Sep 28, 2012

Feminist Walking


Have you ever been walking in a crowd and been faced with a daring game of pedestrian chicken; both people walking straight at each other?  In high school it was the stuff of teenage boy fights.  Two boys would shoulder check each other and then one would yell, "bring it!" and they'd be off and rolling around on the hallway floor while people formed a circle and chanted "FIGHT!"

In adult life, polite society, and even not so polite society, this crazy game of pedestrian chicken happens all the time.  Think about being in the grocery and people with their carts.  Think about a festival you may have been to and what it was like to walk through a crowd.

At some point in the last few years I stopped moving out of the way.  I think it was around the time I had Ella.  The fact was; I was exhausted most of the time and carrying baby on one hip and a diaper bag and purse on the other side.  Making those extra three steps to move for a grown-ass-man, in a crowd, was a concession I just didn't have the energy to make.  You would be surprised how many times I've been shoulder checked with a baby in my arms.  Because  not only do I not move, but I refuse to be the one to shrink out of the way, to contort my whole being around someone not carrying another human in their arms.

When my extra human was big enough to walk, we'd hold hands through a crowd and people would automatically make way for us. You see there is a hierarchy.  People get out of the way for little kids, bleeding people, old people, someone who looks like they're about to barf and people with guns.  Otherwise you're on your own and in my experience it's often the women who are shrinking out of the way or expected to move.  In fact once I started paying attention I realized how often women apologize for what seems like just taking up space on the planet.  This is about the time I joined roller derby and was learning how to purposefully take up space on the track.  I was learning how to be wide and plant my feet, how to have a presence and not only claim my spot, but defend it.

I learned from roller derby and catching beads at many a Mardi Gras parade, if you shrink and don't own your space, people will muscle in and take it from you, get past you on the track, or catch those beads right in front of your face.  You have to stand wide and think large.  You have to be ready to not shrink back when people bump into you.  You have to hold your head high, look people in the eye, be present and say "Excuse me" when you want people to move out of your way.

Since this new attitude, I have been in more than one argument with the man I was walking with, about my refusal to yield.  My stance is, given all things equal, why should it be my responsibility to move.  Especially now that I am again carrying a small human on my hip and sometime limping (when it gets cold my knee gets creaky.)  It's a hard thing to explain to someone.  I've been called aggressive, rude and selfish.  While I understand if you're seeing this crazy dance for the first time; the one where I walk with purpose and a teenage boy or grown man is caught off guard by me not getting out of his way, and then suddenly he's doing an awkward dance to get around me.  It seems harsh and startling, and you might turn and ask me  "Why didn't you just move?!" And if it were only on occasion this happened, I probably would have, but you have to understand, it's often.  So often I'm tired of it.  So no, I won't move nor will I feel bad about it.

It's not like I'm trampling people trying to get through the doors to Walmart on Black Friday, or hip checking people in walkers to get through a door first, I still have manners.  I'm just un-apologetically existing in my own personal space and refusing to yield just because someone else is oblivious.  When you lean into my space on a train or while standing in line, I will widen my stance in an effort to tell you to back off.  And should you decide to play pedestrian chicken with me, you should know I spend several hours a week seriously training for a shoulder or hip check...  and I'm even talented enough to do it on wheels.

Also know that if it's just me walking and I'm approaching a man carrying a kid and a diaper bag etc, I step out of the way.  And recently, I know a guy who was rammed in the back of the legs with a shopping cart because he was walking slow.  So I know it's not just women this happens to, but I think a most of the time it is gender specific.  In fact, I read another blog about this same subject a few months ago and I wish I could find it again, I'd link (I'll keep looking.) Do you have a story? Do you find yourself moving? Apologizing often for being in the way? Or perhaps you are a ground stander? Have read this same topic somewhere? I'd like to hear about it.


arizona said...

Jenny, I'm one of the older people you mentioned and when I'm walking and I'm confronted by someone walking in "my space" I move and let them pass on by. At this point in my life I'm not in that big of a hurry to get to where I'm going, so a couple of extra steps to move away is no big deal to me. And in this crazy ass world today, for me to risk an agressive confrontation is not worth it to me. Not that I'm a wuss mind you, but I see no reason for a confrontation by a younger or bigger person who could do me some harm, it's not worth that extra couple of steps to let them by. So I guess that if you and I were headed straight for one another, I would move out of your way just to be courteous. Maybe, just maybe, your destination is more important to you than mine is for me. Besides, to me, it's not the destination that's important, it's the journey.

Debbie said...

I've noticed this, too. I've always been one to get out of the way, but roller derby has definitely made me a bit more aggressive in a crowd.

I've been especially conscious of this unintentional (I think) rudeness, as I've been in several crowded places with my mother-in-law, who uses a cane and does not move quickly. It amazes me how often people almost knock her over.