Yesterday, I decided I would try (at least for the next couple of weeks) to wake up early (6 or 7) and go to bed early (10 ish) to see how it feels and to give myself some time in the morning to wake up and just experience the morning without talking to anyone else.
Now, it’s day two of going to bed early and I just got home at 11:15 because I was busy at a mansplaining session. This particular mansplanation was a better than average one to analyze for a couple of reasons. First, I saw it coming from a mile (or more) away. “Oh, you’re American? From Colorado? What’s the income tax there?” Don’t know why anyone would ask that before something like “What are you doing in Denmark?” or “I think I’ve heard of that–it’s the one with the mountains/weed/Boulder, right?” unless they’re preparing for an extra long discussion about American income taxes. Strange thing for a Danish chemical engineer to be such an expert on, but what do I know? I’m just a girl.
Second, this mansplanation went on for a very very long time, and I was a captive audience, doing dishes at the rowing club I just joined. That meant I had lots of time to analyze exactly what was going on, from what he said, to how I reacted, to what he said again. Lucky for me, I’m an anthropology geek, a feminist, AND an optimist, so instead of seeing this as the annoying situation that it was, I allowed myself to create the field around me and to use my observation skills to figure out what was really happening and why. In that sense, the longevity of the ‘conversation’ was optimal. Also, just a quick note on my interest in feminism–it’s fairly easy to specialize in anything having to do with women when you are a woman. You don’t even have to try and you suddenly have weird stuff happening to you.
Anyway. I guess I’ll start from the beginning.
He walks in, greets the other guy working in Danish. I do a little head bob that means “Hi, I acknowledge your presence, but I’m not going to say anything because then you’ll know I don’t speak Danish and I haven’t decided we’re going to be in the same room long enough to have that conversation”. I keep doing the dishes. They chat a bit in Danish. Then he says something to me, not sure what language it’s in over the noise of the kitchen. So I go closer and say “Was that in Danish or English because I don’t speak Danish.” He tells me it was in Russian and then asks me about the income tax in Colorado.
I tell him I don’t know or think much about the income tax in Colorado because I don’t really have an income and so it doesn’t affect me all that much at the moment. He counters that with a “Yes it does”, asks what I think about Reagan and Woodrow Wilson, and then guesses that I’ll probably be voting for Hilary. Got that one right at least. At this point, he’s name dropping both American politicians and economists from various places, as well as explaining the difference between the Chicago school of Economics and the Austrian one. I don’t really know how we (he?) got onto that topic. But I was feeling a bit uncomfortable because a) I didn’t really feel like talking about it b) I don’t know that many details about all these economists, and c) I think usually when people are mansplaining it’s because they’re hitting on you. C is of course nothing you would want to assume outright, so you have to play it cool and act like you’re just having a conversation even if you’re pretty sure you’re not. Also though, because you’re the girl and therefore the one learning and therefore on the lower end of the power spectrum in this (and other) situations, it’s probably a good idea to keep your guard up just in case C is what’s happening. So be sure not to show too much interest, but just enough that you’re being friendly. And smile and/or laugh on cue, but not in a flirty way because you’re not trying to flirt because he’s probably not hitting on you anyway.
SPOILER ALERT: HE’S ALMOST ALWAYS HITTING ON YOU
So anyway, I keep doing dishes, trying not to flirt but also laughing sort of nervously because all of the things I just listed are going through my head and it’s kind of hard to control nervous reactions when you’re just feeling a little nervous. And sometimes people you just meet can’t tell the difference between a nervous laugh and a flirty laugh because in a lot of ways they’re really similar.
Then he tells me I should come up with three stories: a good one, a bad one, and a fairy tale. Make sure they’re American. OK, fine. I can do that. It’ll keep the time going. I thought of some stories (definitely not my best ones but I guess they count because they’re American) and started to tell them. At some point during this exchange, the kitchen closes and the other guy (non-mansplainer) leaves for the night. So then I’m in the kitchen alone with this guy. And it’s raining kind of hard so I don’t want to bike home in the rain which makes me even more stuck.
This is when the good stuff started. “I wish I had time to teach this (economics and why big government is bad) to you!” “The New Deal didn’t help anyone” “If you only understood why equal pay laws are actually hurting everyone” etc. etc. etc. etc. I honestly don’t know what question I asked to get this all started. He did call it a lecture at one point. He mentioned multiple times that he was teaching me. I said a few sentences, but the prize in feminist anthropology I just won gave me no points against his arguments about whether and how women were discriminated against.
And then, and here’s the best part, after about an hour or maybe a bit more:
“Can I show you my home town?”
It came out of nowhere, and I wasn’t sure at first what he was asking. He had to clarify:
“Katherine, I’m asking you on a date.”
My response to all of this is perhaps more interesting than the fact that it actually happened. My ‘ideal’ feminist self would have left and biked home in the rain and maybe not done the nervous laugh that mis-led him. And my ideal feminist self definitely would have said something other than “Oh…uh…I have a boyfriend”as if that were the only reason I didn’t want to go on a date with him. It turns out though, that because he was controlling the situation from the very beginning, my ideal feminst got a little lost. It takes so much more energy to be the ideal feminist than to just go along with it. And as noted above, I just wasn’t really in the mood to talk about any of this tonight (or any night when I’m just trying to do the dishes) His name dropping reminded me that anything I might know probably isn’t so important (Taylor Swift once said “Why do you have to make me feel small so you can feel whole inside?”). Talking incessantly is a huge boost for his confidence and a giant feeling of me not knowing anything even though there were clearly some holes in his argument.
I actually went away from this whole situation feeling like he had proven me wrong about something. Luckily, I quickly remembered that I hadn’t said anything so there was nothing really for him to prove wrong. But still…what an incredible rush it must be to feel like you can prove someone wrong without even knowing what they think (other than equal pay is good and cops shooting black men is bad–I did get those points across).
Although this chemical engineer may be a pro on American economic theory, he definitely didn’t notice how little I said over the course of those 2 hours.
“I just feel like a sponge when I’m around Americans-I love the culture and hearing what they think”.
“You feel like a sponge?”
“Hm. I need to go to bed…did it stop raining yet?”