Spots of Time

May 06, 2003

The Urban Jungle

The alpha male of the pack begins his approach, circling the targeted female slowly. She looks briefly in his direction but ignores him, continuing to drink at the watering hole. He assesses the situation, sees his opening, and is suddenly by her side. He marks his territory with a drink and the other males in the area move aside.

It was Friday night and I felt like the lone documentary filmmaker in the middle of a National Geographic special about mating habits. Except we weren’t in the wilderness and I didn’t have a camera to record the activities of the male urbanus homus erectus.

An unplanned series of events led me to my present situation – the only female out with a pack of guys. Without a personal agenda for the evening, I was happy to be a spectator – leaving the action – or more precisely the “thought” of action – to the males in the group. This is the only way to enter into this type of situation – as being “one of the guys” takes a certain squelching of your own desires.

Our group was diverse in age and I found the dynamic between the older men and the younger men to be fascinating. Like a fraternity or a group of taunting schoolboys, the older more experienced players egged on the younger recruits, alternating between brotherly encouragement and merciless taunting. The main obsession of the evening was one particularly scantily clad female, whose presence (body) was not lost on most any man at the bar. One by one guys would approach her – and one by one they would be turned away. No one in my group tried their luck, though more than one was encouraged or directed to give it a go.

It is important to note that the behaviour of the male in a group is different than that of the lone male – and Australia is no different than the United States (or most other westernised nations for that matter). When alone, the lone male can be the “perfect” guy - a chameleon able to blend into his surroundings and assimilating himself to the acceptable social mores of the environment. However, when surrounded by other guys, his behaviour changes and more frequently than not, the IQ of the group drops – to just below waist level. Especially when they are out drinking with the guys and beautiful women come into view.

Before every guy I know starts to hate me, I should mention that this pack mentality is not unique to the male species. A lone female also has the potential to be the “perfect” girl, adaptable in every situation. But, put her into a group of her closest female friends, add alcohol and a bar or club environment and suddenly even her boyfriend can hardly recognize her or her behaviour. To put it another way – while men may be from Mars and women from Venus, both planets revolve around the same sun.

As the evening progressed, I alternated between fascinated spectator, bemused friend and slightly offended female representative. Being “one of the guys” is harder than it looks.

My own natural feminist instincts were suppressed – I was walking a fine line with my presence and knew it. Bring too much attention to yourself and you’ll be moved to the “target” camp – too little and you’re totally ignored. Being a good listener, offering up the proper encouragement, agreeing with proposed tactics, and removing even the HINT of guilt about their behaviour from your vocabulary is required to be accepted within the pack – even if it is only a temporary acceptance.

In truth, the evening did not offer me any amazing insights into male group behaviour. It was all relatively harmless actually. The most that was exchanged was a few looks and the occasional phone number – though I doubt any of them will actually be dialled. However, as any good documentary filmmaker knows, the mere presence of an outsider changes the dynamic of a group. As I reflected later on the evening’s events, I had to wonder how much my presence affected the potential outcome of the evening. And, in truth, I really don’t want to know. Some of the mysteries of nature are meant to stay that way.