There are eight of us, all women. We were handed a canvas with a reproduction of a painting in the Hammer's collection on it and began our needlepointing. One of us asked if any men at all had applied for the program. The psychologist who runs the sessions (I'll call her Dr. E) replied "there were, but none of them seemed...conducive to group work. They all seemed..." at this point a chorus of completions rang around the circle:
"wrapped up in themselves?"
"like they wouldn't let anyone else put a word in?"
Then laughter. We had our first topic.
I can't really divulge what went on, as it is therapy after all, and there are privacy issues. But I can discuss a dynamic I observed after the session was over and I had wandered over to the cafe for some tea and a bit of decompression (eight women with needles and sharp little scissors talking about men can get INTENSE, I tell you).
I was eavesdropping on a conversation going on behind me (between some corporate types who were literally taking notes on how to screw their shareholders over) when another voice drowned out their hushed conniving tones. It was a large man with a beard and long, graying hair under a fedora. He was expounding on the wicked capitalistic origins of the Hammer museum to a small, luminously beautiful woman who could not have been more than half his age.
He talked and talked, waving his arms around, and she listened and listened. The look on her face was interesting. It was almost...proud. This intelligent, fascinating man had chosen her to talk to. Her job was to listen diligently and prove herself worthy, intelligent enough to be the receptacle for all this information. I don't think it occurred to her that the older man hadn't chosen her for her brain. If he had, he surely didn't give her much chance to exercise it. There wasn't enough airtime. He was sucking all the oxygen out of the room.
This is such a familiar dynamic that I probably see it every day. I find it normal. I probably wouldn't even have noticed it this time if it weren't for the loooooong needlepoint discussion that had preceded it. It is so easy to fall into that role, the role of the adoring listener. I have done it countless times, falling into the trap of thinking that I am in a conversation when really I am a prop in a monologue.
It was all I could do not to walk over to their table, take that lovely girl by the arm, and hustle her out of there. Finally I settled on a compromise. I gathered up my needlepoint, paid for my tea, and strolled out. As I passed their table I bent over between them and said conversationally "you know, she's been trying to get a word in edgewise for about half an hour now. Maybe you should let her. She might teach you something."
My heart raced all the way home. But I was smiling.