The man sitting opposite me in the cafe is eating a sandwich. But it’s not as simple as that. Everyone must relish it. He attacks the bun like a caveman hunting a mammoth. His jaws grind the food relentlessly, as if it is a question of how long you can keep the food in your mouth.
It is not easy to be a real man in this world. You have a lot to tell, you take up a lot of space, and you are very hungry. That is why there is mansplaining. The need of men to explain everything to women. Preferably things they don’t know or don’t understand. Or about which they are clueless. From Brexit to self-driving cars, from Trump’s impeachment to women’s harassment, they are all explained in great detail. They don’t need to read a book or newspaper for that. You’re a man, so you already know what it’s like.
Once, in a cable car in the French Alps, I was sitting opposite a father with two daughters. He pointed out all the mountaintops. “There lies the Matterhorn, there Mont Blanc, and further on Monte Rosa.” The girls listened meekly. But everything he said was wrong. He was totally in the wrong direction. When the youngest, a stubborn girl with glasses, cautiously questioned one of these geographical “facts,” the father punished her. She learned a lot.
In addition to being verbose, you can literally make yourself bigger. Man-spreading is another way to manifest yourself as a man. You take up as much space as possible in the metro, train, and bus, so that no one can get around you. You spread your legs as widely as possible, push the people next to you away, and take up three seats. In doing so, you force the women in front of you to look at your most masculine places. Nice bonus.
But there is a third male way: wide food. What I have come to call “maneating.” Eat like an old man, as showy and slowly as possible. Like the man opposite me in the cafe. Preferably in the middle of a conversation. Now that I have started paying attention, I see it more and more around me — an army of Archie Bunkers. The simplest sandwich is eaten as if it is a bloody steak.
Most of us make every effort to keep our mouths shut while eating, not to make any sounds. But not a real man. He is as noisy as possible. I eat, therefore I am. After the meal food particles between the teeth are ostentatiously removed, with pieces preferably landing on the dress of the woman opposite him. As a man you don’t let the steak be eaten by the bread. Certainly not by a woman.
Caesar, another real man, said it all: I spoke, I sat, I ate.
Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. Her bestselling memoir, Saving Charlotte, was published in 2017 in the U.S. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.