Who knew a trip to the local grocery could turn into an exercise in self awareness? My only goal had been to avoid the Hostess aisle and scheme a way to quietly re-enter our home to put away the store brand items without Gorgeous seeing them (for some reason, she just won’t accept the fact that “Nutty Nuggets” are just as good as Grape Nuts). My errand run, however, turned into a mini-seminar on gender behavior. Or to be more specific, male behavior.
I’m also revealing here exactly how much of a nosy eavesdropper I am. The six of you out there can draw your own conclusions about that on your own time, though.
It was quite clear that the couple in front of me in the grocery line were having an argument. No social distancing on my part was going to prevent me from hearing everything they said, no matter how distracted and anonymous I was trying to act. Staring at my phone as if engrossed, I admit to listening intently to every word of theirs. Other people’s marital spats are intriguing. For me, it’s usually a moment when I can hold myself up to better standards. No one wouldn’t ever catch me acting like that!
The husband I thought came across as earnest and reflective, the wife harsh and dismissive. The issue at hand was their adult son’s impending divorce, plus the ensuing ramifications this might have on their immediate family. The husband wanted to arrange for professional counseling. The wife seemed intent on getting the son to find an apartment and move out of there, stat.
The husband was also focusing on financial details, worried that the son’s credit rating might later become adversely affected. With the introduction of this new tangent, money, his wife had heard enough. In a voice loud enough to be heard back in the meat department, she rasped…
“Stop the mansplaining already!”
It was a strategic discussion end-point on her part, a verbal crescendo positioned at the precise moment when it became their turn to start placing grocery items on the conveyer belt for the cashier. As all couples do, they worked in tandem to empty the cart, pay for everything, and exit the store, presumably to continue the conversation in the car. She placed a divider behind their items and mine, and nodded in recognition of the thanks I offered. I suppressed the urge to tell her of the Equifax hit I experienced after my own divorce ten years prior.
On the drive home, though, I pondered the woman’s invective to her husband. It seemed so cutting when all I could see was a father trying to salvage a son’s marriage, perhaps even attempting to protect a nuclear family that included children. Then again, maybe the woman was at the end of her rope, married to a controlling obsessive who is constantly putting his nose where it has no business being. That’s the thing about eavesdropping on strangers; one only gets but a smidgen of the full story.
“Stop the mansplaining already!”
I suddenly began to wonder: Do I mansplain? Have I ever mansplained?
Oh good, something new rather than covid to obsess about.
As soon as I got home I immediately asked Gorgeous for her opinion. I’ve consistently told her over the years that she’s getting the best version of me possible, the one who’s learned from earlier mistakes of what to say, not to say, when to offer suggestions, to keep quiet, etc. We have a marriage based on trust and truth. So clearly she’s the absolute best person to ask, right?
I had thoughts of an enlightening moment of faint praise for my male behavior traits, but I also held out for the possibility that their might be some constructive criticism too. Instead, it turned out to be a rather short conversation:
“Do I mansplain?“
“Sometimes, mmhmm. Yeah.“
“A lot? How often? Am I obnoxious about it?“
“I have to go back to work now. If you turn on the TV, can you keep it to a low volume please?“
Hmm. Lots to ponder there for another time perhaps.
Undeterred, I decided I needed a slightly larger sampling, so I made contact with three former female colleagues. One has known me since I was in my twenties and the other two from my forties. I asked all three women the same two questions: Did I mansplain during my career, and have I done so in emails or phone calls since retiring? I asked them to be frank and honest, and I also alerted that I would most likely use their comments in this post.
“T” responded with the following: “Your question is too cute and it is timely because there is a commercial on tv that uses the work mansplaining and I wasn’t sure what it meant, so just the other day I looked it up. This is too funny. You have NEVER mansplained anything to me. I can’t imagine you doing that to anyone.”
“H” wrote back and said, “Yes, ALL men, and I do mean ALL men mansplain. In some instances I don’t think it’s intended as a put down but they really feel they are helping. Some men truly believe a woman doesn’t have the ability to comprehend such world-shaping information, like how to properly peel an orange, and therefore they need to explain it to them. Women have various reactions. Some get angry, some feel degraded, and some just look at the jerk and think,“You’re the dumbsh*t here,” but keep that notion to themselves. So, yes, my dear, you have mansplained but you didn’t do it often and I didn’t take offense from you doing so.“
Additionally, H generously offered up an anecdote of mansplaining from her previous marriage: “I recall watching my then-husband and father-in-law trying to figure out why the new dryer vent hose wouldn’t reach the wall vent they needed to attach it to, how much hose they still needed, why the company didn’t give them enough hose, who would go to Lowe’s to get a longer one, and how much it will ultimately cost. I stared at them both in disbelief, finally telling them to just switch the dryer and washer places which would alleviate the problem. However ….. their ears weren’t able to hear a woman’s knowledgeable voice in such matters.“
Finally, I heard from “S” who responded with the following: “I’ve tried my damnedest to think of a time that you personally tried to mansplain something to me, and I can’t. The only reason I can think of why not is because with the exception of your knowledge of library science, barbecuing and how to make the perfect martini, you probably assumed I knew how to do or understood almost everything else, and if so, you are to be commended, sir. In the age of Google, mansplaining is even more of an insult unless the ‘splainer in question thinks you don’t know how to use the internet, which is highly unlikely unless you were born before 1920.”
S also gave an example from her previous marriage: “We were crossing the border by car from Canada into the U.S. with fresh salmon we’d bought while there. The last 10 miles was taken up with him explaining from every possible angle why we didn’t need to declare the fish, that he’s been dealing with customs officers all his life and I needed to trust that he knew what he was talking about. We got to the border, he filled out the paperwork, they asked to look in the trunk of the car, saw the fish and we were fined for not declaring it. I SO wanted to say to him after we drove away: “Who’s the dumb-ass now?” I didn’t. I figured there was a whole lot of open highway where my body could have been dumped before we got to our stop for the night.”
So I get a 50% mansplaining score here with two respondents reporting back that your humble blogger has mansplaining tendencies. I’ll leave it up to you, dear reader, to judge just how bad a score that is. It also appears that ex-husbands might get the worst scores in such a study.
My conclusion here? I remain a work in progress. I also promise to watch for tendencies to over-explain when speaking to females. Oh, and keep your mouth shut if you’re in the same grocery line as me.
Until next time…