In celebration of a special occasion, I was one of four people having dinner at a fairly popular restaurant, known for its focus on meat, at a major resort in New Providence. The restaurant was selected to give the guest of honour as many options as possible, allowing her to be as indulgent as she wished. Since I choose not to eat meat, I looked at the menu online and identified the items that I could order and hoped to enjoy.
The service was far from exceptional, but we generally got what we needed. As I have done many times before at many different restaurants, I ordered an appetizer with a side dish to be served as my main course. No server has ever objected or shown disapproval. This time, however, the server cocked his head to the side, raised his eyebrows, sighed, and shrugged as he seemed to go from, “What in the world…” to “Oh, well, whatever you say” in a matter of seconds.
I ordered a rather popular beverage that is quite easy to make, but it left much to be desired. After one sip, it sat on the table as we had appetizers and the main course. It was not until we had finished the main course that someone on staff — not our server — finally noticed the glass was full and inquired about it. A replacement was offered, but at this point, it was not needed. The servers were simply not as attentive as they ought to have been, though they seemed to pass by often and stopped a few times to ask the oldest man at the table if he wanted more wine and if everything was fine. The rest of us did not seem to be of any concern to them.
When I go out for dinner, I look forward to having dessert. In fact, other people in my party always look to me at a certain point and ask me what I plan to order for dessert. It is expected, and it is no secret that I will leave my main course unfinished to ensure that I can enjoy dessert. A server came to the table and asked if anyone would be having dessert. This question, again, was posed to the oldest man. He looked to me, and I confirmed that I wanted to see the menu. The server returned with one dessert menu, held it out to me, and I reached for it, only for it to be swiftly retracted. The server closed the menu, walked around me, and offered it to the man. While I have experienced and witnessed patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism with regularity all my life, I was stunned. I looked at the other people at the table who were equally shocked by what had happened. There was uncomfortable laughter, but I could not participate. I was disgusted.
The man to my right asked, “Do you want to see it?” and held the menu out to me. I said, “No, apparently it’s for men.” At this, everyone at the table laughed. Someone else said, “Why would he do that?” Another commented that it was “wild.”
“It’s not like you’re children and you need your daddy to order for you,” the guest of honour remarked. No one could make sense of what had happened.
None of us ordered dessert. At the table, I was the only person who usually gets dessert. Sometimes another person is encouraged to get something sweet when I make a selection, but none of them ever order it unless I do first. When I shared this story with friends a few days later, they commented on the absurdity as well as the stupidity of the act. “Actually, it’s usually the women who order dessert,” one of them said. The rest of us nodded in agreement.
There are so many questions that arise from this experience. Why was only one menu brought to the table? Why was it offered to me in the first place, and then taken back? Why did the server think the menu should go to one particular person — a man? Was this a part of the staff training?
As I carry out my work as a women’s rights advocate and a gender consultant, people sometimes try to argue with me about the facts I present which have ever-present evidence. Patriarchy exists, and it leads to men — whether fathers, partners, or brothers — being regarded as decision-makers and custodians of women. Misogyny is ingrained, leading to women being disregarded, ignored, and intentionally excluded in favor of men. Sexism features prominently in our daily lives as the preference for men is demonstrated over and over again. I had dinner with three people, and these three ugly realities — patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism — were brought to the table. They are not just words or ideas. They are behaviour-shaping systems and beliefs. They impact our daily lives. On this particular occasion, they were a nuisance and a barrier to my favourite part of dinner, but they regularly bring much worse effects in the form of gender-based violence.
Women can give example after example of being patronised, infantilised, and disrespected by men, all because they are women. How many times have you heard a woman talk about the ridiculous behaviour of men when they are parallel parking or reversing? It is not because they lack the ability to do it, but that men are convinced that they are someone superior to women and that women need their assistance when driving. With rear and sideview mirrors and, these days, cameras affixed to vehicles, men still have a sense of self-importance and try to impose themselves upon women who are doing fine without them.
Over the next week, pay attention to the way men engage with women. Take note of the instances when you recognise patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism in action. Share your list on social media. Talk to your family members, colleagues, and friends about the incidents.
For the next week and beyond, when you have the opportunity and can do so safely, intervene. Call it by its name so everyone involved and observing can learn from it. It is not enough to say you love and support women. Address the people who are failing, help others to see the relatively small ways women are discriminated against, and promote gender equality through action.
1 Develop and commit to a savings plan. Whether you have your Christmas bonus in hand or it is on the way, this is a good time to make a commitment. Starting a savings practice can be difficult, from thinking $10 is not enough to make a difference to competing options for the use of $1000. It feels good to treat yourself to tangible goods and may be less immediately gratifying to, instead, put money in a high-interest savings account, but it is worth the exercise in discipline. Once your bills are paid and necessities are taken care of, make as generous a deposit as you can to start your new saving practice. Decide how much you will be able to add to the account on a weekly or monthly basis and make sticking to it easy for yourself. This could mean setting a calendar reminder for the first Tuesday in every month or being specific about where that money will come from. Maybe you will reduce your weekly purchased lunches by one or dedicate your overtime payments to the account. Do what works for you. Push yourself, but make sure you can keep the commitment.
2 Go to therapy. There is no substitute for it. No self-help books, religious books, long phone calls with friends, spa day, vacation, passion project, or workout can take the place of a trained professional listening to you and providing guidance to help you to improve your mental health and, by extension, your life. Addiction, anxiety, stress, depression, grief, relationship issues, swift and frequent mood changes, and big transitions are all good reasons to go to therapy. They do not, however, need to be the reason you start. It is helpful to have a strong relationship with a mental health professional before you are in crisis or need a specific type of support so you have the opportunity to get to know each other, and they can learn more about you, your background, and what you are working toward. Nothing has to be wrong for you to benefit from therapy. It is important to be able to unpack, pose questions, and have unfiltered conversations without judgment or biased responses. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find the right therapist for you, and the trial and error process is far less stressful when you are not in a rush or desperate for immediate help.
Published in The Tribune on December 14, 2022.