It was a Tuesday evening in Western Mass, and I was working the dinner shift at my hostess job here, while at school. While my back is to the door, in come my two old friends from my early days at UMass, shocking me out of my usual routine of answering the phone and disinfecting menus. I hadn’t talked to these people in a year, and I had a lot of anxiety associated with them. I awkwardly said “Hello,” and in my flustered state, sat them at the table closest to the host stand, so I was awkwardly watching them eat their dinner while they watched me do my job. After laughing at my bad luck with the servers who were on that night, I got out my phone to text the group message of four other hosts who worked at the restaurant (none of whom were working that night), to vent about my awkwardness to them as well. After a couple of standards, “OMGs” from the girls I work with, the only male host at this restaurant responded, AND I QUOTE, with:
“In the restaurant industry, you gotta be prepared to see all kinds of people, and sometimes it can be ‘awk’ like that.”
I stared at my phone, unsure why my blood suddenly started to boil at his response. I couldn’t seem to articulate why it pissed me off so much. It wasn’t that deep! I was just feeling awkward! I don’t care a single bit about the restaurant industry! Then it hit me: I had just been mansplained to.
Now, mansplaining had never been a term I understood before working at my wonderful part-time job this semester. Call me naive, but despite 100% being on the woman’s side whenever I heard anyone complain about being mansplaining, I didn’t really get it. When I pictured the phenomenon, I pictured my dad launching into a lecture on the diet of the seagull we were watching on the beach. Annoying, yes; but he’s my dad, and he’s—in general—a lecturer-type person, and, if I had to admit it, he usually has something smart to say.
This context was completely different. My coworker was the same age as me, had been working there for less time than me, and totally just thinks he’s the “nice guy” every girl needs. Mansplaining is defined by Merriam-Webster as “To explain something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic.” TELL ME THAT TEXT WASN’T MANSPLAINING. YOU CAN’T!
Since the loss of my mansplaining-virginity, I have developed a clear formula to determine when you are, in fact, being mansplained to. In my experience, it can easily be identified when a man explains something to you, and in your head, you’re just thinking “Why is he going through all this, I literally knew all this months ago.” Bingo! Mansplaining.
As a woman in college, there is a lot of sexism we face on a daily basis. The frat party formula is, as we know, extremely sexist, and yet, somehow, frat parties don’t get me mad the way my coworker does. Maybe it’s that frat parties don’t seem like a part of real life, whereas the workplace is central to real-life. Maybe it’s that drunk men tend to be really obvious with their misogyny, whereas these are small incidents that make you feel crazy for getting angry. Maybe it’s that I feel as though I have no power to prevent or fight against it. You can yell at a frat guy but yelling at your coworker is harder. And at the end of the day, someone having sexist vibes is not a crime, but it is miserable to be around.
I have the utmost confidence that the coworker who sent me that text will go his whole life never realizing how uncomfortable and angry he made me and my other female coworkers at his part-time college job. When we argue about the idea of: “Not all men!” it is important to remember the men that have made a woman’s blood boil but will never know. Making hundreds of dollars in tips isn’t the only thing I’ve gained from this job, it has also been my first true foray into a culture I had been lucky enough to never have experienced before. What I have experienced is not sexual assault or even harassment, it is nothing compared to what millions of women face every day. Yet, I think that’s why it is important for me to write about it. It is important for all of us to discuss these issues, and validate the frustrating experiences of all women.
On my last shift, my fellow hostess was excited to show me an article she had screenshotted on her phone. It was about the way men sometimes touch your back to get by you, and the article was a deeper, feminist look into the tiny, repeated non-consensual touches that women do not feel entitled to say “No” to. “I want to read the whole thing!” she told me enthusiastically. It struck me later how sad this was. We are both 19-years-old, we have grown up in a generation that was empowered by the Women’s March, disgusted when the tape of Donald Trump on the bus came out while we were in high school, and watched in awe as the #MeToo movement took the adult world by storm. Six months ago, she would’ve probably scrolled past that article without a second look. While I hope all college-aged women reading this don’t have the same experience, I think you will eventually.
I guess that’s a part of growing up.