I just had the perfect experience that summarizes mansplaining, and I am still seething.
If you’re not familiar with “mansplaining,” it’s when a man takes it upon himself to explain, often in a patronizing manner, something to a woman, and often he’s telling her something incorrect or that she already knows. The term was coined because of Rebecca Solnit’s fabulous essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” in which a man at a party started unknowingly describing her own book to her, a book he hadn’t even bothered to read.
My own experience came when I went into GameStop today to buy a gift card. I play games. I love gaming. I frequent GameStop and I haven’t once had a negative experience in their stores, but as I crossed the threshold to purchase my gift card, I had a nagging feeling that something bad would happen to me, a girl purchasing not games, but a gift for another gamer.
It started when a customer, standing at the counter, asked what I was in for. I told the clerk a gift card and he walked to the back of the store, I assumed to get one. But the customer was standing near a rack of gift cards and offered me one, as I reached for it, he pulled it back and sort of laughed, joking with me as if we were flirting. But the message was clear: I was the “little lady” and he was in charge of the situation. I tried to smile and be polite, hoping if I played the role he expected me to, he would knock it off.
The clerk returned with a holiday gift card, and I turned my attention to him, hoping not to interact with the presumptuous customer anymore. He rang me up and we discussed holiday shopping, the rising cost of books. I told him how when I lived in France, paperbacks only cost a couple euro, as opposed to the ten or fifteen dollars you have to drop on paperbacks in the US. The customer butted in to say, “That’s still four bucks.”
I turned a dead stare on him. I was totally done humoring this man, who was smiling smugly as if he’d outsmarted me, put me in my place.
“Yeah, but that’s compared to twelve dollars for a cheaper book here,” I said.
“Which is like six euro,” the clerk added helpfully, I suppose in case this man were struggling with division.
I thanked him and left the store, full of anger. From the minute I walked into the store, this man turned his attention on me, and I would have been happy to interact with him if he hadn’t been constantly humiliating me and seeking to put me down. He tried to explain international currencies to me when I brought the topic up and demonstrated a history of dealing with other country’s monies.
I was mansplained at a GameStop, and as a girl who games, this was one incident that made me feel unwelcome and unsafe. If one good thing came out of this, I’m grateful for the clerk, who made me feel welcome, equal and respected.