Friday, March 6, 2009

For the love of God: Don't Look Down!

It's amazing how quickly you can get immersed in the intricacies of a culture, isn't it? At the beginning, you take your cues from the status quo - observing the accepted behaviours and mimicking them in an effort to be accepted. Yet, you (and doubtlessly most others) don't know why the "norms" were established, by whom and for what purpose. Yet we strictly, almost religiously observe them... why?

Take the gym, for example. Having lived the "rock n roll" lifestyle for most of my teens and 20s, the introduction to the 30s (and marriage) brought on the Great Girth of Contentment. So much so, that I took the drastic measure a few weeks back to join the local gym. I've never been to a gym outside of a feeble attempt with the sticky-floored "gym" at high school. And, somehow, I don't think it's ancient, rusting bench presses and dumbells really qualified.

With gusto I take on this new role of gym-junky and I quickly get into the rhythm of the place. I barely acknowledge the door bitch as she swipes my card and unlocks the turnstyle to grant me access. I go about my workout with great pride and regimented discipline - wiping down the machines with disinfectant (for the "comfort of other patrons", you see?); taking the weights off the machines after I've finished (for the "convenience of other patrons", you see?); and I carry my sweat towel and water bottle like my life depends on them. Oh, and I am constantly aware of my "own body odour" for the "comfort of other patrons" (which I find weird, because if I'm being asked to be aware of my own body odour, then surely it's just for my benefit??).

It's back into the locker room at the end of the workout where the real social rules kick in. I learned early on, through trial and error, that your eyes need to stare resolutely forward at all times. Your head must be tilted at the precise angle to make it clear that in no way are you even glimpsing, even out of the farthest corners of your eyes, that naked butt or floppy wang just over the way. Your intent must be kept firmly on your own task at hand, even if that means intently concentrating on the precise tying of your shoes into a neat double bow. Anything to stop your eyes from being drawn to the chiseled crack of an ass just to the right of your head.

Now, anyone who knows me will agree that I'm in no way a prude. I'll take any opportunity to oggle a nice willy, as much as a nice bouncy cleavage. And, with my gym being smack bang in the middle of a predominantly gay part of town, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the social mores may have been relaxed slightly in the locker room? Not so, and I find myself plunged back into high school and the outright fear of being caught catching a glimpse at some other boy's tools and then being singled out as a "fag!".

You can imagine my surprise, then, when a guy opened a conversation with me in the locker room tonight. Even though we were both fully dressed, I was mortified that this dufus had broken the golden rule and had started an actual conversation! How dare he? Did he want to get us both labelled as "homos"??!?! My horror, however, quickly turned to disgust at myself, as I realised how quickly I'd succumbed to the enforced social mores of such a stuffy place. Any other part of the world, and this gent's openness and genuine interest in his fellow being would have been endearing, and yet here I was silently condemning him.

It got me to thinking how quickly one can be swayed by the social mores around them. Sure, a gym is probably an intense microcosm of peer pressure and rules, but I can count at least 4-5 other social situations in my day in which my natural way of thinking is overruled by the social rules of the place. On the train on the way to work. At the line up in the 7-11. At the toilet block at work. And here I was thinking I was a strong-willed individual...


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