Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Women and business flights
In the week, on ordinary work-days, men dominate the flights. When I get into the little Dash 8 from Volda with 10 men, I feel - not exactly special, just different. Gender is significant in the oddest situations. This time I didn't really see how important until I got off the plane at Gardermoen and was on the train from the airport to Oslo. Hiding behind the newspaper in order to fit in, suddenly somebody addressed me. It was a young woman, a blonde and nice one. She asked me very politely if I had a cellphone she could borrow. Her brother was expecting them at the wrong railways station in Oslo, and she needed to let him know they would be at Oslo Sentral Station and not at Nationalteateret. I looked surprised, I guess, but I gave it to her and said sure, and she didn't need to pay for the call as long as she didn't run off with the phone.

The call was finished quickly, she thanked me and left. As she left I noticed that she was in an other part of the train entirely. She passed by rows of business-men, some of them using their cellphones. As I got off the train I noticed that she was almost at the front with her little family, while I was almost at the back. From a wagon behind me, two women left the train. The four of us were the only females not in uniform on the platform.

The woman had walked through almost all of the train, passing perhaps 30-40 men, before she found me and adddressed me. I had my cellphone in the pocket, not visible; she gambled that I would have one. I think it is a pretty safe bet that she asked me because she was desperate - lots of luggage, two children one of whom was in a pram, and her brother at the wrong side of town - and because she didn't feel comfortable turning to a man. She turned to me for the same reason that the female students knock on my door when they don't find the person they really should contact, for the same reason that they approach me with their more complicated, personal problems, for the same reason they dare take their aggression out on me. It's because gender matters, and by addressing a person of the same gender, they eliminate several potentials for misunderstanding. It is more likely that I will understand, sympathise and not be offended, and less likely that I will take advantage or make fun of their predicament. And so, they will pass by 20 men in order to ask the one woman for help. Women still need women.

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