The Arb offered to do a guest post for me on feminism. Who am I to refuse? So here it is, on ‘mansplaining’. Unedited. All credit, copyright and my thanks for such a thoughtful post to The Arb.
As this is an educational piece, let us begin with some definitions. What is ‘splaining in general and then let us move to Mansplaining. Definitions can be found at Geek Feminism and the Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia. See below.
Splaining or ’Splaining: is a form of condescension in which a member of a privileged group explains something to a member of a marginalised group — most particularly, explains about their marginalisation — as if the privileged person knows more about it.
Mansplaining: To explain in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening. The mansplainer is often shocked and hurt when their mansplanation is not taken as absolute fact, criticized or even rejected altogether. Named for a behavior commonly exhibited by male newbies on internet forums frequented primarily by women. Often leads to a flounce.
Ah, mansplaining, where do you come from? The answer can be found in the socially constructed gender roles women and men are more or less forced to exist within. From a very early age men are encouraged to engage, be active, and generally be ‘hands-on’ with everything around them. Said another way, “Boys are rewarded from an early age for going out into the world, solving problems, achieving, and competing.” The hated saying, ‘oh boys will be boys’, is a good example of the socialization and reinforcement of typically shitty male behaviour.
Contrary to male patterned socialization, female socialization is much more about being proper, quiet, not taking up space and not offending people. A small disquieting peek into what female patterned socialization is as described by Simone de Beauvoir:
“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine.”
“This makes it clear that what de Beauvoir is concerned with is the process by which ‘human females’ are transformed into culturally constructed ‘femininity’ by [patriarchal] ‘civilization.’ What follows in the subsequent chapters is a detailed and quietly gruesome description of the ways in which patriarchal civilization breaks young girls and turns them into appropriately feminine and subservient wives and mothers.”
|feminine characteristics||masculine characteristics|
The take away here is that males and females are rewarded in society for behaving in very different ways and thus based on this socialization, grapple with society in very different ways as well, hence gender stereotypes.
The sociology 101 is necessary in the understanding of mansplaining because mansplination happens almost at the unconscious level. When a man is speaking people tend to listen because, obviously, he has important things to say. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be the listeners, not the ones laying words of wisdom on the masses. It isn’t their role to make conversational waves like men and the normative values of our society reinforce that notion, repeatedly.
Thus, the verbal playing field at its most basic is not level. This intrinsic inequality is the everyday, it is the expected, it is the norm. It is the reason why women often find it so difficult to participate in conversations and often find themselves socially sanctioned for having the audacity to participate, as a man would, in expressing themselves verbally (the assertive/bossy trope).
This unequal situation persists in almost every social venue, and almost certainly every day, of women’s lives. The social reality of this situation is stressful, annoying, and generally a drain on a woman’s cognitive resources. It is like wearing a weight belt while swimming at the pool, extra attention and energy is required just to keep afloat, thus it is harder to achieve what the other unencumbered people are doing. Now imagine that the weighted belt is invisible and represents women’s social position in the hierarchy of society and what is required on her part just to keep up with those who don’t get the weighted belt as part of their gendered expectations package. Many inferences about Feminism begin with this image, but we should stick to the topic at hand, as this is a brief introduction, and not an essay. 🙂
So, if you’re a dude and thinking to yourself, “Gosh, that sucks. I’ve never even thought about stuff like this, what can I do?”. The answer is surprisingly easy.
- Be quiet and listen to what a woman has to say.
- But but but… I know the solution to her problem/I have the right answer I need to tell her. See point #1.
This is not to say that males shouldn’t speak at all, but rather, provide the base courtesy and respect that is automatically given to other males when speaking. Make the space you give automatically to other dudes to the woman who is currently trying to express herself. You would be surprised how appreciative people are when you respect them as human beings.