I was working in a cafe, head down, muttering the words aloud under my breath as I forged down the page writing for hours. The man next to me started to take an interest. I was unwilling to give over my concentration to him but gradually angled my screen away to avert his possessive interest, shaded the words with my hand, made it clear I was busy and it was none of his business.
Some men cannot bear to be shown they have no influence in some woman’s life.
As soon as his companion got up to go to the bathroom this man spoke to me. Loud and assured, in German. “Something something astonishing you are able to concentrate in here” – a pure ruse to get my attention, as by speaking of this concentration he hoped to dispel it. When I still didn’t look up but went on chasing the verge of the idea which 20 seconds later broke over me like a wave and transformed my expectations for the writing I was working on, he was visibly, audibly miffed.
It reminded me of a man in Melbourne I had met only because he came to stand alongside me as I sat at the bar in an overfull restaurant, filling rapid pages with my thoughts. He stood there for a while, as I realised later, and when I didn’t react he actually passed a hand between my face and my page. This felt like someone had reached their big hand inside my head and stirred it round. I reared back. “What?” Where’s the fire?
This man was smiling, jovial, his hands back in his pockets. He rocked on his heels a little. “I was just wondering. Writing in here – don’t you find it difficult to concentrate?”
All the responses I could have made buzzed on my tongue like flies. But he was blind to his blindness and deaf to his own noise. This entitlement is also of course where mansplaining, manspreading, street harassment and rape come from.