Have you ever felt like you may as well be an inanimate object when talking to some people? Scratch that. When talking to some... men? In this week's blog, Shay Bayton from Kamilaroi Country in NSW, rages silently to herself as she smiles, nods and dilegently takes mental notes of males in a room in order to make polite conversation. She makes us all ponder: why on earth do we do this to ourselves?
It's all-bright lights and dark corners. It's the nicer bottles of wine and top shelf spirits with a mirrored bar and black countertops, all of it placed perfectly to reflect the expensive clothes and panoramic views. Couples arriving and friends reuniting, quick flashes of awkwardness pass, you would need to be watching closely to catch anyone trip on their own insecurities tonight. Most of us know each other or if not, it's easy to start a conversation on common ground, find the topics that flow freely; kids & houses, childcare and jobs are all safe bets.
It started to crystallize after more and more of these self-introductions to men I had already met. They added up until I had banked a whole catalogue of who did what and when and how they did it. Always a surreptitious sentence implied he was doing well, making an amount of money that should be mentioned, not outright of course - we all had far too many manners to do that to each other, but it was still there carefully disguised not too far into the pleasantries. Worse than mentioning how well you were doing was missing the opportunity to not bring it up at all.
No comparison was needed, the assumption held strong, that whatever work it may be that I clocked into wouldn’t be because I had a job worth noting. So better not to ask, the politeness only extended so far, and the entirety of polite conversation landed on my shoulders, or more accurately the vagina between my legs. It must mean I was interested in them for as long as it took to make sure I knew of their importance in the world they came from.
I took to counting in the end, how many times it had happened in one weekend. I could attach jobs, salaries, hours worked, destinations travelled, property purchased all because I was nice enough to listen, polite enough for conversation and smart enough to know my place was not to talk like I had a personality too. I was a sounding board, and I did it well. Listen and smile, seem quietly impressed and never assume this is a two-way street. Listen up when they speak to you, nothing more, nothing less. I counted to ten and stopped, they would be hard pressed to know my name. They could not know, because they never asked.
It’s the "why" that I don’t fully understand. The lack of curiosity makes me wonder. The other reason though: who am I to impress? This is a harder quality to quantify because everyone is smiling while we do it, socializing shouldn’t be so quiet - there is so much talking but smiling and listening is what I'm tasked to do. So, I do it well and later wonder how many questions they asked of women in that room. They have not had to perfect the skill it takes to nod and smile, to ask the right follow-up question. They would have to stop talking long enough to notice the women in the room have plenty more to say.
Shay Bayton from Carroll, NSW is a mother to four young children and a theatre nurse on other days. She writes to calm the chaos all around her. Shay's piece Decade featured on the Mona Blog in May, 2022 as part of our Mother's Day feature.