This past Shabbat, I found myself at a Shabbat meal full of mansplainers. I stopped trying to be part of the conversation, and I left as soon as I could without making a scene. What could I do or say if I find myself in this situation again?
Surrounded by Sexism
What an unfortunate way to spend your afternoon! Unless you’re hand-picking the guests for your own meal, you can get stuck with real duds in the company and conversation departments. I’m glad you were able to make a gracious exit, even if no one else around you had even a little bit of graciousness going on.
You don’t have to wait for a next time to do something about what happened. If the offending mansplainers are people you know or have other reason to interact with, say something! You could try, “I was so glad to see you on Shabbat, and it was disappointing that we weren’t able to have a genuine conversation. I felt like you weren’t respecting my point of view during the meal.” If you don’t know these people or have no reason to talk to them again, you could say something to the host like, “I found the conversation at lunch really challenging. Are Jon and Jake usually that difficult to talk to?”
If you would prefer to avoid bringing this up again and would rather just wait until another group of condescending jerks comes along, I suggest being prepared to take the conversation into your own hands. If there is another kind, sympathetic, socially-aware person at the table, move your seat to be near her, or direct a subject-changing question at her across the table, ignoring the rest of the conversation. Depending on a wide variety of social factors, you could just say to the table, “Could we talk about something else?” You could also try making eye contact with the host, or finding him or her in the kitchen alone to say, “Do you have any suggestions about how to change the tone of the conversation?”
All of my little phrase suggestions avoid calling out the mansplainers for their specifically sexist forms of interactions. For the most part, a Shabbat meal, especially one where you are not the host, isn’t going to be a productive place to tackle mansplaining as the rotten cultural phenomenon that it is. Moreover, no one is going to respond well to being called a mansplainer in this (or probably any) context.
However, if you are at a table, or anywhere else, really, where you find someone’s choice of language or worldview to be particularly repugnant because of sexism, racism, homophobia, or any other form of bigotry, by all means call them out. If your naming their prejudice means not getting invited to future Shabbat meals with the same people, that sounds like a good outcome, actually.
And though you may not change the offending people’s viewpoints or conversational approach, at least you’ve held up your integrity by letting everyone else at the table know that you won’t stand by while people spew hate.
Whatever you decide to say or do, leaving early will always be an option that doesn’t change the situation but, at least, protects you from it, and on Shabbat afternoon, that’s a very valid route to take.