinct structures that didn't match those of either men or women exactly although they had similarities to both.

    Of course, brains are plastic structures and it isn't always clear which came first, the structure or the behavior, since behavior ultimately influences structure in the brain. But the best guess is that the hormones generated by the sex of the fetus create the initial alterations in the brain structure and this establish the initial differences in behavior for later on.

    Or to put it in a simpler (categorized) and more focused sense.. We will never see things exactly the same because we're not wired the same. The best we can do is to enjoy the differences where we can and find common ground in cases where it's difficult to do so.

  6. The male and female perspective are interesting. Tammy you are right, females congregate. Tome is right: male thinking is black and white, females think in hues.

    I once heard a scientist explain it this way: male brains are like eight boxes. He can retreive or add to only one box at a time, where as women can sort through, stash in, raid from all at one time.

  7. Wow what an observation! I would so love to people watch with you. :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  8. This is really fascinating! I'm going to watch and see if I observe the same.

  9. Holy cow. All this time I thought I was just, you know, walking. LOL

  10. Tom, I know what you're saying and I'm agreeing with you. I'm not saying women behave better, either. In fact, this whole thing came from my observation that women tend to block grocery store aisles and men virtually never do, and I have often wondered why that is. I'm just trying to come up with a plausible explanation. Thanks for the more detailed one. Makes sense! And I love Sci Fi.

    Thanks, Kay!

    Haven't read that one yet, Sioux, but now you're making me want to read it sooner than planned. Who's the other character? The sister??

    Donna, that memory made me laugh. I just remember "the boys' line" and "the girls' line" in elementary school, so that explains what happens when there are no boys around.

    Cool analogy, Linda. Except I can't seem to access so many compartments these days, or I try and come up empty! Kind of scary.

    Jules, Mama Zen and Lisa, I think it would be fun to have a People Watching Party. Except I bet we'd all start talking and walking and then we'd be the subjects....

  11. Ack! I only just realized my "Ender's" quote talks about "the enemy," and I didn't at all mean to imply men were the enemy, Tom! So hope that's not what you thought I meant. In fact, the enemy to whom I was referring was those female blockers-of-grocery-store-aisles! Huge pet peeve, in case you couldn't tell.

    Also, I know you write Sci Fi, right?! Can you let us know where we can read some??!

  12. Sadly, you may not be as far off as you think in re: men and women being enemies. In the past few years sociologists have shifted their beliefs concerning the nature of male/female relationships. They used to think that men and women either evolved together or at least cooperatively. They now think they evolved competitively, each changing in order to better compete with the other. Food for thought. Explains much.

    Me write Sci Fi? Hmmmm. Most people who actually read what I write would probably argue that everything I write is Sci Fi. But no. Although I have two separate friends who do write Sci Fi, my own forays in the past have been technical writings. My last major work that was published concerned an analysis of the risks and potential ROI (return on investment) of migrating core IT systems to distributed processes in large regional banks. It was widely read (by the board of directors) and I'm told saved the bank $10 million. I got a large pat on the back for that. I'd have preferred a 10% (of the savings) bonus.

    If the sound of that has your pulse pounding I'll be happy to send you a copy. It truly is a heart-pounding action story of greed (for the bank's money) and lust (for IT funding) that'll keep you on the edge of your chair (as your head slowly bobs for the floor).

    On the flip side, I used to write stories about The Old Ones (fairies) for my last major relationship partner. She taught ballet and had her young charges act them out in class. I wrote hundreds of them, to the point where (shudder) they became a part of my psyche (that comment comes from Ariel). I gave them to her as a gift and she claims that one day she'll illustrate them and publish them into children's books - hopefully under her name and not mine (LOL)

    Oh, and there was that brief period where I used to write and publish articles for the early computing rags - circa 1980 or so. There you'll find an article on the HDOS data structure on the early hard disks with my name on it published in the early editions of Microcomputing. I received many letters from readers telling me how I'd kept them on the edges of their seats as they read off the generated patterns (0xAA, 0x08, 0xBA ...) that were described therein.

    So you can see, my work as a write does not compare with your own or that of other writers here.

    "Respectively submitted for your approval by (and with apologies to) The Twilight Zone."


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