Archive for July 10, 2014

INVISIBILITY   17 comments

Yes, I’ve been invisible to the blogging community since June 22, the beginning of a two-week cruise to Alaska. And I will post photos soon, but today I’d like to make some comments on invisibility, inspired by a little episode onboard ship.

Let me say upfront this is not a report of stress, or even any great emotional reaction. It is simply some of my personal experiences with the documented evidence that older women – or even, women – tend to be invisible. It begins as soon as one passes through the young blonde – or brunette – or redhead – stage.

Anyway, here’s my cruise story, and following. Doug and I always ask for a table for two in the dining room, and this time, as usual, we were recognized by the third day by the host assigning seats, so we were simply waved to table 144, a nice table for two as close as possible to the window. (That’s because all the tables by the window were for six people. One of the things to be observed is that many folks on board apparently enjoy the personal contact with strangers while eating.)

Anyway, here’s where my observations begin. One morning Doug was off on a hiking excursion, so I went alone to breakfast. “And what is your cabin number?” asked the host. “6160” I replied. Throwing his hand over his mouth, he said, apparently embarrassed, “Oh my. I didn’t recognize you.” And so I was directed to the table, and gleefully reminded him of the faux pas before every meal thereafter, a reminder to which he responded pleasantly. In other words, we had a thing going.

So, about being on the ship. One thing I have noticed there – and at other gatherings of strangers, is that folks always, as a way of making conversation, ask the men what they do – or did before they retired – for a career. As far as I can observe, I’m the only one who turns to the female partner to ask, “and how about you?” Often it turns out they have also had interesting careers. It just doesn’t occur to people to think of that. On the other hand, there are the occasions where the husband answers for her, “She’s been busy raising our family of six children.” A great career, I think, but what I find interesting is that he answers for her.

Remember, the theme of this entry is “invisibility.”

But thinking back, I realize my experience with invisibility goes back a way. (Incidentally, I think maybe things are different now with younger people.) Anyway, for more stories.

In 1980 I had the pleasure of a half-year sabbatical from SCSU. I did what I was supposed to do with it –a lot of reading on the Psychology of Women in preparation for improving my course when I would return. So, here’s my invisibility story. I was in the habit of stopping at noontime to do some exercises on the floor while listening to a New York TV station that ran the news on a banner below other programming. On this day, I heard three men’s voices deep in discussion. Then I heard a woman start to say something, to which one of the men said, “Oh, I’m sorry. We haven’t been giving you a chance to talk.” And then, I kid you not, I never heard her voice again.

And there’s the time when I was the only chairperson in a group of chairmen. (Yes, one observed that we were a committee of 21 chairmen and one chairperson.) I want to say up front these were all fine gentlemen who had, indeed, encouraged my advancement. It’s just that for both men and women of the time we were like the fish who are the last to discover the water in which we are swimming. It was a little different from the voiceless woman in the TV discussion, though, because they would politely stop when I had something to say, and then go right on where they had left off, as if I hadn’t said anything. One day I said to them “Gentlemen, I feel like if I looked in a mirror, no one would look back.” I did get their attention, and,, in response to their questioning looks, I explained what I had observed about our interactions. For a few meetings after that, it was almost embarrassing as they stopped to ask my opinion and respond to it. Yes, at first it was stilted, but before long I was comfortably incorporated into the group.

Then there’s my colleague and friend, Ragaa. We did tend to attract attention when we were out somewhere together – Ragaa with her lovely black hair, and mine still blonde. So it happened one time we were having dinner in a hotel dining room. We were there for a weekend conference. To some men at a table near us, we were not, in a sense, invisible as they were clearly hitting on us. We let them know we were discussing work. “What are two lovely ladies doing at a work conference?” they asked. That was basically the end of the cross-table conversation.

But it was at that time, or maybe later, that I talked to Ragaa about the research observation that women are basically ignored in conversation. She was really, I think, annoyed with me for being so “sensitive” until one day in Spring she came into my office spilling anger. As a member of the masters degree committee, she had just been at an orals exam for a graduating candidate. “Three times I made the suggestion (she told me what it was) and three times people ignored it.” Then Mark came in and made the same suggestion. “Great idea” people responded, “and made sure it was incorporated into the final thesis.”

One final story, and then I hope you’ll have your comments and observations to add.

This one has to do with “A Healthy Woman is a Crazy Person,” the theme of the talks I did around town. They were so popular that people displayed the phrase on bumper stickers. My colleague Bob and I decided it would be a good marketing idea to sell T-shirts with those words on them. So, I made an appointment with a lawyer to learn what we needed to do to accomplish our goals. Bob and I arrived on time and the secretary called Bob by name into his office. (Of course, the invitation was intended for both of us.) Bob sat to my right as we both faced the lawyer with his long yellow pad across the table. I gave him the information about what we wanted to do and he took copious notes. Then he looked at Bob to explain what needed to be done and – I swear this is the truth – never looked at me again except to shake hands on departure. If you ever meet Bob and talk to him, he will validate the story.

And so it has gone. Today I’m not so sure I want people to notice me anyway. Well, that’s not true. I’d love to have folks seeing me at book signings when “Figs & Pomegranates & Special Cheeses” hits the market.

 

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