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This morning's experiment


Walking from the bus to the office this morning, I tried an experiment. Instead of shifting my shoulders to avoid walking into people, I kept them square, and walked without dodging, head up, making eye contact. I wanted to see how many people would move out of my way. I walked in a straight line, to the right side of the sidewalk (as customarily expected, since we drive on the right here, too).

I walked into four people in the 200 meters between the bus stop and the office door. Six people swerved their shoulders to avoid me. One person walked into my shoulder so hard that we bounced off each other, both of our left shoulders hitting hard enough to hurt my already injured left shoulder.

What I found of particular note is that EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO WALKED INTO ME WAS MALE. Every person who avoided me was female.

Normally, I will swerve my shoulders to avoid walking into people. I will adjust my walking away from straight ahead so that we do not walk into each other, drifting to the side. In large crowds, I will twist my shoulders to avoid contact.

I am speculating here and about to do a gross generalization, but based on my empirical evidence this morning, women do this. We will accommodate the male, and twist away to avoid contact. This is a socially acceptable practice. Women defer to men in the physical realm. (Yes, totally a gross exaggeration, not all women. give me a break, you know that is an a--hole thing to say, of course not all women, I'm talking socially acceptable practices ingrained into little girls' heads that they defer to men.)

This morning, when I didn't follow that socially acceptable practice, I was physically hurt. I did it by choice, completely worthy of an experiment's results. I find my results fascinating. Before you tell me I was an asshole for not swerving, why did none of the men swerve, but all of the women did? Was it because of my gender? Because of my size? Because of my eye contact?

I would very much like to try this again with other subjects: a small man not deferring and a large man not deferring, to start. See if physical size has something to do with these results, and not just gender. My theory is, clearly, gender bias.


I've actually tried a variation on this experiment, where I stick clearly to the right side of traffic (for the obvious reason you state), and then refuse to move out of people's way who are oncoming in my 'lane'. My results were different. Most often, I have been struck by women (or the bags they are carrying). Often this happens when there are two or more of them coming down the sidewalk, talking to each other side-by-side. Clearly, they assume I should walk in the grass or traffic or merge with a concrete building so that their conversation is not affected. And many of the times, when I haven't moved and either their shoulder or purse or bag has been banged, I have heard a vocal exclamation of surprise and irritation.

You ask why, and I'm not sure I would presume to guess that. My working hypothesis is that certain women (see your disclaimer above) presume that a man will automatically defer to her, regardless of whether she's being inconsiderate or not. While sometimes I bump into men, what I've discovered is that most men will shift a little bit to avoid contact, sort of a pedestrian game of chicken, in more than one sense of the word.

I'll state that be default I defer to others in traffic. I shift my shoulders and accommodate people (both genders). But there are times when I get really irritated with how clueless and self-absorbed people are, and their assumption that though they are *clearly* out of their 'lane', everyone else should just move aside. Probably not the best rationale for conducting experiments, but, c'est la vie.

So did you apologize or make any other acknowledgment after contact, or simply keep on keepin' on?

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