A man among women

A man among women

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Jun 10, 2008

At Veterinary Economics, I work as the lone guy on a team of women. And it isn't the first time I've found myself in the employment clutches of the fairer sex. I worked part time in libraries from age 16 to 23. Most librarians are women. When I got out of graduate school, I worked at a consumer publication where three of the four copy editors were men, but all the other editors and writers were female. My male copy chief referred with a growl to the mandatory management meetings as "the coffee klatch." Every day the ladies of the office would get together for these morning meetings and spend lots of time giggling and chatting about their kids, their husbands, their clothes, and their families. These were smart, strong women whose best friends were at work with them. The conversations, however, left my twentysomething copy chief testy. Couldn't they talk about work?

What we boys did in our spare time on the copy desk, however, was talk about David Lynch movies, reminisce about G.I. Joe and Transformers action figures, and try to crack each other up all day. Many of our female coworkers recoiled from our dark sense of humor. They didn't know how to handle us, and we didn't know how to talk to them. The copy desk became an island in a sea of suspicious women who respected our work but were too reserved and polite to joke with the boys.

It wasn't like that everywhere. I'd known fiftysomething female librarians who were fiercely intelligent, cursed like sailors, and cracked me up as much as my old high school friends.

When I started work here at Veterinary Economics, our former editor, Marnette Falley, made it clear she was sensitive to my guyness. She always acknowledged when the conversation veered into nonguy topics like shoes, clothing, and cooking—all of which I appreciate intellectually, but don't spend much time on. Everybody joked that I didn't care about their pre-meeting conversations about interior design. They're right: I don't care. Lots of men do, but I don't. But then these ladies can get talking about current events or philosophy or animals or the veterinary industry, and I get pumped.

Working with women, I'm reminded of my shortcomings by watching them in action. I'm reminded of my impatience when I watch Kristi work gently to bring consensus on hot-button issues in meetings. I'm reminded of my sloppiness when Amanda catches my mistakes in my excitedly and hastily written stories. I'm reminded of my laziness when Kerry laughingly pesters me to turn all my far-flung ideas into stories scheduled on a given day. I'm reminded of my stubbornness when Alison presents art ideas that sounded crappy to me at one time but now look brilliant on the page.

My mom and dad taught me that women and men are individuals, not stereotypes. Men can do women's jobs, and women can do men's jobs. We're all in it together. That's how it is at this magazine. Do I feel a little alienated sometimes as the only guy on the team? Sure. But when I want to crack a dumb joke, I can always find the other guys in the art department.

Would I rejigger my job so I could work with more guys? What for? I love my coworkers just the way they are—smart, educated, compassionate, driven women who challenge me to be better at what I do and how I handle things every day. Whether they learn anything from me, well, you'd have to ask them. Do potty jokes count?

JOIN THE DISCUSSION: Tell us what it's like for you to work with all women or mostly women. If you're the lone woman among a group of men, what's it like for you? Post your comment below.

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