Awkward Shared Experience

I have about 20 minutes before I have to leave for internship so I decided to try to get this post out real quick because something interesting happened in school last night.

First I have to comment on awesome weather right now. Awesome is maybe not the word everyone would use to describe it, it has been raining for three days straight and probably will through the end of the week do to a tropical depression that is hanging out nearby. I love it though. I have my root chakra music playing and the rain is pounding in the background, I can hear it hitting the chimney and echoing down into the fire place. I think the only reason I ever didn’t love the rain was because I had long hair and rain/humidity made it impossible to deal with. Having no hair allows me to love the rain as I actually do, fully and with enthusiasm!

So last night I was in groups class where, you guessed it, we learn how to facilitate groups and everything about group dynamics etc. One of the ways this class is being run is that we, as a class, are holding group every week and two students cofacilitate the group. They have a topic for the group to focus on etc and it gives each of us a chance to both participate in a group and run one, lots of great hands on experience.

Last night was our first group, in my opinion it was a mess at times and super uncomfortable. The main facilitator, I say main because he did not allow the woman he was cofacilitating with have an opportunity to do her thing at all! So the main facilitator appeared to have A LOT of nervous energy that he did seem self-aware of at all and he did things that were perceived by me to be patronizing, sexist, and weirdly controlling. I thought it was just me, he definitely reminds me of a few men I have encountered in life that were problems for me so I was sure this was just an issue of transference. I was uncomfortable for the first 20 minutes but bit my tongue. 2o minutes in he asked us all to stand to do an exercise, he then proceeded to separate the men from the women (there were onyl two men other than himself so he forced – literally grabbed and forced- the professor to join group and line up with the men. Background information, this group’s topic was getting a job after school, we were supposed to discuss our concerns etc.
So he lines up all the men and then has the women count off from three breaking us into three groups. He then tells us, the women, to line up in front of the men based on the number he assigned each man and take turns shaking their hands while looking in their eyes passionately. Um.. What the actual fuck is going on??

He did not explain the purpose of the exercise, even after he did later it was not clear. It was perceived by a lot of people, men and women alike, myself included, to be an exercise where the men were teaching the women how to shake hands. My feminist pieces were freaking the fuck out. This was some sexist bullshit. Not to mention sexism already exists for women in professional environments, lets just go ahead and validate that by creating a sexist exercise that prepares us for the sexism we are in for when we get the job.

And what was the whole thing about looking them in the eyes passionately? When in a professional environment should we ever be looking anyone in the eye passionately? What were learning from this? It was so awkward and sexist I could barely breathe. Oh and one more thing, once we were all done being passionate and learning how to shake hands we, the women, were told to rate the men’s performances. Holy fucking innuendo Batman! Does this guy seriously not get how weirdly inappropriate this is?? Jeezo!

So after this debacle of an exercise we all returned to our seats to continue group. The energy in the room had changed, it was tense. No one was making eye contact, it was like we were all covered in shame or something. The facilitator was clueless, he could not read the room at all and pushed on calling on people who were volunteering to participate in the discussion etc. I was so triggered I shut down. I was done with this group and this dude. He apparently did pick up on this in me and called on me deliberately, I passed because in a group you can always pass there usually is not forced participation. My pass cracked open the group and things got real for the first time all night.

One of my colleagues I know well and who knows me well could read what my pass was about so she started the ball rolling. She raised her hand and shared that she was uncomfortable with the exercise we had just done. The facilitator seemed a bit dumb founded. I then raised my hand and explained how I felt (definitely using my I voice) that it was sexist and it spoke to sexism that already exists in professional spaces. I felt like the facilitator get defensive, I braced myself for a confrontation I had been trying to avoid, but before he had the chance to respond men and women alike were chiming in about their shared discomfort with the exercise. It led to a very meaningful conversation about sexism in the workplace and what women experience. There was lots of personal sharing of stories and insightful dialogue with the other men in the room.

For the record I still do not think this guy, the facilitator got it. At the end though the professor did say that the conflict my friend and I opened up about led to the best moment the group had. He said that was the only time we acted like a real group. Yay feminism.

Quite a few of us were still processing the whole thing after class. I am glad my friend shared, I am glad I called the sexism that was happening out. I also made sure to check in with the facilitator and make sure he and I were okay. He is hard to read, I am still not sure he understood any part of what happened. That is his journey though, he will get there when he is meant to or not at all, not my concern.

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