My husband and I met my parents and cousin at a very popular Chinese restaurant on a day off to have lunch together as a family.
I was excited for a pretty chilled out twenty four hours. We’d set our schedule of bonding for the day, starting with family and ending with friends. I had decided ahead of time that I wouldn’t indulge in the fried spring rolls or the shrimp toast so that I can be careful with my calorie intake, especially at a restaurant where people tend to order plates to share rather than plates per person. It’s easy to lose track. I told myself to make good food decisions and to drink lots of water. I told myself to make pleasant conversation with my parents and my cousin. I told myself that we’d be out within an hour and a half, in time to grab a cake to celebrate my friend’s birthday later that evening.
I just wanted to have a nice meal with my family.
It started out pleasantly enough. My family and I discussed the pros and cons of the upcoming Women Power Summit, whether it’s better to work full-time or as a freelancer, and how to pronounce GIF.
The owner is known to visit tables to say hello and make light conversation with his customers whenever he’s around. It’s good for business. He comes by and does exactly that. He talks about his dog, which is nice. He talks about how he still teases his wife and that’s a sign of a strong relationship because any communication in a marriage means the marriage is successful, and no communication means it’s dead. This is problematic but I nod and drink my water anyway. He talks about how his daughter used to dress in all black so her parents needed her to get a boyfriend so she can “prove that she’s a girl! But once she proved it, we told her never to get a boyfriend, haha!” This is strange because... what does that even mean? At this point, I’d emptied my glass of water and stole my husband’s full glass in order to distract myself with hydration so that I don’t make a face reacting to his statements. I think he says something about gender-neutral bathrooms. “You drink a lot of water,” he says. “Yes, I do.”
I don’t remember how, but my parents and the owner end up discussing music, and how “hehe, kids these days. But once upon a time, we were ‘kids these days’! Ugh time flies.” They say that the 80’s were the golden age of music. I laugh and say “80’s music sucks.” I don’t think this, but thought it was a funny retort because these same grown-ups had just said that all parents think they have good music while all children think their parents' music sucks. This felt like the least offensive discussion I could engage in, in light of his previous anecdotes. We go back and forth in relaxed conversation, until he says that he listens to hip-hop, "by the way." I smile and say “That’s cool.” He points to me in a way to suggest, “You’re a troublemaker, huh?” Not sure why. I just drank lots of water and made any tiny contribution to the conversation that I could make so as not to seem rude by completely ignoring this man as he droned on and on at our table.
I just wanted to have a nice meal with my family.
I’m not sure why, but he comes back, standing over us as we tried to eat food that took a little longer than it should. I’m not sure how, but his anecdotes lead to his talking about how men can withstand all pain, but when they have the flu, they become babies because they yearn for their mothers’ attention. Okay. I want to point out that girls yearn for their parents’ attention too? Not sure if he thinks moms ignore their daughters when they have the flu. Instead, I drink my mom’s glass of water and look away. It’s not worth it. My parents are very polite. They just want to bond with their kid, son in law, and nephew. But they engage him anyway. Again, I’m not sure how we got there, but the owner felt like he needed to definitively say, as if he was building up to this moment for some time now, that women cannot tolerate pain. I decided it was now safe for me to tell him (politely) that that’s ridiculous, so that he could say. “Really? Haha you’re crazy, kid. Enjoy what’s left of your lunch,” and leave us alone. Once and for all.
At this point, it’s all a blur, and it got heated. I just wanted to have a nice meal with my family.
I ask him when the last time was that he squeezed a human being out of his body after carrying its weight for almost a year, he said that this was the exception. Somehow, I am biologically capable of lifting weights for the better part of a year without rest, only to push out an entire living creature using only my insides, but I can’t take a punch to the face. Anyway, it didn’t matter. Because as I respond, he changes the subject. Almost as if he’s been carrying around a little notebook of offensive thoughts that he just needed to unload on someone after all these years. He says that nature dictates that a woman must raise the children. I tell him that if we leave everything up to nature without question, we wouldn’t be driving cars or operating hospitals. He says that there are genetic predispositions. I tell him that there are genetic predispositions to obesity and mental illness, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it. He asks if I think technology is the solution. I tell him he wouldn’t have his restaurant without technology. He scoffs and says, “if technology means there’s no more sex, is that okay?” I say sure. If technology makes it so that I don’t have to pee every five minutes, bring it on (I don’t say this. I wish I had). He says, “Then who will raise the children?” What? I say fathers.
I realize that this is irrelevant to his point about technology, but this guy’s just spewing irrelevant statement after statement at the speed of light. It’s difficult to keep up and respond one by one. So you make responses where you can. He keeps repeating “you’re wrong, I’ll tell you why,” or “let me give you an example.” All his examples have nothing to do with each other. They are also not examples, they are rhetorical questions. I repeat that he should read some research and that a lot of his statements have no basis in science if he’d take a minute to do some work. He says he doesn’t need to read, because as soon as his wife quit Facebook, she was so much less stressed than she was before. I tell him that if he did any research, he’d see the recent papers that show that people’s happiness also decreases when they close social media accounts for long periods of time. He laughs and says it’s because we’re addicted, as if his point has been made. This man does not understand addiction. But there’s no time. Speed of light.
I tell him that we need to adapt to new technology, and not reject it. He says I sound American, and that I basically just said, “guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Husband is agitated and points out that guns were literally invented to kill things. I agree that this man’s analogy is ridiculous. He tells me that I’m just being politically correct, grinning as if he’d finally said something of value to me. I tell him not to invalidate my opinions and brush off my entire argument.
I ask him what his point is, and why he brought us here from discussing pain tolerance. He brings back motherhood, and how a woman must “rear” the child. I tell him that being a mom doesn’t automatically make you a good parent, that there are plenty of bad moms out there. He says that I’m pointing out the exceptions. I tell him that all his arguments are based on exceptions. That he’s reducing half the population, billions of people, to one idea. My father tries to diffuse the situation by telling me that just because something should be, doesn’t mean that it currently is in the society that we live in today. I wholeheartedly agree and exclaim that that’s my point. We need to challenge what we teach our children. I don’t say that we need to make sure this man’s garbage should stop getting ingrained into his kids. I also point out that he isn’t talking about society at all, but the all-governing power of nature. I ask him if nature has spoken to him directly. He asks me if I blame society for its faults, I say yes, because a lot of how we think is engraved in us from what we’ve been taught. He laughs and says, “So you’re telling me, that everything you think is because of what you learned?” Yes. I don’t tell him that that’s literally how a brain works. There’s no time.
The main course has already been cleaned from our table, and I realize that we’ve emptied the restaurant and there are no other tables left. We’re talking at each other very loudly. He tells me that indeed women are capable of making good decisions, but only in certain situations (I swear to you that there is no transition between these statements). I tell him that’s ridiculous because different people are qualified for different things and their gender is irrelevant. He says that women are emotional. I tell him that men are emotional. He is standing above our table. I hear my mom angrily grumble, “ugh, bas!” I agree. I didn’t eat enough pineapple rice. And now the pineapple rice is gone, because this middle-aged entitled man is towering above me, asking me if I’d be okay with women building bridges (What?). I look at him incredulously and say, “What? Yes.” He asks me why many men in Bahrain wouldn’t volunteer to be stay-at-home dads, I tell him it’s because we are raised that way. He scoffs. Husband says, “If you spend your life buying your son toy cars and soccer balls and your daughter makeup toys and baby dolls... can you really wonder why your daughter doesn’t want to play football?”
“So you’re blaming men, then?” I don’t say yes. I tell him it’s “society.” Society dominated by men. He says, “used to be dominated by men.” I don’t tell him that he needs to read a newspaper eventually. But my husband laughs and tells him to check photos of all the boards of directors in the country and count the women he could find. He’s already moved on, because now he’s telling me that there’s a movement called “feminism, and do you know why it died a long time ago?” I tell him feminism is alive and kicking. He shakes his head. Of course, I tell him, you must know way more about feminism than _I_ do. He tells me it isn’t alive. I tell him that I participate in the basic usage of the internet and can see clearly that he’s wrong. He ignores me and says feminism is dead because “they focused too much on resisting and challenging, they’re always fighting.” Apparently, this man thinks that if we had just asked nicely from the beginning, everything would have been fine. I wish I had time… I ask him if the Civil Rights Movement could have succeeded without resistance of the status quo from the black community. I ask him if women could have gotten the right to vote without resistance. He asks, “Okay, and what did you gain from that?” I stare at him. This guy…
He says that women actually lose rights by demanding equal rights (??). I don’t give him time to explain. I tell him that this sentence is bullshit and the loss of privilege is not the same as the loss of rights. He moves on to his next point. I suspect that this man does not know the difference between privileges and rights. My husband tells him that Bill Cosby has been a monster for decades, and no one was able to do anything until today (and barely). This is the work of feminism, and this is the toxicity of the patriarchy that stops women from even reporting sexual assault. He says sexual assault is irrelevant to feminism. I tell him that over 90% of sexual assault happens to women. I don’t say, “you dumb shit.” He asks why we’re not fighting for paternity leave. I tell him that we are, and I’m not sure why he’s assuming that we aren’t, but he doesn’t give me time. Fried banana ice cream arrives at the table and is slowly eaten by my exhausted parents and cousin. He tells me that in China, if you run over someone, you need to run over them again to make sure that they’re dead. I silently wonder if his daughter ever told him about Reddit.
He asks my husband and I why we can’t fight for everyone’s rights. I say that we are. I tell him that this is intersectional feminism, but he doesn’t ask about big words. I tell him that we’re fighting for everyone’s rights. He talks about the caste system in India and how it has nothing to do with gender. I tell him it’s certainly a complicated world with a lot of issues to address. He says a priest just got charged for raping a child, and that means the world has finally woken up. It’s about human decency, not feminism. He doesn’t give me time to unravel this. I tell him people and children are getting raped everyday with no consequence. He starts to talk about how awful it is for a grown up to sexually assault a child, “can you imagine?” I tell him that that’s why we need to challenge the way things are. He triumphantly says that after his baby was born, he made his wife go to work, not because he needed her income, but so that she can “feel like she achieved something.” I say, “You ‘let her’?” He proudly says that she didn’t want to, so he had to push her. I tell him that if she wanted to stay home, she should have stayed home. He looks at me like I just went against my own argument. I realize that he hasn’t been listening to me at all. I repeat that it’s about giving everyone equal opportunity to choose what to do. The bill has already been paid.
I look at my watch and realize that we spent a half hour longer at the restaurant than we had planned. Not an extra half hour to spend more time with my parents to compensate for this incident with the owner; an extra half hour including this God-forsaken argument. I didn’t get to try the fried banana ice cream. The “discussion” only stops because my parents get up to leave, so I get up with them. I shake the owner’s hand before I walk out. I immediately regret shaking his hand. I wanted to have a nice meal with my parents, my husband, and my cousin, but this human being - a complete stranger to me - insisted on spending our entire meal time to spew as many idiotic sentences at me as he could just because he saw that I would argue, and he wanted to bring me down. We spend two hours at this restaurant, and I only remember talking to my parents during the appetizer round about GIFs. As we walk out, my husband points out that there was not one woman that we could see who worked at the restaurant. My dad laughs and promises that he’s seen one, definitely one. I’m not surprised.
Over the course of the next two days (and God knows for how much longer), I catch myself still arguing with him in my head. I think about the things I could have added to my argument. I assure myself several times a day that I argued my points pretty well, and that my parents were not embarrassed by me. I also make sure to remind myself that had I completely ignored this man, I would have beaten myself up for a long time. I wonder if I should have, at some point in the conversation, stopped and said, “You know what? You’re just talking _at_ me and making statements not backed by any substance, and you keep going off on tangents, making more and more ridiculous statements as you go. There’s nothing to say to you and I will no longer engage in this conversation.” I imagine him continuing to try to talk at me after that, and probably becoming incredibly angry as I ignore him completely. But I didn’t do that. I also wonder if that’s exactly what he would have wanted, to claim victory in a battle of stamina against a “politically correct” female 20-something. I assure myself that I did the right thing. It’s 2:30AM and I had wanted to go to bed over three hours ago. This isn’t even half of what’s been said, but it’s all a blur of incredible ridiculousness at this point. I have a class in the morning and a meeting in the afternoon that I need to be ready for. The owner who argued with me probably felt nothing as he cheerfully walked out behind us, leaving the entire conversation at the restaurant doorstep. I wonder if he finally looked up the definition of “privilege.” I realize that he probably just went home to tell his wife about “kids these days.”
I just wanted to have a nice meal with my family on my day off.