COLUMN: February 25, 2016

THE greatest trap a man can fall into these days is the mansplaining trap. And here I am, falling into it, because I am now going to mansplain what mansplaining is.

Mansplaining is the act of telling a woman how to do something, or why a thing exists, when she is perfectly capable of working it out for herself because she is a person with a brain and access to the facts, solely because she is a woman.

It is a terrible thing for a man to do, because, no matter how helpful you are trying to be, it shows women that on some level you believe them to be second-rate.

And it is no good saying that you were just trying to be helpful, because you are then mansplaining your mansplaining, and you are sucked into the mansplaining vortex from which you can never escape.

It is part of what makes it quite difficult to be a decent middle-aged man these days, because mine is the first generation to be brought up with the idea that it is a good thing that women can vote and work and choose with whom they sleep.

But we also have thousands of years of conditioning bred into us telling us that women are the weaker sex, and we have to look after them because they are woolly-headed poppets, who are deranged by their wombs and cannot be left to their own devices.

It is a bit like the way my generation was taught about centimetres and litres in school, but went home to inches and pints, and so has absolutely no idea how heavy or how wide things are. Except instead of weights and measures it is about the historical oppression of half the human race.

The best thing you can do as a man is to shut up sometimes and let women talk until we have paid for thousands of years of making them be quiet.

And yet… And yet…

I was waiting in the queue at Britain’s Biggest Struggling Retailer with a £3 meal deal. I had calculated that I had saved 23p, so I was feeling pretty smug, although I do not know what you can pick up for 23p these days. You can’t even buy five carrier bags.

I had taken my colleague Barrie with me because sometimes you need a wingman when you are buying lunch. I approved his choice of crisps. “Does this small bag of grapes suit me?” I asked him. He sniffed in accord.

We reached the checkouts at the same time and he decided to join the long queue awaiting human operators, while I opted for the robots. There was only a single woman in front of me. “Ha, you massive chump,” I told Barrie in my head, and I imagined what I would do during the glorious time I would have to myself while waiting for him to be finished.

It was my great misfortune to be behind a young woman whom I can only assume was a time traveller from the late 19th century such was her confusion.

She kept placing her four – ONLY FOUR – items on the Platform of Preparation instead of the bagging area. She rang up her bag of ready salted twice, which meant she had to call upon the assistance of one of the humans dealing with customers. She could not find the bar code on her yogurt…

I was clenching so hard the person behind me in the queue was in danger of being stuck.

When she had finally bagged her items, she pressed the number 1 on the keypad to inform Big Grocer that she had taken one carrier bag, but then did not press Enter. Instead she just stood there, looking alternately at the screen, and then at the card reader, as if she were watching a tennis match between fairies.

“Don’t mansplain,” I kept repeating in my head. “Don’t mansplain. Thousands of years of oppression. Don’t mansplain.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw Barrie being served.

It was too much. “Press the…” I started, stepping forward. “Stop!” I thought. “Would you do this if the person in front were a man?”

And the truth is, I did not know.

So I left it, the woman in front of me resolved the issue on her own, and I waited another two minutes while she then failed to press the contactless payment button, thwacking her card fruitlessly again and again on the sensor, proving herself to be as inept as I am in most circumstances, and thereby striking another blow for sexual equality.

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