A "The Other Shape" column I wrote for Shape magazine, Oct 2010
I began to think I might be Bruce Willis. You know… like… dead. As in the Sixth Sense. People were walking past me, looking through me, not talking to me at all. And when I say people, I mean women. And not just women either– mothers. I was at my daughter’s prep school to help with the Grade 2 cake sale, and I was being completely and utterly ignored. More than ignored actually. Shunned.
I’m a man in his 40s now. I’ve been around – one might even use the term “worldly”. I’m normally not only very comfortable in the presence of women, but also comfortable in the spaces and situations that make some of my gender squirm. I can for, example, walk into a women’s boutique, lingerie shop, or make up counter and, on my own, head held high, buy my wife stuff without feeling even vaguely weird about it. Even popping down to the local café to buy nothing but a brightly-designed box of tampons no longer fazes me. Which is why I didn’t bat an eyelid when she asked me to stand in for her at the cake sale.
“You’ll probably be the only dad there,” said my wife, “but that shouldn’t be a problem for you, right my sweetheart?”
“Nah!” I replied. “Besides that one who drives the gold 4x4, the rest all seem like very nice people. Besides, gold 4x4 mum probably won’t even be there.”
“Great. All you have to do is take these cupcakes I’ve baked, lay them out nicely and stand behind the counter and help the other mums serve to the kids when they come out at break.”
“Pppht! Walk in the bladdy park. Can I have a cupcake?”
You know when you bend down to pat a strange, but really sweet looking dog on the head, but as you lower your hand it curls up its top lip a little to show it’s curved incisors? Well that’s what it felt like walking up towards the knot of moms busy organizing the cake stand. To think, I was even expecting a “ag sweet, look it’s a dad come to help us. … he must really love his daughter” kind of vibe.
Only one person said hello to me. And it was gold 4x4 mum. The rest of them totally ignored me. Someone whipped the tray of 15, ok14, cupcakes out my hand and I was left there trying to catch a friendly eye to find out what I should do. Eventually I went to the very end of the stand and sort of lurked on the side trying to look like I was there to help. At least when Holly came bursting out the classroom clutching her R5 coin I’d see a friendly face.
Wrong again. She ran right past me. And when I called her name and she turned and gave me a look like I’d just reversed over the family cat. “What are you doing here?!” she said and then ran off to join her friends. This is the same little girl who comes sprinting down the passage every night to jump into my arms when I get home.
What could I do. I left. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so defeated.
That evening, explaining my weird experience to my wife, she listened attentively and nodded occasionally as she chopped the onions. Oddly though, I didn’t get the gushing sympathy I needed. She may have even smiled at one point. It was then that it hit me. I had just been taught a lesson. Obviously me and my “I’m so comfortable in the company of women” attitude had finally become unbearable. Just to show me that there in fact spaces in this world where men are not welcome, I was sent to the cake sale. These spaces exist and are fiercely guarded because, to be frank, women actually need a break from us men. I get it now.
Obviously my wife is denying everything. But I saw some of those women at school drop off yesterday morning, and they all smiled and greeted me. Except gold 4x4 lady.