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Observations on public spaces: watching men and women

(67 Posts)
BranchingOut Tue 24-Jun-14 20:54:27

I recently stayed by myself in a hotel for work and had the opportunity for a little bit of people watching in a mildly interesting situation.

I came down for breakfast quite early and was quite struck by the way that men and women, almost all of whom were coming down individually for breakfast, seemed to have a different degree of comfort within the space.

This was quite an old hotel, so a lovely room with big mirrors, high celings, chandelier etc - so potentially a bit intimidating if you were on your own or not feeling comfortable. But because it was early the staff were quite busy and not always in the room, resulting in guests having to navigate where to sit/what to do/the process of where to get things by themselves. So it was interesting to see what people did in a situation where there was a degree of discomfort/ambiguity.

I watched two separate women and three separate men come into the room and it was interesting to see that the women were more hesitant, looked indecisive in their movements towards choosing a table and, in one case, when a staff member appeared, asked if it was ok for them to have breakfast as a non resident in quite hesitant language.... Whereas the three separate men were each more direct in their movements, chose a table and sat down with minimum hesitation.

Interestingly, one of those women was wearing quite professional dress, very suited to the room/ambience. Yet the most comfortable group within the space was a small group of men who they were wearing work clothes/work boots, which were much less suited to the ambience (the hotel though old and quite fancy, is quite good value).

When I came down I was aware of consciously trying to act confident, act relaxed, but am sometimes aware that I fail dismally in this respect!

Any thoughts on men/women/body language in public spaces?

LoveSardines Tue 24-Jun-14 21:03:09


Have they ever done studies in cities and stuff as if we were wildlife and they were watching how we all interact.

The most obvious places to notice the appropriation of space is on the tube IME. Recently there was a thread about how when walking around women tend to get out of the way of men automatically. There was a poster who said she consciously doesn't "give way" and some men get really confused about it! I wonder though whether it's a size thing - the "wildlife" survey would show that up. Maybe a combination of smaller getting out of way of larger, and socialisation. Dunno.

Your hotel restaurant sample wasn't very big grin it could have been that the men were more used to going to that sort of hotel - although the reasons for that might be interesting in themselves!

My conclusion is that you need to hang out at swanky hotels a lot more to further your study grin

LoveSardines Tue 24-Jun-14 21:04:01

Oh the tube thing and the getting out of the way thing are not the same. I have just phrased that badly! So they run into each other.

BranchingOut Tue 24-Jun-14 21:18:26

Agree on small sample size, that was a bowl of museli, some fruit, a croissant and three cups of tea worth of data!

Further studies needed!

LoveSardines Tue 24-Jun-14 21:23:25

Definitely grin

I have only stayed in one proper posh hotel with work and was too busy feeling pleased with myself to carry out any covert feminist studies grin

Still trying to think of other public space stuff... There must be more!

BuggersMuddle Tue 24-Jun-14 21:34:45

I stayed in hotels often. I travelled in taxis and on public transport often. This made me terribly bolshy.

I don't travel for work any more. I'm still terribly bolshy grin

LoveSardines Tue 24-Jun-14 21:42:35

I wonder if it's just that it's a predominantly male space type thing. Most people who travel on business seem to be men - at least from what I've seen in the places I've stayed. So is it as simple as that - it' mainly men doing it, so it's a sort of male space. Like pubs, although they are better than they used to be, a woman drinking alone often looks / seems self-conscious unless a reg. And it's something that a man would feel much more comfortable doing in the first place.

LoveSardines Tue 24-Jun-14 21:46:11

I suppose the opposite would be how DH would look if he had to visit a beauty salon for something grin

So I guess the question is, who has dibs on the most / more important / better / more interesting spaces IYSWIM.

ThinkAboutItTomorrow Tue 24-Jun-14 22:04:37

I go to swanky hotels quite regularly and still don't feel comfortable at breakfast / in the bar etc.

I'd honestly never thought it was a male female thing as many of my female colleagues seem fine. I thought it was just me.

I suppose men do tend to do more business trips and be in the majority and they have less concern of being bothered by strangers.

But in general is shyness and reserve a gendered thing?

McBear Tue 24-Jun-14 22:17:59

It's easier for women in unknown situations as we are 'allowed'to show unsureness, look for comfort, play the damsel in distress.

Men are 'the rescuers', the ones that guide the way.

If I'm ever unsure, I stay quiet and smile. grin

LoveSardines Tue 24-Jun-14 22:29:31

Hmmm that's all well and good but what if you don't want random blokes approaching you just because you're on your own AKA lone woman in pub.

kickassangel Wed 25-Jun-14 02:44:55

can Ijust ask - has anyone EVER been in a bar/pub and had a drink sent over?

slightly different topic, but I have never experienced or seen this in rl, but it is always in the movies. Plenty of experience of a man coming up to start a conversation/chat etc (not so much now I'm older) but never, ever seen or know of a man sending a drink over to a woman.

I don't spend huge amounts of time in bars/restaurants by myself but it does happen a few times a year, so am just wondering.

It's a very sexist assumption, for many reasons, but why does the myth (or reality) exist except as a poor plot device?

DadWasHere Wed 25-Jun-14 04:33:02

Interesting question kickassangel. A bartender could probably answer better than anyone but its not my profession. Perhaps it varies from country to country. I have never seen it done nor heard any man ever say he sent one. Asking a woman if she wanted a drink, sure, but never simply sent.

In fact the only time I have ever heard of this being done, outside movies, was from a documentary, The Man Who Knew, where one of the women interviewed said that she sent John P. O'Neill a drink, which she said she had never done before nor since.

Romeyroo Wed 25-Jun-14 05:39:17

Yes, when I was travelling in the US, twenty years ago mind you, my female friend and I regularly got drinks sent over. I also got lots of coffee on the house. There was no obligation implied, I don't remember being bothered by male company as a result.

I also remember it happening in continental Europe when another friend and I went to this disco place. That felt much more uncomfortable, maybe because of the location and getting more harrassment generally on that trip. We left sharpish.

To the OP, on the question of space, it is a really interesting point, whether men are still in command of public space, so to speak. I am going to look out for this.

Romeyroo Wed 25-Jun-14 05:45:36

Sorry, just to add, with the coffee, the chat would usually include some comments about their own Scottish ancestry (I am Scottish with stereotypical red hair!) so I think it was that mainly. It felt hospitable rather than sexist.

utterlyconflicted Wed 25-Jun-14 05:58:43

I have had two drinks sent over in my life!

Onc, when i was 19, after i had danced to ,ahem, Simply the Best by Tina Turner in a hotel disco. A drink arrived courtesy of the manager, with a message along the lines that I was a fab dancer. I accepted it and no-one followed it. Still feel chuffed now.

The other was when i was 30, with 3 gorgeous girls and a man sent over a bottle of Dom Perignon. Again, he didn't follow it. Just told us to enjoy ourselves.

SanityClause Wed 25-Jun-14 06:08:46

This is interesting.

The other day, I was standing at a counter, waiting my turn. There was a man ahead of me. He turned to walk past me, but, he didn't walk past me, but stood there, waiting for me to move. Which I did.

That really got me thinking - I was quite upset that I had moved, and wished I had stood my ground. I then imagined scenarios where he said "excuse me", and I pointed for him to go by me (there was plenty of room for him). And wondered what he would have done if I had stood my ground.

McBear Wed 25-Jun-14 06:11:54

I've never had a drink sent overconfused

I wouldn't buy someone a drink just because tho. A drink doesn't mean sex obviously but surely you'd at least get a conversation because that's courteous of the recipient. Maybe I'm just greedy.

AskBasil Wed 25-Jun-14 06:25:18

Some bloke years ago in some posh bar I was in sent over a bottle of chablis to the group I was with -a mixed group of men and women. He then came over and asked for a dance (it was a jazz club IIRC). Got to say, I felt swanky, he was a brilliant dancer. grin He didn't ask to join us afterwards or anything, so no obligation.

Lomaamina Wed 25-Jun-14 06:27:31

I'm sure there are differences, as you say, between men and women, but also across cultures.

BTW There is a famous study of people in public space by William Whyte, see link here and brilliant film here

oohdaddypig Wed 25-Jun-14 06:30:16

I like your informal hotel studies! It doesn't surprise me. I think woman are more obliging, not wanting to "offend" etc. it's why we are the nicer sex flame me

DH and I argued yesterday over his, IMHO opinion, appalling driving. It was a 50/50 who should go first and the other vehicle was a moped and it was wet. I would always give way in that instance as it is easier for me, in a car, to stop. DH ploughed on regardless and obscenities were exchanged..... "Why should I stop?"

It's this flipping attitude that causes wars, I tell you!

Trumpton Wed 25-Jun-14 06:50:44

I have marked this thread to watch the video later. It looks fascinating.

BranchingOut Wed 25-Jun-14 10:02:11

Thanks for the comments, I will definitely look up those links.

I was born in the mid 70s and the unwritten rules that I learned about the hospitality industry as I grew up (tv, films and what my parents said) were:

Pubs are for men, unless you go with a man.
'Barmaids' are chatted up.
Men order the drinks
A man might be a 'businessman'.
Men and women book into hotels for illicit encounters.
Women generally travel with men.

I know that all these ideas are thankfully, archaic, but a bit of me wonders if a shadow of them remains....

Lomaamina Wed 25-Jun-14 11:01:11

Ah, if it's unwritten rules of behaviour that interest you, I'd also suggest reading 'Watching the English' by Kate Fox. Brilliant anthropology of the English.

Lovecat Wed 25-Jun-14 11:24:29

I've had drinks sent over. By Canadians, in London, in my early 20's. My friend and I went over to them with the drinks, put them down in front of them and said thanks, but you are getting no sex out of this, so please have them back again. They were quite horrified that we thought this was what they were after - apparently it is common in Canada to do this... (hmm where's SGM when you need her)? And they insisted we have the drinks as we 'looked like we were having a good night' and they wanted us to enjoy ourselves. We pointed out how weird this was (would they have done it for two men having a good night?) and parted on good terms.

In the interests of fairness we sent them some drinks back later (being Northern, we liked to stand our round wink).

Having worked in a pub in the late 80's, it was incredible the amount you got hit on. I wouldn't say I was particularly attractive (or even approachable - apparently I have 'psycho bitch' resting face and I called out every bit of sexism I came across quite vocally) but nonetheless I was asked out by many, many blokes. Even when I had a boyfriend and said so, one particular loon said 'yes, well when you finish with him, can I have a turn?' shock

Regarding breakfast, yes it is more socially acceptable for a woman to dither and smile and look for help. I tend to pause at the door of a 'new' hotel simply to spy out the lie of the land before sitting down - I don't want to eat with the queue for the toast machine wending its way around my table. Also the 'rules' are different for each hotel, so it seems - do you find your seat, do you wait to be seated, do you have to show your room key, etc etc. From my limited observation of DH and work trips with other men, they tend to just barge ahead and sit down because they are largely oblivious to such niceties. And get away with it - is this because women are held to higher standards?

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