the man at the pub: a story of casual sexism
I was having dinner in a cosy, welcoming pub with my family when a loud voice, belonging to the burly man seated behind us, interrupted our conversation. He was with a young couple, aged about 30, and their two young boys who had long hair and looked around the ages of eight and six. Each child was glued to a Nintendo DS and so, in a bid to converse with the older boy, the man thought he’d lay down some masculine bravado.
‘You’re a girl,’ he started.
At first the boy attempted to politely ignore the man until his voice got louder, carrying through the pub.
‘I know you’re a girl. You’re a girl if you like those things. I live with my wife and daughter, I know exactly what women are like,’ he said. ‘You don’t want to get with one of them. They tell you what to do, they steal all your money. You’re better off without them.’
I waited for the mother to protest but instead she just sank deeper into her chair and focused her gaze down at the table.The man’s taunting continued after the boy replied that he ‘didn’t like girls’ and he was ‘never going to get married’. Finally, when the man had finished his peacocking routine and convinced the boy that women are soul sucking creatures created to burden men, the boy’s father joined the conversation.
With a strong Australian accent the father contributed, ‘I don’t know why everyone’s makin’ a huge deal over this Melbourne cup thing. I mean get over it.’
I threw some considerable shade in his direction and swallowed my rage. The words ‘the first female jockey in 155 years’ with some expletives in between were hushed only by gritting my teeth.
My own father turned to me at the table and said, ‘We’ll talk about it later.’ We didn’t.
The thing that upset me most about the experience wasn’t just the extremely misogynistic stereotypes, the blinding ignorance of both men and their idiotic competition to have the loudest voice and therefore, the most manly, important voice in the room. It was the image that I couldn’t shake off of the two boys, akin to sponges, absorbing the words of a man who seemed desperate to indoctrinate them with backward ideas of gender and what it means.
What also struck me was their mother. I was confused by her silence throughout the dinner; her reluctance to correct the man and her failure to even stand up for her sons when they were being ridiculed. The feeling I got was a familiar and awfully instinctual feeling: this woman believed every word being spoken at the dinner table.
It should not be acceptable to voice such degrading views about women in public. The unbelievable thing is that the reason I didn’t intervene was because I didn’t want to ruin their dinner or their time with each other. I was being polite, while I sat with shaking hands and a warm ball of guilt in the pit of my stomach. Hadn’t they ruined my dinner with their obnoxious words and misinformed views?
That night I left with a simple wish in my mind: for young men to be nurtured, loved and freed of gender expectations. I have seen countless examples of the danger that this type of masculine bravado causes. It’s not a running joke, it’s not something to shake off and it is never something that should be associated with “manning up”.
If I could have said something to that man in the pub, I would have told him that words are powerful and not something to be scoffed at. I suspect that he may have his own issues with gender expectations, paired with a deep-seated fear of “being feminine” lodged inside his subconscious. But I think we’ve pitied the privileged for too long. Man in the pub, stop transferring your own identity crises onto younger men who mistake your forced, manly voice as one of authority and righteousness. It is not your job to mould children into what you think they should be.