The Invasion of the Male Space: An Encounter at the Barbershop
Yesterday I was in the barbershop waiting to get my mop chopped. Per usual, all of the other men waiting were browsing magazines or replying to email.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a mom walk in with her kid. She wrote her son’s name on the board and sat next to me.
Unconcerned, I resumed answering emails. Then I heard it. Too loud to be a thought muttered under the breath but too quiet for me to make any sort of response. Surely, it couldn’t have been directed at me. This was a barbershop, after all. So I kept writing my email.
I heard it again. This time I knew I was the target because the mom was leaning towards me, dead-set on making sure I couldn’t ignore her any longer.
Looking straight at me, obviously under the impression that I’d rather listen to her than respond to an email, she said “Barbershops just don’t work for women. No one is talking. I can’t book an appointment”.
It was really hard for me not to laugh at her. She entered one of the quintessential male spaces and she was upset that it wasn’t catering to her and her needs. Not only had she entered that space but she also wrote her sons name down and took a seat.
Now I don’t know about you, but I put some effort into finding a good barber. The extra ten dollars or so it takes to get a nice haircut is noticeable over the course of the month before I get another cut. And, in my opinion, the relationship a man has with is barber is an incredibly important one. I don’t mean to say that I’m best buds with my barber but he delivers a quality haircut every time I go to see him and I greatly appreciate that skill.
So, to hear a lady come in and start talking trash about my barber didn’t sit too well with me (especially after she had voluntarily entered the queue and took a seat next to me). I tried to explain to her that she was in one of the best shops in the city and that if she was looking for a quick cut there was another barber two doors down.
Unrelenting, she fired back with “The barbers take their time even though there is a queue”.
Knowing that this was going nowhere fast I turned back to my emails until my name was called.
The Behavior of Women in a Male Space
I haven’t been able to get this encounter out of my head. I think it exemplifies the way that the majority of women behave when they come into male spaces. They expect the rules to change rather than simply acknowledging that the rules are different.
If I were to go into a hair salon I wouldn’t expect the dynamic to change to suit my needs. In fact, the primary reason why I avoid hair salons is that they cater to women and the dynamic there reflects that. They are typically full of chatty women, trendy music and unpleasant smells (to me at least). I do not have any interest whatsoever in going into a space like that because that is not the experience I am looking for.
So I began to think, why do women want to come into male spaces in the first place? Surely, that lady could have gone to the salon to have her son’s hair cut. She could’ve booked an appointment and had a receptionist greet her but she made the decision to go to the barbershop.
Now, I want to make it clear that I do not think that this woman came into the barbershop with the goal of undermining the environment there. The erosion of the male space occurs over time due to the nature of how women behave when they enter them, and due to how men react when women are present. The dynamic in a male only space is completely different once a woman has interjected herself into it. Typically, the men become more reserved and less competitive to make the environment more suitable for women.
Put yourself into a locker-room of a sports team. People are whipping each other with towels, calling each other names and generally horsing around. Now imagine that the team manager, a girl, walks into the locker room. All of that behavior gets locked down in seconds. Typically, it gets locked down because men, through experience, know that women are uncomfortable in a setting like that.
What I have found is that this is simply how men communicate when we are around one another. I have been in locker rooms after my football team has won a game. I have been in a basement where my friends and I were playing 8 person Halo matches. The dynamic is always the same across all situations. We challenge each other, test one another and hone one another in an attempt to make the group excel. To an outsider this may seem aggressive or crass but when you are in the group it is part of the dynamic. It is male bonding in action.
This competitive nature runs directly counter to what women expect in their social settings. Part of this can be traced back to male group dynamics as we evolved as a species. If you had one weak link in the hunting party people died. Making sure everyone was as good as they could be by challenging one another to excel made for the strongest group possible. Comparatively, women had to manage the social dynamic of the rest of the tribe. The risk of death wasn’t so great so managing social relationships became more important than challenging everyone to perform their best.
I have no issue with women coming into male dominated spaces. Especially if they are there to enjoy the same activity that the men are enjoying and don’t seek to change the male dynamic of the space.
However, what I see in the majority of cases is that women do not want to maintain the male-centric focus of the spaces they enter. They want those spaces to transform in order to cater to the sensibilities of women.
This was exemplified in the attitude of the woman in the barbershop. Apparently, she thought that a barbershop was going to have the same dynamic as a hair salon. When it failed to live up to that lofty standard, she was upset. Now, this woman probably just wanted to have a whine and wasn’t intent on subverting the barbershop. But the fact remained that she was upset that it didn’t conform to her needs.
The destruction of male spaces is something that has been occurring over the last few generations. Whether it be the demonization of male secret societies or lawsuits threatened over not letting women join, the male space is on the decline in the public sphere. A lot of men have retreated back to the internet to have their time alone together and achieve the male bonding that once took place in those public spaces.
Mainstream society seems to recognize the importance of women having their own spaces. We see it in all female gyms and other manifestations. Yet when men get together there must be something sinister going on. It is just as important for men to get together and form bonds with each other without the presence of women.
The barbershop is one of the last remaining male spaces and I love it for that. I don’t want it to change one bit. The quiet interspersed with laughter. The shuffling of newspapers and magazines. The smell of barbicide and hair products. All of this makes up a trip to the barbershop and makes it an enjoyable excursion every time.
I would have loved it if that woman had let her son enjoy the experience rather than complain about every aspect of it.
So, I guess my response to her statement that “barbershops don’t work for women” is that of course they don’t. They were designed for men.