The Beauty of Feeling Awkward
If you’re like me, you’re not used to being in the minority. You know? I mean, unless I opt into it, being displaced is a pretty infrequent experience for me. For instance:
I’m a white person, and I spend most of days around white people.
I’m middle class, and most of the people I interact with come from our middle class neighborhood.
I’m male, and the cultural bent toward male privilege means that I’m comfortable in pretty much every situation I encounter.
So the bottom line is that being in the minority only happens for me when I choose it, or when I’ve worked hard over time to create such contexts. As one example, on the ministry team I lead I am actually in the minority in terms of gender, and that’s the result of a lot of intentionality on my part and on the part of others.
With all of this as prologue, let me tell you about my adventure at our school’s PTC (Parent/Teacher Club) meeting this week.
Because the homework was done, the dishes were in the wash and the children were in the bath, Amy and I decided that this week was our week to finally make our PTC meeting debut. I mean, it’s only taken us 7 years.
So I got my jacket on, walked over to school, found the library, walked through the door and immediately thought:
“Ah, so THIS is where female privilege lives!”
Yep, aside from our school’s principal, who is paid to be there, I was the only man in sight.
So, feeling all sorts of dissonance, I took my seat at the PTC table. Let me offer a couple of reflections on my PTC displacement experience:
First, I felt keenly out of place. As in, “one of these people is not like the others.” It was awkward. And where do you think I sat? Yep, right next to the principal. After all, there’s strength in numbers! I couldn’t help but think about how awful it must be for folks on the margins who feel this way day in, day out.
Next, as we started to work through the agenda, I realized that I was going to be spending the evening being the expert on all things male. As in, “so, would dads want to come to an event like this one we’re talking about?” I kept thinking, “wait a second, I’m just one guy, and I think I’m pretty unusual or atypical, so don’t ask me to speak for all of the men at this school.” Again, how often does this happen to the marginalized around us?
After 17+ years in campus ministry, I can testify that displacement is a helpful thing. More than that, I think it’s just about the main thing. I’ve seen it time and again, where students grow more through even a brief displacement experience than during a whole semester on campus.
Simply put, there’s power in choosing to be the minority.
As I wrestle with how to hold my male privilege, I want to continue to choose displacement. It’s important for me to feel out of sorts, as it both gives me a chance to grow and it helps me to empathize with others.
At the end of the night, the PTC president asked if I wanted to give my phone number so she could invite me to be more involved. My answer? “Yep, but I’m bringing a buddy next month!”
What about you? How can you choose displacement this week?
I’ve been “that guy” at elementary school events before, too. The other thing I noticed is there is a different language spoken–it’s education speak that has been developed in a predominantly female environment. I’m usually good at adapting to various social situations, but I’ve found my social toolbox wanting at some meetings I attended.
It’s fascinating how much of your immediate world gets assumed to be “normal.” I work in tech, so I’m speaking business/engineering language in a predominantly male environment everyday…and assuming that’s the norm without even realizing it. Then one day I’m sitting in a tiny chair surrounded by 10 women talking about preschool development. Yet here we are, all middle-class white Americans–and even in that homogeneity we’re worlds apart.
Great perspective Skills. Thanks for sharing. I’m starting to wonder if the hardest thing for a person is to see someone else’s perspective. Imagine the implications if we all became fluent in that?!?