Saturday, May 19, 2007

Flustered Men Standing in Line at the Grocery Store

I realized today, while waiting in line at the grocery store, that I am a sort of detective for gendered behavior. It's a curse and perhaps sometimes I see gendered behavior when there is none (thank goodness for social scientists who can test my hypotheses). In any case, what I was attentive to today was how rapidly men get impatient as they wait in long lines to pay for their one or two items. I noticed that at all the active registers today there were a few men with one or two items stuck behind women with carts brimming with the household items.

What I also started to notice was the behavior of the men towards these loaded down women. They would sigh loudly, send body language signals that they were in a hurray and thereby try to influence the woman checking out to speed things up. If they had to wait too long (which is a relative amount of time if you compare to the time many women wait all week long doing household shopping), they would start to complain loudly, perhaps criticize any of the women in front of them who might be on cell phones to while away the time, or make fun of how many items were in their carts.

I noticed how powerfully this male behavior influenced the women; they would become apologetic, embarrassed even for holding the men up. They would scramble to pay and move on lest these irritated males have to stand one more second in line. I found myself starting to succumb to their behavior as well, until it occurred to me how fucked up it was and then I stood tall, stuck out my pregnant belly and looked directly at the man trying to rush us. My hope was to give a look that said, "suck it up pal."

When I was leaving the store, I thought about how many conversations I have had with my girlfriends about how easily men get discouraged or impatient in dealing with the quotidian transactions that keep a house together. If a follow up phone call is needed because an email isn't answered, our partners begin to voice loud frustration at how incompetent so-so office or business is. What this male flustered behavior results in is the women (me!) doing more and more of the tasks that keep a household together. Rather than play the role of calming an irritated and flustered male dealing with the inevitably imperfect and inefficient processes, we just do it ourselves.

And, to cope with the time suck that is shopping or household maintenance, we learn how to multi-task. For example, today, while getting some brooms for Za, I catched up with my friend Jack and we commiserated over various job and relationship frustrations. Sometimes I bring grading with me if I know I have to wait in an auto repair place for too long or a doctor's office. There are numerous ways I try to recuperate the lost time.

But, what really struck me today is how easily men can guard their time by exhibiting these frustrated and flustered behaviors when attempting to do their part in the household maintenance.