Gender Politics at the Coffee Shop

“You’re about to find out who I am!”

A random encounter with a stranger in a coffee shop led me down an emotional rabbit hole.

I am 36 and single, never married and no kids. On my better days, I am proud to describe myself as an entrepreneur, yogi, world traveler, good friend, supportive family member and overall decent human being.

While waiting eagerly in line to pick up a cold brew coffee and locally sourced croissant at my favorite hipster coffee shop, an older man in front of me struck up a conversation.

Apropos of nothing, he offered me a “buy 10 get 1 free” coffee card which I could have just as easily obtained at the register.

Then, the mansplaining began. Dictionary.com defines mansplaining as: the explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.

“When I was your age, this is how I got ahead,” he began, “I saved money and was careful and that is how I got where I am today.” Where he was today, aside from in line for organic cruellers, was not clear but the subtext read that I should be impressed.

I grew increasingly impatient, pasting on my most patient, Waspy, well-mannered smile while he droned on. The seemingly ordinary gentleman, somewhere in his mid-to late 70s, launched into a rant aimed at “people my age,” do not know how to interview for jobs.

I tuned him out from there, but if memory serves there were snippets about a lack of work ethic and a bevy of unwanted advice as to how I can get ahead in life and get a good job.

Yikes. My blood begin to boil as I realize how patronizing this little interaction had become.

As it happens, I run a successful Recruiting business and have made my living helping people prepare for interviews and land jobs for the past 15 years.

Mansplaining typically does not involve listening or asking the other party any questions about him or herself. Had this gentleman let me get a word in edgewise, I would have certainly offered him a few “interview tips” of my own.

In my pink J. Crew jean skirt and ponytail that Saturday morning, I may have looked a bit younger than my 36 years. However, I don’t think I should have to roll around on a Saturday morning and a power skirt-suit and Jimmy Choo’s to ward off unwanted male diatribes.

Perhaps my predilection towards 90’s throwback fashion gave him the wrong idea, but in reality I own two rental properties, have a healthy retirement account and no debt outside of mortgage payments. Every penny was earned in the Recruiting business.

I.E. Coaching people on how to land better jobs.

The stark reality: this man took one look at me and assumed I was not capable of handling a job interview let alone running a business and a diversified investment portfolio.

The coffee shop line was long that Saturday morning, and I was trapped in an uncomfortable yet all too familiar situation. He continued talking at me for several interminably long minutes, and it took every ounce of my self-discipline to refrain from putting him in his place.

I gave up on eye contact and my Miss Manners smile, grabbed my coffee and brown bag doughnut and darted out the door. My lovely Saturday morning had suddenly gone south.

I spent the rest of the weekend feeling frustrated and“less than.” After rehashing the incident a few times over, I realized that I was frustrated with myself.

Instead of owning my frustration at his assumptive and patronizing behavior, I loud a total stranger to strike a blow to my self-esteem and diminish my accomplishments, simply by saying nothing.

In retrospect, I wish I had at least tried to engage in a real conversation to explore his gender bias and set the record straight.

I held back from sharing my truth rather than correct or educate, because I did not want to come off as defensive, rude or angry. As we know, assertive women are considered angry and thus unattractive. Too many years of social conditioning had ingrained this false belief into my psyche.

If I’m being honest, maybe I was a little angry about the whole thing.

Like a seasoned actress, which I suppose most women are, I slipped so easily into the role of a smiling, docile female.

It was as if I had invisible tape over my mouth, as this complete stranger talked down to me on subjects in which I am quite well-versed. Thanks to childhood and societal training, my reflex was to spare this man’s feelings and ego to the detriment of my own.

Maybe this was the kind thing to do, but sometimes kind can be bullshit.

I colluded with the gender stereotype that a blonde young(ish) woman must be financially incompetent, struggling in her career and surely in need of advice from an older male. I replayed the scenario in my mind over and over, so that I will be fully prepared to respond next time I am underestimated by a male who knows nothing about me.

A few options that came to mind include:

Option 1: The Bratty Teenager

Interrupt his monologue, stomp my foot for emphasis and then say “Listen Mr., I am 36 years old and I am successful. Just because I am a woman does not mean I need your advice. I could probably give you some advice!!!

Option 2: The Reese Witherspoon, circa 2003

Toss my business card at him and begin shouting “You’re about to find out who I am!!!”

Option 3: The Ice Queen

Calmly interrupt, and coolly explain that I am in fact 36 years old, a successful entrepreneur with a healthy IRA and two properties as well as an *expert* on best interviewing practices. Offer to send him a few links to my website, industry magazine features and podcast appearances.

Insert Blonde Joke.

I still have not decided which of these responses would have been most satisfying, but I sure hope that next time I am in this sort of situation I will peel off the invisible tape and calmly engage the other party in a meaningful conversation.

Ideally, I will ask, “Why do you assume that I need financial advice? Would you like to hear about my business, I am really proud of it?!”

Whatever my response, I’ll offer it with a smile. As they say, happiness is the best revenge.

Writer, Empath, Observer of the Human Condition @instagram/vivien_grace vivgrace.com

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