He flashed me an embarassed, braces-lined grin and proceeded to beat the tar out of me. Other than a precocious six-year-old who is my rank I am the one female in a lump of grown men and boys. I grew up with a brother, work on a team of all men, and spend most of my down time with my boyfriend so I’ve had more than one glimpse into the male mind. It was still a bit of a dudeland culture shock when I made my way to the more advanced classes.
I have experienced the following working out exclusively with men and boys:
- Expect at least once a night during sparring class to give the silent “Oh crap, did I hit you THERE?” look.
- Preteen boys are mind-boggling. I once heard the same boy in one night softly singing a Spice Girls song to himself and then blurt out “YOLO swag.”
- Little boys AND grown men whine when you make them do Spiderman push-ups.
- Expect an embarrassed double-take from the guys when you come to class straight from work wearing makeup and a dress.
- Guys from kindergartners to seasoned black belts think it’s HILARIOUS when they slip and fall during a jump spin kick.
- Somehow Minecraft will come up in conversation while waiting in line during drills (before the instructor yells at them to be quiet). Consider yourself warned.
- Don’t ask a boy how many game systems he has unless you have five hours to spare.
- The older teenage boys visibly display their internal dilemma of wanting to goof around with the younger kids or be treated like a contemporary by the men. It’s a little jarring to watching a high schooler remain focused and serious as he coaches his classmates during kicking practice and then immediately grab a younger kid in a headlock and dissolve into giggles on the floor.
- It’s a bit like a junior high school dance at first. The men (mostly instructors and black belts) weren’t quite sure how to have a conversation with me. Despite being in the same room for the exact same reason it can be hard to find common ground.
Am I inviting this special treatment? I’m all for chivalry, but am I selling myself short by letting them treat me like a delicate flower? Sometimes in the workplace I feel like men (not ones in my department) speak to me like I’m a pretty little thing to patronize or worry that they might make me cry. More than once I have been mistaken as my coworkers’ assistant. (Thankfully I have very supportive coworkers who always introduce me as their “peer and colleague.”) I tout my multiple degrees and accomplishments and invite challenge but secretly sigh in relief when someone else has to do the dirtywork. I’m pretty, small, and can–sometimes–get away with murder. That is a double-edged sword that I am still figuring out how to wield.
In the course of one week my apparent lack of self-esteem and confidence was pointed out and pitied by three well-meaning men who play important roles in my life. Do I really lack confidence or do I just not portray their idealized version of a confident person? My confidence does waver from time to time, but are they viewing me through blue-tinted glasses?