A little boy, maybe 4 or 5 years old, walked into a restaurant at 2:00 p.m., followed by his frazzled mother. I was the only customer remaining in that restaurant. My computer, a pot of half-drunk tea, and a signed credit card slip were the only items on my table.
The thinned-out waitstaff was in the back, prepping for the dinner rush, though they regularly came out to check on me.
I go to this restaurant, my local source of Thai food, regularly. They always welcome me to stay a while, and I often do. I realize it’s not a library, and sometimes it remains busy and loud well into the afternoon, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take to get some good food, hot tea, and some work in simultaneously.
The boy, let’s call him Donald, was impatient. He didn’t want to wait for someone to welcome him. He wanted—seemed to expect—attention immediately.
The mother looked at me and asked, “Is there anyone working here?”
“Yes,” I replied. “They’re in the back. They’ll be out shortly.”
Donald didn’t care. He grabbed a menu from atop the front desk, and wandered around the restaurant, touching the napkins, his head held up like a young prince.
The mother, still by the desk, turned to me again: “Should we seat ourselves?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I suppose you could. But they should be out just in a minute or so.”
“I wanna sit here!” After Donald had inspected all the tables personally, he chose the table right next to mine. I looked pleadingly at the mother.
“No, no, no. Not there,” she said, a hint of apology in her voice. “That lady is working.”
“Here! Here! I want to sit here!” he demanded.
“No, honey, let her work, okay, sweetie? Oh, look over here, Donald, isn’t this a nice table?”
The server came out from the kitchen to the scene of this boy, with menu in hand, crawling into the booth beside me, his mom entirely helpless behind him.
“Two?” she asked politely.
“Yes, can we just sit anywhere?” the mother asked, a little embarrassingly. I know she was embarrassed, because I’m familiar with that embarrassed mother tone of voice.
“Yes, if you like,” the server replied.
“Honey, how about there?” The mother pointed to a table across the restaurant. The boy plodded behind her, head down, and the server followed behind them. I could feel the mother’s relief that for now, the fight was over. She pulled out toys from her purse—trucks, cars, tracks—to distract him from his loss. I went gratefully back to work.
With all that’s happening in our world, I can see how this story could be written off as a trivial compliant and undue judgment. I admit I’m probably missing all kinds of context to this story. But there are too many hints hidden within this story about the influences that shape masculinity in our society from our earliest ages for a philosopher-type like me to ignore.
Growing up female in our culture, we learn to wait our turn. We stand quietly in lines, and rarely argue if someone cuts in front of us. Even as an adult, it takes courage for me to say, “I was here next,” at a check-out counter, or wave down a bartender from down below most men’s shoulders. I’ve never known a man who had trouble making his presence known.
As girls, we learn not to impose our bodies on other people’s spaces. Grabbing someone’s butt? Are you kidding me? I was a yoga teacher for ten years; I learned to not even touch someone’s foot without permission.
As far as going out to eat, we’ve done that as a family since our two daughters were infants. We’ve willingly left restaurants, and food behind, when their behavior made others’ dining experience uncomfortable.
As girls and then women, we willingly squeeze ourselves into the middle seat, into the back row, into the corner. We know how to stay small, quiet, invisible. We’ve done it our whole lives.
Seeing the miniature version of male entitlement made me realize that the men being called out today for inappropriate behavior likely had their desires and whims go unchecked, even catered to, since they were little boys. We are witnessing what can become of these boys once given power over others.
Once, when my husband and I were still in our first years of marriage, he commented/complained that he’d believed that once he was married, he’d get sex every night. If I remember correctly, at the time he said this, my breasts were still leaking with milk anytime he touched them.
Programmed from childhood to feel guilt when a man’s needs were unsatisfied, I first said, “I’m sorry,” but then I asked, “Who told you that?”
“No one told me that,” he shrugged. “It’s just what I thought would happen.”
“You poor guy, you had to learn the hard way,” I teased.
Maybe someone can tell me where men get this kind of information. Or, maybe we can blame it on video games, sports, pornography, or locker rooms. But I think it’s both bigger and subtler than that. The entitlement that some men feel over spaces, for jobs, to women’s bodies, to sexual intercourse, comes from a story both men and women know well: a persistent and permeable societal story that too often boils down to “Men: To prove your strength, take what you want, when you want it.”
To varying degrees, both men and women participate in this collective societal story. This story guides the marketing that pushes guns, cars, and fighting to boys, while selling Barbies and cooking sets to girls. This story tells boys that if they become rich and successful, they will “get” the beautiful girl, the car, and all the sex they could ever want. This story is the peddler of the “Boys will be boys” mantra. What is the grown-up version of “boys will be boys”, one might wonder? Look no further than a new book by Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie. It’s entitled Let Trump be Trump. When people suggest that Donald Trump is a symptom of our problems, not the cause of them, I agree wildly. He’s a shameless result of a distorted cultural story about masculinity and strength.
“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare said. Like a play, many of us have unconsciously followed the scripts handed to us by our culture about the roles and characteristics of men and women, with each of us holding minor or major roles as parents, teachers, or spouses to pass the stories on, intact, generation after generation.
Well, not anymore. It’s time to change the narrative about what it means to a man. A good start would be informing the little boy who wishes to be seated right now, at the table of his choosing, no matter the inconvenience to others, that he must wait patiently, like anyone else, and then, if he wishes to choose his seat, he should ask politely.
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