Working with women – it’s a ton of fun being in the minority!

The guys tried to hide their excitement and look professional, but the chance to book drag queen tickets didn’t come along that often. Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

I’ve wanted to write this blog for a long while now, but I’ve never been sure of the approach to take. For me it’s a topic worth writing about because it’s a part of my life that I really enjoy, but I can’t help but think it’s a tricky topic to broach and get right. Writing a blog about working with women for instance may flag up warning signs of some kind of pervert. I mean, we all know ‘lads’ who’s imaginations would go into overdrive just at the thought of being in a room with several women. Not me. Apart from anything else, I don’t rate myself highly enough to actually head down that route! Every woman I’ve worked with had eyes. They can all see what a lanky, awkward knobhead they’re working with!

Or maybe people might expect some kind of sexist rant about female colleagues not being up to the job. Again, not my thing. Of course there have been exceptions along the way, but so many of the women I’ve worked with or am working with are extremely talented, hard working and driven by a love of what they do. They can handle anything! I think though, the main reason that I wanted to write a blog on this subject was to try and get across how brilliant working with women has been for me. And when I say ‘working with women’, I’m generally referring to being the only man in the place. It’s never been a 50/50 split or even a close run thing.

Being outnumbered, so to speak, doesn’t faze or intimidate me. In fact, it’s never felt like any kind of problem. But I can see that for some men, working within a department of 10 or more women as the only man would probably be terrifying. Well let me try and express why I’ve always loved being one of the girls then!

As an English teacher in high schools, I’ve worked, often as a lone man in departments chock full of women for the best part of twenty years and it’s never anything less than entertaining. So, I couldn’t possibly write some kind of misogynistic rant. It has to be more of a fond recollection of the experiences I’ve had and the things I’ve learnt. That and the chance to gently mock some of my colleagues…

Working with women is…eventful, to say the least. It’s generally fun, but can also be incredibly stressful because…how to phrase this…well let’s just say that, in my experience, women are a great deal more complicated than men. And that’s not a criticism. Goodness me, dogs are quite often more complicated than men. And conversely, as a simple – in every sense of the word – man, maybe that’s why women can seem so complicated. But working in a female dominated environment daily throws up the kind of bizarre and hilarious situations that I don’t think I’d ever tire of.

That said, my first proper English department should have put me off working with women for life. There were two men and 8 women, if I remember rightly and I quickly found out that the other man in the department was the target of much mocking at the hands of the female teachers. Much of it was horribly personal – about his appearance, his sexual prowess etc – and I became aware fairly quickly that I was possible only missing out on being the victim of this ‘hilarious’ banter because I was new to both the school and the profession. Luckily, I’m fairly quick with a verbal response and for a while I held my own when the inevitable happened.

However, I’m not sure someone standing up to them was what some of the women in that department wanted. Without boring you with the finer details, let’s just say that they found a way to bully me which resulted in me leaving the school after just two years. In fact, it was so bad that I considered leaving the profession. Some of my female colleagues were wonderful people, but none of them actually stood up for me or spoke out about what was happening. One of the more sympathetic ones smiled, shrugged and avoided the topic. She later went on to become the Head of the school.

I still vividly remember being physically and verbally bullied by two particular women on a night out at the end of my first year of teaching. It wasn’t a vicious assault, but it was clear that I wasn’t going to have an enjoyable 2nd year in teaching. They literally told me as much. Still, as prepared as I was, it was worse than I could have imagined and by the end of the year I had a new job to go to, but was reasonably certain that I’d be back working as a civil servant sooner rather than later. I was a complete mess for the experience and not really a person that I recognised anymore. This teaching lark, with its girl gangs, just wasn’t for me!

I didn’t quit though. In fact, I lasted 10 years at my next school. And this time it was largely the women that I worked with that kept me there. Regardless of age – they were all younger than me – the women I worked with became my big sisters. They were always a great deal more mature and responsible than me and undoubtedly brighter. I adored working with them. They filled me full of confidence by laughing at the majority of my jokes and poking gentle fun at me and more or less just giving me the platform to become the department show off, a role that I was absolutely born to play! When they fell out with anyone – husbands, partners, colleagues – I felt defensive and would try to offer advice or just an ear to rant into. They were my big sisters and I was their little brother – the Scrappy Doo to their Velmas and Daphnes if you like!

When I got married and then had two children they were all there for me. This was never more evident than when my children were born and there were worries about their size and health. My ‘sisters’ would rally round and reassure me that everything was going to be alright. In return I’d play up even more as the class clown and they’d continue to boost for ever inflating ego by laughing along.

Those particular women in that department probably helped me to be at my very best. I barely spoke for the first 18 months of working there and it was my big sisters that encouraged me. Without them, I simply wouldn’t be a teacher anymore and I think I’d be a lot quieter and less interesting person as well. Not that I’m claiming to be particularly interesting!

In my experience women are just more fun than men. There’s little shame and no particular ego. I worked in that department for 10 years and we would take time out from the stress of the job to have things like music quizzes and themed days. At one particular time we held a Lionel Richie themed day, playing his songs in the office, wearing masks of his face and willing each other on to get his lyrics into our lessons. I’m not sure blokes would be quite so carefree and as silly in this particular kind of way. Despite my age I’m still very much a child at heart and I still take a huge amount of pleasure from memories like walking into colleagues’ classrooms on that day and asking, in front of a bemused class, ‘Hello, is it me you’re looking for?’ before leaving with a straight face that quickly buckled into a fit of giggles. I’m not sure a lot of my male colleagues would have gone for this taste in jokes. But my female colleagues would allow me to have stupid ideas and actually entertain them. I have to say that for almost all of those ten years, I was in my element.

Working among so many women has definitely left me with a lot of dilemmas though. Mainly these would fall into the harassment folder. I’ve always been reticent to compliment my female colleagues, both in a professional manner or a personal one. If I observe and watch a genuinely good lesson am I being viewed as patronising them if I give a compliment? I always feel like I’m coming across as saying ‘Hey, that wasn’t bad… for a girl’! And I’m certain that this is just down to my own paranoia.

Then there’s personal compliments. If, when surrounded by female colleagues, you tell someone they look nice, or their new hairdo really suits them (because yes, I notice), am I coming across as an old perv? Rightly or wrongly, that’s genuinely how I feel I’d be perceived. But then I guess that the alternative might run to working in a factory and shamelessly telling a male colleague that he looked good in his overalls or something.

‘Ooh, Gary. Those overalls hang lovely off your shoulders and they just cling to your sugerlumps. You look fantastic!’ I’m not sure I’d just have my own thoughts to deal with in this situation. So I think the paranoia of complimenting a female colleague is probably worth it. Either way, all it takes to be able to look at someone and tell them that they look nice is to be in possession of at least one working eye. It’s not difficult, but I hope you can understand this particular dilemma. But it’s nice to be working with people that I feel I can compliment.

In my present job I’m once again the only man in the department. Or rather, the only full time male teacher in the department as the head is also an English teacher, but is usually a little busy with running a school to be able to join me and the girls. In all, there’s me and nine women; ten if you include the fact that our student teacher is also female. It’s a fantastic school in a disadvantaged area with a diverse cohort of students and a brilliant staff who, day in day out, come to work to give the kids in our community the best chances possible in life. I love my job.

It’s made all the better by the colleagues in my department, who if I’m honest, were the reason for writing this particular blog. I’ve been in this role for 5 years now and the women I work with have become my new big sisters. Once again they’re all younger than me. Some in fact are so young that I am old enough to be their dad. And if you’re one of my new big sisters and you’re reading this, let me repeat that, just for fun. I’m old enough to be your dad!

So happy in my work am I that one day, when something happened that I really didn’t understand, it prompted me to write. Because this thing could only have been presented to me, in the way it was presented, by my colleagues; my new big sisters.

It started in the morning meeting. Bizarelly – and remember, I’m a 48-year-old working class, Northern male – several of my colleagues were excitedly talking about drag queens; Ru Pauls’ drag queens to be precise. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t put drag queens and highly intelligent young women together. As I say, old, gruff, working class Geordie. It’s my problem, not theirs. But I just couldn’t understand. Suffice to say, I sat through this ‘meeting’ and really didn’t contribute aside from the odd curious smile.

And then, not long after the meeting, I received the following email, which I’ve cut and pasted below for your delectation.

From: Laylor, Nindsey (that’s not her real name, but I’ve cleverly disguised it).
Sent: 25 September 2019 08:46
To: English Dept
Subject: Extra-Curricular Meeting 3:30pm – Heels of Hell – Drag Qweeeeeeeeen show

Hi guys,

Who fancies this???? Ru Paul Drag Queen Halloween show, Leeds O2 Tuesday 22nd October! We’re going to meet in my classroom after p7 (3:30) to book tickets.

hoh19[1]

Graham, I know you are well up for this, here’s what you can expect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q63RoZ9v4X0

Queeeeeennnnssss Everywhere!!!!!!!!

xxx

We won’t mention the spelling but to clarify, I was not ‘up for this’. I did click on the YouTube link though and it seemed to awaken some very strange feelings in me. It didn’t. That was a joke. And dad, if by some strange quirk of fate you read this, it didn’t awaken any feelings, that was really just a joke.

I’ve got nothing against drag queens (or even queeeeennnnnssss, for that matter). I hold no grudge with Ru Paul and I’ve never had a problem with Sharon Needles or Latrice Royale. And as matter of fact I count Biqtch Puddin as a personal friend (that’s another joke, dad). I just didn’t understand. The level of surprise is another reason why I enjoy working with women so much though. When I walked into our meeting I was genuinely not expecting anything so left field as a discussion on drag queens, let alone another meeting about them. As ever, when I walked into our meeting I was expecting t sit there sleeping with my eyes open. It’s my default meeting setting.

Drag Queen surprises aren’t the only surprises I get on a regular basis via my Big Sisters. I’m well attuned to walking into the office and a discussion about Weight Watchers or Fat Club as it’s often referred to. Being around 10 stone dripping wet, these types of discussions mean nothing to me. But I’d count myself as some kind of expert on the types of things that we should avoid eating and the kinds we’re allowed as treats.

Conversely, my Big Sisters are quite the sight when someone happens to bring in food like crisps or chocolate. The guilt is still there and all the ‘right’ things are said, but I’ll be honest, it’s not long before someone has opened the thing that no one was going to open and tucked in! And if you happen to be in there during lesson time it won’t be long before one of the ladies just happens to be passing and can’t resist something chocolatey! I find it all nothing short of entertaining. In fact, I should start to run a sweepstake or some kind of bingo around the kind of things I expect to hear. Phrases such as ‘Keep those mini rolls away from me’ are an absolute guarantee and it always makes me laugh, the thought that the mini rolls might be expected to aggressively follow someone round the room until they get eaten!

Among the other highlights are the random dances (one colleague will Grapevine on request. She’s also been known to stand singing the theme tune to Mr Tumble in the corridor), the accents (my friend Emma puts a particular spin on any accent that I’d never heard before until my daughter got old enough to start trying), the frequent period talk (that’s right Graham, we’re talking about PERIODS!), the rants about partners (one colleague would regularly put the phone down after having spoken to their husband and just say ‘Knobhead‘. For ages I just thought she was trying to get my attention) and the unexpected swearing (I thought I had a mouth like a docker, but in actual fact some of my female colleagues make me sound like the announcer on one of the old Pathe news reels). The crying I can do without and I’ve been known to just quietly leave a room when one or more of my Big Sisters are in tears! Not helpful and not supportive, I know, but then again there are 10 of them and I think they could literally cry me a river.

So there we have it. Having got to the end of the blog, I’m still not entirely sure what the point is. I definitely had a point when the idea occurred to me, but it doesn’t really feel like it materialised along the way! I suppose I just wanted to share my experiences and write about how much fun I’ve had at work. In all, working with a gang of women is just a joy. And apart from those first two years in teaching, it always has been. I’m entering my third decade of working in the minority, so to speak, and I look forward to every day. I’ve made amazing friends, have fantastic working relationships and have gained many ‘big sisters’ along the way. I’d definitely recommend it!

Author: middleagefanclub

Man, husband, dad, teacher, coach, Geordie. Former street dancing champion of Tyne and Wear, guinea pig whisperer, developer of the best-selling fragrance, Pizzazz and alleged liar. Ex male model and a devilish raconteur. No challenge should be faced without a little charm and a lot of style.

4 thoughts on “Working with women – it’s a ton of fun being in the minority!”

  1. Love this Graham! Thank you for putting up with us. I love my shout out. Your sarcasm, dryness and humour never gets old 😂 just to make you feel better…I think i’m too old for you to be the age of my dad. Deffo old enough for the youngsters though! Xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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