Life outside Twitter quite lacks the trolling and the taking down, but retains much of the laughs and the lifting up’, I thought to myself twice this week. Both times it was encounters with men, but each scenario quite different from the other. We disagreed in one, I was afraid of saying something impolite in another, but I couldn’t ‘switch off’ nor did I have the anonymity of a screen protecting me.
Two of us were waiting for our coffees, and when I was asked what I study, I said ‘Gender Studies’. It was an awful slip that I immediately chided myself for. I have learned, after many conversations, that ‘Social Sciences’ is a better answer, that it is a boring answer. But the damage had been done, as I had perked the curiosity of the person who makes the coffee. s
He works many jobs to support his family. He makes my coffee on weekends and we chat every time I have a mug, but we hadn’t spoken before about the subject I study. “What is this Gender Studies? What do you learn in it?” he wanted to know. In hindsight, I believe he already knew and the question was posed only to get to where he wanted the conversation to go. Here are some of the phrases that provide an idea of what the chat was like: “I’m a religious person, I take it you’re not”, “In my country this will never be allowed, yours only recently began to allow it”, “Man needs woman, woman needs man, they were created for each other”, “Gender is a spectrum, it’s about the head, heart and the genitalia”, “It will never be okay”, “Love is love”, “Yes, man can love woman, and that is love”, “It’s god’s curse, maybe a disability, and it needs to be corrected”.
When I finally left, my coffee was cold and it’d been nearly an hour since we started. But we never hardly close to finishing. We did not out-shout each other, remained respectful throughout — he needs me to come back for coffee, and I really like his coffee. “See you soon,” he cheerily said before I took off, and he meant it. He also meant it when he said, “Schools here are teaching kids that it’s normal, so now I have to tell them before teachers do. The school preps them for a career, but I must for life — they know now that it is wrong, but it is worse to say it aloud in school.” I’m in this for the long-haul, I’m definitely going back, but the best part of this is that it’s the real world, and I won’t die of poisoned coffee.
The second encounter starred the stereotype — cis-white, large-burly, completely entitled man. It went something like this: Day 1 — three brown girls seriously at work in a room, mindful about all noise, eating and speaking little or only during breaks, sharing stories and snacks also during breaks. In comes this man, settling down in a chair, before asking no one in particular, “Can I join you all?” and going on to wear his headphones before we consider our decision. Loud-typing is an actual problem I pray you never face, but it is one nevertheless, and it can feel like a person playing really bad tabla inside your head when you want it least. Well, this man was a loud-typer, and loud-mover, and loud everything else. “I need to make a call,” I said, and the other women said, “I’m done” and “I need to sleep”.
He said, “Goodnight.” We all had lots of work to do. Day 2 — I forgot the man-problem till I was comfortably settled in. My mood convinced me that I was fussing about nothing. In twenty minutes, it was worsened by the tabla playing. I thought I’d try it too, but even when I banged away at my keyboard I wasn’t producing half the noise. The other girls didn’t look like they were working either. “I’m going to tell him,” I texted, to which she replied immediately with a “YES PLEASE!”. And I did. He said, “I’m going to get pizza now,” as if I said to him “Where are you going?”.
We exchanged notes as soon as he was out of the room — we had all been bothered, made up excuses to leave the previous night, thought we’d get used to it, and beat this: we had all typed the loudest we could to see if it was an actual problem, and waited a full day to address it. This is a race, readers, and gender — power of any sort— would’ve been dealt with differently in the Twitter world. But mine is nicer, and funnier, and he’s yet to come back after pizza.