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.