Game Night

1944 poster from the United States Public Health Service reminds employees to wash their hands.

I’ve got a story for you, Ags.

Several years ago, I visited a friend’s home for our weekly board game night. There was a woman present, a mutual friend of the hostess and I, who for the sake of anonymity we shall call “Maggie.” A handful of us sat huddled around the coffee table, playing a game one member of our group had been wanting to share. At one point during the evening, Maggie excused herself to the bathroom, which was close enough to be within earshot.

Several minutes uneventfully passed before we heard the toilet flush and the quick, quiet creak of an opening door. I turned, and there was Maggie, ready to re-enter the game.

I looked at her quizzically. “Maggie, did you wash your hands?”

Let’s stop right there.

I’d like to think that, once or twice in our lives, we’ve all left the restroom in haste, too eager to get back to what we’ve been doing. Maybe a friend called us out. Maybe they did so publicly. But in those moments, I’d also like to think that, however embarrassed we may have been, we went back to finish the job.

Not that day.

Reader, I wish to convey to you not merely the answer she gave me, but the tone in which she expressed it, for the following was articulated with such confidence, with such assertiveness, with such an attitude of, “How dare you even ask me such a thing!” that words can scarcely do it justice.

“No!” she exclaimed defiantly.

After my feet again found firm ground, I suggested to her calmly (at least I tried to be calm; I do not doubt that I failed): “Maggie, I think you should wash your hands.”

But she refused. She refused on something I dare say approximated principle. And after several minutes of back and forth — time I frankly had not planned on committing to this — there then came the kicker, the foundation for her entire argument, the belief she held in her core that was incompatible with the belief I held in mine.

“Girls don’t need to wash their hands when they leave the bathroom,” she educated me.

As an olive branch, she offered that she always washed her hands before she ate. But she assured me that, when it came to the day-to-day, it was simply unnecessary for women to wash their hands in the same way as it was necessary for men.

Again, let’s stop right there.

I like to think of myself as a liberal man, as something of a progressive. I believe the patriarchy exists. I read Jessica Valenti, and I have a copy of “The Second Sex” on my bookshelf. I’ve even skimmed it once.

This is to say that, while I am far from perfect, I’m aware that it is generally bad practice for men to lecture women on the subject of their bodies.

However…

I am also a man of science (computer science, but does it matter?), and patriarchy or not, I am reasonably certain that women have to follow the basic rules of hygiene before leaving the restroom. (I say “reasonably” because if I get emails from The Battalion’s female readership explaining why Maggie was right, I have every intention of recanting this column. Please provide thorough academic citations.)

So I confess to it, reader. I confess to it all. I mansplained. And I did so at length. Why, you ask? Were there no other women present willing to speak up? Three were there. Two of them were speechless. The other, the hostess — and it is here I shall provide a detail so absurd that it will prove my story to be true — agreed with Maggie: She, too, was not in the habit of washing her hands after using the restroom.

To this day, I’m not sure if either or both of them continue to pop up from the commode and gallivant determinedly into the next room, ready to spring all manner of germs onto the unsuspecting. But I did what I did. I am not proud of it, but I have made my peace with it.

There’s no broader point here, in case you were wondering. There are no studies to cite nor professors to source, no philosophy essays to quote nor arcane letters to submit as evidence. These are merely the musings, or perhaps the ramblings, of a 28-year-old going on 80. He wants nothing more than to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving and to plead with every last one of you — man, woman, boy and girl — to wash your hands before you feast.

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