Join 3,522 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Facts Didn't Get In Their Way
August 21, 2012 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Rebecca Solnit explains The Problem With Men Explaining Things.

Originally written in 2008, the essay was recently reposted with a new introduction.
posted by Lou Stuells (687 comments total) 107 users marked this as a favorite

 
I really liked this, thanks for posting it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:26 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I haven't read this article yet but the topic reminds me of a very interesting story that I heard about a man telling someone all about a very important book that they should read, only for the man to learn that he was talking to the very author of that book! I'm sure you will thank me for relaying this story of male hubris!
posted by rebent at 9:33 AM on August 21, 2012 [105 favorites]


I don't take issue with the author's general point, just her characterization of this behavior as inherently sexist.

Men do absolutely behave this way (problems with generalizations aside) -- the twist is that we behave this way towards men and women alike. It's very much motivated by the cultural role of alpha-male authority we're told we should fulfill, and very much not at all motivated by the gender of the person we're 'explaining' to.
posted by wrok at 9:37 AM on August 21, 2012 [19 favorites]


Hey folks rebent's comment is a joke, you do not need to keep flagging it.
posted by jessamyn at 9:38 AM on August 21, 2012 [38 favorites]


I wonder if I can get quotes from this article on a tshirt.
posted by Surfurrus at 9:38 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Laughed out loud at "That's her book." Fuck mansplaining, especially when I catch myself doing it.
posted by Sternmeyer at 9:39 AM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Rebent's or wrok's? Because the former surely is, but the latter is pretty much exactly the thing the author mentioned.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:39 AM on August 21, 2012 [22 favorites]


I have a theory about why men like to explain things.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:39 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh boy did this ring true. As a female who competed as a university-level sharpshooter--showing up for matches in heels--I was not taken seriously even though consistently the team's high-scorer, and I've run head-on into the same idiocy my whole life when discussing cars, steam engines and power equipment, as well as many things NOT in what are stereotypically considered "male" areas.

I have to wonder how much of the male insecurity that drives this attitude comes from cultural acclimatization and how much from testosterone. In my experience it isn't universal, but also isn't limited to one age or group of men, either.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:40 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Ooops. My bad. It's explaining we're looking at here, not mere discussion. Oh well, it's all about real communication, and without openness that is an impossibility.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:41 AM on August 21, 2012


There are plenty of women at my place of work that insist on explaining things. But, this article is about something more specific than "mansplaining" or whatever other gendered hotbutton.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:41 AM on August 21, 2012


I don't think this phenomenon is unique to men, and don't care for the term 'mansplaining.'
posted by anigbrowl at 9:42 AM on August 21, 2012 [52 favorites]


I don't take issue with the author's general point, just her characterization of this behavior as inherently sexist.

Men do absolutely behave this way (problems with generalizations aside) -- the twist is that we behave this way towards men and women alike. It's very much motivated by the cultural role of alpha-male authority we're told we should fulfill, and very much not at all motivated by the gender of the person we're 'explaining' to.


Whoosh.
posted by Sternmeyer at 9:42 AM on August 21, 2012 [51 favorites]


I cannot tell you how many well-intentioned, completely ignorant older family members and friends-of-my-parents have offered me "advice" about my graphic novel and how I should go about publishing it. It's amazing. Sometimes I wonder if they ask "How's your book going?" just so they can hold forth on how I should market it and grill me about my business plan.

Note that none of them have actually read the book, and have forgotten what it's about since that last time they asked me a year ago.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:43 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


*sigh* OK, I believe every word she wrote. Now I have a request. As the phrase "Men Who Explain Things" has been codified as Bad, can we please come up with some turn of phrase to apply when a male is explaining something and NOT being a condescending ass about it? This actually happens sometimes. When I seek information or clarification, some of the people who come to my aid are male. They supply explanations. Somehow a huge percentage of them manage to do it without being condescending asses. I suppose we could call them Men Explaining Things And Somehow Managing To Not Be Condescending Asses About It, but that seems to make certain assumptions about general male behavior.
posted by Longtime Listener at 9:44 AM on August 21, 2012 [26 favorites]


Wow. This woman really knows how to nurse a grudge. "Someone--almost certainly a man--wrote a letter to editor that was wrong!!! Can you BELIEVE it? Aren't men ghastly?"
posted by yoink at 9:45 AM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yoink, I think that it's less about nursing a grudge and more about noticing -- then describing for the benefit of her readers -- a larger pattern of behavior. This is an article, not a cocktail party. I doubt she mentions that letter to the editor to every new person she meets, but it only makes sense to mention it in an essay about not being taken seriously.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:47 AM on August 21, 2012 [17 favorites]


One of my favorite things to do at the Art Institute of Chicago is watch heterosexual couples walking around and listen to how Amazingly, Every Male Is An Expert At Art!
posted by shakespeherian at 9:47 AM on August 21, 2012 [22 favorites]


Great article. I try to be a little less know-it-all these days, but male coworkers still call me Rickipedia. Thankfully, female coworkers aren't afraid to call me out when I'm wrong.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:48 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


About as predictable as a man explaining something to a woman is when the phenomenon is pointed out to them, the same man will insist that gender has nothing to do with it.
posted by Catchfire at 9:48 AM on August 21, 2012 [79 favorites]


Whoosh.

Indeed. Especially since the author addresses it in her article, which makes it, like, meta-mansplaining or something.
Yes, guys like this pick on other men's books too, and people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they're talking about. Some men.
can we please come up with some turn of phrase to apply when a male is explaining something and NOT being a condescending ass about it?

Sure. "Explaining." You can tell because A. they listen to other viewpoints and B. if it ever becomes clear that they've been mistaken, especially in a particularly egregious way, say, it's discovered they hadn't even read the book they were pontificating on, they say, "Oh my goodness, sorry, how silly of me. So how did you go about writing/doing/[etc.etc]..."
posted by fraula at 9:48 AM on August 21, 2012 [14 favorites]


I'm surprised the that age differential isn't discussed in the article as well. I (a 31-year old man) can't tell you how many times older adults have tried to explain to me how to do my job, and who know fuck-all about what they're talking about.
posted by gagglezoomer at 9:49 AM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


In my experience it isn't universal, but also isn't limited to one age or group of men, either.

Yes, yes. It was one thing for me to have to 'out-shout' men during the years I was young and angry ... but to be lectured to by a man half my age (with "facts" about my field of expertise) was a bit like being nipped at by a nasty little dog.
posted by Surfurrus at 9:49 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


My theory is that men are incapable—at some level—of fully distinguishing the pleasure they take in constructing elaborate explanations from their pleasure they take in the phallic object.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:49 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


On preview, LOL.
posted by Surfurrus at 9:50 AM on August 21, 2012


...from their pleasure they take in the phallic object.

You might even say they're hysterical about it.
posted by 0xFCAF at 9:51 AM on August 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


I could have sworn this was linked here before. Maybe in a comment? But it's a great essay and I'm glad to see it as an fpp.
posted by Forktine at 9:51 AM on August 21, 2012


As the phrase "Men Who Explain Things" has been codified as Bad, can we please come up with some turn of phrase to apply when a male is explaining something and NOT being a condescending ass about it?

This is pretty much just called: explaining.

If a woman is seeking information or clarification and wants something explained, and a man is made aware of that, and explains it to her, then no foul has been committed and all's well. It's devoid of any of the shitty qualities that accompany mansplaining.

If a dude is an art history major and a woman asks him about, say, Impressionism and he says a whole lot of stuff about Impressionism, that is Explaining, and it is a fine thing, and the world is better off for it.

If a dude is only passingly familiar with art history and he's talking to a woman who's an art history major and he, without being asked, starts telling her all about Impressionism, that is Mansplaining.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:53 AM on August 21, 2012 [41 favorites]


The problem isn't men (or anyone else) explaining things. The problem is when someone 1) assumes he is more qualified to discuss the subject than the person he is talking to, when he doesn't actually know anything about the person he is talking to or their level of expertise, 2) assumes that his explanation is needed or desired without having actually been asked for one, 3) doesn't let the other person get a word in edgewise to clarify any of these points.

I think that when someone writes Men Explaining Things it's pretty clear they mean a variation on the norm. But you're right, it would be nice if people would be more specific. It's unfortunate that "mansplaining" has become such a tetchy hotbutton word, because that's what it was SUPPOSED to be -- a very specific label for a very specific kind of behavior.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:53 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


While this kind of obnoxious explaining may not be the sole domain of men, I'm betting we have the most gold medals in the sport.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:54 AM on August 21, 2012 [26 favorites]


Did she mention that she's written fifteen books?
posted by MuffinMan at 9:55 AM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Hey folks rebent's comment is a joke, you do not need to keep flagging it.

Flagged as modsplainin'

posted by zippy at 9:56 AM on August 21, 2012 [64 favorites]


I get this when I go into fabric shops to purchase things for my sewing projects. But the genders are reversed. Anybody care to comment?
posted by Aquaman at 9:56 AM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


While this is something that I recognize happens, and (much like men being more likely to interrupt women) it's something that you start to see a lot once you are aware of it and actually look, I also have an unfortunate tendency to take articles like this personally, because I am a man and I love to explain things. Am I more likely to explain something to a woman? I think I am. Just like I notice that I, myself, am more likely to interrupt a woman (though I try to be aware of it and stop it), a lot of this stuff is so unconscious and embedded in the ways we interact. I don't believe that women are more likely to need things explained to them, but I am probably more likely to want to demonstrate my knowledge to a woman, and a woman is more likely to let me go on about something she already understands or understands better.

I think what is important to realize (and this is addressing some of the comments here, not the original article) is that while there are people out there who rudely assume women don't ever know what they're talking about, those people are not really the problem. Those people are assholes, and there will always be assholes. What is really hard to address is the subtle implications that are built into our social interactions: men are smarter, what men have to say is more important - even without any of the people in the conversation consciously believing those things. And it's really hard to see that stuff, and even harder to talk about it without people taking it personally.
posted by Nothing at 9:57 AM on August 21, 2012 [77 favorites]


While this kind of obnoxious explaining may not be the sole domain of men, I'm betting we have the most gold medals in the sport.

I would say that's my experience. I was never aware people considered there to be a gender-angle to the whole thing as well.
posted by gagglezoomer at 9:57 AM on August 21, 2012



Hey folks rebent's comment is a joke, you do not need to keep flagging it.


It's a stupid joke if you have to explain it's a joke.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:57 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]



Hey folks rebent's comment is a joke, you do not need to keep flagging it.

They were not making fun of rebent. This cannot be stressed enough.
posted by Danf at 9:57 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I doubt she mentions that letter to the editor to every new person she meets, but it only makes sense to mention it in an essay about not being taken seriously.

The fact that she considers an erroneous letter to the editor to be a meaningful example of the phenomenon she is attempting to describe makes me utterly uninterested in her opinion. It's unbelievably petty and absurdly irrelevant.

Deborah Tannen seems to me an infinitely more valuable writer on this subject.
posted by yoink at 9:58 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've thought some about this. My entire adult life I've worked in heavily male-dominated areas (first programming, now a motorcycle shop.) Much of what I know about my job(s) was taught to me by senior colleagues, almost exclusively men, who took the time to explain something to me. I am deeply grateful to them.

On the other hand, I regularly encounter men who feel obliged to explain to me, whether it's germane to the problem at hand, how carburetors work or how to free a motorcycle that's dug itself into sand* because they assume I don't know these things without bothering to gauge my ability.

It's not the explanation that I object to; it's the presumption of ignorance.

* First, push the bike over onto its side. Drag both the front and rear wheels clear of the holes they've dug for themselves. Then pick the bike up like normal and ride away into the sunset.
posted by workerant at 9:58 AM on August 21, 2012 [21 favorites]


I don't think this phenomenon is unique to men, and don't care for the term 'mansplaining.'

But the point is that there is a particular kind of explaining that is sexist - that's rooted in male socialization. Men are socialized to assume that they are knowers and explainers, that what the world wants is more male explaining (instead of female explaining or something that is not explaining), that they are entitled to speak first and loudest and particularly that the default assumption is that men know things while women do not.

The point of calling something "mansplaining" - and it's a term of satire and hyperbole, not a law of thermodynamics - is to point out this socialization and its gendered nature.

Why do I believe so ardently in the reality of mansplaining? It is because I myself have committed the similar offense of whitesplaining - I know as a living certainty that I have been socialized to assume that I should speak first and loudest about - just about anything, really, but certainly about race. I know I have spoken over and above people of color. I know I have spoken about racism - when people of color were right there in the room! - as if race and racism were abstract subjects of study, certainly important social justice issues but not visceral lived reality. I've whitesplained, I've hurt people, I've been called out about it, I do my best to understand how deeply I've been socialized into this thing called whiteness and how terribly, horribly deep-rooted it is. Oh god, how I have whitesplained.

Because I know that I whitesplain - because I recognize how powerfully I have been socialized to enact my place in the racial power structure - I find it extraordinarily easy to believe that men are socialized to mansplain, to take their place in the gendered power structure.

If you like, we can call it "privilege-splaining" and just add a modifier - manly privilegesplaining, white privilegesplaining.

You want to gaze into the fucking abyss? Look into yourself and try to glimpse the deep things you learned before you even had words for them; look into yourself and try to glimpse your own selfishness and the ways that you turn other people into abstractions whose feelings just aren't as real as yours. Then think about how that comes out - how it comes out of your mouth and out in your actions, how you give it away in a thousand little tells. Know, privilegesplainers, that the only person who doesn't see your 'splaining is you. Know that you're laid bare - that the women and the people of color and the queers and the trans folks and the working class people see and hear what is deep in your semi-consciousness. If you are hiding from this whole business of 'splaining, it's because you can't bear to have what you do named to you, and made an official subject of conversation.

Take it from me, as a person who has learned many a sorry lesson about how they can act.
posted by Frowner at 9:58 AM on August 21, 2012 [148 favorites]


I get this when I go into fabric shops to purchase things for my sewing projects. But the genders are reversed. Anybody care to comment?

Ooh, what do you sew? (I am new to sewing and love hearing about other people's projects.)
posted by ocherdraco at 9:59 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's funny, because the essay is (in part) about people arrogantly placing words in the mouths of authors who's works they haven't read.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:59 AM on August 21, 2012


Sure. "Explaining."

Yes indeed. There's a big difference between my medievalist colleague next door explaining some fine points of Lollard history to me because I asked him to, and some random dude who, upon discovering that I teach 19th c. British lit, starts lecturing me about how Lord Byron was a great Victorian novelist.

I suppose I should point out at this juncture that, my screen name aside, I'm actually a woman.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:00 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's true. I've had to force myself to stop trying to impart knowlege on people. I felt like I had spent so much time learning things, that I should share it, or at the very least show off. Now people can be blatantly wrong and I don't say a word. I am content for them to be wrong for the rest of their lives. People can do stuff the completely wrong way and I just walk away. It is pretty liberating.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:00 AM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Can't speak for the other fellas, but a lot of my explanations are me figuring something out, out loud.

It helps to have an ear. Thanks for listening.
posted by notyou at 10:01 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm a woman, and since I started law school, I have been the subject of expansive lectures about What Is Wrong With Government/Law/Professional Education, from people who don't know their asses from a hole in the ground. It's wearying.

And a lot of the offenders are women.

I think this is just a thing that people do, people who live in a me-focused society where the appearance of knowledge is rewarded more than the actual knowledge. Certain gender norms might reinforce it more for men, who are generally more encouraged to be assertive and forward, but I don't think of this as a Man Thing.

In the past week, my 90-year-old grandmother has lectured me about how badly my car drives, despite never having driven it; my mother has lectured me about how I ought to interview for legal jobs, despite not being in my field and having had all her jobs in the past 20 years handed to her; a friend from high school has lectured me about judicial activism, only to prove a total lack of knowledge of what judicial activism actually is.

This is just the world we live in. It's bad, but turning it into a Man Thing doesn't seem destined to improve it.
posted by gracedissolved at 10:02 AM on August 21, 2012 [57 favorites]


The fact that she considers an erroneous letter to the editor to be a meaningful example of the phenomenon she is attempting to describe makes me utterly uninterested in her opinion. It's unbelievably petty and absurdly irrelevant.

Man, you certainly seem to have a grudge there. "She used an irrelevant example!!! Everything she writes must be shit!"
posted by kmz at 10:04 AM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Workerant, I think you've hit on it. The better term for the bad behavior is Men Presuming Ignorance.
posted by Longtime Listener at 10:05 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


But how am I supposed to present myself as superior without holding forth pseudointellectually on various topics? Should I just go around uprooting trees or something?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:05 AM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


For what it's worth, and definitely at the risk of seeming like I don't get the point, this happens between men too. I know it's happened to me. I'm often younger than most people I meet through work, and it's a narrowly specialized technical field.

I often got this kind of talk from people who feel they should be the voice of authority, and while they usually know something about the subject, they very often get lost and say a lot of things that are misguided or plain wrong, just to avoid admitting they don't know something.

Now, it's true that it's almost always men who do it (I think I've experienced it from women once or twice in total, although my field is also male-dominated), and I'm completely unsurprised that it's done to women more, but it's not completely gendered. I think it's basically alpha male showing off and needing to always be right. Men do that much more to women, but they do it to men too.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:05 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's important, when one knows a thing, to find out whether or not revealing one's knowledge is important at the time. Lots of conversations aren't about who knows something but about building a social bond. I don't like hanging around with people who think the only way to have a conversation is by hauling out encyclopaedic knowledge. It doesn't work. By and large, I don't care how much you know. If I wanted to chat with a giant brain, I'd pull up Google.

BTW, I used to be a huge explainer. Then I figured out that the best way to make friends is to stop talking and listen, and have conversations. It's amazing.

Though if I am actually asked about a particular topic, and I happen to know about it, I'll share what I know and be honest about the limits of my knowledge. And saying "I don't know" is actually pretty wonderful. Because it opens you up as human, vulnerable. And it opens up the floor for further discussion with someone else doing the talking. And maybe you learn something!
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:06 AM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Ooh, what do you sew?

All kinds of stuff, but especially shirts & costume pieces. My grandfather was a Singer engineer, and I was brought up learning how to operate the top-of-the-line singer model in the 1970's, buttonholing, monogramming, all the fancy stitches, etc.

But one step into a fabric or sewing store and I'm instantly the lumbering, helpless neanderthal who can barely understand the difference between broadcloth and brocade and must be educated on my purchases.

Not complaining, just not happy about the gendering of this common human behaviour.
posted by Aquaman at 10:07 AM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


I get this when I go into fabric shops to purchase things for my sewing projects. But the genders are reversed. Anybody care to comment?

Obnoxious, isn't it? What a relief it only happens to you at fabric shops, and only when it comes to sewing. Now imagine you're a woman, and it happens everywhere you go and pretty much for every topic (except sewing I guess!)


This is just the world we live in. It's bad, but turning it into a Man Thing doesn't seem destined to improve it.

Yes, it's the world we live in. A man's world, sadly. Hence the prevalence. Women can perpetuate patriarchy just as easily as men can. But this is not about people how are smarty-pants. This is about, as workerant mentioned, the presumption of ignorance. And while women may do this from time to time, a lot of men do it all the time, especially when talking to women. I've worked in IT for the past ten years and I see this happen nearly every day to the few women who work in my office. Every. Day.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:09 AM on August 21, 2012 [45 favorites]


I am a woman and an unapologetic know-it-all -- I am insanely curious about nearly everything, and so have learned a little about all kinds of things.

Also, I hate hate hate inaccuracy. And ignorance. And ill-formed, illogical thinking.

And while I have my own "here, let me explain that to you" fairly under control in non-essential situations, imagine what joy erupts when someone decides to explain something to me and they're wrong!

It's a glorious game of, "Here, sit down, 'cause I'm about to take you to school on this."
posted by gsh at 10:09 AM on August 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


It is a gendered issue. Yes, men do it to other men, yes, women do it. But the consequences are not the same when they do it.

The difference is, as the author stresses, authority. Trampling over someone from a position of authority is not the same as doing it from an equal footing. The danger is that, in a culture that still suffers from some degree of institutionalized sexism, women are more vulnerable to these issues than men.

Yeah it's always bad behavior, but when power relationships are involved it becomes much more threatening.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:09 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't think anyone is claiming that women never explain things thy don't fully understand. In fact, I'd guess that men and women have the same propensity to want to explain things, and the same protensity to be wrong. But the following is also true:

A man is more likely to talk over a woman
A man is more likely to interrupt or to interject
A man is more likely to present his opinion confidently
A woman is more likely to stop and let a man speak

Given those things, you can see how a non-gendered human tendency - explaining things we think or believe or enjoy, even if we might not know everything about them - can have a gendered effect.
posted by Nothing at 10:09 AM on August 21, 2012 [41 favorites]


It's true that some men act this way toward other men.
It's true that some women act this way toward other people.

But, that doesn't mean that it's not also a Very Real Thing that when men act this way toward women, they're doing it based on an assumption that the woman is ignorant about the thing which they're explaining. And this article is about this Very Real Thing.

I think perhaps what's implied by this article is that this behavior by men explaining to women is significantly more common than this behavior by men when explaining to other men, or this behavior by women no matter who they are explaining to.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:09 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great, now I can't feel good about sharing fascinating knowledge I've come across with women? Fuck this shit.

I draw the line at not sharing knowledge. If you already knew it, good, I'm sorry I wasted your time, but there is way too much knowledge out there to be shared and I will continue to err on the side of SPREADING IT thanks.
posted by scrowdid at 10:09 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


As much as I think the term "mansplaining" is kind of dumb, this is absolutely a real phenomenon -- one which I have been guilty of more often than I'd like to admit.

Nothing does a good job of describing how insidious the problem is. He's right, assholes will be assholes. They're not the problem. The problem is when men like me, who think of ourselves as upright and all about equality, go ahead and start mansplaining shit to the women in our lives. We don't think we're better than women. We don't think they need our explanations. We don't think any of these problematic things that your run-of-the-mill asshole thinks. We do these things subconsciously as a result of the way that males are socialized. That's why it's a problem. And, like Nothing said, it's difficult to talk about these things without taking them personally, because we don't like to think that we're not as Upright, Liberal, and Noble™ as we think we are.

I'm glad that I read this essay, because it's made me a lot of more conscious of the fact that I do this. I hate that I do it, because I do it without thinking. Thankfully, there are essays like this one to call me on it. (There are also women in my life who point it out; it's harder not to take it personally in those situations, but I'm ultimately glad that they do.)
posted by asnider at 10:10 AM on August 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


Rather than consider this a gendered issue, I see it more as a status issue. This happens to me most often when the person I'm talking to is attempting to establish themselves as being of a higher social status than me, whether that's at work, among acquaintances, etc.

The corollary to this kind of unwanted explaining is being ignored while you're speaking. Both are done to achieve the same effect - pushing your status down and elevating theirs.
posted by LN at 10:10 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think the correct term is "blowhard."
posted by danl at 10:11 AM on August 21, 2012 [10 favorites]



Great, now I can't feel good about sharing fascinating knowledge I've come across with women? Fuck this shit.

I draw the line at not sharing knowledge. If you already knew it, good, I'm sorry I wasted your time, but there is way too much knowledge out there to be shared and I will continue to err on the side of SPREADING IT thanks.
posted by scrowdid at 10:09 AM on August 21 [+] [!]


For the love of god, now (of all times) would be a good time to read the article.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:11 AM on August 21, 2012 [47 favorites]


What a relief it only happens to you at fabric shops, and only when it comes to sewing.

Your snark is inaccurate, and even more unappreciated. That was an example, not the sum total of my experience. Let's talk about babies & child-rearing, for instance, shall we?
posted by Aquaman at 10:12 AM on August 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


> I don't think this phenomenon is unique to men, and don't care for the term 'mansplaining.'

Alright, we'll use 'brosplaining' then instead.
posted by fragmede at 10:12 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]



Rather than consider this a gendered issue, I see it more as a status issue. This happens to me most often when the person I'm talking to is attempting to establish themselves as being of a higher social status than me, whether that's at work, among acquaintances, etc.

The corollary to this kind of unwanted explaining is being ignored while you're speaking. Both are done to achieve the same effect - pushing your status down and elevating theirs.
posted by LN at 10:10 AM on August 21 [+] [!]


Yeah, broadly it's an issue of power. The author is discussing it in a specific frame of reference. The broader implications do come out a bit in the nuances of the piece though.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:14 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Brosplaining is actually a great term for That Guy at the gym who smugly informs you you're Doing It All Wrong when you've never seen him before and you've been going for years.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:15 AM on August 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


I draw the line at not sharing knowledge. If you already knew it, good, I'm sorry I wasted your time, but there is way too much knowledge out there to be shared and I will continue to err on the side of SPREADING IT thanks.

1. Read the article.
2. No one - no one - is saying that the problem is sharing knowledge or that it's somehow magically a bad thing when men share knowledge solely because they're men. The problem lies in the presumption of ignorance. Sharing knowledge is a wonderful thing. Charging ahead with conversation in the assumption that your explanation is necessary, without bothering to ask any questions first - that is not a wonderful thing.

I mean, you can draw the line at not sharing knowledge all you want but since no one at all is suggesting that you should stop sharing knowledge, the point seems moot.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:16 AM on August 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


Ghostride The Whip: "Brosplaining is actually a great term for That Guy at the gym"

OATS AND SQUATS.
posted by boo_radley at 10:16 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


My grandfather was a Singer engineer, and I was brought up learning how to operate the top-of-the-line singer model in the 1970's, buttonholing, monogramming, all the fancy stitches, etc.

I am extremely envious.

posted by ocherdraco at 10:18 AM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Nah, boo_radley, you're posting all wrong, you gotta get some supplements to your wording and you totally have to be reading other message boards if you want to make sick gains.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:18 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


For the love of god, now (of all times) would be a good time to read the article.

What? ... and gain more knowledge to 'spread around'?!
posted by Surfurrus at 10:19 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why do I believe so ardently in the reality of mansplaining? It is because I myself have committed the similar offense of whitesplaining - I know as a living certainty that I have been socialized to assume that I should speak first and loudest about - just about anything, really, but certainly about race. I know I have spoken over and above people of color.

It makes sense to me to refer to men trying to talk authoritatively about women's issues that they can only have an outsider perspective on as "mansplaining", which was the use of that term I'd encountered previously. But in this thread we seem to be referring to any arrogant explanation at all as the male kind of explaining.

I propose that we instead call this "MeFisplaining".
posted by XMLicious at 10:22 AM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


It might be helpful, also, to look at it from the other side. Maybe you are perfectly gender neutral in this area, and more power to you (though I would hope you realize that is still the exception). But consider the experience of your audience. Someone who gets frequent social cues that they are less informed and less capable of understanding, regardless of their actual qualifications, might be more likely to see your holding forth as patronizing.
posted by Nothing at 10:23 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


The fact that she considers an erroneous letter to the editor to be a meaningful example of the phenomenon she is attempting to describe makes me utterly uninterested in her opinion. It's unbelievably petty and absurdly irrelevant.

You don't get to decide what her experience meant to her. That's... kind of the whole point.
posted by j.edwards at 10:24 AM on August 21, 2012 [21 favorites]


I have a lot of friends in my life who are habitual mansplainers. A solid majority of them know it and are trying to stop, which is good, and which I appreciate. So, for example -- this happened literally an hour ago -- I posted to Facebook saying "I have an audition tomorrow, and I am getting over a horrible sinus infection that has done a number on my voice. I've done everything I can do to fix the wreckage, but I've given up being in A+ shape, and I'm hoping for A-. Should I tell the audition committee that I've been ill?"

One of these friends responded and said "Is this something gargling with hydrogen peroxide would help, or would that cause more harm?"

Now the guy gets major points for putting it in the form of a question; ten years ago he would not have done that, he would have just told me to gargle with H2O2. But here's the thing: he's not a singer. He knows nothing about the pathology of the professional voice. And, perhaps most importantly, he didn't answer the question I asked. There is no reason for him to think that he (a robot engineer) has solutions to the thrashed-voice problem that I (a professional singer) don't have, but he had An Idea and chimed in with it anyway even though I didn't ask for any advice in that arena.

He's a good guy and a strong feminist, and he calls other guys on their bullshit all the time, and I am glad to have him as a friend. But the enculturation of men's voices as knowledgeable voices is really strong, and even someone as smart as he is has to work hard and constantly to break it.
posted by KathrynT at 10:24 AM on August 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


Everything is ecological in nature--"men" do not exist as independent entities outside of a system containing "women", and gender expectations are impositions on everyone. For example, patriarchy is not something just men participate in, or benefit from. Even if most women are oppressed under patriarchy, many are its benificiaries. Indeed, most men on this planet are oppressed by patriarchy, despite the masculine origin of the label. That's a big reason I don't like the term (I prefer Riane Eisler's terminology of "Dominator" vs. "Partnership" cultures).

To move past the sort of cliched critique in this article, it would be very illuminating for all progressively minded humans to, in addition, discuss how and why women* put themselves into the stance of "needing an explanation". Just as men need to reflect on whether or not their explaining is welcome (as with their door-opening, tab-picking-up, etc.), it is important for women to reflect on to what extent they are participating in the "feminine side" of this gender convention.
_____
*In saying "women", as if "all women" are "like this", I'm using the same tediously common broad brush used in articles like this one.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:24 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


"I wouldn't be surprised if part of the trajectory of American politics since 2001 was shaped by, say, the inability to hear Coleen Rowley, the FBI woman who issued those early warnings about al-Qaeda, and it was certainly shaped by a Bush administration to which you couldn't tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to al-Qaeda and no WMDs, or that the war was not going to be a "cakewalk." (Even male experts couldn't penetrate the fortress of their smugness.)"

The first part I get, but the last part (about the terrible Bush government) is a bit unfair to male know-it-allness. That government knew they were right about everything because it is their ideology first. It is secondary to this that women generally have nothing to contribute.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:25 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's all about establishing dominance. More and more as I get older it seems to me every human interaction appears to be primarily about establishing dominance, secondarily about relating information. Subtly or not so subtly.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:25 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]



Your snark is inaccurate, and even more unappreciated. That was an example, not the sum total of my experience. Let's talk about babies & child-rearing, for instance, shall we?


Yes, point taken. In the relatively few domains that patriarchal society considers the purview of women, many, even most men, will end up being treated like imbeciles.

That said, there are many, many, many more such domains for which the reverse assumption is made by the same patriarchal society. So yes, there are men for whom this phenomenon is depressingly real. There are very few, if any, women for whom it is not.
posted by bardophile at 10:26 AM on August 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


I feel that knowing something is a position of privilege. I had the time and the resources to learn it. It is important to me that I don't make people feel less than by proving to them just how privileged I am.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:27 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Brosplaining is actually a great term for That Guy at the gym who smugly informs you you're Doing It All Wrong when you've never seen him before and you've been going for years.

I also like "broviating." for that guy who wants to make sure that none of the available oxygen in the room goes to waste when it could be used to make sure that everyone knows what his feelings are on the subject. Or, even more commonly, a related subject that he's slightly more knowledgeable about.
posted by KathrynT at 10:27 AM on August 21, 2012 [20 favorites]


> For what it's worth, and definitely at the risk of seeming like I don't get the point, this happens between men too.

Please stop doing this. I don't mean you, Joakim Ziegler, in particular, I mean all of you who feel the burning need to break into a discussion of bad things that happen to women because of all-encompassing sexism and point out that whatever it is happens to men too. Your point is an irrelevant distraction and risks the very silencing/belittling of women that is being complained of.

That's a relatively benign form of the problem. Those of you who are mocking the author and her essay: you are wrong and belligerently showing off your wrongness. Go learn something about life and sexism and come back when you know what you're talking about.
posted by languagehat at 10:30 AM on August 21, 2012 [87 favorites]


So much crap in this thread. "Oh, it isn't just men who do this!" "Sometimes they do it to other men, too!" "Some woman once lectured me about lacemaking just because I am a dude!" "Maybe it wasn't because she was a woman, but because she was only 43!"

I hate the days when MetaFilter seems like part of the precipitate.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:30 AM on August 21, 2012 [19 favorites]


Can't we just cut and paste the MeTa from a few days ago into here?
posted by modernnomad at 10:32 AM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think people, in general, talk too much, and this is just a subset of that.
posted by moonbiter at 10:34 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Huh, it's somewhat interesting that at a recent writing group critique, I received maybe three crits that were these wild rewrites of my story with so many strike-throughs and additions I was like fuuuuu and tossed them. These were all from guys; no woman tried to do such a thing.
posted by angrycat at 10:35 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think what the author describes is a "mansplaining" thing so much as it is a presumptive "I'm the smartest person in the room" or "I'm the smartest person in this conversation" thing. I've seen plenty of women operating in "let me tell you what I think you obviously don't know" mode and it's equally annoying.

Over the last few days of watching men fall all over themselves trying to explain what is and isn't rape, I've been getting a real mansplaining vibe. Even when POTUS stepped up to his official podium yesterday and put his two cents in, I thought, Oh no, not you too. Meanwhile, women are probably still getting raped, and pregnant as a result. The least of their worries should be whether a bunch of men can mansplain whether what happened to them and their resulting pregnancy is "legitimate".
posted by fuse theorem at 10:35 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


As a man, I also hate being objectified, demeaned, dismissed, and belittled. By other men. And women!

Hmmmm....my "this-isn't-a-feminist-issue-spider-sense" is tingling! WHAT COULD IT POSSIBLY MEAN

Also, my irony sense is tingling. A woman, whose experience - as a woman- singles out men and evidently I suppose, it's not clear, well, ok, she at least hints, that they are assholes because they are men. And she is a woman. Now I despise "men's rights" guys, they are a bunch of whiny, panty waisted bigots, but seriously, can we stop with the outrage of "I am a woman my experience is special" and have more "I am a human being and my experience is mundane, every day omg there are assholes everywhere really it's no surprise I don't know why we waste our time on this.

Oh look! The internet! I get to express my annoyances as if anyone cares.
posted by Xoebe at 10:36 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am a woman my experience is special

That's true, though. True for white men, too -- they have their own special experience. Does that make it more tolerable?
posted by angrycat at 10:38 AM on August 21, 2012


You don't get to decide what her experience meant to her. That's... kind of the whole point.

You mean she's making an argument for sheer solipsism? No, that's not her point. At all. If it were an argument that we all get to inhabit our own realities without regard for anyone else's then there's be nothing wrong with even the first guy she writes about. He can inhabit his reality while she can inhabit hers.

She's asking us to consider a genuine social phenomenon--one in which men presume a competence on their part and an incompetence on the part of the women they are talking to which is unjustified by any factual basis. This is a real social problem (as I say, Deborah Tannen has written exhaustively and extremely well on this subject). My objection is simply that this author fails to describe the phenomenon with any clarity at all and lets personal score-settling wildly distort her choice of examples.

Take this letter to the editor, for example. It's not hard to find on the Times website. Here's a link to it. For one thing, the letter isn't remotely "snarky." For another, it's not claiming superior knowledge to Solnit, it's claiming superior knowledge to the male reviewer of Solnit's book. It happens that the author of the letter is incorrect about Muybridge not having worked on developing faster emulsions, but he is, as it happens, correct on his central point that the reviewer was wrong to suggest that photographic exposures took "minutes" before Muybridge's innovations.

So we have a letter to the editor that is written, by a man, in perfectly respectful terms correcting a minor point in a review also written by a man. It takes no issue with anything Solnit has asserted in her book (the author makes no claim to have even read Solnit's book). And in the course of the letter the author makes a small error about Muybridge.

And this is the second best example that Solnit can think of to illustrate her case? It's astonishing that she even remembers such an anodyne letter after all this time (which is what I meant about a truly extraordinary capacity to bear a grudge). But it's simply bizarre that it is so important to her to settle that score (HA! Take THAT random letter writer who kinda, sorta questioned mah authoritah!) that she drags in this utterly irrelevant example to "illustrate" her case.

It suggests, strongly, that her motivations in writing this piece were far more about revenge for perceived slights (and the fact that she utterly mischaracterizes the letter makes me wonder what really happened in the encounter with the old man at the party) than about any serious sociolinguistic observation.
posted by yoink at 10:40 AM on August 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


Man, you certainly seem to have a grudge there. "She used an irrelevant example!!! Everything she writes must be shit!"

This seems like unnecessary snark. I would hope one would be able to point out what they view as problematic argumentation tactics in the linked article without being accused of holding a grudge or even disagreeing with the author's premise necessarily.

Too often in charged threads like this the comments remind me of Amazon.com reader reviews of works with a strong political point of view, where it is extremely obvious people are rarely responding to the quality of the writing, but to how closely (or not) their own views align with the author's. I'd like to think that on Mefi one could hold a version of a "I share the same general viewpoint as the writer of this piece, but she has not made her point well in this article" (an admittedly generous reading of the comment you responded to) without having to deal with angry "with us or against us" mobs.
posted by The Gooch at 10:41 AM on August 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


"Some woman once lectured me about lacemaking just because I am a dude!"

Yeah, you're right. I guess I don't know what I'm talking about. Thanks for explaining it to me.
posted by Aquaman at 10:41 AM on August 21, 2012 [16 favorites]


His scorn was so withering, his confidence so aggressive, that arguing with him seemed a scary exercise in futility and an invitation to more insult.

Oh, God, this. This finally put words to what it is I witness all the time, what I experience. This little sentence here has finally given shape to the confused, bitter frustration I feel all the time.

I have a PhD. I wrote a dissertation on Very Narrow Unknown Topic (VNUT). The vast majority of people in my field have never even heard of VNUT. Someone asks me what my dissertation was on, I say VNUT. They follow up, "Huh, never heard of it. What's VNUT?" I then explain the basic question at the heart of the topic.

And here's the thing: I'm a fucking expert on VNUT. I've spent years researching it, looking into it. I wrote a book on VNUT. And here I am, talking to someone who is so incredibly unfamiliar with VNUT that they didn't even know what it is. They had never even heard of it two seconds before, and the only reason they know about it now is because I explained it to them. But what I have experienced over and over again, when my interlocutor is a man, is this follow-up. He then says, "Oh, well that's obvious. The solution to VNUT is clearly X."

So, this man hadn't heard of the issue two seconds earlier. This man needed me to even explain what the issue is. But as soon as I do, this man turns right around and dismissively informs me of what the solution to the issue is.

I'm used to it. Whatever the X given as the solution is, I've heard it before. There's probably a chapter in my dissertation that explains all the many ways that X is a failure of an explanation. But if I try to go into this -- if I try to assert that the man's solution doesn't work -- the conversation goes no where. And for years I've thought of this as my fault. I interpreted this as me just failing to be clear enough, or logical enough, or intelligent enough to be able to keep up with the conversation.

But, no. Now I have the words for it. The reason why the conversation goes nowhere, is this: his scorn is so withering, his confidence so aggressive, that arguing with him seemed a scary exercise in futility and an invitation to more insult. When this interlocutor tells me, "Well, the solution to VNUT is clearly X," there's a subtext. It's in the body language. Its in the tone of voice, the particular brand of eye contact. I can't describe all of those minute details to the situation, so all of you have to take it on my word. I've experienced this over and over and over again for years now: there is a particular way that men have of 'explaining' things to me (remember: a topic on which I'm an expert; a topic they had never heard of before) that oozes scorn, aggression, and insult.

But the disgusting thing? The thing that has me shaking right now, that has me feeling like I've just been socked in the stomach? The thing that makes me want to throw up? It's this: I cater to it.

When the conversation "goes nowhere," it's like something has 'clicked' in my mind. I've clued into the scorn and aggression, and I recede. It's like a mechanical process: I smile, I give a small chuckle, I shrug my shoulders, I say, "Well, yeah, okay." And that's it.

That's me. That's how I respond to it. And I don't know how to stop. That's how I react when a man oozes scorn, aggression, and insult at me -- when he uses the infrastructure of explanation to treat me as inferior. I accept it. I treat him like he's the expert, like I'm the ignorant doofus who was foolish enough not to see the truth like he does. I give up.

I don't like it. But now I have the words to put to it: it's the scorn, the aggression, and the belittling insult that makes me 'click' into Acquiescence Mode. I don't know what to do about it. I don't know how to stop playing out that Acquiescence Script every time this happens. I don't know.

Sigh.

I want to emphasize that this is not how every conversation with a man goes. I have awesome conversations with men all the time, and I've also had awesome conversations about VNUT with many men. I also want to emphasize that, yeah, I've had women scorn, belittle, and insult me at times too.... But, this is something that happens regularly to me. I also want to emphasize that my interpretations of events are accurate; I know my own life and its contents. I have struggled to put to words what it is that makes me shut down and follow my Acquiescence Script, but I've known that it happens, and that it is the result of a very specific set of circumstances.

This is my testimony: this happens to me. Regularly. This is my confession: I fucking suck at responding to it.
posted by meese at 10:42 AM on August 21, 2012 [249 favorites]


The term "mansplain" is insulting to men. People who use it care more about insulting their potential audience than persuading them. Anybody who uses this term cannot be taken seriously, and I suggest they go back to whatever echo chamber they came from.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:43 AM on August 21, 2012 [20 favorites]


I had never read this essay before, and I'm very glad to have read it.

It's a very calm description of an every-day expression of assumptions made by men. If you are a man, it is not a personal attack on you. You do not need to feel guilty, shamed or angry (necessarily). If you do feel those things, I encourage you to think about _why_ you feel that way before speaking up here.

By admitting that she's right, you're not capitulating to being a blowhard. It's OK to agree.
posted by Tevin at 10:44 AM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Good to know I can't ever possibly know what I'm talking about. Assholes gonna ass.
posted by cmoj at 10:44 AM on August 21, 2012


Meese, in my personal experience a helpful response to that initial "oh, the solution is X" comment is "You would think so! But it turns out to be a lot more complex than that. I'm sure you have similar situations in your field; what is your field?"
posted by davejay at 10:45 AM on August 21, 2012 [33 favorites]


Its shitty. It can happen to both genders but usually only happens to one (guess which). No, your mother telling you that you made the bed wrong doesn't count. No, your SO telling you that you aren't ironing correctly doesn't count because I can still see where you ironed a wrinkle in. Yes, your lady friends telling you that you don't know how to do X because X is something women are known for doing does count, though you might want to consider how many times you've attempted X as if its your first time repairing a shirt then yes, perhaps you are doing it wrong and you should stop and listen before you ruin the damn thing.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:47 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


davejay: I like that strategy. I'll have to work at remembering it for the next time this happens.
posted by bardophile at 10:48 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


But the point is that there is a particular kind of explaining that is sexist - that's rooted in male socialization. Men are socialized to assume that they are knowers and explainers, that what the world wants is more male explaining (instead of female explaining or something that is not explaining), that they are entitled to speak first and loudest and particularly that the default assumption is that men know things while women do not.

This seems like a people problem rather than a men problem, frankly. Of course, I have met a lot of men like this. But then I have met a lot of women who do the same thing. It seems like more of an extro/introvert thing to me.

The point of calling something "mansplaining" - and it's a term of satire and hyperbole, not a law of thermodynamics - is to point out this socialization and its gendered nature.

Well, it certainly asserts that. I'm not convinced that these assertions are factual.

Why do I believe so ardently in the reality of mansplaining? It is because I myself have committed the similar offense of whitesplaining - I know as a living certainty that I have been socialized to assume that I should speak first and loudest about - just about anything, really, but certainly about race.

Or, maybe it's just you. Where I come from we have the non-grouping term 'wanker' to describe someone who talks a lot about things of which they know little. Or 'arrogant' if you prefer.

You want to gaze into the fucking abyss? Look into yourself and try to glimpse the deep things you learned before you even had words for them; look into yourself and try to glimpse your own selfishness and the ways that you turn other people into abstractions whose feelings just aren't as real as yours. Then think about how that comes out - how it comes out of your mouth and out in your actions, how you give it away in a thousand little tells. Know, privilegesplainers, that the only person who doesn't see your 'splaining is you. Know that you're laid bare - that the women and the people of color and the queers and the trans folks and the working class people see and hear what is deep in your semi-consciousness. If you are hiding from this whole business of 'splaining, it's because you can't bear to have what you do named to you, and made an official subject of conversation.

This sounds remarkably like the sort of speech I used to hear growing up from holy rollers about how we were all sinners and denying our sins was just going to make the fires of hell feel that much hotter unless we begged Jesus for forgiveness as members of the lecturers' self-flagellation club. It was obnoxious then and is just as obnoxious when it comes from a different direction.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:48 AM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Just as a data point here: I am usually That Guy who is explaining stuff he knows nothing about, and I do this way more often to men than women. Nothing's anaylsis of this situation does appear, from my experience, spot on.
These kind of articles are very helpful for getting an otherwise more or less invisible perspective, thanks for sharing.
posted by DeltaZ113 at 10:48 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Obligatory: That scene from Annie Hall, when they're standing in line at the cinema and that guy starts yammering on about Marshall Mcluhan...
posted by fikri at 10:49 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


every day omg there are assholes everywhere really it's no surprise I don't know why we waste our time on this.

Because it's fucking important, that's why. Re-contextualizing it as a non-feminist issue is incredibly unhelpful, not to mention incorrect. Especially when women keep coming into this thread to confirm that they've experienced the exact same thing that Solnit described in the article.

IT DOESN'T MATTER if men do it to other men or even if women do it to other men, because when men do it to women the power balance is different, the expectations are different, and as many women have already confirmed, the outcome is far far worse.

The term "mansplain" is insulting to men. People who use it care more about insulting their potential audience than persuading them. Anybody who uses this term cannot be taken seriously, and I suggest they go back to whatever echo chamber they came from.

We've been over this before. The tone of the argument absolutely does not negate the content of the argument. If you're objecting to the tone, well, that's an intentional derail isn't it? By painting those who use a single word that you don't like as not-credible and living in an echo chamber (and therefore not worth listening to), it seems that you too are also more interested in insulting than persuading...so I guess we're even.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:49 AM on August 21, 2012 [57 favorites]


I shrug my shoulders, I say, "Well, yeah, okay." And that's it.

That's me too. Most of the time I'm completely comfortable with letting the Person Assuming Ignorance wallow in his ignorance. Five minutes ago he knew nothing about VNUT. He still doesn't. He was irrelevant to the subject then, and he's still irrelevant.
posted by Longtime Listener at 10:50 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I share the same general viewpoint as the writer of this piece, but she has not made her point well in this article" (an admittedly generous reading of the comment you responded to)

Not a "generous reading" at all, actually (though thank you for the defense)--I've already alluded with express approbation multiple times to Deborah Tannen who writes on these issues from the position of someone who has done actual sociolinguistic research into them. The problem of men falling into these patterns of assumed mastery in conversation with women is very real. This just happens to be a very, very poor and unbelievably self-centered way of addressing that topic.
posted by yoink at 10:51 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


We've been over this before. The tone of the argument absolutely does not negate the content of the argument. If you're objecting to the tone, well, that's an intentional derail isn't it? By painting those who use a single word that you don't like as not-credible and living in an echo chamber (and therefore not worth listening to), it seems that you too are also more interested in insulting than persuading...so I guess we're even.

Wait--you can't object to an insulting term without that, in itself, being an "insult"? Seriously?
posted by yoink at 10:53 AM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Relatedly, I wonder what the gender breakdown is of mefites that answer AskMe questions based on ill-informed opinion and/or cursory googling.
posted by zamboni at 10:53 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


He was irrelevant to the subject then, and he's still irrelevant.

And he'll be irrelevant the next thousand times he does it, too, because nobody thinks it's worthwhile to stop him just because he's being a jerk to women. Because it's assumed that people like him are just a fact of life, like bad weather or mosquitoes, it's up to the person being bothered to take precautions or get a thicker skin; it's impossible to formulate the thought that we could, you know, tell him he's being a jerk and ask him to stop.
posted by KathrynT at 10:54 AM on August 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


Also, I'll go ahead and say that this is a general problem with "people explaining things", although it does manifest sometimes as "men explaining things".

Example : I've worked in the software industry for nearly 10 years. I started out doing IT/Helpdesk stuff, and now I do lots of backend data crunching. In every position, I had to explain things to people, because the stuff I work on is fucking hard, and most people -- even in my field -- don't have experience with whatever I'm working on at any given time. And that doesn't even account for other people in the business who need to interact with me and understand (roughly) what I'm doing. So, I wind up having to explain things to people. And when I started out, I sucked at it, but I eventually got better. Lots of tricks to this, one of them being "know the knowledge level of your audience before you start explaining things". Because it's possible to have the best intentions but come off as condescending because you're explaining something someone already knows. Add to this the fact that lots of people -- for whatever reason -- have sort of a complex about tech and feel insecure about their level of knowledge. I'm always sad to see this, because most people know exactly enough tech to do what they need to do, and need not feel bad that they can't write a mapper or reducer. So there's lots of little tics to watch out for, lots of phrases and motions and expressions to suppress because people will take them the wrong way, even though they'd be perceived as normal if you're talking to another engineer.

Bottom line, most people are crap at explaining things to people, so it's usually best to be as courteous as possible and make as few assumptions as possible.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:54 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sounds like this problem needs some better ontology.

The problematic behavior is talking at length at the slightest provocation about topics you don't know about. I'll call that "Instant Expert Syndrome". It is not necessarily gendered or oppressive.

The problematic context comes in two parts. The first is when the Instant Expert is male and the Instant Student is female, making it a "patriarchal" sort of arrangement. The second is when everyone else in the room, everyone else who hears about the Instant Expert after the fact, and so forth, assumes that the Expert had the right of it. He gets the benefit of the doubt when there's no very obvious reason for there to be any doubt. So I'll call that part "Benefit Of No Doubt".

It's possible for an Instant Expert to get the Benefit Of No Doubt without being male, but it's pretty rare. So although sexism probably isn't to blame for every single time a male Instant Expert gets the Benefit Of No Doubt, the correlation is strong enough that I would tend to suspect sexism when I see this type of thing happen.

Whether or not an Instant Expert gets the Benefit Of No Doubt because of sexism, though, is not particularly relevant to a woman who's been cast as an Instant Student. It turns out the same way for her. It goes on top of the same stack of mancakes that she's been served all her life, so even if you could somehow persuade her that this time it wasn't sexist at all, why the hell would you do that? Who is helped by that?
posted by LogicalDash at 10:54 AM on August 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


Hmmmm....my "this-isn't-a-feminist-issue-spider-sense" is tingling! WHAT COULD IT POSSIBLY MEAN

Also, my irony sense is tingling. A woman, whose experience - as a woman- singles out men and evidently I suppose, it's not clear, well, ok, she at least hints, that they are assholes because they are men. And she is a woman. Now I despise "men's rights" guys, they are a bunch of whiny, panty waisted bigots, but seriously, can we stop with the outrage of "I am a woman my experience is special" and have more "I am a human being and my experience is mundane, every day omg there are assholes everywhere really it's no surprise I don't know why we waste our time on this.


So...you, a man, are correcting the assertions of a woman who is talking about how she experiences the world as a woman, yeah?

I think someone should write an essay about that phenomenon. If they did, I'd like to read it and maybe someone would post a link to it on MetaFilter.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:54 AM on August 21, 2012 [23 favorites]


[Folks. There is an existing MeTa thread about larger MeTa issues concerning MeFi's own boyzone/girlzone issues and attempts to deal with same. Please do not make this thread into your own personal rant about metaissue and share the thread with everyone else]
posted by jessamyn at 10:55 AM on August 21, 2012


Nothing explains:
A man is more likely to talk over a woman
A man is more likely to interrupt or to interject
A man is more likely to present his opinion confidently
A woman is more likely to stop and let a man speak


1. Interaction
2. Sex-based behavior

1. Nothing's examples are useful illustrations (given the qualifiers, they're maybe even accurate) of a type of interaction among men and women. Lost in the argument upthread is the term interaction.

2. WTF? Sexist? Then men do man things. Women do woman things. Jeez. That's not what they told me in those seminars back in the 70's. I guess I wasted four semesters on all that "my half of the fucking bakery" rhetoric.

Okay, okay, but if sexism is wired in, then can we please take it off the list of epithets that somehow apply only to men? If not, then, fine, the default mode for men is sexist--ranking somewhere between urinating in public and pigeon-stomping in the park. If that turns out to be our working template, I would really appreciate a handy word to use to describe reactionary female neenerism. You guys can pick it.
posted by mule98J at 10:55 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is something very special about all the people in this thread explaining what's wrong with the article who clearly haven't read the article.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:55 AM on August 21, 2012 [29 favorites]


By painting those who use a single word that you don't like as not-credible and living in an echo chamber (and therefore not worth listening to), it seems that you too are also more interested in insulting than persuading...so I guess we're even

Is this like the Fox News "accuse them of something we did to deflect any attention from what we did" thing?
posted by Big_B at 10:56 AM on August 21, 2012


The term "mansplain" is insulting to men.

I disagree wholeheartedly. It's funny in the same way that "Male Answer Syndrome" is funny. It has a ring of truth to it, highlights a viewpoint many men never considered, and speaks to privilege many men never knew they had until someone points out the opposite situation.
posted by mathowie at 10:57 AM on August 21, 2012 [70 favorites]




There is something very special about all the people in this thread explaining what's wrong with the article who clearly haven't read the article.
posted by shakespeherian


I'm glad someone else noticed.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:57 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The term "mansplain" is insulting to men.

When all other tones seem to fail, I can't say I have much of a problem with feminists taking a confrontational one.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 10:58 AM on August 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


Oh, but mansplain is insulting to men. Specifically, to men who mansplain. Men can explain, too, but the sort of man who mansplains seems not to consider the possibility that some of his explanations might not be gendered. Weird, huh?
posted by LogicalDash at 11:00 AM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


It has a ring of truth to it, highlights a viewpoint many men never considered, and speaks to privilege many men never knew they had until someone points out the opposite situation.

I would never prepend a word with "woman-" to indicate a stereotypical negative behavior.

I know, I know, lots of people are okay with double standards. I am not. It's a fundamental difference of opinion.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:00 AM on August 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


Wait--you can't object to an insulting term without that, in itself, being an "insult"? Seriously?

The insult comes not from the objection to the term, it comes from:

People who use it care more about insulting their potential audience than persuading them.

The assertion that you know the motivations of any individual who uses the term and that those motivations are bad

Anybody who uses this term cannot be taken seriously

The assertion that using the term precludes being taken seriously

and I suggest they go back to whatever echo chamber they came from.

And the assertion that the act of using a term means that the person using it must have come from an echo chamber.

These are insulting, belittling things to say and they are directly contradicted by my experience and that of a lot of people I know. It is entirely possible to have concerns about or objections to the term "mansplaining" that do not constitute an insult.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:00 AM on August 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


The two paragraphs that resonate most with me are these:
"Yes, guys like this pick on other men's books too, and people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they're talking about. Some men.

Every woman knows what I'm talking about. It's the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men's unsupported overconfidence."
I have been accused a couple of times on the web of mansplaining and I admit I was a bit hurt and a lot ignorant about where it came from. I try to remember, like many aspects of casual sexism, say, that the phenomenon is part of a larger culture of dominance which serves to oppress women one way or another. I choose to take an article like this as a helpful reminder that my view is not the only one, my gender's view is not the only one and, even if I'm not able to grasp how women see the world in many situations, it's just good manners to try and apply a filter to my attitudes before opening my mouth. I can but try.
posted by peacay at 11:01 AM on August 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


I know, I know, lots of people are okay with double standards. I am not. It's a fundamental difference of opinion.

And don't get me started on what black people call each other, but when I try it...!
posted by shakespeherian at 11:01 AM on August 21, 2012 [19 favorites]


Women get this all the time, at all ages, in a wide variety of situations. That's the point of the article, that this constant undermining is based on the assumption that women inherently lack credibility and require male backup to be taken seriously. Women's lack of credibility is a serious problem in the world.

To all the guys who say "older men do this to me", "alpha males do this to me", "powerful men do this to me", I believe you. I believe boys are taught to compete with one another this way from a very early age. Women don't have the option of being anything other than women though, no matter how powerful, educated, or aged they become. And woman is coded as inherently lacking the credibility of man. The only way to undermine it is to notice and acknowledge that this happens, this pattern exists, and can have a particular impact on women.

I cater to it.

When the conversation "goes nowhere," it's like something has 'clicked' in my mind. I've clued into the scorn and aggression, and I recede. It's like a mechanical process: I smile, I give a small chuckle, I shrug my shoulders, I say, "Well, yeah, okay." And that's it.


Yes. I kind of go to an away place in my mind for a few seconds or however long it takes to detach from the conversation, or at least that part of it.

It's definitely scripted. What I'm starting to wonder is if it's also scripted for the men who do this. I don't really agree that it's only certain kinds of men who do this. It's not just the arrogant blowhards who can fall into the assumption that a woman is inherently more ignorant. This can happen in the midst of a totally good conversation with a fine fella. It's like he checks out of my humanity, and I check out of the conversation.
posted by Danila at 11:01 AM on August 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


now I can't feel good about sharing fascinating knowledge I've come across with women? Fuck this shit.

You know what, scrowdid? I can completely understand why you might feel the way.

I think that a lot of times in discussions on issues like this -- in both the source material and the posts here on the blue -- there can sometimes appear to be an underlying message of "Even though I'm saying not all men do this bad thing, the world would be better off if all men just stopped doing anything that could even be vaguely considered an instance of this thing."

Which, in cases where the topic is about how women are harassed and creeped out by unknown guys approaching them in certain situations, leaves some guys saying stuff along the lines of "Well, jeez, just to be safe, I guess I should never approach a woman I don't already know in any social situation, and I should never ever interpret anything a woman says or does as flirting with me."

And when the topic is "mansplaining", it can lead to some guys having the reaction you're having.

I think also that even though the intentions are good, a lot of guys coming in and manpologizing to women for their own past instances of the bad thing in discussion and/or on behalf of all men doesn't help matters. (Disclaimer: I'm pretty sure I've manpologized before, so, "Physician, heal thyself!" is a fair charge to level at me here...but wait, apologizing for manpologizing is itself a manpology, isn't it? My head hurts.)

But because MeFi is one of the best places on the web to discuss stuff like this, one thing you will also see in threads like these is women and men alike pointing out that never interacting with women at all for fear of doing the bad thing under discussion does in fact represent a loss for you and society as a whole. In other words, in the example of the social approaches, don't avoid approaching women altogether because there are a lot of creeps out there. Instead be mindful of how you might appear when you engage in what you think is harmless flirting or complimenting on appearance and readjust your behavior accordingly.

Same here: don't sweat that every single time you try to help a woman out, you're mansplaining and demeaning her and all women. Do be mindful of how you might be coming across though. Are you not letting her get a word in edgewise? Are you not accounting for the fact that she might have equal or greater knowledge than you? And so on. And keep in mind that despite your best intentions and perfectly executed plans, there's still a chance you'll come across as mansplaining.

Just like there's a chance my attempt at helping you here might come across as mansplaining. Jeez, now my head really hurts.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:02 AM on August 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


Is a lot of the resistance to the idea of Men Who Explain Things coming from folks who are suspicious of anecdotal evidence? Would more objective evidence be more influential among these folks? Yoink alludes to work done by Deborah Tannen, whose wiki page led me to her book, You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, which led me to a pretty detailed wiki article on Language and Gender, a field of applied linguistics/sociolinguistics that has been developing since the mid-1970s and which I know absolutely nothing about. I'm going to go read that article.
posted by The White Hat at 11:02 AM on August 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


My husband sent this to me yesterday. It sort of made me have a mild anxiety attack. I want to find it funny, but very recently, I went to a business meeting where I was the only woman in a room otherwise full of men, men I was trying to sell something to.

I have recently started to feel like the above is impossible, because you want the person you are considering buying a big expensive project from to seem EXTREMELY CONFIDENT and yet always, the specter of Let Me Tell You Some Things Young Lady lurks in the corner, ready to pounce, and I never know how to respond to that, I just kind of go silent and nod, and I can feel myself sliding into some other space, the space of a person trying to sell you a thing she does not seem that confident in.

(It makes me wish I could have a version of Luther, Obama's Anger Translator. "And this is Greg. He will be playing TheHMSBeagle as a dude. Greg will, for instance, keep talking if you interrupt him. So watch for that.")

This has been totally consuming me lately: I am a lady in a business that is almost entirely made up of men. I am very good at what I do; I have a fairly unique skill set that is desirable; I have authority over what I produce. And I do not believe that there is a conspiracy of men trying to keep me down.

But I have recently felt very strongly that the people (largely men, but not exclusively) I do business with are uncomfortable letting my authority exist and be acknowledged and part of the conversation in a way I know for a fact they are not when it comes to men in my job. It feels like this elaborate Catch-22 I honestly did not realize would happen, where it's not just enough to be very good at my job. Being a woman in these dynamics, with all of that baggage, undercuts my authority so dramatically I don't know what to do about it (yet).

I don't think that this is because men are terrible people or women or terrible for not sticking up for themselves, whatever. I think it's just that we are all trapped in a system few of us are even aware of. Which is sort of funny to me, because I am YET ANOTHER LADY re-discovering that 70s feminists knew WTF they were talking about.

Sad anecdote. I vaguely know a man who is at the pinnacle of our field. I ran into him after a talk he gave and asked him advice about this, you know: "I find it difficult to hold onto my authority in meetings like this, do you have any advice? I think expressing your authority is a bit different for girls, more complicated, do you have any tips?" and then he mansplained about how there was totally no difference and he wouldn't let me speak, and I said "Well. Thank you."

Time to re-read some Deborah Tannen, I guess.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:02 AM on August 21, 2012 [83 favorites]


I know, I know, lots of people are okay with double standards. I am not. It's a fundamental difference of opinion.

Normally, the term "double standard" refers to standards that are redundant--two or more standards where a single standard would do.

Here we have a case where an irritating behavior is merely irritating when done by a woman, but compounds an existing issue when done by a man. This is not a situation where a single standard would do.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:04 AM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Afroblanco: I would never prepend a word with "woman-" to indicate a stereotypical negative behavior.

Your posting history indicates that you are fine with applying the gendered insult "bitch" to stereotypical negative behavior. You were saying about double standards?
posted by gilrain at 11:04 AM on August 21, 2012 [19 favorites]


Sad anecdote. I vaguely know a man who is at the pinnacle of our field. I ran into him after a talk he gave and asked him advice about this, you know: "I find it difficult to hold onto my authority in meetings like this, do you have any advice? I think expressing your authority is a bit different for girls, more complicated, do you have any tips?" and then he mansplained about how there was totally no difference and he wouldn't let me speak, and I said "Well. Thank you."


Which part of this is sad? The part where you got an answer you weren't expecting or the part where didn't actually converse with him, and telling him you disagree?
posted by Big_B at 11:06 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Which part of this is sad? The part where you got an answer you weren't expecting or the part where didn't actually converse with him, and telling him you disagree?

I'm guessing it's the part where a man told her that her lived experiences didn't really happen and weren't worth consideration.
posted by sonmi at 11:08 AM on August 21, 2012 [61 favorites]


Normally, the term "double standard" refers to standards that are redundant--two or more standards where a single standard would do.

No it doesn't. It refers to situations where different standards are applied to different classes in relation to the same behavior. The classic "double standard" is the one that says a man who sleeps around is a stud while a woman who sleeps around is a slut.
posted by yoink at 11:09 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm a woman and I was born in 1950, thus I'm older than most of you. I've known many men of my generation who were so deeply indoctrinated that, in spite of professed feminism, they absolutely could not handle the idea of a woman being their intellectual equal. Instead, as several of my friends and I were told by men we considered our intellectual equals, they could not love us because we were "smarter" than they were. Equality was an alien concept to men who had been taught their whole lives that they were superior to women.
posted by mareli at 11:10 AM on August 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


"Which part of this is sad?"

Or maybe the part where he didn't even answer her question.
posted by Tevin at 11:10 AM on August 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


It can happen to both genders but usually only happens to one (guess which).

I think that this is the major sticking point. Commenters are making repeated assurances that this is a real phenomenon but I don't see many people denying that it happens or that it isn't a common male behavior.

The suggestion that the person on the receiving end is usually only a woman is the point of disagreement. There seems to be the impression that if in these anecdotes the person being harangued had been a man it all would have gone down totally differently, which probably contradicts many mens' experiences. Saying so doesn't deny that women are the object of all kinds of unconscionable unjust shit from men down to petty indignities that society reserves just for women, it's to propose that this particular case isn't so exclusive to gender.
posted by XMLicious at 11:10 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can we call it douchesplaining instead of mansplaining?
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:11 AM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think it would probably be good for society in general if internet forum comment boxes had a little button next to "Post" that said "Guy About To Explain How All These Women Are Wrong About Gender Bias," and when you clicked that button, you got taken to a giant open thread where guys can talk to each other about how women just don't understand about gender bias and how that thing they experienced wasn't really it and what am I supposed to do now, NEVER FUCKING TALK? And suchlike.

And then there could maybe even be another button that said "About To Mansplain About How 'Mansplaining' Is Hurtful To Me," and if you clicked that, your computer just asploded. You know?

On a sidenote, Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark is one of the half-dozen most transformative books I've read in my life and she could basically just walk through rooms making jag-off gestures at all the guys as they talk to her and be fully justified as far as I'm concerned because her contribution to the universal literary conversation is that fucking good.
posted by gompa at 11:12 AM on August 21, 2012 [22 favorites]


Every time I read this, I wonder why Rebecca just didn't tell the guy straight out "I've forgotten more about Muybridge than you'll ever know".

"He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. "And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?"

So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingenue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out "


She's the one who assigned herself the ingenue role, not the patriarchy, not the old guy geezing on to her, not her mom, not her dad, not nobody else. Honestly--did she really think there was another book that she'd not heard of? It's nice her friend Sallie tried to rescue her, but I think a grown up woman can seize the moment, stop being polite and just claim her territory.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:13 AM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's all about establishing dominance.

Accepting competition as fundamental to human survival (i.e. a basic artifact of patriarchy) demands that dominance over others be inculcated early - particularly to those who are going to inherit power. Men (particularly white men) have power. Women who want power have to imitate/assume the characteristics needed to get it.

Surfing Philosophy 101: If you are new to a break, you will have to push your way past others to catch a wave, no matter how aggressive the other surfers are. If they can't see that you *can* surf, they won't give you a place in the lineup. (This is a non-gendered rule in a male-dominated domain.)

We can argue about the unfair price of the ticket, or we can look at the roots of the problem - competition, dominance ... patriarchy.
posted by Surfurrus at 11:13 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


How is he supposed to answer? He's a man. What would he know about helping a girl express her authority?
posted by Big_B at 11:13 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Probably very little if he's calling a grown woman colleague a "girl".
posted by elizardbits at 11:16 AM on August 21, 2012 [31 favorites]


Honestly--did she really think there was another book that she'd not heard of?

How dumb would she have looked if he was right? She gave him the benefit of the doubt that we accord to most adults, and it was his fault for not listening when he was told that she had actually written that book. The story is so nutty to me that I would like for him to have simply not heard them the first time, but I have also met enough know-it-alls to know that he probably did all he could to not listen to that fact, even if just unconsciously.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:17 AM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


I wonder why Rebecca just didn't tell the guy straight out "I've forgotten more about Muybridge than you'll ever know".

Because when you are socialized your entire life to be good, to make nice, to let the guy speak, and to take the social awkwardness into yourself rather than make him experience any of it, there's no "just" about it. It's a significant barrier to entry, particularly when professional success in the earlier part of your career requires balancing the ingenue role with the competent role, so that you can impress your superiors but never threaten them. Just like when you're socialized your entire life to believe that you, as a man, have the right to the conversational floor, that your thoughts are automatically worthwhile and useful, and that your input is always wanted, it can take a lot of work to undo those conversational patterns, even when you try hard.
posted by KathrynT at 11:17 AM on August 21, 2012 [82 favorites]


[how about] you got taken to a giant open thread where guys can talk to each other about how women just don't understand about gender bias and how that thing they experienced wasn't really it and what am I supposed to do now, NEVER FUCKING TALK?

Reddit is still there, last I checked.
posted by bonehead at 11:18 AM on August 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


I think a grown up woman can seize the moment, stop being polite and just claim her territory.

I don't really think it's about being a "grown up woman". I think this phenomenon is a microaggression stemming from sexism. When someone is being aggressive toward you, yes, sometimes you have to fight. Sometimes you don't feel like fighting. And many times fighting it leads to something worse. On preview, KathrynT lays out very well some of the potential consequences for women attempting to "claim [their] territory".
posted by Danila at 11:19 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


How is he supposed to answer? He's a man. What would he know about helping a girl express her authority?

"I don't know" is a perfectly acceptable response. But it wasn't his response, his response was how there was totally no difference, directly contradicting her experience that I find it difficult to hold onto my authority in meetings like this. See the difference?
posted by ReadEvalPost at 11:19 AM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Probably very little if he's calling a grown woman colleague a "girl".

That was her language, not his. Wasn't trying to poke.

posted by Big_B at 11:20 AM on August 21, 2012


but I think a grown up woman can seize the moment, stop being polite and just claim her territory.

Yes, women must accommodate the established *norm* and become more like men who know how to force their way into the lineup.

I might do this for a good wave, but ... nope ... not doing it to perpetuate this system of 'might is right' in everyday life.
posted by Surfurrus at 11:20 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


> I think also that even though the intentions are good, a lot of guys coming in and manpologizing to women for their own past instances of the bad thing in discussion and/or on behalf of all men doesn't help matters.

Yes, actually it does. Women appreciate it and have said so repeatedly. It's some counterweight to all the asshats going on and on about how women who complain about sexism are being sexist and should realize that Men Have Problems Too and and and... A great many men, here and elsewhere, absolutely refuse to make the intellectual effort to try to hear and understand what women are telling them. They know better, of course. Because they're men.

> I choose to take an article like this as a helpful reminder that my view is not the only one, my gender's view is not the only one and, even if I'm not able to grasp how women see the world in many situations, it's just good manners to try and apply a filter to my attitudes before opening my mouth. I can but try.

Thank you for this. It helps counteract some of the depressing fog of predictable male pushback that accompanies threads like this. I hope more men will make the effort you have made.
posted by languagehat at 11:20 AM on August 21, 2012 [16 favorites]


There is no reason for him to think that he (a robot engineer) has solutions to the thrashed-voice problem that I (a professional singer) don't have, but he had An Idea and chimed in with it anyway even though I didn't ask for any advice in that arena.
*Wince*

That used to me.

Now I just blog when I feel this urge.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:21 AM on August 21, 2012


"How is he supposed to answer? He's a man. What would he know about helping a girl express her authority?"

I don't know, probably by acknowledging that she had a real concern and going from there? Maybe even saying "I don't know, but maybe we can talk about this some more and we can find some common ground?"

Anything is better than pretending like her problems don't exist.
posted by Tevin at 11:21 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Probably very little if he's calling a grown woman colleague a "girl".

It sounds like the grown woman was referring to herself as a girl. Maybe that's part of the problem?
posted by 2N2222 at 11:21 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


no regrets, coyote: "Can we call it douchesplaining instead of mansplaining?"

"dicksplaining"? "jerkfining?"
posted by boo_radley at 11:21 AM on August 21, 2012


Is it just me or does this topic evoke something of a parallel - in many ways - with that giant thread from a couple of years ago about {NOT} approaching women in public places? It's like there's seven stages of understanding before a majority eventually go "ooooooh, I never thought of it like that!" [but then, maybe all discussions of sub-categories of sexist behaviour trace similar trajectories]
posted by peacay at 11:22 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


bonehead: "Reddit is still there, last I checked."

epoynisterical, etc. etc.

Maybe metafilter should lay off the irony after the first 10 or so posts in touchy threads. I dunno.
posted by boo_radley at 11:23 AM on August 21, 2012


That was her language, not his. Wasn't trying to poke.

yep, saw that after i hit post. sry that came out so snippily.

posted by elizardbits at 11:23 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe the guys who hate the term "mansplaining" because they feel unfairly tarred with an ugly brush could spend less time telling women our language makes them feel bad and more time telling the mansplainers that their actions make men look bad.
posted by KathrynT at 11:23 AM on August 21, 2012 [47 favorites]


thank you, boo_radley. Funny how even insults are 'feminized' (i.e., douche) ... no, not funny actually.
posted by Surfurrus at 11:24 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


ego-splaining
posted by jferg at 11:24 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a very calm description of an every-day expression of assumptions made by men. If you are a man, it is not a personal attack on you.

That's a bit like claiming women are prone to hysteria, and then telling any women who object to the broad-brush characterization that they're taking it too personally. If this essay were titled 'WTF, arrogant people' or somesuch, I'd be in enthusiastic agreement. But the term 'mansplaining' strikes me as blatantly and pointlessly sexist. The word itself is preemptive of discussion, like the term 'feminazi' is used by some male chauvinists to close down any consideration of women's viewpoints that might be in opposition to theirs.

I second Yoink's enthusiasm for Deborah Tannen, who has written extensively about gender and social patterns of communication without scapegoating her subjects.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:26 AM on August 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


She's the one who assigned herself the ingenue role, not the patriarchy, not the old guy geezing on to her, not her mom, not her dad, not nobody else.

Except of course, you know, most women are sort of trained for that role, socialised to be polite, to assume that other people (well, men) know more, not brought up with the intellectual arrogance of men.

So yeah, it's a common dynamic for a woman expert to be ignored by male amateurs, common enough The Fast Show did a whole series of sketches about it.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:26 AM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Some years ago I was at a Japanese grocery store picking up some supplies for a new year's party, and I was staring really intently at a package of furikake, which is a condiment that goes over rice.

A complete stranger came up to me and told me what furikake was and what it was for and -- I don't know how he lectured me about it for a good five minutes or so, because "it's a condiment that goes over rice" is pretty much all there is to it.

At that point, I was fluent in Japanese. I had studied the language for years and lived in Japan for a year. I was staring really intently at the package because I was trying to make sure that it was suitable for vegetarians. The guy (he wasn't a store employee or anything like that; just another customer) didn't ask me if I needed any help; he didn't ask me if I knew what furikake was; he just dumped an explanation on me.

It was a really off-putting experience and I was grateful that this article put it into a larger context.
posted by Jeanne at 11:27 AM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Thank God a lot of men showed up to explain that this isn't gendered because it happens to them too.

Is the problem that there are too many binary thinkers who can't conceptualize the difference in incidence and weight? Or too many with some sort of ego built into the idea of commonality with men as an identity?

I really don't understand why this is taken as insulting to men — have you thought through the chain? Like, it's insulting because it lumps men together in a negative behavior. But then "patriarchy" and sexism broadly are insulting and angstmachen for these radical individualists — I'm not one of them! (except, of course, when I am and I get called on it). But surely they can see that there's a power differential that makes some things troubling when people with social power do them and generally harmless when people without do it. Or even just trust that pretty much all the women in this thread aren't fucking lying to us — that there is a difference!

I've noticed it myself, when taking a moment to back off and contribute less. It certainly corresponds with my experience of college, and the fact that I'm an over-explainer myself.

So, dudes, just try to not be defensive and fucking listen for once, otherwise you look like a goddamned asshole who's part of the fucking problem, and it makes both MetaFilter and the whole goddamn fucking world worse to be around your dumb ass.
posted by klangklangston at 11:28 AM on August 21, 2012 [34 favorites]


I come from a culture that is pretty traditionally patriarchal. I understand that most of the men commenting here would never think that a woman was automatically the inferior of all the men they had ever known. But it's too easy for me to see the connection between the automatic dismissal of women's intelligence and expertise, and that very misguided belief. There are still far too many men in the world who literally believe that women are incapable of being rational, for whom the notion that a woman could be an expert on anything is incomprehensible. These men are often in positions of power.

And the patterns of conversation that Solnit is describing are disturbingly similar to those of the conversations I have had with any number of misogynist asshats. To deny the gendered differential impact of this kind of conversation is just astonishingly blinkered. And yes, it's a challenge for men and women to move past the ways they have been socialized to communicate. But pretending that the patterns don't exist, or that gender is only tangential to them, gets in the way of solving the problem. And the problem is an incredibly painful one, an incredibly real one. Stop pretending that it's not related to patriarchy and sexism, when our experience of it so clearly is.

(And thank you to the many men who have spoken supportively. It does mean a great deal. Just as the fortitude of the women who are willing to explain this, yet again, means a great deal.)
posted by bardophile at 11:28 AM on August 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


But the term 'mansplaining' strikes me as blatantly and pointlessly sexist.

Would you prefer, I dunno, sexsplaining? Because the point of the term is to incorporate all the issues of sexism that are wrapped up in the behavior. The problem is not just arrogance or being a jerk, the problem has to do with the privilege many men express in interactions with women. And pointing this out is not sexist, it is descriptive of sexism.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:30 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


For the people recommending Deborah Tannen as an alternative on this topic, could you share some of her insights and research you find so compelling rather than tearing down Rebecca Solnit?
posted by Danila at 11:30 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


You know, in the rush and bluster of telling people that they do not get "it", it can be pretty easy to overlook the fact that there may be more than one "it" that people are relating to -- and if you parse them, you can actually discuss that single thing you want to talk about. It's hard to do, though, while offering up glib dismissals.

For those people asserting that this is something that happens betwen men with any regularity, I would suggest that some people may be conflating what has been excellently termed “assumptions of ignorance” with “pecking order” behaviour or “plumage display”. The latter two happen between men or in mixed groups, have nothing to do with assumptions of ignorance, and often take the form “Let me tell you about X” (or about how X really is). It’s the main reason why, though I enjoy talking to just about anyone one on one, I mostly can’t stand group conversation: the social competitiveness. Some people are oblivious to it, though, even when it's happening right in front of them. Plumage display also explains, I think, a lot of (but probably not all) "heterosexual couple touring art gallery" behaviour mentioned above.

Assumptions of ignorance, on the other hand, do tend to be context specific (but far from equally distributed), as Aquaman suggested. I can’t spend any time in a home decor store or section, kitchen supply store, or clothing store of any kind, without some kind clerk coming to “rescue” me. Amazingly, I know how to tastefully decorate my home, cook fine meals, and dress myself without aid. The interesting thing here, of course, is that while women (and men) may presume a man’s ignorance in certain traditionally female-dominated domains, men seem ready to assume ignorance of women... everywhere else.

Hate the term, though. They're all gender police to me. You're not supposed to know about business. I'm not supposed to know about child rearing.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:32 AM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


languagehat: "Please stop doing this. I don't mean you, Joakim Ziegler, in particular, I mean all of you who feel the burning need to break into a discussion of bad things that happen to women because of all-encompassing sexism and point out that whatever it is happens to men too. Your point is an irrelevant distraction and risks the very silencing/belittling of women that is being complained of."

Actually, I take exception to this. You quoted my apologetic introduction, you didn't quote the part where I said "I have no problem believing this happens more often to women". I was in no way denying that this happens, or that it's sexist, I was just pointing out that, in my experience, it's part of a larger phenomenon related to imbalances of power, privilege, and/or status.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:32 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's worth noting that there is a difference between explaining and doing this. We're talking in terms of "explaining" because we don't have a better term for it. But doing this is NOT the same as, say, talking through an explanation so you can make sure you understand it (as someone said they do upthread). Doing this is about the attitude surrounding it. It's the belittling, the insulting, the aggressive attitude.

I'm sorry I can't explain the attitude better. I can't give a checklist of explicit behavioral patterns that are associated with doing this. Because it's a ton of incredibly subtle cues. It's like trying to explain sarcasm: if there were a thread about sarcasm, where so many people were doubting the very existence of sarcastic comments, how could you possibly describe in written text what it was?

But if you're concerned that you do this, here's maybe one thing you can do: pay attention. You're aware of this phenomenon, so pay attention to how you engage with others. Watch your interlocutor's body language for signs of discomfort. Keep in mind that, in our culture, women are taught to smile and be kind, no matter what, so learning to spot subtler clues would be a good idea.

Another thing... I have a colleague (who is older than me and male) who is awesome. One thing he does is he asks questions. Some simple questions like, "What do you think of X?" or "Have you thought about X before?" Then he listens until I stop talking -- note that, until I stop. Some questions he asks are like, "I have an idea about X -- can I explain it so you can tell me what you think?" These are all cues that he really, sincerely wants to have a conversation where I am an active participant. These are like conversational building blocks, making sure we're both on the same page and we both know what we want to get out of the conversation.

That's some advice. It's not particularly good advice because, really, the issue comes down to this: don't be belittling, insulting, or aggressive towards women. That's not too helpful, but that's the best I can do.
posted by meese at 11:34 AM on August 21, 2012 [27 favorites]


anigbrowl , the entire point of the article is pointing out that this is a gendered phenomenon. Obviously, anyone who participates in a similar behavior is being a jerk, but there's a particular way it happens between men and women that's well-documented in this very thread and worth talking about. No one in this thread or in the article is claiming ALL men do this.
posted by sonmi at 11:34 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I know that I have a tendency to overexplain things to death when answering the simplest of questions - it's a trait I've become painfully aware of over the last few years, and I do try to rein it in. Not sure how successful I am, though.
I get this when I go into fabric shops to purchase things for my sewing projects. But the genders are reversed. Anybody care to comment?
I seem to find myself in fabric stores 2 or 3 times a month and of all the reactions I've gotten, "Inverse mansplaining" hasn't been one of them. Usually I just get "What is this man doing in here by himself, and why is he buying ten yards of interfacing?" looks.
posted by usonian at 11:37 AM on August 21, 2012


the entire point of the article is pointing out that this is a gendered phenomenon. Obviously, anyone who participates in a similar behavior is being a jerk, but there's a particular way it happens between men and women that's well-documented in this very thread and worth talking about.

I think the problem is that it's not convincingly argued in the article itself. It does seem to be a springboard, however, for many women to recognize their own experiences with mansplaining.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:38 AM on August 21, 2012


I wonder how much of mansplaining (or at least, heterosexual mansplaining) derives from an attempt to show off intelligence for a woman rather than an assumption by the mansplainer that he knows more than the woman in question. In this view the mansplainer would mansplain whether or not he believes the woman in question has equivalent or better knowledge, because he is trying to demonstrate his knowledge rather than unintentionally denigrate hers.

In my personal experience, this performative aspect emerges when one mansplainer wanders across another mansplainer in action...they start to douchesplain to each other, freeing me up to escape from this particular cycle of hell.
posted by sallybrown at 11:43 AM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Can we call it douchesplaining instead of mansplaining?

How about ass-plaining? Because doing it requires being an ass. Other plumbing irrelevant.
posted by ambrosia at 11:45 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


"... brought up with the intellectual arrogance of men."

That's an interesting way of phrasing it. It sounds so warmly affirming. It didn't feel that way as a child. I quickly learned that ignorance wasn't merely "no excuse," ignorance was a punishable offense. Not having an answer meant that something unpleasant would happen. It didn't have to be a real answer, it just had to sound good at the moment. "I don't know" was an announcement of failure. Failures were punished.

It would have been so nice to feel free to to say "I don't know" without cringing. But one learns to play by whatever rules are imposed by the system in which one operates.
posted by Longtime Listener at 11:47 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


"That's a bit like claiming women are prone to hysteria, and then telling any women who object to the broad-brush characterization that they're taking it too personally."

What I'm suggesting is that the men who are having many feels over this article should examine where those feels are coming from and why before defaulting to going on the defensive.

Additionally, the article goes out of the way to say that not all men do this so I don't think that it is like the example you gave.
posted by Tevin at 11:47 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've been making a conscious effort to be nicer and better able to suffer fools at work for a few years now and people have started doing this to me. It turns out that, as a very feminine looking woman, people think you're an idiot if you're not kind of a scary ball-buster. I can actually see it happen and it amuses me to no end.
posted by fshgrl at 11:47 AM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Mansplaining is a challenging phenomenon. I think almost every male (and a good percentage of females) does it fairly often in the course of their lives. I know that I'm often guilty of it myself.

I think that there are variety of psychological factors at play in why I do it and possibly some reasons why the behavior is so developed especially among "alpha males". One thing I think is in play is the need for many men to derive self-worth from their knowledgebase whether practical, job related, based upon interests, etc. Being top of the knowledge heap is perceived as a source of power over others. Sharing knowledge on a deep level is discouraged as it weakens your source of advantage. Conversely looking like you are ignorant on a subject or even professing to not know everything is seen as a weakness. The solution that many people adopt is to be extremely aggressive with their opinions especially if you don't have a ton of confidence in them. In many cases the side with the more forceful personality can "win" an argument or convince the listener of their point of view even if the listener knows better. Having someone shut up because it's not worth arguing with you or because social pressure enforces them to defer to the dominant male is seen as a victory by the dominant male.

This sort of thing seems like it's baked into our society at a fairly early age as being aggressive in school (even if you don't really know the answer) is often rewarded by authority figures like teachers. Males get called on to answer questions more often and this reinforces this perception that being aggressive with your knowledge can get you ahead even if your overall knowledge of a subject is remarkably superficial.

Another thing that often happens and this is where I almost invariably fall into mansplaining is the tendency to want to solve problems rather than empathize with someone. Instead of listening attentively to someone's issue or dilemna and commiserating with them on an emotional level I'm almost always looking for the quick and dirty solution. This often diminishes the other person because it truly feels like I don't really care about their thoughts and emotions but I'm just reducing them to an equation to be solved. This is where crappy mansplainations like "Well did you try X, Y or Z" come from often when that sort of advice is neither desired or really relevant to the root cause of the person's distress.

Of course when you get called out on mansplaining it's normal to get defensive about your behavior and go "What? I'm not sexist, racist, prejuidist, entitled, privileged, etc" because we don't like being told that we are wrong and that our behaviors are causing other people distress. Well I guess that some people just don't give a shit but for me at least getting called out causes shame and that can lead to retaliatory tit-for-tat escalations which is why I think a good number of people just put up with people mansplaining stuff even if they are relatively decent people in most circumstances. The advantages of confrontation (hopefully improving future behavior) aren't worth the negatives (being seen as uppity, or a bitch, etc) so I think a good percentage of people only really put in the effort to inform their loved ones (spouses, significant others, siblings, etc) and pretty much try to ignore the more egregious examples that take place in the workplace or other social interactions with peers and superiors.

But it's a good thing for there to be essays like this so that people can hopefully look past all their defensiveness and go "You know she has a good point, I do that every once in a while but I never realized how annoying it is" so you can look beyond yourself and realize your impact (for good or ill) on the people you interact with on a daily basis.
posted by vuron at 11:47 AM on August 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


Would you prefer, I dunno, sexsplaining? Because the point of the term is to incorporate all the issues of sexism that are wrapped up in the behavior. The problem is not just arrogance or being a jerk, the problem has to do with the privilege many men express in interactions with women. And pointing this out is not sexist, it is descriptive of sexism.

Yeah, but term is referencing an entire sex, so it's not surprising some members of that sex are taking offense.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:50 AM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


She's the one who assigned herself the ingenue role, not the patriarchy, not the old guy geezing on to her, not her mom, not her dad, not nobody else. Honestly--did she really think there was another book that she'd not heard of? It's nice her friend Sallie tried to rescue her, but I think a grown up woman can seize the moment, stop being polite and just claim her territory.

Why should she have to play by the old guy’s rules in the first place? “Seizing the moment”, “claiming her territory” – there’s a combativeness, an aggressiveness there, an assumption that the default rules of interaction should be those of conflict and establishing dominance. And once you assume that this is the natural way of relating to other human beings, well, of course, then Solnit should have just cowgirled up and let loose with a speech designed to cut this guy into a thousand little pieces. Everybody knows that, right?

But what if that sort of Randian-lite view of humanity is incomplete? Rebecca Solnit is an amazing, amazing writer. Her most recent book, “A Paradise Built in Hell”, is an incredibly valuable and well-written argument against exactly that sort of conflict-first view of humanity (incidentally, she’s on a very similar page with some of the most prominent academics studying the social response to disasters). There are other, different ways of relating to people than the adversarial, the argumentative, and the dominance-establishing. Maybe it's my increasing disillusion with argument-as-the-word-of-God coming through, I don't know.

It certainly goes beyond sexism (I’ve been talked down to in that unasked-for-explaining-with-just-the-right-touch-of-condescension way personally by both genders), but it can’t be ignored that while everyone who does it may not be male, the behavior is certainly one that is expected and encouraged by many prevailing concepts of masculinity.
posted by jhandey at 11:50 AM on August 21, 2012 [16 favorites]


I think a grown up woman can seize the moment, stop being polite and just claim her territory.

It's hard to do though in a way that doesn't get one labelled as unpleasantly rude or worse.

I work for an employers for which slightly more than half of middle management is female, and a growing chunk of senior management too. Watching this generation of women figure out how to claim power in a traditional workplace is an interesting social experiment.

The ones who are best at it project a natural confidence and simply expect to be taken seriously, simply because it should be so. The worst try to balance their insecurity with bafflement that they are not respected by their reports or peers. This causes anti-social and inappropriate lashings out. Work-place culture has certain expectations on behaviour and "professionalism", such as respecting chains of command and that it's ok for not everyone to be happy, that some women just seem not to grasp.

There are changes men and culture at large need to make, sure, but equally, breaking down "patriarchy" means that female social expectations and conditioning need to change too.

Condescension is an infuriating indication of not being respected intellectually. However, the recipient can turn the interaction around and break the pattern of minimization by adjusting their own behaviour. I've seen many women do it---it takes self-confidence and a will to own the situation rather than be owned by it. Blowhards often back down if called on it.

It's important for men to understand that they can be condescending, especially if its inadvertent. It's important that they need to understand how not to do it and to stop doing it. It's equally important however, for women to develop the tools to deal with it appropriately and not fall back into the "good girl" roles society expects of them, professional self-defense training if you will.
posted by bonehead at 11:52 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


The plumbing may be irrelevant on a strictly biological level but as a phenomenon of patriarchal culture it's pretty damned relevant. Women may do it to men or other women, but more often than anything else men do it to women and this seems to be a direct result of a societal power imbalance that favors men. So a word to describe this is helpful, even if it insults some men (heaven forfend! we have been insulted and therefore can not listen to anything else on the subject until we have been vindicated! *faint*).

*****

Alright, bros. Fellow man here. I need to explain some things to you. Wait, if it's a man explaining things to other men what's that called? Let's call it BROSTRUCTION for the nonce. So let me brostruct you in this.

Consider the scenario:
1. A woman shares an experience she had, where a man did this very specific thing which made her feel dominated and less than equal. She dubs this "explaining" or possibly "mansplaining".

2. Other women come in to confirm the exact same experiences, and also confirm that dealing with this kind of behavior is sucky and exhausting.

Now it's your turn to respond. Oh my what will you say? Will you assume good faith or sour grapes? Will you leap to the defense of men, or perhaps dimsiss it all and explain that this is not just a man thing, or maybe just explain why this is insulting to you? Or maybe, just maybe, you'll agree that this happens and you want to be a part of the solution?

Before you go any further in this discussion, or any future discussions about gender equality, ask yourself "why am I here? What do I want from this conversation" And if the answer to that question is "I need to defend myself or my fellow mens" or "these people are being entirely too mean when describing their feelings and they need to know that the meanness isn't persuading me at all" you just might want to think twice before jumping in.

Just a thought, from one man to another.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:53 AM on August 21, 2012 [32 favorites]


It's been a couple of years since I read Tannen, but here's what I remember:

Deborah Tannen talks a lot about how male-male conversations tend to be about establishing one-upness, and one of the ways you do that is by hammering away at authority, and female-female conversations tend to be about establishing that everyone is on the same level, frequently by lowering yourself half a step so the other person will join you ("I get so nervous before big presentations!" "Oh, me too!"), and so when (some) men and (some) women talk, you have this pretty intense culture clash where the men are trying to dominate the situation, and the women keep trying to re-establish same-level unity, often by apologizing, thus making the man's brain conclude that he has indeed achieved a one-up beachhead and also that the woman is really not very confident in what she has to say, she's probably not good at her job.

I am not at all sure that I would agree that Deborah Tannen is coming at this from a different place than Rebecca Solnit, really. I think Tannen is more interested in the frameworks, the Whys of talking as we talk. She claims, for instance, that the stereotype of being unwilling to stop and ask directions has to do with men being much more sensitive to the "one-down" position asking for help/admitting you don't know puts you in than women are. I know this is not true for every person. But I certainly notice a variant of this in myself, where I am blithely extremely comfortable admitting that I don't know something, and baffled when that reduces someone's opinion of my expertise and authority. So I am prepared to believe that conversely, a man who is more sensitive to this dynamic is very good at talking over the "I don't know" point. For instance when asked for advice.

I don't know what the solutions to these things are outside of either very intense talking it over and trying to be aware, or going for some kind of Saudi-style totally unintegrated workforce. Because there's also the problem of people not actually being that okay with women expressing themselves in forthright, confident ways. See: all female politicians ever. So the answer is not actually just "So then you should talk like dudes" because people don't like that and that also dings you pretty hard. (Tannen talks a lot about this, too. Her book is really worth reading, IMO. It is not at all, in case anyone reading this is wondering, anti-man. It's more like she approaches this topic as someone studying the languages of two tribes who live in the same region.)

Meese, I really relate to every word of your comment. Sometimes in these situations I feel like something labeled SUBMISSIVE (not like that) SUBROUTINE switches on in my brain. Which indeed makes me wonder if everyone is just stuck in some kind of weird capoeira routine of the mind and we can't turn it off.

Anyway. I am not talking and thinking about these things because my feelings are hurt or I am going around being angry about the men! and their oppressing! I don't really feel like oh my god, the sexism! Just like, this is a real problem in my life, it often happens when talking to guys, but that's of very secondary concern, I just want to figure out how to fix it. I am talking and thinking about these things right now because being unable to find a practical workaround or solution for this stuff, being unable to figure out how to claim my authority and hold onto it in the face of certain types of behavior, is (I think) harming my actual career progression and that is a big deal to me, as it would be to anyone.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:58 AM on August 21, 2012 [45 favorites]


I am really grateful for this post. It is really hard to explain this phenomenon complete with the Men Who Explain and the Women Who Are Socialized to Be Polite in Response, but it's so real.

As a friendly lady person with no grey hair, I am frequently assumed to be a moron in my particular field (indigent appellate criminal defense) by people who aren't familiar with my work. Not long ago, I had an argument at the Court of Appeals. Some older (like 20 years older) male attorney was there and afterwards looked me up on the state bar website, called me at work, and offered to give me a few pointers, noting that he taught appellate advocacy. Nevermind that I won my case and had argued (and won) many many more cases than him or likely anyone else in private practice because of the high-volume nature of my job (and am now also an adjunct professor in my field). It was so presumptuous of him to offer me, someone he does not know, someone who might know more than him, unsolicited pointers. I did not tell him this because I could not pick my jaw up off the floor to tell him how ridiculous this was, so I told him I would let him know if I needed any help and never called him back. He now avoids me when he sees me, which he does frequently, because, as it turns out we work in the same building.

It would have been better if he would have just asked me out, if that was his goal, without the condescending assumption that I could benefit from his wisdom, which he judged to be greater than any I could possibly offer.
posted by *s at 11:59 AM on August 21, 2012 [30 favorites]


That was in response to Danila's comment.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:59 AM on August 21, 2012


I have had this happen to me about one of my academic subjects, at dinner at a conference to which I was invited to speak specifically on that subject, and by a man from the host department. Plus, the specific thing he was explaining to me was how the subject in question was perceived and taught in my country. It was depressingly hilarious.

I did try to interject at first, but it was quite clear he wasn't really going to listen; the whole conversation started when he said "So tell me about how X thing's doing back home," I said "Really well these days -" and he cut me off by saying "No it's not. Don't you think it's a shame it's dying in your country?" and then went on to tell me why it was dying, totally ignoring anything I said in response. So in the end, I just nodded politely, said "Hmmm," and made conversation with someone else instead.

Could I have got him to listen to me? Could I have done the conversational equivalent of pushing my way past him to get to the good surfing waves? Maybe. I'm trying to picture what that would look like, for that particular situation. Probably I would have had to change my body language - I am small and look young, and this doesn't help. Definitely I'd have had to raise my voice at least to a level that would have been immediately turn-and-stare noticeable to everyone else at our table. But, yeah, I suppose I could have done that.

Here's why I didn't, though (and why women typically don't, in situations like that): It would have immediately changed the atmosphere of the otherwise calm-and-friendly professional dinner, a dinner at which I was a guest. It would have seemed to everyone else there - and no doubt to Mr Explainy too - that I'd suddenly made things angry and antagonistic for no good reason at all. This would have been compounded by the phenomenon whereby something that's 'assertive' and praiseworthy when a man does it is often perceived as 'aggressive' and bad when a woman does it, and odds are good my reputation would have taken a hit as a consequence. It would have hurt the feelings of Mr Explainy, who, after all, likely didn't even see himself as doing anything wrong in the first place. ("So why do you care about hurting his feelings?" Don't underestimate the degree to which women are socially conditioned to make others, particularly male others, feel comfortable.) It would have made dessert very awkward indeed. And all for what? For the chance that Mr Explainy might grudgingly change his mind about one aspect of how a specific academic subject is taught at secondary-school level in a country he doesn't live in? Not worth the price.
posted by Catseye at 12:02 PM on August 21, 2012 [74 favorites]


Would you prefer, I dunno, sexsplaining?

I'm not particularly upset by "mansplaining" but I can understand the objections of those who are--for one thing it is inherently essentializing. I can't imagine anything but horrified revulsion being the general reaction on Metafilter to anything that characterized any negative trait more commonly found among women than men as "woman-Xing." I quite like "dicksplaining" because it keeps the gender connotations but leaves open the possibility that not *every* man in the world is, and must be to all eternity, a dick.

One of the things that Deborah Tannen is particularly good at in describing all this is getting away from the simplistic "evil jerkish men / victimized put-upon women" way of describing these encounters. There are powerful forces of socialization on both sides of these transactions that drive them towards these unhappy outcomes. I know many men will have had the experience of talking with a woman who is an expert in some area and happily floating whatever half-baked theories you happen to have about that area to the woman with the assumption that the rules of the transaction are "I do my best to impress you that I'm interested in your area of expertise and know a little bit about it / you come back and tell me where I'm wrong and teach me more about it." Then something seems to go horribly wrong--you find yourself droning on, waiting for the ball to be hit back and instead you're getting "polite listening face"--because if you've slipped into "mansplaining" your interlocutor has slipped into "womanlistening" where the rules of the transaction are "listen politely to what the man has to say and don't undermine his authority by contradicting him" which wasn't what you wanted at all. She goes away thinking "what a jerk, he tried to teach me about stuff he KNOWS I know more about that he does." You go away thinking "why wasn't she willing to engage with me about this stuff?" It's an unhappy transaction on both sides because both players are playing by rather different rulebooks.

There's a similar kind of thing at work, I think, in the example from the thread above about the woman who is having difficulty establishing her authority in meetings and the guy who says "oh, it's not really any different for men and women." In my career I've been fascinated how often my women colleagues (who outnumber my male colleagues in my department) express similar anxieties about how to establish their "authority"--both in the classroom and in the profession at large. And yet, so often the examples they give of the challenges they receive to their authority strike me as universal. That is, time and again I've had women colleagues say something to me along the lines of "no man would ever have students emailing them at 2 O'Clock in the morning demanding an immediate reply!" which a simple glance at my email account shows us just not the case (I'm picking the email example simply at random, there are many, many other such instances where something that I read as just "Oh, students these days" they will read as being specifically related to disrespect for them as women (another example of "womanlistening" if you like--which I doubt you do).

And, of course, when I was younger my response to these comments would be precisely the really unhelpful one of "oh no. Don't worry. This is exactly the same for men, too!" Which would get heard, of course, not as the reassuring "look, I have objective data that shows you are almost certainly not being singled out for disrespect based on your gender in this instance" that I would mean it to be but as "Oh wow, you're crazy. You're just making that problem up!" Because of course the felt lack of authority is a perfectly real phenomenon, and is, in fact, the product of having been raised in a sexist society where men, by and large, get socialized to feel more authority in leadership roles than women, by and large, do. But that doesn't mean that the clueless "oh no, there's really no problem there" response is ill-meant or entirely baseless--it's just failing to take into account a larger social universe which skews everyone's perceptions of the meanings of even the most simple social transactions.
posted by yoink at 12:02 PM on August 21, 2012 [26 favorites]


More often than not, a guy's confidence (which he has been told, over and over throughout his life, is crucially important to his status and chances of success in life) is a fragile, vaporous, spiderwebby thing that is shockingly easy to damage or destroy. Especially in the case of interactions with women when the guy has issues with women, which, thanks to the culture and upbringing a lot of guys are exposed to, many of them unfortunately do.

Much of the bluster, the mansplaining, the creepy assertiveness, the splaying across multiple seats on the bus, the I-will-pulverize-your-bones-into-a-fine-powder handshakes, is guys throwing everything they have into building up that "confidence" which is so vital to their sense of self-worth, because it is fragile. So fragile.

You get a lot of pushback against critiques of mainsplaining etc because you are essentially asking guys to give up the tools they use to combat the fear that they are not as smart or powerful or successful as they wish themselves to be. Because they get told all the time that projection of confidence is the most important thing they can do to look like Real Men and get what they want out of life.

And these coping tools can be very harmful when they come into contact with other people, because they're not designed for establishing healthy, respectful connections and dialogue with others, they're designed to protect ourselves from fear and rejection and feelings of weakness.

I am not trying to say "have pity on the poor mansplainers, they're hurting inside" here, cause, y'know, we're all humans and we're all hurting inside one way or another, and there are millions of ways to process those feelings without being a jerk to others. However, I do think it's worth bearing in mind the place of insecurity mansplaining comes from when it's threatening the confidence of the person on the receiving end of it. Whether the best response is to calmly disengage or strike a lacerating blow at the mansplainer's vulnerable core really depends on the particulars of the situation.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:02 PM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yeah, but term is referencing an entire sex, so it's not surprising some members of that sex are taking offense.

Why? I don't feel implicated when people talk about White Power organizations, despite my being white.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:06 PM on August 21, 2012 [25 favorites]


The thing that makes me want to throw up? It's this: I cater to it.

When the conversation "goes nowhere," it's like something has 'clicked' in my mind. I've clued into the scorn and aggression, and I recede. It's like a mechanical process: I smile, I give a small chuckle, I shrug my shoulders, I say, "Well, yeah, okay." And that's it.


I know this feeling all too well. I think of it as "oh no --- the patriarchy is coming FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!"

It's bad enough to experience sexist words and deeds imposed from outside. To find myself reenacting the subtle sexist dynamics I've been struggling against for years is infuriating.

It's hard to recognize the large and small ways the one has been trained to participate in the privileging of others, and to unlearn those behaviors. The learned behaviors keep creeping in around the edges because they're expected, because they're easy, and because they work: when a marginalized person enacts the expected dynamic, they're granted a small social reward. And small social rewards feel pretty big when you're on the margins of that society.

I've been making a conscious effort to be nicer and better able to suffer fools at work for a few years now and people have started doing this to me. It turns out that, as a very feminine looking woman, people think you're an idiot if you're not kind of a scary ball-buster.

I have resolved to be not-necessarily-nice but clear and calm and civil. It's worked wonders --- though it turns out that, if you are a moderately feminine woman who does soften her language with apologies and self-undermining and self-doubt, then some people (men and women) think you're a scary ball-buster, even when you are mindfully maintaining the same high level of civility that your male colleagues observe.

I'm okay with that.
posted by Elsa at 12:06 PM on August 21, 2012 [25 favorites]


It is a bit tedious that women still have to have this discussion.

In the '70's and '80's mothers put their daughters into soccer camps to indoctrinate them in strong teamwork and competition so that they could compete in the "real world" (i.e., man's world); author Anne Wilson Schaef wrote about
Women's Reality and how communication and values were gender-based (and examined the difference between discourse and debate as gender based communication styles); and Mary Daly refused to have men in her Boston College classes because even one man would dominate the conversations (not just because of his dominance training, but because the young women would accede to, and even approve of, his dominance).

Feminism 101 should be a required class in all high schools.
posted by Surfurrus at 12:07 PM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


I haven't had anything "mansplained" to me, but I think that's because A. I'm not offended by unsolicited advice and B. I can assert myself when I do actually know more than the explainer. For me, at least, if I know what I'm talking about and I've thought through a certain subject, it's really easy to argue my position in person.

As far as being a mansplainer, I'm not afraid to say "I don't know" or keep my mouth shut, but it's possible I have underestimated someone's knowledge and sounded a little too confident in my own, and they're quietly seething inside. Maybe I told someone at a party about some local history (I know a little bit) and she's an expert and thinking that I'm grossly simplifying some fascinating topic, and will write about it in her blog later. I don't know, because I have no way of knowing.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:08 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


I am male. My job is largely explaining things to people, usually where I can't make assumptions about their knowledge of the thing I'm explaining. Trying not to be condescending is very, very high on my internal checklist, and I know I get it wrong even after n decades of doing it professionally. Sometimes, it even feels as if I'm getting worse at it, as those n decades have given me a certain confidence, which is easy to abuse.

It's particularly difficult in social situations where I'm outwith my magisterium, and really really difficult in my professional life where I'm making a decision that affects those I work with rather than just building an explanation of a topic. I'm worse with the female members of staff than the male, and all this while being a perfectly respectable liberal feminist who'd go to the barricades if shit like Akin got a toehold in the UK.

So, it's there. It's not something that is easier to deal with, with experience - quite the opposite.

What helps is being aware of it in others; a friend of mine, whom I love dearly, has a particular skill in the art - we can be watching a TV documentary about something exceptionally skilful, complex and undertaken by senior experts (like, say, docking spacecraft), and he'll regularly say "Oh, they should be doing it like I would. I can't understand why they're doing it the way they are. So easy to do it my way." I rag him mercilessly on this, and he rarely misses an opportunity to strike back, but it helps me (and him, I'm _almost_ sure) keep the self-monitoring small voice alive that steps in, if we're lucky and listening, in time to save us.

Don't be afraid to call it.
posted by Devonian at 12:08 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


My favorite and most recent example:

I work part-time on weekends distributing raw milk. When a friend mentioned this in a conversation in which a man was present, he said, "Let me explain pasteurization to you."

My friend also mentioned that he was an air traffic controller. How do you think he would have reacted if I had said, "Let me explain radar to you"?
posted by caryatid at 12:09 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that I like the "womanlistening" portmanteau. Because, yes, there is a way that women faux-listen when they would like to be doing almost anything else, because they know that the social cost of doing almost anything else is going to be not worth it in this instance. It's a thing that is common to women's experience because we are socialized to be this way, and whether or not every woman does it, it certainly does speak to a kind of gendered communication pattern.

I would love to be able to easily stop doing this. It's really hard for me. When I go to speak up in a conversation where someone's doing this to me, my lips go numb, my ears grow hot, I feel tears pre-emptively starting, my throat tightens and my stomach lurches. I try anyway, because these gendered communication patters are toxic. I don't think it's too much to ask that men try too.

I don't know, because I have no way of knowing.

You have no way of knowing if the other partner in your conversation is fully participating in it? Can't you do a mental check backwards and see if she's been talking and promulgating ideas, or if she's just going "mm hmm" and looking around?
posted by KathrynT at 12:10 PM on August 21, 2012 [24 favorites]


> I was just pointing out that, in my experience, it's part of a larger phenomenon related to imbalances of power, privilege, and/or status.

And I was pointing out that your point is an irrelevant distraction and risks the very silencing/belittling of women that is being complained of. I was not calling you a bad person, nor do I think you are a bad person; I'm aware that you meant well and did not see that you were doing the very thing that this thread exists to combat. But it would benefit you to be less reactive and spend more time thinking about what the women here are saying. They really do not need to be told that it's part of a larger phenomenon. They need to be heard and understood.
posted by languagehat at 12:10 PM on August 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


I think it's just that we are all trapped in a system few of us are even aware of.

After reading through some of the other feminist related threads here recently, I'm starting to see how true this is. I'm not sure if this incident is the greatest example. I think it is very hard for someone who has grown up as a male to see how different our society is experienced as a female and how unfair it can be, especially with no education in feminism. The human capacity to hide, repress, deny, or rationalize aspects of reality, especially if it benefits us to do so, is immense. But for this reason, I think it is a huge benefit if women continue to express what they see happening, as tiresome as this may be to do again and again, and for men and women to make a constant effort to detect subtle sexism and do something to fix it, especially in the workplace. I agree that Feminism 101 should be required in high school/college (and African American History for that matter).
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:11 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


A constructive suggestion I’d like to make is, rather than to dismiss men’s reported experiences of being on the receiving end, follow it up with “and didn’t that SUCK?” Because it's helpful to remember that it does.

In my younger days, going from running a hectic courtroom to being told “don’t forget to remove the staples before you photocopy... oh here, just let me do it for you” was beyond maddening (no idea where the assumption of ignorance came from – maybe ageism in that case). It’s worth remembering the next time I am tempted to wax on about any old thing as a way of showing off, or shoring up insecurity, or whatever, because the person on the receiving end might feel like you think they’re exactly this stupid.

Leaving aside the times you think the person is exactly this stupid.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:11 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh no! The HTML error is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!

I hope it is obvious that I intended that link to go to TV Tropes*, not that I was suggesting Metafilter is The House of Patriarchy.**

*which I recognize will ruin some members' productivity for the day. Possibly including mine.
**If someone made a horror movie called "The House of Patriarchy," I would watch it an infinite number of times.
posted by Elsa at 12:11 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


> If someone made a horror movie called "The House of Patriarchy," I would watch it an infinite number of times.

Somebody please make this movie!
posted by languagehat at 12:12 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Please stop doing this. I don't mean you, Joakim Ziegler, in particular, I mean all of you who feel the burning need to break into a discussion of bad things that happen to women because of all-encompassing sexism and point out that whatever it is happens to men too. Your point is an irrelevant distraction and risks the very silencing/belittling of women that is being complained of.

I don't think it is an irrelevant distraction, the fact that men experience this from other men changes the nature of the problem and changes how you would deal with it. Every man knows what domination feels like, it's intrinsic to our cultural notion of masculinity! To deny that men experience domination is to silence the only part of our experience which would allow us to empathize with other people's experience. For some reason, people believe that admitting that men experience domination means erasing all distinctions between the degree of domination. IMO, this is misguided and counterproductive. The question for the men's rights movement is why they are silent on the issue of gay rights, when it is clearly the most pressing form of domination that men experience.

Secondly, pointing out that men experience mansplaining all the time actually highlights what men do not experience, which is this:
But now I have the words to put to it: it's the scorn, the aggression, and the belittling insult that makes me 'click' into Acquiescence Mode. I don't know what to do about it. I don't know how to stop playing out that Acquiescence Script every time this happens. I don't know.
Presumably, the reason an Acquiescence Mode exists at all is because women get the picture that Something Bad will happen to them if they try to resist mansplaining, if they try to stand up for themselves and their expertise. This is something that is highly gendered, but we aren't actually hearing a whole lot about this unique female experience. We are hearing a lot of about men and male behavior, which is great and deserves to be exposed, but that's easy to do. As a society, we're pretty comfortable with criticizing men being jerks. We're far less comfortable with women refusing to take it.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:14 PM on August 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


That's sort of what Alien is, no? Ash trying to shove the porn magazine down Ripley's throat, etc?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:14 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Of course, it occurs to me that the biggest talkers are also probably the most gender-conforming, and so probably haven’t strayed into traditionally female domains and had that experience of being talked down to, so as to be able to relate. If middle class and white (in the west), even moreso, perhaps only experiencing it when young (and forgotten or simply adopted in turn as ageism) or old (and not there yet, and will be mad as hell when it starts to happen).

Hurt is instructive. As usual, it needs to be more evenly distributed.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:19 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe the guys who hate the term "mansplaining" because they feel unfairly tarred with an ugly brush could spend less time telling women our language makes them feel bad and more time telling the mansplainers that their actions make men look bad.

I'm not sure where you get the idea that there is some sort of gender-encompassing collective responsibility for this sort of thing, but I'll be sure to use your excuse next time I witness poor driving associated with a particular ethnicity or license plate. Maybe those Jersey drivers will finally shape up.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:20 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


"oh no --- the patriarchy is coming FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!"

This made me (literally) laugh out loud. Yes! Exactly.

If anyone is reading this far down another epic thread about the sexism, and you have any reading suggestions on the above topic, I would love to see them.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 12:20 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]





That's sort of what Alien is, no? Ash trying to shove the porn magazine down Ripley's throat, etc?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:14 PM on August 21 [+] [!]


I didn't realize how much I appreciated that film until I got into a grad level of literary analysis of some of the imagery in it. There's some really fun writing on it out there.

Who says arts degrees are useless?
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:21 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's sort of what Alien is, no? Ash trying to shove the porn magazine down Ripley's throat, etc?

OH GOLLY DO I HAVE THOUGHTS ABOUT "ALIEN" AND PATRIARCHY. So much bubbling white fluid. So many eggs and chambers and tubes. SO MUCH IMPREGNATION.
posted by Elsa at 12:21 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


A constructive suggestion I’d like to make is, rather than to dismiss men’s reported experiences of being on the receiving end, follow it up with “and didn’t that SUCK?” Because it's helpful to remember that it does.

Yeah, that's a good point. Men, it's not that we don't believe it happens to you, I've seen it with my own eyes, I've been guilty of it even. That doesn't mean it's not part of a systematic cultural power imbalance in which gender plays a large part. It blows whenever it happens, and it can blow when it happens to you AND STILL HAPPEN TO WOMEN MORE.

Part of the problem is that because of the cultural inequality in the amount of respect "women's things" get as opposed to "men's things," men are more likely (more likely! not inevitably!) to get this kind of chilling bullshit in the context of hobbies or things they do in their free time, as opposed to as part of their professional careers, because the things that are culturally female are more likely to be cast as hobbies. So, while it blows chunks that men have this experience at the fabric store or the yarn store (and, they definitely do), the fact is that women get it at WORK. AND ALSO at the guitar store* or the tool store or wherever they go that isn't part of the Sphere of Things Culturally Defined as Female.

The parenting thing is one big exception to the above. Parenting is a vital part of a father's life, and the cultural barriers to fathers participating fully in parenting activities are immense and steep. Parenting isn't a hobby, it isn't babysitting, it isn't something that a man can just duck out of if the cost gets too high. I do see things changing, but gosh, the changes are tiny and slow.

*I am a trained and professional musician and the guitar store intimidates the shit out of me. But the guitar store seems to intimidate the shit out of everyone I know, gender and level of musicianship notwithstanding.
posted by KathrynT at 12:22 PM on August 21, 2012 [17 favorites]


Deborah Tannen also talks a lot about how these gendered tensions are really tensions of power--put a man in a room with his male boss and he'll start couching his assertions in the language of self-doubt. Of course, in our society it's mostly the men who have power. But this would also explain whitesplaining.

This stuff has always been interesting to me, in part because a long time ago I realized that when it came to my career I wanted to succeed in what is typically a more male mode--wanted to be thought smart and talented, could care less about being thought "nice" I wasn't always this way. In fact, I was pretty demur about my own intelligence up through college, but then I had a philosophy teacher who really encouraged me to speak out and I started getting into vigorous arguments with the other students about stuff--mostly male--and I loved it, felt more like myself, and happier. But that doesn't mean I haven't had to deal with being told that I'm not nice enough, that I'm too firm about my opinions, too strident. I try to make room for the voices of other women, especially, but it can be hard to do that without simultaneously participating in a lot of the things I think women are taught to do that are actually somewhat psychologically damaging (those thousand little ways women insult themselves and denigrate their own positions to make those around them more comfortable.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:22 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]



I think Tannen is more interested in the frameworks, the Whys of talking as we talk.

Yep. This is something Tannen talks about extensively in this excerpt, "Can't We Talk?"

Interestingly, Solnit's article is entitled "The Problem With Men Explaining Things" and not "The Problem Of Men Explaining Things". The broader problem that Solnit addresses, the real core of her argument is right there in the subtitle: "Countless women are being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever."

Karen Healey:
It's not just people being ignorant and condescending, it's people doing so through the mechanisms of privilege supporting their superiority in a given situation, even though, on the topic at hand, they have an inferior understanding. Using a term that notes the privilege is, I think, essential to calling out the perpetrator not just for bad behaviour, but for behaviour that is sourced in and enforces that privilege.
posted by Danila at 12:22 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


My friend also mentioned that he was an air traffic controller. How do you think he would have reacted if I had said, "Let me explain radar to you"?

Maybe the man was taking the government line on raw milk, and expecting to hear outrageous claims about raw milk. Not saying he's not being jerky, but it's probably a more polarizing subject than air traffic control.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:23 PM on August 21, 2012


p.s., try putting on your critical-lit-with-regard-to-gender goggles* and watching a double feature of Alien and John Carpenter's The Thing.

*Or, in my case, good luck ever taking them off.
posted by Elsa at 12:23 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


"OH GOLLY DO I HAVE THOUGHTS ABOUT "ALIEN" AND PATRIARCHY. So much bubbling white fluid. So many eggs and chambers and tubes. SO MUCH IMPREGNATION."

One of my coworkers makes a compelling case that the movie should be viewed as an attempt to explain to men the horror of rape.
posted by klangklangston at 12:24 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I grew up being tortured by this phenomenon. My father, in particular, has raised it to an art form.

Bear in mind that he is politically liberal, that he is feminist in most respects, that he and my mother alternated on who would work and who would raise the children. Nonetheless, when I brought my girlfriend home for the very first time, he lectured her for three solid hours about physics. My girlfriend is an astrophysicist. My father is not a physicist of any kind.

My sister-in-law once stopped talking to him entirely. He would not stop explaining to her why it was hypocritical of her to have married my brother in a small private ceremony some months prior to having a large public ceremony. (Why was this supposedly hypocritical? I must confess I still have no idea.) My brother, in an attempt to make peace, called my parents and tried to arrange for a way to introduce conversational rules to make a visit from them bearable. The first one was "if someone wants to change the subject of a discussion, they can say so and everyone will move on to a different topic." My father refused and hung up before even hearing any of the other rules.

I once read about a little trick. If you're talking to someone on the phone, and you can't get a word in edgewise, go completely silent. Stop saying "uh-huh", and "yep", and the other little cues that indicate you are still listening. Since you are on the phone and they cannot see you, eventually the other party will wonder what's up and ask, "Are you stil there?" and in that break you will have a chance to speak. I tried this with my father. I timed it. He talked for 35 solid minutes without a word from me. He didn't let me say anything, incidentally - that's just when I finally gave up the experiment as a failure.

Is my father an extreme example? Probably. But growing up with that has made me acutely aware of when other people go into that mode. It doesn't really take a lot. All it takes is a little shift where your conversation is not an exchange, not a give-and-take, not really involving two people anymore. Even an a flat-out explanation of something, if not done in this mode, is a give-and-take; you check in to see if the other person is still interested, to see if they already know part of it, to see if they're getting it. They're part of the dialogue.

But in the mode of talking I grew up with, there is no dialogue. There is no second person. The second person is a prop. A physical presence that is there to listen and is allowed no real input.

Growing up, much of the time, I might as well have not been there.

So, no. This is not saying you can never share your knowledge. This is not saying you can never talk to women. This is not saying you can never explain something.

This is saying that a conversation is not a lecture. A conversation involves more than one person. A conversation includes listening, and checking in as to whether the other person has something to say or indeed wants to be talking about this at all. And you would be shocked at the number of times people aren't really having a conversation with the other person. You might - I'm not saying you certainly will, but you might - be shocked at the number of times you aren't having a conversation with the person you're talking to, if you start paying close attention to this.

It's about talking with, rather than talking at. Otherwise, all you are doing is listening to the sound of your own voice, and the other person is there to reflect it back at you. And you both will lose out on so much when that happens.
posted by kyrademon at 12:24 PM on August 21, 2012 [52 favorites]


Elsa: " the patriarchy is coming FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!""

The alternative is Stoicism.

( I love a pun. )
posted by boo_radley at 12:24 PM on August 21, 2012


I've worked in information systems at my current employer for 14 years, and I have another half-dozen years in related positions before that. I don't remotely know everything there is to know (and love to learn more from others when I have opportunities), but I do know the applications we use here pretty much inside and out, particularly the ones I built.

Last Thursday, the male head of our accounting department jumped into an email exchange I was having with two separate vendors (also both men) to try to resolve a clash between applications that was causing an important operation to fail. Not only did he incorrectly re-explain the issue at hand, he overrode my request for a three-way conference call with a suggestion that one vendor just call the other directly and knock me out of the loop, which they naturally proceeded to do.

Instead of my usual approach of sucking it up, trying to get back in the loop and move on, I actually addressed the behavior with Mr. Accounting, being super careful to be polite and non-aggressive. Not only did he not listen or consider the possibility that he was undermining me, he actually has refused to speak to me since and is automatically forwarding my emails to the next man up the chain. This is pretty awkward, as we only have a few dozen employees and his office is next door to mine, but hey, we can't have those women getting uppity because it's a slippery slope and arglebargle-gah.
posted by notashroom at 12:26 PM on August 21, 2012 [20 favorites]



> it would benefit you to be less reactive and spend more time thinking about what
> the women here are saying. They really do not need to be told that it's part of a
> larger phenomenon. They need to be heard and understood.
> posted by languagehat at 3:10 PM on August 21 [+] [!]


Particularly, and appropriately, the original article had already accepted that this was "part of a larger phenomenon." Everyone was just too busy shouting at the top of their lungs to listen to the author. Again.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:27 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Particularly, and appropriately, the original article had already accepted that this was "part of a larger phenomenon." Everyone was just too busy shouting at the top of their lungs to listen to the author. Again."

THIS IS THE INTERNET NOT THE LISTENNET
posted by Tevin at 12:30 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Another self-correction: I meant, of course: it turns out that, if you are a moderately feminine woman who does *NOT* soften her language with apologies and self-undermining and self-doubt, then some people (men and women) think you're a scary ball-buster.
posted by Elsa at 12:32 PM on August 21, 2012


I had to have my girlfriend girlsplain me what mansplaining is. I still don't really get it. Is it just when someone talks down to you, and that person is a man? Shit, I get mansplained at all the time.
posted by deathpanels at 12:32 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not surprised that I could have predicted many of the men who would be in this thread complaining about the term "mansplain" because, you know, bad things happen to them to. I wonder how these chuckleheads get through the day with such anemic pattern recognition skills.
posted by OmieWise at 12:33 PM on August 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


No.
posted by Danila at 12:34 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


"femsplaining", tia.
posted by boo_radley at 12:34 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gender studies and roleplaying should be compulsory in schools.
(So should programming and assistance in nursing homes).
posted by peacay at 12:35 PM on August 21, 2012


o I realized that when it came to my career I wanted to succeed in what is typically a more male mode--wanted to be thought smart and talented, could care less about being thought "nice"

A ha! Thank you for that insight PhoB! I have just understood my own professional dilemma. It's kind of the reverse of yours: I grew up happy to be successful in a more "male mode," and only more recently have started figuring out that even though this is the case, I still care a great deal about being thought of as nice, and that projecting authority and assertiveness gets in the way of that. Much to think about there. Because of course that's an unfair double-bind. hmmm
posted by bardophile at 12:35 PM on August 21, 2012


I object to "mansplain" because it offends in exactly the same way it tries to critique. Why is being rude twice a good thing? I'd rather educate than insult. It's not like there isn't a perfectly good word for condescension, anyway.
posted by bonehead at 12:38 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Once in my past, a person menioned in passign that I was a "sexual intellectual." I took this as a complement until a freind explained (HA!) to me that it was polite code for "A fucking know-it-all."

Me and my wife both teach and quite often we find each other explaining minutae to the other that the unwilling student really doesn't care to know. I personally blame my problem on having read way too much Heinlein as an adolecent, I think my wife got hers with her MFA.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:40 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


> I object to "mansplain" because it offends in exactly the same way it tries to critique.

No it doesn't. Try not being so defensive. Try listening and understanding. No one is calling you names. No one is lumping you in with the mansplainers. But it's a real thing, and it's not just "condescension."
posted by languagehat at 12:42 PM on August 21, 2012 [14 favorites]


A ha! Thank you for that insight PhoB! I have just understood my own professional dilemma. It's kind of the reverse of yours: I grew up happy to be successful in a more "male mode," and only more recently have started figuring out that even though this is the case, I still care a great deal about being thought of as nice, and that projecting authority and assertiveness gets in the way of that. Much to think about there. Because of course that's an unfair double-bind. hmmm

I think that's really common! My husband also values communal happiness and getting along over BEING THE BEST AND MOST SUCCESSFUL. There are happy middle-grounds, of course--you can be good at your work and also not be a condescending douchenozzle--but I think it can be difficult to suss out where that middle ground lies. Our society seems to make it an either/or prospect.

Like, I write reviews and I was talking to a female author who doesn't who says she never would because why trash other authors and "there could be children watching." Which is funny to me, because if some little girl learns that she can think critically and have opinions and wear the smartypants because I have done those things, then I'm happy. But these are not the values everyone wants to uphold.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:43 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think "mansplain" is an unfortunate term because it allows people to argue about what label should be used to describe the behavior rather than deal with the fact that the behavior is real, and problematic.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:44 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]



Gender studies and roleplaying should be compulsory in schools.


Thank you for the correction, peacay -- yes, "Gender Studies 101" would include how patriarchy defines, shapes and oppresses males as much as women. (I made this correction in my own humanities classes after a request from male students many years ago. To use feminism as a tool to batter men has never helped in securing equity for women. Still the term has certainly been appropriated as such a tool -- mostly by those who simply want to remain willfully ignorant.)
posted by Surfurrus at 12:44 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, so we had a thread recently where this came up, and I have some thoughts:

I hate it that these conversations always devolve into arguments about the term "mansplaining." What we need to recognize mutually, I think, is that there are two facts on the table:

1) Yeah, it's a pretty imprecise term, maybe not worth using, whatever. It implies some things that (as far as I can tell) the people who tend to use it generally don't mean to imply. Also, it touches some buttons for men, I think – largely because it seems like a blanket condemnation of men explaining things, but it's not intended as though, but good golly it is tempting as hell to say to those men 'you see how it feels?' which we all know isn't exactly the right thing to say but – so tempting. And by then the conversation is off the rails.

So we should probably just say that – 'mansplaining' is an awkward and ill-fitting term – and get past it.

2) It is used to describe a very real problem that needs addressing.

The second point is the important one. People spend way too much time on the first point, though.

I mean – this is a general observation, and keep in mind this is coming from a guy. You tend to just kind of assume that you're doing it right, and probably a lot of us are. Probably a lot of us are really nice, and respectful, and we listen, etc etc etc. And that's great. But you know what's really, really weird? I've been paying attention to men talking to women in public for the past week or so, and what I've noticed has been kind of shocking to me. If I notice a man and a woman talking in public, the odds are about 90% that the man is talking and the woman is listening. And the shocking part is that quite often I'll end up sitting there ten minutes paying attention, and the whole time the man will still be talking. I've noticed this happening around me at least half a dozen times in the past week, and I don't even hang out in public very often! So if in the maybe half an hour I spend out of the house daily, within that half hour I invariably encounter a man who is talking at a woman and weirdly not really letting her talk at all.

Isn't that weird?

I know that isn't exactly the precise thing this article is talking about; but I really think it's part of the same thing. And it's part of a larger pattern (as the article notes.) I spend a lot of time wondering what these men are to the women they're talking at. At first I'd assume "oh, that must be her boyfriend," and maybe that's true, but after ten minutes of her not really having a chance to say even a word (and I guess her feeling it wouldn't be polite to interrupt or something) I start to think "if that was her boyfriend, she wouldn't put up with that shit, would she?" But the sad truth is probably that lots of women do put up with that. And frankly that means that if those men don't actually really have any relationship with the woman, it's probably even worse, really.

deathpanels: “I had to have my girlfriend girlsplain me what mansplaining is. I still don't really get it. Is it just when someone talks down to you, and that person is a man? Shit, I get mansplained at all the time.”

As a guy who's tried to figure it out and feels like he shut up and listen enough to finally get it – if the above didn't help, here's a TL;DR:

"Mansplaining" is a term lots of women use to describe the fact that, statistically, men tend to talk down to and talk over women much more than they do to other men and much more than women do to men. That is pretty much a fact, even if you and I don't do it or at least don't always do it. Yeah, it stings at first, because it feels like that term means there's nothing we can do to win, but that's not what they mean. This is one of those times when it's a good idea for us to practice our "shut up and listen" skills and try to understand what they're going through, because they are describing a very real and very significant problem in their lives that needs to be addressed.
posted by koeselitz at 12:45 PM on August 21, 2012 [25 favorites]


you can be good at your work and also not be a condescending douchenozzle

This is true. But if you are a woman, and you are good at your work and articulate about it, people often read that as automatically being overly assertive and intimidating. And if you start being "nice", then they assume that they can walk all over you. sigh.
posted by bardophile at 12:46 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hilarious that some in this thread do the very thing the author is talking about...it IS a Thing!
posted by agregoli at 12:47 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


"mansplain" is an unfortunate term because it allows people to argue about what label should be used to describe the behavior rather than deal with the fact that the behavior is real, and problematic.

Bingo. It's more trouble to use than it's worth.
posted by bonehead at 12:52 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've learned a lot from people outside my specialty having opinions, and many times I have benefited from the outside viewpoint. But it is certainly true that there is a kind of person who talks over your explanation, ignores you when you point out that you've already tried their suggestion and it didn't work, and assumes you are an idiot in your own field.

The solution is to reach out and slap them.

Not hard, just slightly more than gentle flat handed tap to the face. When they then stare at you, say, "I'm sorry, I thought you were having some kind of seizure." It can be problematic in business meetings, but there you have additional tools. (In business meetings where that happens you can say, "You are paying me money to hear my expertise, be quiet for a moment and listen.")

Socially, though, the slap is a big winner.
posted by BeeDo at 12:53 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I cannot begin to express how often this sort of thing happens to me, both in simple interpersonal relationships and when trying to teach someone something they have explicitly been sent to me by authority figures to learn, because they know nothing about it.

I am a PhD student and have been working in a lab designed for one very specific task for the last 5 years. I learned the process, rewrote and refined the lab manual, fixed some lab equipment, made the process more efficient and less wasteful in some ways re: acid and test tube waste, etc. And I am constantly challenged by people who were sent to me because they didn't know anything about the process and needed me to teach them.

It is beyond maddening, and if I get irritated with it I have actually had comments directed towards me that I need to 'calm down', which has been said when I am simply using a very firm voice instructing them 'do not do the thing you are currently doing' when they have insisted the thing they are doing is fine despite the fact that it is demonstrably not. As in, maybe you shouldn't drink out of the lab sink. We use HF in here. It is bad for you. I had to get a male supervisor to tell them before they would stop.

In some cases it may be a cultural issue (we have a lot of international students come in) or an age/status issue (also some professors) but there has literally been at least one incident with every male student I have taught.

I have never had any women students give me problems like this.

Once in the field I was trying to show someone the location of my field area, which most of them had never even visited before, and they were telling me over and over that they didn't think it was the right place and suggesting that we turn back. It was marked on my map, it was just a bit further, but everyone stopped and consulted all of their own maps instead of listening to me. It took me literally two minutes to get them to accept that it was correct and this was only after I convinced a male student who also had only visited the general area of the site that it was in the right place. And I even asked him 'I'm not crazy, right? This is really it, isn't it?'

Self-doubt brought on like this can crush you and I've seen it. My mother is talked down to in both her work and home life despite being a very intelligent woman, and on a recent trip I found that she's started a new, terrible habit: she either explicitly or implicitly apologizes constantly either for speaking or even for her presence. Multiple times she apologized/invalidated herself for speaking or put herself down before, during, and after her completely reasonable statements/feelings/thoughts. ("I don't know why, but it really annoys me--and this is kind of stupid of me--when people don't decide what they want to order before going up to the counter. It's not a big deal but it irritates me and I don't know why." I KNOW WHY MOM. BECAUSE IT'S IRRITATING AND INCONSIDERATE.)

I am used to being shut out of conversation in certain company. This is not isolated incidents and it is not only on certain topics. It got to a point where I decided to simply not go out with certain groups of people because what was the point? If you're not given a chance to speak why fucking bother? I'd rather just stay home.

To anyone who thinks this isn't real, and isn't disproportionally targeted at women? You are wrong. I am sorry, but you are. It's amusing in a way that people try to 'explain' this to the women who experience it every goddamn day.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 12:54 PM on August 21, 2012 [83 favorites]


I've been paying attention to men talking to women in public for the past week or so, and what I've noticed has been kind of shocking to me. If I notice a man and a woman talking in public, the odds are about 90% that the man is talking and the woman is listening.

Gah. Just yesterday, I was in a conversation with a husband and wife (social visit; we were making an Eid call) about teaching and education. The wife misunderstood my point and stated her disagreement with it (No, not all disagreement is because of misunderstanding; it was just evident in this case that it was.). Before I could say anything, husband proceeded to oh-so-politely tell his wife how very wrong she was (she wasn't, she was just talking about something different), how I really meant XYZ (when really I only meant X, and not for the reasons he proceeded to ascribe to me.) and then tacked on a whole mess of ignorant wrong-factedness just for extra credit. As the husband was someone my husband knows in a professional capacity, and this was the first time I was meeting them, I sat, and cringed, and then said nothing. I should have said something. But what? Without making things incredibly more uncomfortable than they already were.
posted by bardophile at 12:55 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's amusing in a way that people try to 'explain' this to the women who experience it every goddamn day.

Spelled "amusing in a way" but pronounced "goddamn infuriating to the nth degree".
posted by kmz at 1:01 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


"mansplain" is an unfortunate term because ....

New words to explain old ideas are always a problem for those who only want to argue in their old domain, by old rules. So, they choose to attack the word rather than engage in the discussion. The word feminism 'excluded male experience' ... 'black power' meant subjugation of whites ... 'gay rights' means the destruction of 'family values ... and so it goes ...
posted by Surfurrus at 1:02 PM on August 21, 2012 [26 favorites]


Yeah, okay, I get it, this sucks. It is a fair observation that similar things happen to men and a more abstract take from power dynamics is always relevant, but that is not what this is about. This is about another thing, a thing that is common and obnoxious, that can happen between men and women. It is not something to attack or defend; it is not something to be loaded with shame and guilt. It is something we need to be aware of and use our considerable brainly prowess to deflect and defuse.
posted by deo rei at 1:03 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


MoonOrb: “‘mansplain’ is an unfortunate term because it allows people to argue about what label should be used to describe the behavior rather than deal with the fact that the behavior is real, and problematic.”

bonehead: “Bingo. It's more trouble to use than it's worth.”

This is true, but it's pretty much completely beside the point here, and not worth talking about any more. There are much more important problems at hand.
posted by koeselitz at 1:05 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is true, but it's pretty much completely beside the point here, and not worth talking about any more. There are much more important problems at hand.

Well, language is important. I'm not sure why you are the arbiter of what is worth talking about.
posted by BeeDo at 1:07 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


My husband gave me a card of a New Yorker cartoon that shows a bunch of professionals in a meeting. The sole woman in the meeting has just made a comment. One of the older males looks at her and says, "That's a great idea Ms. Jones. Perhaps one of the men would like to propose it." That happens to me and other women in meetings all the time. You say something. It's not heard or acknowledged. Ten minutes later a guy says exactly the same thing, and it's hailed as the greatest idea ever in the history of the universe. And the rest of the meeting is about "John's great idea." As I've gotten older, I've learned to deal with it or (sometimes) not care. But it is exhausting. And often when I tell men about this phenomenon, they are either completely unaware of it, or they deny that it exists. When I talk to other women about it, they are always immediately familiar with it. Grrrr.
posted by Cocodrillo at 1:08 PM on August 21, 2012 [46 favorites]


Well, language is important. I'm not sure why you are the arbiter of what is worth talking about.

Because focusing on the term 'mansplaining' and how it makes men feel is an excellent example of hijacking a discussion about women's experience and forcing it to be a conversation about men's off-the-cuff responses to whatever the fuck they feel like talking about.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:10 PM on August 21, 2012 [47 favorites]


New words to explain old ideas are always a problem for those who only want to argue in their old domain, by old rules. So, they choose to attack the word rather than engage in the discussion. The word feminism 'excluded male experience' ... 'black power' meant subjugation of whites ... 'gay rights' means the destruction of 'family values ... and so it goes ...

None of those terms is insulting to the eponymous identifiable group. Except for one. Which makes it obvious why this argument is nonsense.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:10 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


'black power' meant subjugation of whites

Speaking of which, is there a term for whites constantly making the struggle for equality about their feelings? and the tendancy whites have to talk down to people of color? Can we call it Whitesplaining?
posted by Ad hominem at 1:12 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


There are much more important problems at hand.

How much of a distraction has that stupid word been in this very thread? How many bloody characters do people need to write about it? How much longer should this distraction to go on? Is this about vocabulary or is it about Solnit's article, about a word she doesn't use once?
posted by bonehead at 1:12 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


try to not be defensive and fucking listen for once
I hope this is being written ironically, in an attempt to teach what being a victim of "mansplaining" feels like.
posted by roystgnr at 1:13 PM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


"That's a great idea Ms. Jones. Perhaps one of the men would like to propose it." That happens to me and other women in meetings all the time. You say something. It's not heard or acknowledged. Ten minutes later a guy says exactly the same thing, and it's hailed as the greatest idea ever in the history of the universe.

Oh god, me too. I've gotten to the point where I'll say "that was originally my idea," which as you can imagine goes down like a horse pill, usually. It is astounding the degree to which some men in the workplace will take credit for others' work - or just forget it was others' work. Meanwhile on some of my all-female teams, when the boss asks us "Whose idea was X?" we all squirm around and smile at each other and try to make each other take credit so as not to seem grabby or greedy or self-promoting. Which is just as fucked up.
posted by Miko at 1:13 PM on August 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


and now I realize you didn't actually write "mansplain" in your comment
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:13 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


and the tendancy whites have to talk down to people of color?

I think this is called "speaking English," tbh.
posted by elizardbits at 1:13 PM on August 21, 2012


Because focusing on the term 'mansplaining' and how it makes men feel is an excellent example of hijacking a discussion about women's experience and forcing it to be a conversation about men's off-the-cuff responses to whatever the fuck they feel like talking about.

Or, alternately, choosing a term that alienates the very people you want to understand it is a poor choice.

The idea is for men who explain things condescendingly to women to realize what they are doing and stop, right? I'm interested in positive results.
posted by BeeDo at 1:13 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Or, alternately, choosing a term that alienates the very people you want to understand it is a poor choice.

The idea is for men who explain things condescendingly to women to realize what they are doing and stop, right? I'm interested in positive results.


No, or at least, not necessarily. The idea is also to give women a vocabulary with which to talk about their experiences.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:16 PM on August 21, 2012 [21 favorites]


I don't really care if men get butthurt about this word. It's a small owie in the grand scheme of belittling women. Those who can't get over the term probably aren't interested in listening to women anyway.
posted by agregoli at 1:17 PM on August 21, 2012 [19 favorites]


Devonian: I am male. My job is largely explaining things to people, usually where I can't make assumptions about their knowledge of the thing I'm explaining. Trying not to be condescending is very, very high on my internal checklist, and I know I get it wrong even after n decades of doing it professionally. Sometimes, it even feels as if I'm getting worse at it, as those n decades have given me a certain confidence, which is easy to abuse.

Quoting because this is exactly my life. Most recently, I got an email from a student who felt the need to call me a "condescending and bitter person" while another (from the same class) said I was the best teacher she'd ever had at this school. So, in my professional life, I assume I'm coming out either even or ahead.

In my personal life, though, this bleeds through. I might be "mansplaining", maybe not, but I definitely have something called "teacher voice". When I am occasionally asked for an explanation of something, apparently I enter the MUST EXPLAIN CLEARLY WITH NO ROOM FOR MISCOMMUNICATION mode. At least I get called out on it by my friends, though.

I think the important thing is that I don't generally try to explain things I know nothing about, and I don't generally offer explanations of things unless they're asked for. Six and a half years of graduate school in mathematics will pretty much choke that desire right out of you, since no matter what you're discussing, you are likely not the most knowledgeable person in the room. Having a female major professor may have helped with that too.
posted by King Bee at 1:17 PM on August 21, 2012


I think this is called "speaking English," tbh.

Uh. Can you clarify what you mean by that?
posted by cmoj at 1:18 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


The solution is to reach out and slap them.

Not hard, just slightly more than gentle flat handed tap to the face. When they then stare at you, say, "I'm sorry, I thought you were having some kind of seizure."


No.

I'm sorry for the derail, but where does this even come from? I was all kinds of ready for gender and power related triggers in this thread, but not to be taken back to one of my mother's favorite silencing tactics from my childhood (I had epilepsy, but seizures were rare as the damn medication was effective). If someone did this to me and thought they had hit on some sort of funny way to correct my behavior, I'm afraid I'd go from reasonable to pissed-off 5 year old in the blink of an eye.
posted by notashroom at 1:18 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


You say something. It's not heard or acknowledged. Ten minutes later a guy says exactly the same thing, and it's hailed as the greatest idea ever in the history of the universe. And the rest of the meeting is about "John's great idea."

If you notice this happening (and perhaps especially if you're male), please say something. Some of the greatest boosts to my self-confidence came from someone noticing that this happened and bringing it up. You can't bring it up yourself when it was a point you had made -- you can just sit there, stewing in frustration and confusion while growing smaller and smaller. But if someone else brings it up? Someone else acknowledges your contribution and gets others to pay attention to it? It feels good, and it makes me feel comfortable speaking up again.

And if you don't notice this happening? Well... Maybe try looking out for it for a while, see if you can start spotting it.
posted by meese at 1:19 PM on August 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


If you'll excuse replying to several different comments together...

And then there could maybe even be another button that said "About To Mansplain About How 'Mansplaining' Is Hurtful To Me," and if you clicked that, your computer just asploded. You know?

It's 'mansplaining' to articulate your own personal feelings, and state them as such (as opposed to claiming universality for them)?

Maybe the guys who hate the term "mansplaining" because they feel unfairly tarred with an ugly brush could spend less time telling women our language makes them feel bad and more time telling the mansplainers that their actions make men look bad.

Maybe some us have spent most of our lives trying to avoid words that tar people with the ugly brush (or stereotyping, or making blanket statements, or whatever term you prefer), discouraging our peers from doing so, and feel a bit dejected when when our attempts to foster civil discussion are snidely dismissed.

So, dudes, just try to not be defensive and fucking listen for once, otherwise you look like a goddamned asshole who's part of the fucking problem, and it makes both MetaFilter and the whole goddamn fucking world worse to be around your dumb ass.

ಠ_ಠ

Would you prefer, I dunno, sexsplaining? Because the point of the term is to incorporate all the issues of sexism that are wrapped up in the behavior. The problem is not just arrogance or being a jerk, the problem has to do with the privilege many men express in interactions with women. And pointing this out is not sexist, it is descriptive of sexism.

Referring to it as pomposity, arrogance, being a wanker or any of several other terms seems preferable to me. Certainly, it's something many men do to women. And that many white people do to people of color. And that many college-educated people do to people who haven't been to college, many rich people do to poor people, and so on and so forth. And while these examples are common and particularly frustrating (because of the power differential that often inheres, as many have pointed out), they can go in any direction where X assumes ignorance on the part of Y and (consciously or unconsciously) belittles Y while purporting to be informative.

In short, I don't think it's descriptive of sexism as such; I think it's a behavior which overlaps with sexism but which does not inhere to it.

anigbrowl , the entire point of the article is pointing out that this is a gendered phenomenon. Obviously, anyone who participates in a similar behavior is being a jerk, but there's a particular way it happens between men and women that's well-documented in this very thread and worth talking about. No one in this thread or in the article is claiming ALL men do this.

Indeed. But I don't agree that it's a straightforward gendered phenomenon, and when the phenomenon is described as 'mansplaining' the distinction between the many men who behave this way and the smaller set of men who don't is lost. Sure, Solnick and people here qualify their use of the term; but then male chauvinists through the years have made sweeping statements about 'womanish impracticality' or the like, and qualifying such generalities with footnotes about the existence of some women who are very practical indeed is about as appetizing as a turd with a cherry on top.

Put another way, I don't think that responding to to the idea that 'women are bitches' with a counter-argument that 'men are pigs' gets us anywhere. Dehumanizing groups of people is hurtful towards individuals, and categorical arguments and terms have a strong tendency to do just that.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:19 PM on August 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


so as not to seem grabby or greedy or self-promoting

Ugh, yes, I feel this. There is a pretty cool informal agreement in my office where if we remember that one of the women proposed an idea that was ignored until a man re-proposed it, we say, hey, didn't Jane suggest something similar last week?

It feels less credit-grabby and it's gratifying to feel like your co-workers heard you and remembered what you said. Male colleagues are getting in on it too.
posted by *s at 1:20 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't really care if men get butthurt about this word. It's a small owie in the grand scheme of belittling women. Those who can't get over the term probably aren't interested in listening to women anyway.

Resorting to ad hominem attacks against people complaining about ad hominem attacks is pretty amazing.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:20 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


She's the one who assigned herself the ingenue role, not the patriarchy, not the old guy geezing on to her, not her mom, not her dad, not nobody else. Honestly--did she really think there was another book that she'd not heard of? It's nice her friend Sallie tried to rescue her, but I think a grown up woman can seize the moment, stop being polite and just claim her territory.

And then she'd be accused of being "strident" and told that she needs to use a "better tone."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:21 PM on August 21, 2012 [29 favorites]


Uh. Can you clarify what you mean by that?

You have never noticed the way that native english speakers abroad will speak loudly and slowly to foreigners - who themselves often speak excellent english - as though they are talking to the mentally ill? Simply because these people have an accent?
posted by elizardbits at 1:21 PM on August 21, 2012


I'm sorry for the derail, but where does this even come from?

I agree, it is horrible advice.

I don't really care if men get butthurt about this word.

Oh well.
posted by BeeDo at 1:21 PM on August 21, 2012


KathrynT: You have no way of knowing if the other partner in your conversation is fully participating in it? Can't you do a mental check backwards and see if she's been talking and promulgating ideas, or if she's just going "mm hmm" and looking around?

Sometimes I think to myself, "Hold on, in my enthusiasm about this topic, I forgot to ask this person if they're familiar it and I've been holding forth on it for the past five minutes." So I interrupt myself and say, "Sorry, maybe you already know this stuff. Do you?"

Sometimes they say, "I've read / studied about this other angle, and it ties in with that one part you mentioned..." and then they keep talking and I learn something from them.

Other times they say, "Nope, all new to me! It's interesting. Go on." So I go on for another five minutes and then check in again to see if what they have to say.

It's like Enthusiastic Consent, but for conversations instead of sex.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:22 PM on August 21, 2012 [14 favorites]


Or maybe the way that people who are fluent in half a dozen languages are treated as ignorant and foolish because one of their least fluent languages is English?
posted by elizardbits at 1:22 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Part of the problem is that because of the cultural inequality in the amount of respect "women's things" get as opposed to "men's things," men are more likely (more likely! not inevitably!) to get this kind of chilling bullshit in the context of hobbies or things they do in their free time, as opposed to as part of their professional careers, because the things that are culturally female are more likely to be cast as hobbies. So, while it blows chunks that men have this experience at the fabric store or the yarn store (and, they definitely do), the fact is that women get it at WORK. AND ALSO at the guitar store* or the tool store or wherever they go that isn't part of the Sphere of Things Culturally Defined as Female.

See, this is exactly the thing - from my perspective, unless I am completely failing to understand what the phenomenon we're talking about is, this is something I get at work all the time too, dole out to other men myself in work environments, and witness men doing to each other in spades. I'm kind of flabbergasted that Doleful Creature, working in IT as I do, characterizes this as something that usually only happens to women... that would seem to indicate that he's in a radically different environment than I am or any of the places I've worked.

We're talking about behavior ranging from hostile, sneering, derisive "let me drop some knowledge on ya" schooling on every subject that might come up down to, say, the assumption I always get that I don't know anything about computers when I go into an electronics retail store, right?

Or for example I have a great-uncle who, despite him pretty much only having some circa-1968 general engineering knowledge, I cannot convince in more than a decade-long effort that I know anything at all about computers, even though he knows that I've spent my entire adult career doing IT and software engineering.

(And on preview, the thing where you propose an idea, everyone ignores it, and later on someone proposes the same thing and everyone else cheers and you're like AM I TAKING CRAZY PILLS? also)

I don't take offense at any of this or doubt that the behavior itself is particularly male or that it's more harmful when a woman is on the receiving end due to the consequences of overall societal sexism, I just have a major disconnect on the "usually only happens to women" bit.
posted by XMLicious at 1:22 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just to tip in my two kopecks. LISTEN to the people saying that this is a thing.

It's a Thing.

Pretending it isn't is like coming into a discussion on doping in sport and saying that our first concern should be false positives.

Also, while I really don't love "mansplaining" as a term, it's pretty hard to have a term to describe a toxic, gendered, situation which doesn't prick at one of the genders. And I'm sure that nobody really thinks that it's a non-toxic, non-gendered thing, do they?

Incidentally, what brought this home for me many moons ago was hearing a woman say "I think I'm wrong, but I think...". At the time the WTF was "How can you think something and simultaneously think that you're wrong?!?". Now it strikes me as the kind of thing you say when you're used to saying what you think and being told that you're wrong.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:23 PM on August 21, 2012 [17 favorites]


...when the boss asks us "Whose idea was X?" we all squirm around and smile at each other and try to make each other take credit so as not to seem grabby or greedy or self-promoting.

Much of female social conditioning (and self-enforcement) looks like a crab bucket to me. One of the things that needs to be in that Feminism 101 class is how destructive this social pattern is.
posted by bonehead at 1:24 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


"crab bucket"-- now there's a coinage I can use! Nice one.
posted by Miko at 1:31 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just to tip in my two kopecks. LISTEN to the people saying that this is a thing.

It's a Thing.


Absolutely.
posted by BeeDo at 1:31 PM on August 21, 2012


None of those terms is insulting to the eponymous identifiable group. Except for one.

I was not arguing about the 'kindness/unkindness' of new terms, I was demonstrating the knee-jerk responses to them by those who do not want to give up their state of privilege. Somehow their indignation entitles them to derail any thoughtful discussion. It is .... convenient.
posted by Surfurrus at 1:32 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I hasten to point out that it's hardly original, but I do like the analogy.
posted by bonehead at 1:34 PM on August 21, 2012


As a scientist, i'm used to civilians of both sexes explaining to me evolution, ecology, genetics, etc. Apparently on the strength of a few hours of television or some popular science book.
Within my field, i've seen young women (23-24) grill old nobel prize winners with great tenacity. And in a grimy little conference room, not a chalet.
Maybe in the hard sciences there is a greater sense of necessity.
posted by haldane at 1:35 PM on August 21, 2012


This is true. But if you are a woman, and you are good at your work and articulate about it, people often read that as automatically being overly assertive and intimidating.

There is nothing wrong with being intimidating! I intimidate the shit out of people all the time to get my own way. A trick I learned from my mother.

Sometimes I'm very glad I wasn't raised in the American Midwest because internalizing all lifes irritations would give me diseases.
posted by fshgrl at 1:35 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the things that needs to be in that Feminism 101 class is how destructive this social pattern is.

We're back to that discussion of how women need to do the work for the 'men's movement'?

One of the things that men can do is not demand that women conform to a dysfunctional communication style in order to share power and resources on this planet.
posted by Surfurrus at 1:37 PM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


You have never noticed the way that native english speakers abroad will speak loudly and slowly to foreigners - who themselves often speak excellent english - as though they are talking to the mentally ill? Simply because these people have an accent?

Oh ok. Yes, of course. Maybe I missed some other discussion that made it clear "people of color" referred to all, you know, all people of color. That phrase has strong connotations of referring to American black people to me, so the alternate interpretation had to do with the old denying the validity of AAVE "talk English right" bullshit, and I didn't think that was characteristic of you at all, so I thought I'd better check.
posted by cmoj at 1:37 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was not arguing about the 'kindness/unkindness' of new terms, I was demonstrating the knee-jerk responses to them by those who do not want to give up their state of privilege. Somehow their indignation entitles them to derail any thoughtful discussion. It is .... convenient.

I have the impression that those gender debates on Mefi that aren't burdened with ill-chosen nomenclature tend to be a lot more substantive.
posted by Anything at 1:39 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Much of female social conditioning (and self-enforcement) looks like a crab bucket to me. One of the things that needs to be in that Feminism 101 class is how destructive this social pattern is.

I either don't understand what you're saying, or I just disagree with it. My experience - with marches with Tannen-type theories - is that in a group of women with roughly-similar communication styles, nobody needs to say "I came up with this idea!" because someone else will do it for you. I don't see that as people dragging each other down. It's no different or worse than any other style of communication.

It may be one that depends on a different grid of shared norms than the "Everybody speak up for their own greatness" kind. But it is only a "problem" when it bumps into different, louder, more hierarchy-based styles.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 1:39 PM on August 21, 2012


The term "mansplain" is insulting to men.

No it's not. And I'm a man, so I'm automatically right.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:43 PM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Maybe in the hard sciences there is a greater sense of necessity.

Maybe there is also a cultural expectation for that which provides specific training and practice in having scientific conversations. I have, though, heard lots of women in the hard sciences mention communication disadvantages within their field.
posted by Miko at 1:44 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


We're back to that discussion of how women need to do the work for the 'men's movement'?

No, I think we need to identify all of the ways that communications and behaviours fail. People need tools to deal with arrogant and condescending blowhards. Behaviours and social structures which perpetuate and consent to those problems need to be examined.

But it is only a "problem" when it bumps into different, louder, more hierarchy-based styles.

Many people here are relating experiences feeling less successful in the workplace. Chain-of-command hierarchies are very common in large employers, seniority and status in academic ones.
posted by bonehead at 1:45 PM on August 21, 2012


I'm the IT guy for a law firm, so I'm staff and not an attorney. This puts me lower in the pecking order. Combine that with my beta male (if you'll forgive the term) personality and, yeah, I get this in man to man conversation. Poor me.

But the rest of staff consists mostly of women. In fact, of about forty attorneys only four are women - all the other women in the office are staff. And while I occasionally get a lecture or talked down to, it is very rare (possibly due to the fact I could shut them all down with a keystroke, but I doubt that's all of it.) The poor ladies, though. Attorneys will walk up to them at the front desk and just begin blathering on about stuff, anything, and they'll just sit there, smile and listen. They may be busy, they may have a differing opinion, they may know more about a particular subject. But they keep quiet and let the attorney talk. This may sound just like a standard power imbalance, but this never happens to the me or the other male staff member. This is gendered.

Interestingly, we've had two women move from the front desk position to someplace else where they tend to work more exclusively with women instead of men (one with the other women staff members and one with the four women attorneys. And I just noticed that all four women attorneys are in the same group. Hmm.) Anyway, they seem much happier and are much less put upon.

So, yeah, this kind of interaction happens to guys, but there is a whole different dynamic when women are involved.
posted by charred husk at 1:46 PM on August 21, 2012 [17 favorites]


I have the impression that those gender debates on Mefi that aren't burdened with ill-chosen nomenclature tend to be a lot more substantive.

All discussions that can forgo inflammatory nomenclatures are more substantive. And, the gender discussions on Mefi seem to be more laden with these circular derails than not. It would behoove all to simply FIAMO.
posted by Surfurrus at 1:46 PM on August 21, 2012


I had a thought about how to eradicate the term "mansplaining." I understand that some men don't like it because they find it alienating.

Well, women find it alienating when they express a frustration with part of the female experience, and get retorts that "but that happens to men too" or "that isn't that common a thing" or "I don't see what gender has to do with that." Such comments nearly always come from men, and are unhelpful because they are coming from a not-female perspective - someone who hasn't been exposed to the same experiences, conditioning, and socialization that a woman has. They are speaking from a wholly different perspective, and assuming it is the same perspective.

Or women get told that they should either "be more assertive in shutting that down" -- except when they're being told that what they need to do is communicate in a less threatening and alienating way. Neither of these pieces of advice are conditional - they are offered to women as a panacea. And neither were asked for.

So -- I respect that some people don't like the term "mansplaining." All I can say is, there are other people who dislike being mansplained to even more. So maybe if people actually stopped doing it, there wouldn't be a need for the term "mansplain," and then everyone would be happy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:47 PM on August 21, 2012 [25 favorites]


Apologies if somebody's pointed this out already (I haven't finished reading this thread yet) but the word "mansplaining" did not originate from Solnit. I thought this was what I remembered from reading the article when it came out, and I've just CTRL+F 'd to check. She points out herself in her new intro that internet commenters came up with it. So if "mansplain" offends you, blame other people, not Solnit.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:48 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


People need tools to deal with arrogant and condescending blowhards. Behaviours and social structures which perpetuate and consent to those problems need to be examined.

I totally agree, and see some of the women seeking to learn new skills. I just don't think the burden should be on women alone (and am not insinuating that you said as much). I'm waiting to hear of how men are using (interrupter?) skills when they see these behaviors directed toward women by men they know.
posted by Surfurrus at 1:51 PM on August 21, 2012


anigbrowl: “In short, I don't think it's descriptive of sexism as such; I think it's a behavior which overlaps with sexism but which does not inhere to it.”

Do you really not believe that men tend to be condescending to women more often than women tend to be condescending to men?
posted by koeselitz at 1:55 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


BTW, I don't support 'an eye for an eye', but if mansplaining is unacceptable, then, certainly, douche/douchebag is as well. People For Better Gender Communication - go thee forth and change our language!
posted by Surfurrus at 1:55 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


This hasn't happened to me at work very much (because I primarily have worked for women).

It happens ALL THE TIME in social situations with men I don't know. I usually handle it by asking them lots of leading questions and acting dense and ignorant until they say something blatantly wrong, and then I either tell them how wrong they are in a way that makes it obvious that I've known they were full of shit the whole time, or I LOL on the inside and repeat some of the more ridiculous stuff to my friends later. Or sometimes someone else will pipe in and let them know they're making an ass of themselves. I've had people tell me it's weird and fake to act like I'm not as smart as I am, but it is also hilarious.

To be clear, this is how I act when a guy acts like I might not know what a library card is, or tells me to stop watching basketball because I don't understand it, not when someone is trying to be helpful and is missing the mark. This level of aggressive condescension is something I encounter with relative frequency.

People saying this is a status/power thing are totally right. Sexism is about status and power.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:59 PM on August 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


"Indeed. But I don't agree that it's a straightforward gendered phenomenon, and when the phenomenon is described as 'mansplaining' the distinction between the many men who behave this way and the smaller set of men who don't is lost. Sure, Solnick and people here qualify their use of the term; but then male chauvinists through the years have made sweeping statements about 'womanish impracticality' or the like, and qualifying such generalities with footnotes about the existence of some women who are very practical indeed is about as appetizing as a turd with a cherry on top."

So, since the article already says that it's not necessarily a straightforward gendered phenomenon, but that the preponderance of occurrences happen to women, why, again, are you arguing something that's acknowledged within the main text? Is it because you don't think that women actually suffer the preponderance of occurrences? If so, given that you don't have any problem with a cheeky "wanker," why is this ephemeral distinction between men that do mansplain and men who don't so important if everyone using the term already acknowledges the imprecise nature of it? It seems like a pedantic objection that deflects focus from the main point in a particularly ironic and tragic way.

You might also take a moment to think about the difference in power structures when comparing broad swaths of chauvinism. Is female chauvinism really something that we have to be on guard against on a daily basis, like women have to be on guard against male chauvinism? If not, I'd like you to articulate that clearly, because it seems to be getting lost in your false equivalency.

"Put another way, I don't think that responding to to the idea that 'women are bitches' with a counter-argument that 'men are pigs' gets us anywhere. Dehumanizing groups of people is hurtful towards individuals, and categorical arguments and terms have a strong tendency to do just that."

I have no problem with a woman who is called a bitch responding, "Fuck you, pig." And I'd take exception to your characterizing the argument as either analogous to calling men pigs, in the main, and to the idea that it's dehumanizing to speak in generalities about a general phenomenon of gendered differences in communication.

Further, I find it a little irksome that your personal umbrage over "mansplain" has to be treated with equal weight to the complaints about the very thing that "mansplaining" (perhaps sloppily) denotes. It makes you seem like a bit of a wanker.
posted by klangklangston at 2:01 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


on some of my all-female teams, when the boss asks us "Whose idea was X?" we all squirm around and smile at each other and try to make each other take credit so as not to seem grabby or greedy or self-promoting. Which is just as fucked up.

When working with a group (I'm a student, so that's less common --- and maybe less competitive --- than it would be in many workplaces), I now make a point of noting contributions and refinements of ideas as they build. That means that when the prof asks who did what (or when a teammate --- even if it's me --- seems to be getting disproportionate credit), I can say "As I recall, Jennifer came up with [original premise], Joe added [aspect], and I realized we would need [research]" and glance around for an informal group survey of agreement of disagreement. It's small but it works pretty well.

It helps that I have a little stenographer in my head who keeps reasonably good track of who said what and that I typically take minutes of group meetings, noting suggestions and brainstorming, individual pledges to do particular pieces of work, and internally established group deadlines.

And, to be honest, it probably helps that I'm usually older than my classmates and usually recognized at being at or near the top of the class, so they may accept my as an informal authority. So I guess I'm playing on some privilege in these cases.

I have also been known to respond to someone's "Hey, good idea, Joe!" when he re-floats my idea with a crisp but civil "I think Joe is building on my idea of [whatever], and I'd like to revisit [relevant aspect of my original idea that fits well here]." It's a little disingenuous when he's not "building on" it but just repeating it, but I'll settle for being disingenuous if it means someone else doesn't walk off with my hard work.
posted by Elsa at 2:05 PM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


FWIW, I'd love to see a thread about how people in general do this**, how the ego figures into it, etc. But that's a different thread from this one. This one is that PLUS the gender dynamics, which makes it even juicier -- another layer of the social onion to peel back...

** Or how men do this to each other, and what are the particular social dynamics of that. Or how women do this to each other & their social dynamics. Or hell, how women do this to men sometimes. Bonus points if you can frame it in the context of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
posted by LordSludge at 2:06 PM on August 21, 2012


koeselitz: "anigbrowl: “In short, I don't think it's descriptive of sexism as such; I think it's a behavior which overlaps with sexism but which does not inhere to it.”

Do you really not believe that men tend to be condescending to women more often than women tend to be condescending to men?
"

I definitely believe it. Although I think there's a finer point here, which may not be relevant to the description of the phenomenon as such (and certainly doesn't excuse it), but might be relevant to how we address it/fix it.

It's something like "This is an asshole thing to do. Men do it more often, and they do it much more often to women. This imbalance is certainly due to sexism. However, the behaviour itself might not be directly due to sexism, but rather to general status/power/alpha male/assholeness factors, while the sexism is why it's directed much more towards women."

And, based on that, we might want do discuss how to get rid of the assholish behaviour, and/or the sexism that causes it to more often be directed from men at women, and whether addressing either one or both at the same time is more productive.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:13 PM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


[Beloved folks, this is a touchy thread on a topic that is the subject of a thousand-plus comment MeTa thread. If you need to complain loudly about some aspect of this instead of discussing it with your fellow MeFites, please hie thee to the MeTa thread and don't do it here> Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 2:15 PM on August 21, 2012


[And here is a link. We're specifically expecting healthy respectful discussion from this point out.]
posted by jessamyn at 2:19 PM on August 21, 2012


Joakim: I just wanted to take a moment and say that I think that's an interesting comment and appreciate that you're actually having a conversation instead of just dismissing the article.
posted by klangklangston at 2:20 PM on August 21, 2012


It's possible that Miko will experience my last comment as my having Elsa-splained, but I hope she she won't. Here's where I think the difference lies:

- I acknowledged a problem that she described.
- I did not diminish the problem or tell her she misunderstands the problem.
- I share the problem, or a similar one.
- I have reason to believe she and I have similar levels of life experience with this.
- I expressed ways in which our work experiences --- and our levels of expertise in this issue --- are different. I did not arrogate to myself the role of expert.
- I described how I handle the problem when it happens to me, not how she should handle the problem, all the while expressing that my problem may be different qualitatively from her problem and that my solutions are not necessarily the solution.
- Indeed, I pointed out some problematic aspects of the solution that I use.

I kinda hate the word "mansplained," but I admit that the very first time I heard it, I laughed out loud. The phenomenon of gender-skewed over-explanation of a topic by a male non-expert to a female expert is so terribly familiar that I knew instantly what the term was expressing. It's not a word I use, but I am seeking a less inflammatory word to describe the same gender-skewed phenomenon, to distinguish it from un-gendered examples of misguided condescension.

posted by Elsa at 2:21 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


You know, I find it a really strange and depressing irony that people are being jerks to one another in here over a term that isn't even in the article to begin with.

What to call this phenomenon is not core to the author's article and the amount of talking past one another that's gone on here seems, I dunno, really indicative that this is a pervasive problem. We can all do better than this.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 2:22 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Do you really not believe that men tend to be condescending to women more often than women tend to be condescending to men?

No, I do not disbelieve that this is a bigger problem for women than it is for men.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:32 PM on August 21, 2012


klangklangston: "Joakim: I just wanted to take a moment and say that I think that's an interesting comment and appreciate that you're actually having a conversation instead of just dismissing the article"

Thanks. Being male and discussing these issues does feel a bit like a minefield sometimes, but that's not a complaint on my part. It's a minefield because we, as men, mined it, so to speak. And I think shutting up and listening is important, but I also think we should be able to comment, not just listen.

Just like women are better equipped/experienced to understand the problem here, since they're women, men might have some useful insight into how to solve it, since we at the very least share a big chunk of experience with the people who are causing the problem.

In general, and I wish this wasn't so, I think problems mainly caused by men might be easier to solve if we don't always state the problem in completely gendered terms. Not because it's not a gendered problem, at least in large part, but because a lot of men (especially, perhaps, the ones who very much need to listen) stop listening at that point.

It might seem that I'm coddling the people who are causing the problem here, and in some way I am. But I really think this would be more productive in terms of actual change. If the problem is "some people are assholes (and much more so to women)", and we want to fix that, does it matter to us that we state it as "stop being assholes" instead of "stop being assholes to women", if the end result is that we get people (men) to stop being assholes so much?

I'm talking about this in practical terms here, not to diminish the responsibilities of men, or to make a gendered issue into a non-gendered one, but to try to figure out how we create actual change.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:33 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Personally, I'm increasingly skeptical about whether any bloke who has a problem with a word like mansplaining is actually interested in doing anything to address the actual condition, rather than make it all about himself.

Again.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:35 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


(Oh, and by the way, I'm unfamiliar with what the general feminist consensus is on how to best create change, so I might be retreading familiar territory here, or being dangerously naïve. If so, please enlighten me.)
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:35 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The more I think about it the more I think that mansplain should be used as a term of empowerment, not simply a shot at one of our many acknowledged failings.

Perhaps if we explain something particularly well we can say we mansplained it. For example "..... and that is how a four barrel carb works .... Mansplained!"

I can see a series of youtube videos explaining all kinds of general knowlege, by guys with no special expertise called "Mansplaining".

I think the key is to acknowlege our faults and move on. And for gods sake don't mansplain to someone who does not want a mansplaining.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:36 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Joakim Ziegler: “And, based on that, we might want do discuss how to get rid of the assholish behaviour, and/or the sexism that causes it to more often be directed from men at women, and whether addressing either one or both at the same time is more productive.”

The thing I notice here is that you're talking about "sexism" as if it were a motivation; sexism as though it were centered around sexists being sexist. That is, you're talking about it as a "cause," as though sexism is only sexism when some sexist somewhere harbors a belief that women are inferior, however subconsciously, and acts on that belief.

But I don't think that's what sexism is; and moreover I think talking about it that way tends to personalize this in the wrong way and leads the discussion down a road we probably shouldn't take it down. This is not about pointing fingers. It is not about raising a bony digit at some man somewhere and proclaiming that man a "mansplainer." It is about recognizing a condition in society whereby women aren't allowed to talk or are talked over or down to.

Sexism is that condition in society whereby women have less of a place and less of a voice than men. I appreciate that that's not necessarily how people might have understood it, but I think that's how we have to approach it in order to problematize it correctly and look for a solution.

I say this because I notice something about the way these conversations tend to go. We men have this tendency to take a lot of this stuff personally, and to be concerned that discussions of sexism ultimately lead to some kind of reckoning over who exactly the sexists in question are. Once we've jumped to the conclusion that discussions of sexism are ultimately about guilt, we get worried that maybe somebody is going to get branded as guilty of something they're not guilty of – and maybe that somebody is us, even. And of course that can't really lead anywhere, I don't think. Guilt is a tricky thing. There are reasons why guys take part in sexism, and sometimes those reasons are tough or complicated things – abuse they suffered from other guys, lifelong indoctrination into a sense of inferiority if they don't impose themselves on others, etc. We can talk about those things – it should happen at some point – but then we're talking about something other than the problem we started talking about, at least in the direct sense. And we're losing the plot.

Sorry, I'm spending way too much time explaining in a thread that should really be for other people, but I can't seem to be more pithy than this. In short summary, this is what I meant when I asked that question of anigbrowl above:

Sexism isn't a cause of something; it is the condition. In this case, the condition of sexism is that women quite often aren't really granted a full place in a given conversation, aren't given the respect they deserve, and are condescended to. There are a billion reasons why guys do this – because they have been harassed by other guys for weakness, because they have society-driven feelings of inferiority, etc – but those reasons don't really enter into the situation as it is at the moment. The question we have isn't who we should blame. The question is how we can fix it. I have a feeling that has to do with us men coming to grips with what it is we're doing, accepting it for what it is, and beginning the work of training ourselves to listen better.

anigbrowl: “No, I do not disbelieve that this is a bigger problem for women than it is for men.”

I tried to explain this a bit above, but: if it is a bigger problem for women than it is for men, then definitionally it is sexism.
posted by koeselitz at 2:38 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


And now I am getting the disconcerting feeling that we men are dominating the conversation, so I'm backing off this thread for the rest of the day.
posted by koeselitz at 2:42 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


There probably is a German word that means "When a male chooses to explain stuff to a female in a condescending and belittling way" with an emphasis on small words repeated very slowly like you are talking to a small child but to date nobody has chimed in with that 8 or 9 syllable word so in the short term people have settled on the fairly common term of "mansplaining". Is the term impercise? Yep. Does it leave men on the defensive? Yep. But honestly sometimes it takes something a bit confrontational and attention-getting to get people to start thinking about a phenomenon and how they are impacted by it both as receivers and givers.

Sometimes people have to realize that the language that they use in relationship to others is used to belittle and repress and that most of the time people don't even realize that they are doing it because we've been raised in a social system where it is the norm to devalue the role of women in the workplace, in society, in the home, etc. By challenging men to realize how their use of words can be used to demean and lessen others (often women but often subordinate males, people of other ethnicities or races, etc) it's possible to establish dialogue both with other females that have no doubt experienced the phenomenon and are likely going "That's happened to me too!" as well as male readers/listeners to stop and think before engaging in a massive explanatory beatdown of someone just because you can (especially if you expertise is somewhat in doubt).

Yeah this particular term is incendiary and we could probably come up with a more gender neutral term for the phenomenon but then I think it loses some of the impact and the ability to challenge the reader with the phenomenon. Sometimes words need to be said despite the consequences of those words being messy.
posted by vuron at 2:43 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


thehmsbeagle: being unable to figure out how to claim my authority and hold onto it in the face of certain types of behavior, is (I think) harming my actual career progression and that is a big deal to me

Have you checked out stuff about women and negotiation? Eg, here's a bit from Linda Babcock's Ask For It:
When Alexandra met with her future boss to discuss her salary, she decided to present her request for more money in a direct and forceful way. "I understand that the salary for the position could be as high as $60,000," she said. "My popularity with my clients, my clearly demonstrated skills, and my years of experience qualify me to earn that top figure, $60,000. I'm sure that I'm worth it." Alexandra . . . wanted to communicate how confident she was about the value she was bringing to the firm. To her surprise, her future boss reacted badly to this change in Alexandra's manner. "He actually pushed his chair back from his desk as though he was pulling away from me," she said. . . . "In a very cold voice, he said, 'When we offered you this job, we thought you would fit in well with our team-oriented style. We work in a very collaborative way here.'" He refused to budge on his original offer of $50,000.

Alexandra was confused . . . She didn't see how asking for more money meant she was not going to work collaboratively. . . .

Research about women and likeability suggests that the link in her boss's mind was probably not between her ability to work collaboratively and how much she was paid, but between her ability to work collaboratively and the way in which she asked to be paid more. In presenting her request forcefully, Alexandra had stepped outside the bounds of expected behavior for women. Her boss couldn't reconcile this behavior with the impression he'd formed of her during the interview process -- as a pleasant, sociable women who could work well with anyone.

Babcock's suggestions for dealing with this damned if do, damned if you don't problem:
Behavior that seems too aggressive typically doesn't work for women and often backfires. This places an extra burden on women . . . to control and monitor the impression you're making when you ask for what you want. . . . Multiple studies have shown that using a "softer" style can improve a woman's chances for success when she negotiates. . . . Using a "softer" style when you negotiate, in other words, will allow you to remain tough on the issues.

. . . [eg, be] "relentlessly pleasant." This involves choosing your words carefully, using a nonthreatening tone of voice, and making sure your nonverbal behavior communicates what a nice, friendly plerson you are. [Babcock describes a study they designed to test this and found that]

*Women risk being penalized when they negotiate aggressively, whether they're negotiating with another woman or with a man. [my emphasis -- this is not a man vs woman problem. It's a systemic social conditioning problem]
*Men can get away with negotiating aggressively as long as they're negotiating with another man. [which they usually are since more men are in leadership positions than women]
Also, "You Need To Be Liked. Research shows that men can be influential and effective even if people don't like them. . . . as long as they're perceived as competent. . . . [Women need to] make an extra effort to appear likeable. [list of practical ways to do this while asserting yourself] . . .

"Framing. Presenting your request in a positive way can make a huge difference in how the other side responds. [list of egs] . . .

"The Smile Game. Consider the impact of your tone of voice, posture, facial expressions, and other body language. . . . The image you want to present is professional and capable but not competitive or aloof . . . Smile . . . avoid frowning, shaking your head, raising your eyebrows skeptically . . . "
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:44 PM on August 21, 2012 [25 favorites]


koeselitz: "There are reasons why guys take part in sexism, and sometimes those reasons are tough or complicated things – abuse they suffered from other guys, lifelong indoctrination into a sense of inferiority if they don't impose themselves on others, etc. We can talk about those things – it should happen at some point – but then we're talking about something other than the problem we started talking about, at least in the direct sense. And we're losing the plot."

You say this, and then later you say "The question is how we can fix it". I'm suggesting that the fix is intimately connected with understanding these reasons. I don't see how we can fix a problem without understanding what causes it.

And I don't think that in this case you should worry that men are dominating the conversation. I think we, as men, need to talk about these things. I think a big problem is that it's only women talking about these things. We, as men, have a responsibility to talk about problems we originate, take responsibility for fixing them, and generally figuring our shit out.

(Although if you're arguing that we should do that, but maybe not here, I'm open to that point of view).
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:45 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


To those women who are frequently facing this problem (especially in some professional setting): are there some particular ways you have tried to work around it, without compromising your ability to express your knowledge*? I wonder if it would be any use to add frequent side notes of the kind of
".. and, before you ask, X does not work/is not relevant/[...] in this case because .."?
I guess there's a risk of sounding smug, but I think it can also be done in a perfectly nice tone and not be a problem. The hope I have is that making remarks of this form, early on, even before anyone has taken the opportunity to express their mistaken assumption of your ignorance, you could make your audience aware that you have already thought of the subject from multiple perspectives and also that you are able to spot errors in others' thinking and might be willing to point them out -- before you actually have to do that to someone's face (or else accept their 'splaining and give up your authority).

Of course, depending on the subject area, I suppose it can be unfeasible to come up with enough such side notes for the message get through -- but maybe some parts of what you would say anyway could be reformulated as this sort of a potential error your listener could make.

(Note that I am not assuming that you have not already tried that! [NOT MANSPLAINIST])

*This is not at all to suggest that it somehow should be your obligation to solve the problem, instead of theirs who are causing it, but I get the impression that a lot of you would like to have some feasible solution regardless of whether its burden is fairly assigned.
posted by Anything at 2:51 PM on August 21, 2012


[Women need to] make an extra effort to appear likeable.

And thus, that extra effort is not available to them for other things. In other words, the cost of professional success is higher for women than it is for men.
posted by KathrynT at 2:51 PM on August 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


but I think it can also be done in a perfectly nice tone and not be a problem.

In my experience, there is no tone nice enough to make the Mansplainer not feel stung. It will be taken as a rebuke, and taken badly. There is literally no way for me to be accommodating enough to these jerks to force them to take me as seriously as they would if I were a man.
posted by KathrynT at 2:53 PM on August 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


"Mansplaining" is no more a sexist term than "white privilege" is a racist one. While it has a tongue-in-cheek edge to it in some circumstances, it's a description of a behavior or characteristic that happens due to both a person's innate characteristics and their socialization.

As a behavior, it might be arrogant or douchey or asshat-ish or whatever we want to ascribe to it, but that is effect and not intent. As a male who has most definitely fallen into this behavior in the past, I can't say that I was consciously (or even unconsciously) invoking my privilege, but the way I approached the conversation was very much informed by the social context, in which I did have male privilege.

So, mansplain at me why I'm wrong, by all means.
posted by mikeh at 2:54 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Personally, I'm increasingly skeptical about whether any bloke who has a problem with a word like mansplaining is actually interested in doing anything to address the actual condition, rather than make it all about himself.

Again.


Must be nice being so sure that everyone who disagrees with you does so out of bad faith and moral perfidy.

I'm not sure, though, that this is a good starting position for someone who wants to teach others how to engage in fruitful, open and mutually respectful intellectual exchange. I don't quite see why people who like the term feel it is so unbelievably crucial to retain it. The phenomenon it describes has been written about and well-understood for many years before anyone dreamed the word up. The linked article itself sees no need to use the word and most of the word's defenders in this thread seem to feel that the article did a terrific job in describing the phenomenon. If the word is utterly unnecessary to describe the phenomenon why not simply abandon it if some people find it distressing? If you are right that they object to the word in bad faith and merely as a proxy for their refusal to engage with the phenomenon itself then you'll have called their bluff. But at least you will have escaped the tedious circle of arguing about the word and be able to move on to discussing the phenomenon.

(Once again, just to mark my own positions on the various questions at hand: the word doesn't particularly trouble me, but I can see perfectly well why it would trouble some perfectly well-intentioned people. I fully believe the phenomenon itself is real and needs to be addressed. I think the linked article that kicked this discussion off is very poor and that the poor quality of the article is part of the reason for the poor quality of the ensuing discussion. Had this discussion been kicked off by some genuine social research on the phenomenon rather than by one individual's anecdotal pointscoring (inaccurate anecdotal pointscoring, at that) I think we'd almost certainly have had a richer and more productive discussion.)
posted by yoink at 2:54 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


yoink, perhaps you would like to explain to the author how she can write a better article?
posted by mikeh at 2:57 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


For what it's worth, the argument that a word does not bother you but it may bother someone else, so you feel the need to discuss whether it's necessary, is pretty much the definition of a strawman argument. It does apparently bother some people here, so either let them explain why, or admit it bothers you and join the plaintiffs.
posted by mikeh at 2:58 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


the fairly common term of "mansplaining".

Google hits for "mansplain": 14,100
Google hits for "mansplaining": 38,000
Google hits for "phablet": 805,000

I think "fairly common" is overstating the case. It's a recent coinage that makes a neat "turn the tables" sexist joke. It's hardly some crucial part of the feminist theoretical vocabulary the eschewing of which would render us mute on the subject it describes.
posted by yoink at 3:03 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh Anything, your comment hurt me to read I'm sorry to say. And you are trying to be understanding and helpful. I'm really going to try though, not to just respond with exasperation.

I get the impression that a lot of you would like to have some feasible solution regardless of whether its burden is fairly assigned.

Yes of course. But individual solutions do not work with systemic problems. From the article:
Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being.
I can twist myself in absolute knots to be heard. I add "frequent side notes" all the time. The problem isn't that women aren't communicating right. The problem is we are all taught that accurate knowledge is male and truth is the dominion of men.
posted by Danila at 3:03 PM on August 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


Man, I totally do this condescending let-me-tell-you-how-to-do-that thing. There was this one time -- I can't believe this is true -- I was actually lecturing teditrix about why women need to be more assertive in the workplace. Oh my lord, that Did Not Go Well. My bad.

Anyway -- to the folks pointing out that this happens outside a male -> female context, I think you're right, but I don't think that matters. The point is how it works when it does happen in a male -> female context.

Catherine MacKinnon had this idea that gender basically works as class hierarchy -- that you can think of gender as basically a tool for enforcing a caste system between men and women, just like all the other tools we use for enforcing differences between classes. And it's not even a metaphor. Gender was used until very recently to control access to education, to employment, to the legal system, and on and on and on. If not you, then your mother was literally a lower caste under American law when she was born.

So imagine that we had an explicit caste system where women were a lower caste than men until 1970 or so, and we are now trying to overcome a persistent hangover from that system. So when women are growing up, there are still all these times they're treated as though they are an inferior caste, even if that idea has been rejected on paper.

And then when I wander in with a lecture that implies, "your ideas about this area where you're an expert and I'm not are invalid, and your job is to listen to me and humor me" -- I'm acting as though she's my servant. And the caste system is still too recent and raw for me to do that without bringing up all kinds of hurt.

So yeah -- it happens in other contexts. It's oafish in other contexts. But when you're a man and you do it to a woman, you're prodding a particular bruise you might not be aware of. That's the point here.
posted by jhc at 3:03 PM on August 21, 2012 [21 favorites]


In my experience, there is no tone nice enough to make the Mansplainer not feel stung. It will be taken as a rebuke, and taken badly. There is literally no way for me to be accommodating enough to these jerks to force them to take me as seriously as they would if I were a man.

The impression I get is that there are different degrees to how bad people are with this. The hope I have is that it would work with those who are not the worst.
posted by Anything at 3:04 PM on August 21, 2012


Certainly there are people for which mansplaining is endemic to their personalities, and they can't help but be stung. I'd like to think that there are a lot of others who can take it as a gentle reminder.
posted by mikeh at 3:07 PM on August 21, 2012


If the word is utterly unnecessary to describe the phenomenon why not simply abandon it if some people find it distressing?

That... feels like a humungous slippery slope. If we have to abandon every word that some people find distressing, I have a list.

I kinda hate the word "mansplained," but I admit that the very first time I heard it, I laughed out loud.

I find it really fun to say. It's just a fun sound - that "nspl" sound doesn't occur in any unportmanteaued word I can think of. And it seems to describe an instantly recognizable and familiar experience, which resonates with a lot of people.

Sadly, I've largely had to stop using this fun word, because it leads to a bunch of sensitive types hitting the fainting couch with such force as to shatter it to matchwood.

It's a real shame that I have to limit my freedom to use language, and ironic that I am generally doing so to spare the fragile constitutions of the same people who also complain about how political correctness is limiting their freedom to use language, but I frankly can't afford to keep replacing the fainting couch. So, such is life.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:09 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


The problem isn't that women aren't communicating right.

I fully agree. Again, I know that my small suggestion is not fair and might not even be helpful.
posted by Anything at 3:09 PM on August 21, 2012



Or, alternately, choosing a term that alienates the very people you want to understand it is a poor choice.

The idea is for men who explain things condescendingly to women to realize what they are doing and stop, right? I'm interested in positive results.
No. The idea is to give the people with less power – in this case, women – more power. It's meant to change the dialectic in favor of the powerless. Offending the powerful is a feature, not a bug.
posted by deathpanels at 3:09 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


For what it's worth, the argument that a word does not bother you but it may bother someone else, so you feel the need to discuss whether it's necessary, is pretty much the definition of a strawman argument. It does apparently bother some people here, so either let them explain why, or admit it bothers you and join the plaintiffs.

How is that a "strawman" argument? A straw man is a deliberate misrepresentation of an opponent's argument. Could you explain which of my opponents' arguments I have misrepresented and how?
posted by yoink at 3:11 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


> A man is more likely to talk over a woman
> A man is more likely to interrupt or to interject
> A man is more likely to present his opinion confidently

Stereotypes: They're Based In Reality.

mefi gets the memo at last.
posted by jfuller at 3:11 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


My wife who is the sole female in upper level middle management in her University IT environment is constantly fighting these issues. Most of her peers are substantially older than her, have worked in male dominated industries (a large percentage are ex-military), tend to have aggressive personalities and often do a ton of mansplaining to her even though she's definitely an expert in her area.

She's got to be better dressed, better prepared, be able to negotiate conflict without seeming too "strident" or "weak", etc. Each step up the ladder also seems to isolate her further and further from other females that can act as a support network because many other women in the organization feel the need to punish females that deviate too far from the established gender norms. And for this she makes less than what he peers do because her zone of control (client facing) is seen as inferior to the more "technical" positions in the organization.

This is something that she constantly has to deal with and it seems to be a constant source of struggle for her because the ultra-aggressive "bitch" model and the super-conciliatory "mother figure" model aren't really appropriate for her and furthermore don't reflect how she wants to interact with her peers and subordinates. I think the thing that she's felt has been the biggest boon to her professionally has been adopting Non-violent Communication practices in terms of her workplace interactions. When she can look to the underlying needs that are being expressed in the sexist behavior of her peers she's able to remove the emotional sting of them and often get to the heart of the conflict without seeming too strident or too weak.
posted by vuron at 3:11 PM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]



Personally, I'm increasingly skeptical about whether any bloke who has a problem with a word like mansplaining is actually interested in doing anything to address the actual condition, rather than make it all about himself.

Again.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:35 PM on August 21 [1 favorite +] [!]


Well okay let's be fair. Aesthetically, the word bothers me. I also don't like "guesstimate."

But hey. In the face of the shit women put up with on a daily basis, I figured it would look kind of petty and naive if I complained about it.

More seriously, those fighting for their rights are absolutely not obligated to be polite about it, or take excessive care for the sensibilities of others.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:12 PM on August 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


It's a recent coinage that makes a neat "turn the tables" sexist joke.

See, I don't buy this if you're trying to say the term is sexist. I don't think we're talking about a universal prejudice against men, only a distaste for a behavior. So the other definition of sexism is:
behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex
Pointing out instances of mansplaining isn't meant to foster a stereotype of men as automatic explaining machines. It's an attempt to break down a negative behavior, or to encourage non-stereotypical behavior.
posted by mikeh at 3:13 PM on August 21, 2012


KathrynT: And thus, that extra effort is not available to them for other things. In other words, the cost of professional success is higher for women than it is for men.

Yup. Babcock acknowledges this:
You may be thinking, . . . Why should I have to tread so carefully . . . change my personal style, and expend so much energy controlling the impression I create, especially when I'm asking for something I've worked hard for and earned? And you're right. It isn't fair that women should have to worry so much about how they ask. It's bad for women, bad for the businesses that employ them, and bad for little girls who grow up watching the women around them struggle against these outdated social constraints. [I'd add, bad for little boys too who learn that this is unremarkable and ok] Our society still needs to break down these barriers for women and we should all be striving to make that happen. But until that happens, you may find that taking a softer approach is the pragmatic choice.
I feel that way about "mansplain." I'll use it with my inner circles, who know I don't mean all or even most men. (I'll start using "whitesplain" now in private too, thanks Frowner!) I don't use it among people I don't know really well (eg, here). It's one more potential grenade that I prefer not to have on my public table. I totally get why other people use it freely, though.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:14 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


That... feels like a humungous slippery slope. If we have to abandon every word that some people find distressing, I have a list.

Except you're skipping over the part where the word is utterly unnecessary--as evidenced amply by the fact that A) Solnit didn't use it, and everyone knows what she's talking about; B) it's a very recent coinage for a well described and widely understood phenomenon--a phenomenon that no one had any difficulty grasping before the appearance of this word.

No one is arguing that you should abandon "every word some people find distressing." Just that you might as well abandon a word that serves no purpose other than to hijack the conversation away from the phenomenon to the term you happen to have chosen to describe it.
posted by yoink at 3:15 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


LET IT GO
posted by shakespeherian at 3:16 PM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


I find the idea in this article of silencing being used as a dehumanizing tactic fascinating. Isn't every act of agression – in the workplace, at home, or on the street – really about establishing who has vaulted status as a truly self-directed organism, in full possession of the means to acquire and create meaning from experience? Destroy someone's belief in their own experiences and you can subvert their will. Then you can make them into whatever you want them to be.
posted by deathpanels at 3:18 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


yoink, you said that you didn't find the meaning of the word irritating, created a straw man who found the word annoying, and then attempted to appease this character in an attempt to deflect discussion from the fact that the root of it's coinage has merit.
posted by mikeh at 3:18 PM on August 21, 2012


yoink, you said that you didn't find the meaning of the word irritating, created a straw man who found the word annoying,

Um, the term you are perhaps searching for is "stalking horse"--utterly unrelated to a "straw man." A "straw man" is a proposition that you defeat in argument, not one whose side you take.

And if you're suggesting that there really aren't any such people as people who find the word irritating (I presume you misspoke when you said "find the meaning of the word irritating" because I don't know what that would mean) then I can only think you are not paying much attention to this thread.
posted by yoink at 3:22 PM on August 21, 2012


["Concern trolling" is the term you're looking for, and whether or not it's accurate that sideline has ended up solidly in "take it to Metatalk" territory.]
posted by restless_nomad at 3:26 PM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Well, there you have it! Long work day. You don't need to create a stalking horse, let someone on the thread who does find it offensive argue for it, or explain why you find it offensive. I thank you for correcting my rather slipshod memory of fallacies.
posted by mikeh at 3:27 PM on August 21, 2012


> "that 'nspl' sound doesn't occur in any unportmanteaued word I can think of."

Hmm ... transplant, unsplit, shinsplint, unsplinterable.

I totally had to look up "phablet", though.

And yes, can we move on now, please?
posted by kyrademon at 3:29 PM on August 21, 2012


"Shin splint" is two words, strictly speaking, kyrademon, but otherwise those are good spots! Perhaps it's the "anspl" which is so much fun, because I am already trying to think of a meaning to fit the word "mansplant".

Yoink: Except you're skipping over the part where the word is utterly unnecessary

I am sorry. Regretful. Desolated. Woe is me. This pains me. I am sorrowful. Apologetic. Contrite. Penitent. You're quite right. Your point is good. You have hit the mark. English loathes redundancy. Hates it. Can't abide it. Abhors it.

I know, recent coining, hijack the conversation, et cet. So, how about a straight swap? I don't use mansplain - not a huge privation as I already don't, as I already explained, due to aforementioned and well-evidenced fainting couch issue - and you descend in the same way you have on "mansplain" on the next use of "political correctness" you see on Metafilter, and every use thereafter. Does that work? A compromise agreeable to both parties?
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:35 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


And Danila, I suppose the calm, bureaucratic tone of my suggestion may give a wrong impression of how I feel about the problem itself.

To clarify -- it's a damn shame, and I'm sorry that you and others have to deal with it.
posted by Anything at 3:39 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is the word condescension, or perhaps the phrase "condescending asshole", if you must, insufficient?

And then frame it in the context of gender norms in order to provoke the discussion you actually want.

(Feel free to let me know if I'm being one.)
posted by fragmede at 3:48 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


You are being one.

You can assume the women here who are using "mansplain" also have the word "condescension" at the ready in their vocabularies. They have chosen to coin a new word to describe their legitimate grievance. You are explaining to them how they can change their choice of word to better suit you and other men.
posted by gilrain at 3:58 PM on August 21, 2012 [17 favorites]


To revisit XMLicious's earlier comment, referring to behavior in IT and programming:
We're talking about behavior ranging from hostile, sneering, derisive "let me drop some knowledge on ya" schooling on every subject that might come up down to, say, the assumption I always get that I don't know anything about computers when I go into an electronics retail store, right?
As a software developer, I feel like this attitude and method of speaking (and speaking-down-to) is more common in our field than some others. The drawn-out explanations and the tendency to be assertive (if not outright aggressive) are things that I'm overly familiar with. Now, if you were a woman looking at entering this field and have no prior knowledge of the social environment, but have a history of being a woman and being explained to in such a manner due to your sex -- and find it unappealing -- is this a field you would be drawn to?

This is a bug with IT and developer culture, not a feature. And it's one that's virtually identical to a sexist behavior, so it's discouraging more women than men.
posted by mikeh at 4:03 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, since the article already says that it's not necessarily a straightforward gendered phenomenon, but that the preponderance of occurrences happen to women, why, again, are you arguing something that's acknowledged within the main text?

Because first impressions count. If someone writes an article the begins 'Women are the weaker sex, and therefore [...],' an acknowledgement farther in that lots of women are actually quite strong and quite a few have turned out to be weak do little to alter the fact that the article has opened with a lamentably sexist premise. Likewise, Solnick's article, and terms like 'mansplaining' begin with the assertion that men (in general) explaining things (in general) is bad.

If the article were titled 'The problem with condescending men,' for example, it's implicit that many (but not necessarily all) men are condescending - at least enough for it to be a problem - and that it's also implicit that men have to put up with this from other men. The article addresses an undesirable behavior and makes a (perfectly fair) implication that it's more common among men.

Conversely, would a title like 'The problem with women explaining things' lead you to expect a thoughtful analysis of a problematic situation (to be presented at length in the text), or does it sound like the opening to some sort of John Darbyshire rant about the failings of femininity?

You might also take a moment to think about the difference in power structures when comparing broad swaths of chauvinism. Is female chauvinism really something that we have to be on guard against on a daily basis, like women have to be on guard against male chauvinism? If not, I'd like you to articulate that clearly, because it seems to be getting lost in your false equivalency.

As I said earlier, 'dehumanizing groups of people is hurtful towards individuals, and categorical arguments and terms have a strong tendency to do just that.'

Further, I find it a little irksome that your personal umbrage over "mansplain" has to be treated with equal weight to the complaints about the very thing that "mansplaining" (perhaps sloppily) denotes. It makes you seem like a bit of a wanker.

All I said in the first place was that I didn't care for the term. For this, I got told my computer should asplode, that it was a pantywaist objection, a goddamn dumb asshole who makes the whole world worse, and so on. I didn't make any complaints about women or feminists, individually or collectively, and am not trying to make any. I just said that the word rubs me the wrong way. I imagine that a lot of women feel the same way when the word 'hysteria' crops up in conversation, just as people with experience of mental illness don't care for the word 'crazy.'
posted by anigbrowl at 4:03 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Conversely, would a title like 'The problem with women explaining things' lead you to expect a thoughtful analysis of a problematic situation (to be presented at length in the text), or does it sound like the opening to some sort of John Darbyshire rant about the failings of femininity?

Why do we feel that women have to be explaining feminism or femininity? No one assumed that the man had to be explaining masculinity.
posted by mikeh at 4:09 PM on August 21, 2012


I just said that the word rubs me the wrong way. I imagine that a lot of women feel the same way when the word 'hysteria' crops up in conversation, just as people with experience of mental illness don't care for the word 'crazy.'

Men are not oppressed as a class by women. So none of those things are comparable anigbrowl.

The concept of "hysteria" doesn't just rub women the wrong way. It contributes to systemic oppression and the denial of our humanity and rights. This goes beyond rudeness and offense. "Men who explain things" is one manifestation of the widespread denial of women's experience and knowledge. The real problem is that of oppression. Hurt feelings are nothing to that. Please address the substance of the article.
posted by Danila at 4:23 PM on August 21, 2012 [16 favorites]


If the word is utterly unnecessary to describe the phenomenon why not simply abandon it if some people find it distressing?

Sure, just as soon as we eliminate the following words and phrases from the general in-the-commons parlance first:

"bitch"
"cunt"
"harpy"
"strident"
"slut"
"shrill"
"whore"

As well as remarking "she's just on the rag" when a woman complains about something.

And that's just off the top of my head. And I don't believe any of those are necessary, either.

....I find it intriguing that we have a great many words that get flung at women that few people bat an eye at, whereas one word which turns the tables on men causes a general uproar.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:36 PM on August 21, 2012 [19 favorites]


KathrynT: And thus, that extra effort is not available to them for other things. In other words, the cost of professional success is higher for women than it is for men.

Been thinking about this in relation to "Well if women are just as smart / driven / talented as men, why haven't there been more female geniuses / world leaders / household names in xxx field?" I wonder how much less men, collectively, would achieve if they had to tread on eggshells and fluff up their presentation as ubiquitously and in as many arenas* as so many women learn they must. On top of the other factors like the double burden of paid work / domestic work, etc, the existences of which are generally undisputed now.

*Bear in mind, as I bolded upthread, both women and men have been found to penalize women for perceived "too aggressive" behaviour. The problem is systemic.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:37 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Inspired by a great comment by gilrain in the Meta thread; as a man who recognizes this phenomenon in himself and in others, how best can I (and we) solve this kind of ingrained problem in ourselves?
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 4:41 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


This thread reminds me of what might be the best in the history of Metafilter. I learned so very much from it.

I think that EmpressCallipygos' highly favorited comment applies here as well.

On preview, here's your answer Rodrigo Lamaitre, and hey there Empress!
posted by iurodivii at 4:44 PM on August 21, 2012


I don't explain things because I'm a man, I explain things because I'm old as fuck, and I earned it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:51 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


...and I'm kinda arrogant and pedantic, as well.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:52 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rodrigo Lamaitre, if you catch yourself doing it, just stop and apologize. If you realize you did it a while ago, it's a little trickier; if you're on good speaking terms with the person, it can help to call her up and say "hey, I did this kind of shitty thing that I'm trying to do less of, sorry about that." Otherwise just wince and let it go.

Even more important, though, is to try and look for it when it happens, and speak out about it as you can. I understand (intimately and personally) how difficult that can be, but it makes a huge difference. Even if there's a situation where the mansplainer is not your peer but is your superior or otherwise in a position of cultural power, where you don't really have the leverage to be all "You are doing a sucky thing which sucks and you should stop it!" you can still loan your support to the splainee, either with body language (eyerolling &c) or by saying "You know, she's actually quite the expert in this field" or "Thank you for your input, Bob, Maria here taught us a course on that last year" or even going up to her after the experience is over and saying "Woo howdy that was some classic mansplaining there, I'm sorry that happened but it really just did." As women, we frequently get told that our experiences aren't really true and that we are imagining it; it can be incredibly validating to hear "nope, that really just happened."
posted by KathrynT at 4:55 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


> "... as a man who recognizes this phenomenon in himself and in others, how best can I (and we) solve this kind of ingrained problem in ourselves?"

One suggestion might be, develop the habit of checking in.

Let's posit a nonprofessional situation, and a one-on-one conversation. Say you want to talk about some great (or awful) book or movie or idea or politician or computer game or thing that happened to you or fact or whatever. You speak for a little bit about this amazing (or terrible) thing.

Stop for a moment.

Check in.

Ask, have you read/seen/heard about this? Or, have you experienced anything like that? What did you think?

Pay attention to the cues, and if you're wondering, straight up ask - hey, do you want to be talking about this at all right now? If yes, great. If no, maybe -- can I talk for just a little while, because I'm so excited about it, and then we'll move on to other stuff, promise. Keep that promise. It's not about not talking. It's about the give and take.
posted by kyrademon at 4:56 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Because first impressions count. If someone writes an article the begins 'Women are the weaker sex, and therefore [...],' an acknowledgement farther in that lots of women are actually quite strong and quite a few have turned out to be weak do little to alter the fact that the article has opened with a lamentably sexist premise. Likewise, Solnick's article, and terms like 'mansplaining' begin with the assertion that men (in general) explaining things (in general) is bad. "

No, it does not, unless you ignore the context and take an idiom as literal. Further, the idea that it's men explaining things that's bad rather than the context and mode of such explanations is misconception that you seem to have embraced wholeheartedly, directly ignoring what many people have told you. Why are you doing that?

"If the article were titled 'The problem with condescending men,' for example, it's implicit that many (but not necessarily all) men are condescending - at least enough for it to be a problem - and that it's also implicit that men have to put up with this from other men. The article addresses an undesirable behavior and makes a (perfectly fair) implication that it's more common among men. "

Well, how about this — you're welcome to write your own article and call it "The Problem With Condescending Men" and make it clear that you've had to deal with condescension from other men. Now, notably, that won't actually address what's being asserted in the article, and rather ignores it in order to hold forth on your own opinion and ignore the opinions of women, but it might make you feel better and would get you out of having to be uncomfortable when women talk about sexism. Would you like that?

"As I said earlier, 'dehumanizing groups of people is hurtful towards individuals, and categorical arguments and terms have a strong tendency to do just that.' "

Yes, you asserted that bit of empty rhetoric, and I pointed out that it was a false equivalency (having rather elided what I thought was a reasonable counterpoint that not all stereotyping is dehumanizing in a negative way, and that you hadn't supported the idea that this particular stereotyping was dehumanizing). Asserting that there is a tendency for something to happen in the abstract is not the same as demonstrating it in the particular. So now we're back to the point we started at where you maybe think about what I said instead of repeating what you said.

"All I said in the first place was that I didn't care for the term. For this, I got told my computer should asplode, that it was a pantywaist objection, a goddamn dumb asshole who makes the whole world worse, and so on. I didn't make any complaints about women or feminists, individually or collectively, and am not trying to make any. I just said that the word rubs me the wrong way. I imagine that a lot of women feel the same way when the word 'hysteria' crops up in conversation, just as people with experience of mental illness don't care for the word 'crazy.'"

I can only speak for one of those that you've said you felt — where I said that men who don't listen are a bunch of goddamned assholes, etc. First off, since your very first comment was about something that wasn't in the article and simply asserted the, again, false equivalency that it happens to men too, how do you feel that was engaging with the topic? It certainly read as dismissive and glib. And now it looks like you're engaging in a little revisionism in order to make your argument stronger by ignoring half your comment in order to stake a little flag on a little hill where you're being bullied because you simply voiced an innocuous disapproval for "mansplaining," the way some people feel squicky over "moist" or are bothered by "irregardless." Yet you've sunk considerable time in defending that comment you're minimizing now, and a considerable amount of time avoiding the other part. Is the problem that you have nothing else to add, but wanted to get that out there? Then so noted — you don't like "mansplaining." I don't like "manscaping," but I don't call the Details offices every time the use it. What else would you like out of the conversation, aside from a shift away from being called out over minimizing the effects that this has on women? Perhaps a carnation in your lapel that lets people know that you've also been condescended to by men?

If I had to wager a guess, I'd say a fair amount of the vitriol you're getting is for ignoring the broader context, proffering false equivalencies and maintaining a "Who, me?" conversational pose when called upon it. And I don't feel bad telling you that while you're a pretty smart guy and I value a lot of what you say here, yes, in terms of ignoring what women are telling you here, you're currently making MetaFilter worse, and, by extension, making the world a worse place in a tiny little way (about the same amount as someone who litters cigarette butts, in my estimation).

So, do you need to keep on being a wanker, or has this been sufficient?
posted by klangklangston at 5:06 PM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Do women get mansplained to mainly by straight men, or do you get it with gay men as well (when they're both in similar positions of power/in similar environments)? I'm not trying to draw any "wise" observations here, just curious.
posted by maxwelton at 5:13 PM on August 21, 2012


Sexism is that condition in society whereby women have less of a place and less of a voice than men. I appreciate that that's not necessarily how people might have understood it, but I think that's how we have to approach it in order to problematize it correctly and look for a solution.

Well this is one possible way of defining it, but I don't agree that it's the only possible correct definition or that a particular technique of postmodern criticism is the only way to approach the issue. I have always thought of sexism as the practice of assuming some people to be inferior to others on the basis of their gender. Of course it's not possible for a short definition like this to capture all the complexities of a word like gender; nor does the generality of a short definition alter the fact that almost all sexism in the world today consists of women being considered inferior to men.

Men are not oppressed as a class by women. So none of those things are comparable anigbrowl.

I haven't made any such claim, and am not here to engage in comparative ills. I think dehumanizing and offensive language is a problem.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:17 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have always thought of sexism as the practice of assuming some people to be inferior to others on the basis of their gender.

This doesn't really account for, like, the wage gap, and any number of other systemic ills.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:18 PM on August 21, 2012


max, I've totally done it and I'm a gay man. FWIW.

Anyway.

Mostly just wanted to remark that, as I suspected before clicking in, the thread has a lot of "psh she's totally wrong, here's what's really going on" comments that are as tragically hilarious as I figured they would be.

anigbrowl - if you grant that the phenomenon exists, than how would you have persons talk about it? What language could someone use to make it sufficient humanized?
posted by kavasa at 5:20 PM on August 21, 2012


(What exactly is "dehumanizing" and "offensive" about "mansplaining" anyway? It seems so innocuous to me, honestly.)
posted by agregoli at 5:31 PM on August 21, 2012


Also, I've been digging my leisurely way through the TAL archives and listened to this little gem yesterday, entirely independently of this thread existing. Listen to it to the point where the narrator speaks about being interviewed by detectives. Isn't it interesting that I seriously by chance happened to have an anecdotal account of this exact behavior to hand for this thread? Or is it possible that it's common enough that all of the women saying "yes, this happens to me" aren't just making it up or misunderstanding a non-gendered behavior?
posted by kavasa at 5:34 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


if you grant that the phenomenon exists, than how would you have persons talk about it?

Perhaps even better, those who acknowledge the existence of a serious problem can talk about it in whatever terms they think are best rather than arguing over the terms of others. The thing is, expressions like "condescending men" are more vague than "men who explain things". The latter captures the problem that women are assumed to know less on any given subject and need to have things explained to them by virtue of being women. Condescension is a much broader concept and doesn't capture the problem, but if there's another term that does then use it.
posted by Danila at 5:40 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


it might make you feel better and would get you out of having to be uncomfortable when women talk about sexism. Would you like that?

I don't feel uncomfortable when women talk about sexism, despite what you appear to think.

So now we're back to the point we started at where you maybe think about what I said instead of repeating what you said.

I did think about it, and don't feel that your cricitisms are very well founded.

I can only speak for one of those that you've said you felt — where I said that men who don't listen are a bunch of goddamned assholes, etc. First off, since your very first comment was about something that wasn't in the article and simply asserted the, again, false equivalency that it happens to men too, how do you feel that was engaging with the topic?

My first comment was in response to someone else's comment that used the word 'mansplaining', and I didn't posit any kind of equivalency about it happening to men, I said I don't think the phenomenon is unique to men.

It certainly read as dismissive and glib.

You chose to read it that way. I expressed my personal skepticism about whether this is a purely gendered phenomenon, and flagged it as my opinion rather than any kind of objective fact. I don't think it's dismissive or glib to merely mention the existence of one's somewhat-different opinion.

What else would you like out of the conversation, aside from a shift away from being called out over minimizing the effects that this has on women? Perhaps a carnation in your lapel that lets people know that you've also been condescended to by men?

I would be quite happy if you would stop trying to shoehorn meanings into my words that they were never meant to hold.

If I had to wager a guess, I'd say a fair amount of the vitriol you're getting is for ignoring the broader context, proffering false equivalencies and maintaining a "Who, me?" conversational pose when called upon it.

Well, you're certainly spending a great deal of effort on making it look that way. If I were arguing that one thing is just as bad or problematic as another I would see your point, but I never made any such argument. Frankly, I don't think you understand what I'm saying.

So, do you need to keep on being a wanker, or has this been sufficient?

Oh, a loaded question! No matter how I answer I am supposed to look bad.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:57 PM on August 21, 2012


I remember when I ran into 'mansplaining' for the first time, somewhere out in the wilds of off-mefi. It fit perfectly a thing I saw happen on the internet. Like how 'concern trolling' was basically the label which a particular rhetorical move had been waiting for.

"Ah," I thought to myself. "Mansplaining. I know exactly what that word means just by reading it. Neat. At first glance I feel a prickle of unjust accusation, but that prickle fades quickly."

And so I continued through the article, thinking about the ways people talk to each other and about the actual social payloads delivered in conversation.

Little did I know that it was such a penny on the track.
posted by postcommunism at 6:01 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Something that I've come to learn from Metafilter over the last few years is that, as a male, my experiences of the world are completely unreliable when it comes to issues like this. By definition, I have no experience of the instances where something occurs between a man and a woman in private. By definition, I will have only observed a fraction of the thousands of iterations of mansplaining or interruption or 'give us a smile' comments that women experience personally. Since I am simply not present to observe the frequency or impact of these things, my experience of the world is limited and, therefore, completely unreliable when it comes to commenting on these issues. As a result, the only way for me (or any male) to learn about these things is to stop talking and listen to the experiences of the women who have lived through them.

I still struggle with this. Whenever this topic comes up, I have an automatic reaction that says 'I haven't experienced this! I haven't seen this extent of street harassment, or mansplaining, or threatening, therefore these women must be wrong - it doesn't happen as much as they say it does'. I'm making the same false average that tv stations do when they interview a climate scientist and an uneducated politician - one party has accurate information, one does not, yet the truth somehow lies between the two? Even now, having read an article on mansplaining, when I read some of the testimonials here my first response is to say 'well, you should have been more confident' or 'perhaps they're just trying to help'. I know enough now to catch these thoughts before they make it out into the world, but they're still there. They exist before they hit the layer of consideration that says 'does your experience, as a male, and therefore not present at much of these incidents, really give you an accurate picture of the world? Is it not possible that women's experiences, even though they sound unbelievable to you, are actually the truth?'

So, I try. I keep silent most of the time, which is a step up from blundering in with the answer (the manswer?).

"... as a man who recognizes this phenomenon in himself and in others, how best can I (and we) solve this kind of ingrained problem in ourselves?"


For me, the first step was recognising that my experience of the world is, by definition, incomplete when it comes to issues that affect women. I am simply not present for most of these instances, so I have zero authority when it comes to discussing how prevalent they are and their effects on people. The best I can do is listen, in good faith, to the women who share their stories and experiences with me. It's very hard at first, because, I mean, surely they're exaggerating, right? Surely it's not that bad? After all, you've never seen that happen, yeah? And that's where you catch yourself and remind yourself that it doesn't matter what you have or haven't seen - your experiences are incomplete. This isn't your fault, it's simply the truth. And it's understandable that you'll resist the truth, or consider it to be exaggerated, because the alternative is a world where half the population is regularly demeaned, condescended to, ignored, interrupted, threatened, or assaulted. Often this happens in tiny, infinitessimal ways - ways that would make a woman sound like a 'crazy bitch' if she made a big deal about it - ways that build up slowly and insidiously to the point where many women feel the need to apologise for their presence, or their opinions, or their success. It's understandable that you'll resist this because it's an awful truth, but there you go. I find it unbearable when I start to really consider it all.

But yes - the first step is to recognise it, and recognise your limitations in experiencing it, and therefore the need to listen to women's experiences. The second step is to start to share this first step with other men. I'm not sure what the third step is yet, but I'm trying to figure it out.
posted by twirlypen at 6:14 PM on August 21, 2012 [28 favorites]


I have always thought of sexism as the practice of assuming some people to be inferior to others on the basis of their gender.

This doesn't really account for, like, the wage gap, and any number of other systemic ills.


Well, if someone's view is that women are inferior to men then it seems to follow rather naturally that that person would consider womens' work product to be of inferior value, and not be willing to pay as much for it.

The thing is, expressions like "condescending men" are more vague than "men who explain things".

I don't really understand this. Condescension is a pretty specific kind of social interaction that is understood to be unpleasant to the receiver, and mentioning men is more specific again. "Men who explain things" seems very vague, since it doesn't distinguish between welcome and unwelcome explanations. For example, I prefer people who explain things to those who simply insist upon them.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:18 PM on August 21, 2012


You know, I've always felt like mansplaining that was done to me (or, more accurately, done *at* me) was a product of my age, or my age + my gender, than just my gender. I'm not sure if this is a correct assumption, but I think it's something that has factors in a lot of power relationships, both in the social structures that put men above women and the ones that give more power to people who're older, at least in situations where knowledge and expertise are concerned. Other people have pointed out experiences of this in this thread, and the original article has that dynamic happening as well, since she was younger than most of the other people at that party. I'm a Millennial, and I hear a lot of people in my age cohort complaining about Boomers (and others of older generations) giving them job-searching and interview advice, whether or not those people have any experience with that; this feels very similar to the story KatharynT told about the random advice about gargling she got as a professional singer from random dude with no voice or medical background. (I know people with business degrees who've gotten totally unsolicited interview advice from people who haven't had to get a new job in 20 years.)

This isn't to say, AT ALL, that this isn't a problem that stems from patriarchy, but it's something people in a position of social power do to people that they perceive as being lower on the totem pole than themselves, whether or not that person actually knows what their talking about or is even an expert on said subject.

Unrelated, mostly, to the above, but I think mansplaining as a consistant phenomenon might be related to the conversational style differences that lead men to give advice and women to give sympathy; they're both rooted in the social pressure men have to know what they're talking about and the social pressure women have to make other people comfortable.
posted by NoraReed at 6:25 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


anigbrowl: “Well this is one possible way of defining it, but I don't agree that it's the only possible correct definition or that a particular technique of postmodern criticism is the only way to approach the issue. I have always thought of sexism as the practice of assuming some people to be inferior to others on the basis of their gender. Of course it's not possible for a short definition like this to capture all the complexities of a word like gender; nor does the generality of a short definition alter the fact that almost all sexism in the world today consists of women being considered inferior to men.”

The problem with that definition is it makes sexism a rabbit-hole from which it's impossible to emerge by involving intent. It's turning sexism into a personal accusation to be defended against instead of a condition to work against; and it becomes ever possible to explain away sexism by saying I didn't mean to, therefore it's not sexism.

But it is sexism if men don't mean to – in the same way that a racist system doesn't necessarily mean that all the participants harbor some evil intent; it only means that the system by design results in the unjust oppression of a particular race.

This is what people stumble on in racism discussions, too. "Racism" becomes an evil intent in the mind, and then it can be explained away and ignored. Likewise, in this case, it's always easy to say men don't mean to talk over women, and I think it's obvious that they aren't doing it consciously. Does that make it not sexism? Does that make it okay?
posted by koeselitz at 6:36 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also – one of the problems with your definition of sexism, anigbrowl, is that I really don't think it's possible to moralize about feelings.
posted by koeselitz at 6:42 PM on August 21, 2012


anigbrowl: “I haven't made any such claim, and am not here to engage in comparative ills. I think dehumanizing and offensive language is a problem.”

By making it the only subject you're willing to discuss here, you've actually made the implicit claim that the term "mansplain" is the only problem, and that the very significant problems discussed in the article are not actually problems at all.

I know you didn't state this outright; but it is implicit in your refusal to discuss anything else. I think that's what bothers people.
posted by koeselitz at 6:44 PM on August 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


"I expressed my personal skepticism about whether this is a purely gendered phenomenon, and flagged it as my opinion rather than any kind of objective fact. I don't think it's dismissive or glib to merely mention the existence of one's somewhat-different opinion."

Well, since the article clearly says that the phenomenon isn't purely gendered, why did you think that was an important thing to be skeptical about? And further, why did you feel like voicing that skepticism?

Further, since you're pretty clearly still skeptical, why are you ignoring the women in this thread (and men) who say that the preponderance of experience is in line with the basic thesis of the article? You don't think that they're accurate, but to judge that, you'd either have to have some sort of objective standpoint — which would be a pretty presumptuous position to hold — or some counter-evidence that would outweigh their testimony. Maybe I've missed it, but I don't believe that you've given any. You've been critical of a misstatement of the premise — that this is "purely gendered," but since that's pretty clearly spelled out in the text, well, let me ask it this way, if someone insisted through multiple replies in questioning an inaccurate premise, would you think that their disagreement was through ignorance or through arrogance?

I think that since this was already something addressed in the text, it makes the insistence on this skepticism sound dismissive, in that if your objection is something that's addressed there in the text and you haven't responded to that, it certainly seems as if you have dismissed the text as an authority.

So while it's not necessarily glib or dismissive to merely mention the existence of one's somewhat-different opinion, it certainly can be.

Further, to insist on something — as you've done repeatedly — while averring that you don't mean to give it equal weight, well, why insist on it then? If it's not equally important to the conversation as the actual text of the link, why is it a sticking point for you that this isn't a purely gendered phenomenon? It certainly seems like that's more important to you than the fact that this is happening, based purely on the number of comments you've written addressing either topic.

You've asserted claims about how this is damaging to men somehow (I'm sure you'll niggle that claim down, but again, if you're not making it, why should anyone care?) but not demonstrated any of these harms outside of an abstract idea that it makes people into categories, man, or whatever. So what? Do those harms outweigh the broader harms of the behavior? If not, why not acknowledge that? If so, prove it. And lumping it into the categorical of categoricals is bullshit without the significance of a similar harm being demonstrable.

At best you're playing Devil's Advocate, which falls pretty much squarely into "wanker" when talking about real things that affect the lives of people in the room.
posted by klangklangston at 6:45 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


anigbrowl - if you grant that the phenomenon exists, than how would you have persons talk about it? What language could someone use to make it sufficient humanized?

Sorry, I missed this earlier. It would be nice if people could discuss it in a less aggressive way, and that often means forgoing the zinger. 'What do men lecture women so often?', for example, describes both the obnoxious behavior and the the typical dynamic without suggesting universality. Doing as one would be done takes effort, and when one is talking with or about obnoxious people it takes lots of extra effort, but it seems to work more reliably.

Perhaps this is a chicken-and-egg situation, where some of us think that situations are the outcomes of behavior and other people think the situations comes first and the behavior is a byproduct.

posted by anigbrowl at 6:45 PM on August 21, 2012


Yes, women must accommodate the established *norm* and become more like men who know how to force their way into the lineup.

There's plenty of ways to tell someone that you're the author of the book they're raving about with out clashing of swords or clanging your battle shield. She didn't try any of them. Being assertive is not an exclusively masculine trait--no woman with a story to tell or a point to make or a view or an opinion has to become more like a man in order to do any of those things. It's not being like a man, it's being like an adult.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:47 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because when you are socialized your entire life to be good, to make nice, to let the guy speak, and to take the social awkwardness into yourself rather than make him experience any of it, there's no "just" about it

Maybe if you're a child of the Victorian era. I don't know anyone born in the US who has been raised this way, nor do I know anyone in Western culture who has raised a daughter this way. I think this is a canard. Solnit was born in 1961, went to Cal, has a Guggenheim, and host of other fellowships and awards, and yet, she's a wilting flower, crushed by the boot heels of the patriarchy. Maybe assertiveness training would help. She was 47 when she wrote the original piece--a bit old to be cowering, I think.

If Solnit is shy, that's her personality, not the zeitgeist swirling around her, taking her breath away. If she's got social anxiety, okay, still within her ability to modify. And if she didn't feel like taking a strong position at a social event, still, her choice. I don't believe for the tiniest second that she's trapped by the crushing burden of her upbringing or some social forces out to steal women's ability to think, react and speak up.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:57 PM on August 21, 2012


I don't believe for the tiniest second that she's trapped by the crushing burden of her upbringing or some social forces out to steal women's ability to think, react and speak up.

I am part of a organization that, among other things, teaches assertiveness, boundary-setting, and verbal self defense, and I can say with confidence - and no little sense of irony - that you have no idea what the fuck you are talking about.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:59 PM on August 21, 2012 [77 favorites]


... the first step is to recognise it, and recognise your limitations in experiencing it, and therefore the need to listen to women's experiences. The second step is to start to share this first step with other men. I'm not sure what the third step is yet, but I'm trying to figure it out.

BIG props for getting through the first two steps, twirlypen -- I think that is basically what women are asking of men.

In fact, those two steps -- *listening* because it is all new and unfathomable to you (instead of dismissing it for the same reasons) and then sharing your experience with others who may have also been misinterpreting the communication -- is exactly the way anyone should enter another culture.

The third step? Maybe humor. We all should get better at laughing at ourselves as we stumble through new learning.
posted by Surfurrus at 7:02 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Being assertive is not an exclusively masculine trait--no woman with a story to tell or a point to make or a view or an opinion has to become more like a man in order to do any of those things. It's not being like a man, it's being like an adult.

Does being an adult include dismissing everything every woman above and every woman in the article has said about her learned experience?
posted by Surfurrus at 7:05 PM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Well, since the article clearly says that the phenomenon isn't purely gendered, why did you think that was an important thing to be skeptical about? And further, why did you feel like voicing that skepticism?

I already explained why I think the initial framing is so important, and that applies to both the article and the conversation about it that was getting underway here. As for why I felt like voicing that, because I think a variety of perspectives can make a discussion more interesting.

Further, to insist on something — as you've done repeatedly — while averring that you don't mean to give it equal weight, well, why insist on it then?

I don't think anyone enjoys having their words mischaracterized or misunderstood, and it's normal to wish to clarify or explain what one is trying to say.

You've asserted claims about how this is damaging to men somehow (I'm sure you'll niggle that claim down, but again, if you're not making it, why should anyone care?) but not demonstrated any of these harms outside of an abstract idea that it makes people into categories, man, or whatever.

No klangklangston, I'm just against belittling people in general because I think it hurts everyone. Also, I have had enough of being belittled by you.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:11 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


[Folks this is looking a little like "one person vs everyone" over the last few hours, please take those conversations to MeMail or the existing MeTa thread?]
posted by jessamyn at 7:15 PM on August 21, 2012


How about mandescension? It's slightly broader than mansplaining.

Actually, this is reminding me of a term my ex used a lot and that I have adopted, "magic penis." The magic penis is somewhat like a talking stick: it endows authority to the speaker, and those not in possession of it are ignored or silenced. It was why her mother would take technical advice on a matter in which my ex was highly qualified and her brother was not, from the brother, because he possessed the magic penis. It was why my ex-boss would take advice from a database-destroying incompetent over mine, that magic penis. I actually threatened to buy a packy and start wearing it to work if it would give me the credence of my competencies.
posted by notashroom at 7:19 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Reading through the thread, I've been catching occasional glimmers of a potentially productive conversation. Way up towards the top, Meese invited a thoughtful discussion that could be had here, among women who are really familiar with the phenomenon Solnit describes, and who can't figure out what the heck to do about it.

I myself have struggled with this dilemma at different times, with different friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. I've tried a couple different things:

Particularly on topics close to my knowledge and expertise, I have often interjected in order to open a discussion with the Explainer (I'm not so interested in the terminology debate, so I'll just use "Explainer"). My comment is almost invariably 1) ignored, 2) interrupted, 3) treated disdainfully as ignorant nonsense, or 4) taken as an attack. And so I either stop trying to talk, or the discussion escalates into argument.

I have often remained silent, nodded and smiled, and gotten out of the conversation as soon as possible. This avoids conflict - which, as some have mentioned above, can be a strategically solid course of action, since even friendly assertiveness in women can be read as threatening. Staying silent avoids potentially relationship-scarring conflict, keeps the peace, and is kind to the Explainer. But this approach nonetheless leaves me feeling, well, really, really yucky. I know I've allowed myself to be silenced, my knowledge to be discounted, my authority to be undermined. By failing to articulate and share my expertise and intellect, I am not representing myself well. Even worse: in a small, personal way, I am failing to speak up to a wielding of power.

I have grumbled about this situation with other women: this offers comfort, if no solution. At least I know that I'm not alone in my frustration over sometimes being forcefully silenced by men. At least I can know that my failure to find a satisfying outcome to these situations is part of something larger and more pernicious than my own personal awkwardness. Grumbling brings comfort - but I don't tend to emerge from it with new strategies or approaches to the problem.

I do believe that, however omni-gendered the Explainer phenomenon may be, the inability of women to find a positive way out of it is deeply gendered. As several have mentioned already, there are many, many social norms in place that limit the range of assertive behaviors that women can use without being perceived as threatening. And so I have yet to find a way to react to male Explainers that ends in a positive result - as in, an outcome where one of us doesn't doesn't leave feeling offended, angry, silenced, or disempowered.

What to do?

(Obviously, and especially given the context, I'm not asking for someone to rain their wisdom down upon this question! Rather, I'd really love to hear thoughtful commentary from those who, like me, have struggled with being on the receiving end of the Explainer dynamic that Solnit describes.)
posted by marlys at 7:19 PM on August 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


Maybe the guys who hate the term "mansplaining" because they feel unfairly tarred with an ugly brush could spend less time telling women our language makes them feel bad and more time telling the mansplainers that their actions make men look bad.

But they only make "us" look bad if you consider an individual male responsible for the actions of any male. I don't feel like I have to answer for the actions of someone else even if they are the same sex.

More on-topic, I think the term "mansplain" is ugly and hostile, but the phenomenon it describes absolutely exists. Male-male conversations often seem quite competitive from the outside. That unfortunately tends to drown out anyone that doesn't share the same style of communication. A lot of men do this, and some men (myself included) have to watch out for in their own communication.
posted by spaltavian at 7:23 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe if you're a child of the Victorian era. I don't know anyone born in the US who has been raised this way, nor do I know anyone in Western culture who has raised a daughter this way.

I work at a women's college. I went to a women's college. I do not do this, but I was educated in a single-sex environment for a decade before all of that, and I am considered extremely vocal for such things as "volunteering an opinion in staff meetings" and "vocalizing dissent against a preference voiced by our (male) supervisor." I have been used as an example of what single-sex education does to/for women. My student workers are often hesitant to voice their own opinions and will refer to their friends for solidarity and assertion. My classmates and friends, many of whom were taught in classes of 25+ students, had often never learned to present arguments in front of a class, because their classes were either too large for discussion or overrun by larger and louder classmates. Sometimes, even in a class of 12 women and 1 dude, the dude would be the only one to raise his hand first, or the only one who felt confident enough to say something, even if it was hilariously wrong. [There is also the Overconfident Hermione Syndrome, which is often applied to freshmen of amazing tenacity and presumed wits, who view every class as an opportunity to expound endlessly to the astonishment of their tired and jaded older peers. I was probably one of them, whoops! This is applicable to students of all genders.]

I am twenty-five. This is still a problem.

I don't believe for the tiniest second that she's trapped by the crushing burden of her upbringing or some social forces out to steal women's ability to think, react and speak up.

I am sorry you do not believe this. I imagine some of her reactions are elided for the sake of writing, as emotions often are. But the phenomenon of having conversations go south, whether in the personal or professional realms, simply because you, as a woman, have tried explaining your credentials or opinion against a dude who does not wish to believe your authority, is not a made-up situation. It is often far easier to nod, roll your eyes while checking the level of wine in your glass, and resign yourself to another unproductive cocktail party or lecture discussion or staff meeting in which your reactions and thoughts have been belittled, flat-out ignored, or worse, used against you. Things have changed so much! I am sure there are many guys who have experienced this, especially when young or low on the pecking order! But even in my incredibly sheltered little world of women's education, it is remarkable how often I have witnessed these situations in action.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:32 PM on August 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


Ideefixe*, do you see what happened? All of the stuff in the article, in this thread, and your first response is a contemptuous "I don't believe it, they don't know what they're talking about, let me explain what's really going on."

Do you see? =/

*eponysad
posted by kavasa at 7:34 PM on August 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


"Men who explain things" seems very vague, since it doesn't distinguish between welcome and unwelcome explanations.

I think this more open-ended phrasing may be deliberate, to underscore the idea that even well-intentioned men who do not intend to reinforce sexist norms can still be poor judges of whether or not their explanations were appropriate.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:37 PM on August 21, 2012


What to do?

(Obviously, and especially given the context, I'm not asking for someone to rain their wisdom down upon this question! Rather, I'd really love to hear thoughtful commentary from those who, like me, have struggled with being on the receiving end of the Explainer dynamic that Solnit describes.)


I would love to have some tips for this. Particularly for those of us who work in fields where you're automatically supposed to be pleasant. One of the things I'm valued for in my work is my ability to bring down tensions, so my general ingrained response to this behavior is to smile and nod -- but that leaves me feeling angry, disempowered and trapped.

I recently did a social media ask on how my female friends deal with sexism in our field, and the only two responses I got were "it motivates me to work harder" and "donate to feminist causes." While I do donate to feminist causes and at times, I'm motivated to work harder -- most of the time I simply feel trapped in a system that will never change.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 7:37 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe if you're a child of the Victorian era. I don't know anyone born in the US who has been raised this way, nor do I know anyone in Western culture who has raised a daughter this way.

I was born in 1959 (I'm 53 now) in the South and I know very few women who WEREN'T raised this way. I think it is much more pervasive than you'd like to believe.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 7:45 PM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


I was born in 1969 and I still got those kinds of messages, too. If only the world had progressed as cleanly and simply as you imagine. It hasn't, despite your sense that you have it all figured out.
posted by Miko at 7:49 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Because when you are socialized your entire life to be good, to make nice, to let the guy speak, and to take the social awkwardness into yourself rather than make him experience any of it, there's no "just" about it

Maybe if you're a child of the Victorian era. I don't know anyone born in the US who has been raised this way, nor do I know anyone in Western culture who has raised a daughter this way. I think this is a canard.

I was socialized this way. I'm am 47 years old and a successful professional in a male dominated field. I struggle with this all the time. And mostly I deal with it, push through it, find a way around it make the points I need to make and it doesn't hamper my effectiveness. And sometimes it does. And sometimes it's just really hard to deal with.

So, not a canard, at least for this woman.
posted by Cocodrillo at 7:53 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was born in 1970 and raised in the South and you bet these are current expectations. Men drive the boat and women are expected not to rock it.

Also, for anyone interested, twirlypen had an AskeMe about personal experiences with privilege a few years back that was a pretty good discussion.
posted by notashroom at 7:55 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm a female grad student. I speak with authority and excitement about my field. I teach pretty well, I'd say - I like it, and students seem to like me. I do not suffer from impostor syndrome by any stretch of the imagination - I know that I know what I know, and I'm not afraid to speak up when I feel my experience is relevant.

There are male graduate students in a different subfield who will try to tell me aspects of my dissertation topic. "Well, that's an interesting point, but actually I've found it to be incorrect," I will tell them. "No, no, let me tell you ..." and they're off and they are physically impossible to interrupt. Or, I will be in the middle of making a point in class, and a male will speak over me and the professor (either male or female) will defer to their point rather than mine. And I don't have the authority to speak over him or her.

I was born in 1988 and I got - and get - those messages. I've been explained about how baseball works, how MMA works, how LOTR works, how sexual assault works, how monkeys work, how evolution works, how politics work in countries I have just come home from. How simple computers work. I went to a paintball supply store with my boyfriend and I asked the clerks if they knew of a good shooting range in the area. "This is the one we like," they told my boyfriend. Believe me. This is a Thing.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:56 PM on August 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


I wanted to add that Schoolgirls, by Peggy Orenstein is a really interesting study of middle school girls at a couple of schools in CA of various socioeconomic and racial makeups, and it touches quite explicitly on how students' behavior is molded by their parents' and teachers' expectations and methods for interacting with them.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:06 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I said earlier, 'dehumanizing groups of people is hurtful towards individuals, and categorical arguments and terms have a strong tendency to do just that.'

Assertions that "maybe what you're talking about was true in the Victorian era, but it can't be happening today" or complaints that "I have a problem with the word you used to describe what you're complaining about" are a hell of a lot more dehumanizing.

And before someone nitpicks my statement above to within an inch of its life: I am paraphrasing things I have seen in this thread, and am not quoting anyone specifically. I don't even know who made either of those statements. Because honestly, it doesn't matter who said them specifically, the problem is that they were said in the first place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:21 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


How teachers interact with students of both genders seems to be a fascinating example about how humans enforce these sort of gendered relationships at an early age in a way that often disadvantages women and carries with it the implicit subtext that your value is less than that of your peers. And what is so interesting is that unless you consciously work to avoid doing it even the most enlightened teacher tends to perpetuate the system.

I don't know how often I've been in a class with grad students and invariably there is one or more male students that tend to hold court and dominate class discussions often in an attempt to show that they are the alpha male of the classroom even when their opinion about any number of subjects is often woefully ignorant. It's often the strength of their convictions that seemingly carries the day and if they feel that you are dismissing their argument on the merits will just attempt to snow you under with sheer volume. All to often it seems that teachers (even female teachers that might even have training in dealing with this sort of serial blowhard) reward this behavior over alternative methods of argument such as consensus building which are more common strategies favored by female students. This creates an environment where ideas are weapons and you are looking to "win" an argument where the other person, male or female, is going to lose. Further it creates a system where the only valid transmission of knowledge is teacher to student in an authoritative manner rather than the free sharing of information between peers. Is there any wonder when people maintain the lecture down to someone methodology in their social and work relationships?

Mansplaining whether you are doing it to someone male or female or whether you actually know what the fuck you are talking about can definitely come across as offensive and belittling because when you start lecturing someone, especially when it's completely obvious to that person that you a) don't know the subject well at all or b) don't value that person as an equal or c) both of the above, it's going to make them feel either annoyed or personally diminished. You might not think you are doing that and chances are you might not even be aware of it but understand that when you speak as an authority figure over someone else even just for the length of an explanation you are risking seeming like a coercing, controlling dick unless you take pains to actually engage with that person as a valued peer and try to actually gauge whether they are genuinely interested in this data dump you want to lay on them.
posted by vuron at 8:25 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe if you're a child of the Victorian era. I don't know anyone born in the US who has been raised this way, nor do I know anyone in Western culture who has raised a daughter this way. I think this is a canard.

I was born in 1975 in the UK, raised in Texas by scientists, and I absolutely was raised with these messages. Absolutely. You really come into a thread where women are telling stories about having their personal knowledge overruled by men's presumptive fiat and tell me that my own experiences didn't happen, that I'm making it up? Are you out of your misbegotten mind?!

Who else wants to claim that whole mansplaining thing never happens?
posted by KathrynT at 8:31 PM on August 21, 2012 [39 favorites]


Seriously.
posted by agregoli at 8:34 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Seriously.
posted by jessamyn at 8:35 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


*I* am Spartacus ... er, I mean ... seriously!
posted by Surfurrus at 8:37 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


... nor do I know anyone in Western culture who has raised a daughter this way.

It takes a village, as I recall.

Seriously.
posted by gerls at 8:42 PM on August 21, 2012


Born 1980, big city Texas, actively feminist parents, still got those messages beaten into me at school and in social settings.
posted by katemonster at 8:42 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I grew up in the eighties and nineties in Tampa and you'd better believe I heard that all. the. damn. time. I didn't get it from my immediate family, no. I got it from school, strangers I encountered, friends' parents, my extended family, other folks I knew.

Which is to say: I got it everywhere. My feminist hippie mother had gotten plenty of that taught to her, and while she did not actively teach me these things, her influence wasn't enough to cancel out, seemingly, the whole damn rest of the world.
posted by cmyk at 8:54 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Spartacus here, too - born in 1969, raised by Americans in prairie Canada, trained extensively to stare adoringly at my father while he explained things.
posted by gingerest at 8:56 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


(God, I hope I wasn't as dense as some of the men here when I was in my 20s or 30s. Dudes: listen. It's OK to learn something, your penis won't shrink, I promise.)
posted by maxwelton at 8:59 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Australian 28 year old (woman) here. I got these messages too.

And people are way more willing to argue about the term "mansplaining" than actually recognise it when it is RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF THEM. That, ladies and gentlemen, is mansplaining. I don't give a fuck if that word offends anyone at this stage. I might consider not using it when people stop mansplaining us.

Fuck. That. Fucking. Noise.
posted by jonathanstrange at 9:02 PM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Maybe if you're a child of the Victorian era. I don't know anyone born in the US who has been raised this way, nor do I know anyone in Western culture who has raised a daughter this way. I think this is a canard.

Born in 1980, told that women weren't welcome in serious conversations, business conversations etc and they shouldn't get in the way for them. It wasn't nice to try and put yourself where you weren't wanted. I was never overtly told it was 'wrong' for women to participate in professional life, but I was very much told how women like that weren't lovable.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 9:16 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ideefixe is a girl, according to profile data anyway.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:17 PM on August 21, 2012


Ideefixe is a girl, according to profile data anyway.

So?
posted by restless_nomad at 9:27 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


So?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:33 PM on August 21, 2012


I have to agree with restless_nomad, bringing up Ideefixe's gender in not just this thread but the metatalk feels like an attempt to spring a gotcha on people in the sense that "Aha women do this thing as well as men, thus it's unfair to say it's mansplaining or sexist behavior".

Ideefixe's motivations in diminishing the experiences of other women including the author in the linked article are her own but I think people can react to an comment meant to diminish people's own experiences as exactly the sort of comment, explanation, etc that women have to endure all the time not just from men but from women who often internalize and retransmit patriarchal value structures without realizing that they are doing it.
posted by vuron at 9:37 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was born in 1961. I was told it was "unladylike" to do a whole lot of things. Talk to strange men. Lose my temper. Sit with my legs in anything but a crossed fashion. Express an opinion too vehemently. Were my female friends taught the same things? Yes. I'm glad that someone else's experience has been that they didn't get these things drummed into them, but that doesn't change what happened to those of us that it DID happen to.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 9:38 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ideefixe is a girl, according to profile data anyway.

Which doesn't make her any less wrong about how "this doesn't happen". The rightness or wrongness of a statement isn't determined by one's gender.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:38 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which doesn't make her any less wrong about how "this doesn't happen". The rightness or wrongness of a statement isn't determined by one's gender.

This I am in complete agreement with. The other statements just made are full of projection and mot worthy of response.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:41 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a girl.

I've been avoiding these threads the past few days.

Rather, I'd really love to hear thoughtful commentary from those who, like me, have struggled with being on the receiving end of the Explainer dynamic that Solnit describes

But I'm going to add my 2 rupees worth to the conversation, hopefully from an entirely different perspective. Because reading this morning's additions to the big MetaTalk thread made me realize that I am a part of this community and thus, as much a responsibility to speak up and share as to stay quiet and avoid the grar.

Y'all talk about conditioning. I was born in 1966 in Calcutta, expected to marry the selected man, have his kids and know my place in the inlaw's house. Because I grew up outside of my highly stratified, patriarchal home culture, as an expat, I may have learnt many things in the small exclusive schools I went to - such as being encouraged to speak up, even in a co-ed setting, seeing as how even the boys we went to school with for the most part were from diplomatic and other such backgrounds, thus unique in their experiences of the manifold and diverse world we live in. I'm saying this in order to explain what it was like to go back to the motherland after high school.

And to not "know my place" in the heirarchy. To struggle with deeply existential pondering at age 17 over the nature of gender vs physical body vs the mind, as in "But the only thing that makes me female is this body that I happened to be currently inhabiting, Uncle, not my mind or my soul, isn't it just is? Does it automatically become less simply because this, this body, is female?"

That was around the time I was fighting to go study engineering and had been put into a women's college. Uncles were telling my parents not waste money on my education because all I was going to do was have babies anyway. 1984. Indeed.

Because I was dumped from an exclusive expat bubble lifestyle into New Delhi. The nadir of eve teasing where female = public commodity.

It was only later in my grad school (yes, I did win the fight and end up in engineering college) that a dorm mate (who had been raped in high school on her way back home in broad daylight) told me that Men just want to find a way to bow your neck. They hate it if you hold your head up high and will use any means to cow you into submission.

I made a tradeoff, I used to believe, between a man/woman relationship life and striving to become my own person. That you could have one or the other but not both, because women threaten. Smart women with incisive minds who are unafraid to speak up (thank you Mr Furth, Mr Jess and Mr Lawrence) were huge threatening bogeymen who must be stamped down, beaten, raped and otherwise kept in cowering fear.

Penis dick.

I struggled in my early 40s with coming to terms with "my power". Its only the last couple of years where I've reached the point where I don't give a fuck anymore.

Where I can scream at the client, across the table at a negotiation, just a couple of weeks ago,

You aren't listening to me. You're disrespectful and wasting my time. You are not listening.

Hammer hammer hammer - until I read meese's comment I didn't know what it was he was doing, although and ironically it was just irritating me rather than silencing me.

I really don't expect men to be able to "handle me" or "deal with me" anymore. Seriously. Though its not a price I would have wished to pay for this autonomy.

Meh.

There's probably more but each of us could write a book about our journey into claiming our self hood, our person hood and carving our identities out of the enveloping, suffocating miasma of "WOMAN".
posted by infini at 9:42 PM on August 21, 2012 [27 favorites]


I was born in 1983, and to be honest, I didn't fully experience sexism until I entered the workforce. I was still socialized to be friendly, pleasant, and go-along-to-get-along. Most of that wasn't done under gendered expectations (mostly it was done to keep family dysfunction running smoothly), but now in the context of the greater sexism I face, it becomes a gendered habit and expectation. I might not have been raised that way, but many other people were, including a lot of the men I have to interact with.

And I'm talking strictly about family expectations in my upbringing -- not the endless societal messages that also exist and continue to have an impact.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 9:45 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


> The rightness or wrongness of a statement isn't determined by one's gender.

This I am in complete agreement with.


So you agree that it isn't fair to discount women's statements about their own experiences? Great - so the overwhelming reports from women who've responded saying "it absolutely happened to me in the 20th and 21st Century" should be food for thought.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:46 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Where did I say otherwise? I mentioned that Ideefixe indicated that she's a she because people were calling her statement the perfect example of mansplaining and what not. I don't deny that the phenomenon exists, and that men make a hostile environment. Where did I say anything resembling that?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:49 PM on August 21, 2012


You didn't actually say anything much, which requires everyone to make assumptions about what you meant.

And it is a perfect example of women not being believed even in their area of expertise, which, the article makes clear, is something that usually but not always comes from men. It rather neatly encapsulates that whole dynamic, hence the irony.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:59 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Requires everyone to make assumptions? Ok, well, have fun.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:01 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been boiling over lately (silently at work, of course, except via email to a supportive friend outside) over the degree of misogyny in my workplace. I am the highest ranking female, and have been since 2000, but not one female in the organization is in a position from which she will be able to advance. The VP actually admitted not hiring a highly qualified female candidate for a tech job because she was too attractive and the male techs would be less productive. That's insulting to the men as well as demeaning to the women. The CEO has been known to leave open chat windows with highly inappropriate content when asking for something to be done to his computer while he's at lunch, knowing I'll have to see them. The CFO actually refers to the data entry clerks as "the girls" and can't tell the women apart except by race -- he confuses the Asian women for each other, the white women for each other, etc., and calls us by each other's names, which he does not do with the men, who outnumber women 7 to 1. You bet I get mansplained and mandescended and silenced and blocked and disregarded.
posted by notashroom at 10:02 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


It isn't at all unusual for women to disbelieve each others' lived experience, as shown here. That's how pervasive this "[woman] has no idea about [topic]" dynamic is, that women wind up doing it to each other.
posted by cmyk at 10:02 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


I mentioned that Ideefixe indicated that she's a she because people were calling her statement the perfect example of mansplaining and what not. I don't deny that the phenomenon exists, and that men make a hostile environment. Where did I say anything resembling that?

You commented on that one sole point you disagreed with, which gave the impression that you were disagreeing with the whole premise.

if you DID agree with the premise, then why comment solely to call attention to ideefixe's gender?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:05 PM on August 21, 2012


Mansplaining is a problem I've probably experienced all my life, and become really conscious of in the past couple decades. First, it was when I realized that my dad only ever wanted to talk about topics where he's an expert, and where I'm not, and so the flow of authority is always from him to me. I've only finally started confronting him about it in the past few years. He's starting to wake up to the problem, and making progress, albeit frustratingly slow.

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of men in my social circle who don't understand how to talk to women. There are a lot of people, primarily men, who only know how to talk at people, rather than with people. People who don't understand that conversation is a two-way street, rather than a monologue with occasional pauses for breath. Way too often, it's women who get talked at. There's even one guy who will literally repeat a joke I've made three seconds after I've said it, as if it was his own idea -- and has done this dozens of times. The same guy also assumed that, when we were discussing some seriously in-depth rules modifications to a game we were playtesting, that he and one other guy were the only ones who had any knowledge about the topic, when I had not only got us working on the game in the first place, but suggested a raft of massively important changes we'd long since taken as canon. I've tried all different methods with the guy, mostly try to point out crappy behaviors as soon as they happen, but as always, it's very hard for a woman like me to achieve the right balance of assertiveness vs. politeness in those kinds of situations. I've made a tiny amount of progress with the guy -- he's starting to ask me for input about rules modifications, for example -- but it's glacially slow. With others, I've tried occasional experiments with the silent treatment, as kyrademon mentioned. It's worked, but again only in very small, frustratingly glacial ways.

If I may geeksplain for a moment: I'm pretty sure this comic by Sam Hurt is the popular origin of the term "male answer syndrome". 27 years ago and he already encapsulated a lot of the wisdom about this topic.
posted by jiawen at 10:09 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think cmyk there is even the tendency for women to believe the shared experience and then diminish someone else's feelings concerning the shared experience nonetheless. If patriarchy is a cage that we all live inside then certainly women can be some of the most reliable trustees in terms of maintaining the shape and integrity of that structure. I've seen how often some women who have advanced to a degree of non-traditional power such as the very common admin staff that function as gatekeepers in many organizations can throw hurdle after hurdle in the face of female managers and executives that would be easily taken care of if the manager or executive was a male peer. I can only guess at the motivations of people that do this but it seems like women advancing into positions of actual rather than borrowed authority can result in a massive disruption to established business and social hierarchies. I think this sort of rigid stratification based upon established gender norms is breaking down in many business and social organizations but it's far from being completely dismantled and forums like this are illustrative of the struggles that women still encounter from not just male peers but from fellow women as they navigate the struggles of advancing in a profession.
posted by vuron at 10:17 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


> if you DID agree with the premise, then why comment solely to call attention to ideefixe's gender?

Because that was the fact of that situation, and notice the title of the thread.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:21 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Vuron - oh, absolutely. There's something about that dynamic which is so ingrained that, when women get into those positions of authority, they wind up deliberately or subconsciously emulating those male behaviors.

It's like that saying - if you wanna make it, you have to be one of the guys.
posted by cmyk at 10:23 PM on August 21, 2012


If patriarchy is a cage that we all live inside then certainly women can be some of the most reliable trustees in terms of maintaining the shape and integrity of that structure.

They have to. Why, I never understood, but I have grown up with dealing with this compulsion of the women being more emphatic about "how to keep a man happy" to the point where classmates thus peers have explained to me that I'm far too strident to keep a man. Or that they'd never "attack" a man like a I do (er, I was just having a conversation with a know it all two decades younger to me, not attacking him).

Its an ingroup outgroup thing because they themselves are embedded in that power structure although their power sources are often manipulative, underhand and yes, borrowed.
posted by infini at 10:25 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


" It's so easy to laugh. It's so easy to hate. It takes guts to be gentle and kind" - Morrissey, The Smiths
posted by infini at 11:06 PM on August 21, 2012


What to do?

(Obviously, and especially given the context, I'm not asking for someone to rain their wisdom down upon this question! Rather, I'd really love to hear thoughtful commentary from those who, like me, have struggled with being on the receiving end of the Explainer dynamic that Solnit describes.)


To be perfectly honest the approach that has most saved my sanity (and time) is to look agreeable and nod while thinking about more interesting things like [major Game of Thrones/A Dance with Dragons spoiler rot13'd on the advice of my mansplaining boyfriend] vf gurer ernyyl birejuryzvat grkghny rivqrapr gung Oena vf gheavat vagb n gerr???

Because look, this is exactly the kind of condescension that women are socially conditioned and expected to exhibit and take refuge in a la one thousand and one sitcom examples of exasperated women and haplessly idiotic men. And for all of my deep seated hopes of smashing gender essentialisms and the patriarchy, I care not one whit that I'm indulging in the trope. In fact, I actually think it's immensely helpful for dealing with day to day interactions both online and offline in situations where the power dynamic is not going to be in my favour.

I also think that this is pretty obvious tactic and people know how to do it instinctively. What's more interesting with regards to the conversation at hand (and that crazy long metatalk thread) is that no one's really suggested yet and also how often women (and people of colour when it's whitesplaining or whatever) catch flak for not being properly enlightened or open minded enough and then get accused of acting in bad faith or not helping the conversation. The assumption being that we should always want to act in good faith and enter these conversations and if not, we're no longer "good" feminists. I personally think this is profoundly damaging and a symptom of how only understanding structural inequalities in terms of individual behaviours and behaviour "conversions" inevitably centres the feelings of those who are already in positions of power and influence.

If I have to choose between two different ways of coddling someone who's "not getting it" and who in doing so is making my life difficult, it's a no brainer that I should choose the way that's less exasperating, less time and energy consuming, less all-around draining. And it's a testament to how deep the tentacles of patriarchy reach that women routinely feel bad and are made to feel bad for putting their needs first in this way - that we're somehow 'letting the cause down' for objecting to conform to these double standards and the absurd expectation that unless we take the high road each and every time we've already lost.

Some people on tumblr put together a pretty useful quandrant about the purposes of polemic and other kinds of rhetoric:

a) attempt to open the minds of people on the opposite side as the author
b) attempt to open minds of people on the same side as the author
c) attempt to close minds of people on the same side as the author
d) attempt to close minds of people on the opposite side of the author

I actually really like throwing around 'mansplain' as a term in person precisely because it serves the purposes of d - a.k.a trolling. I've found it to be an extremely useful barometre for figuring out how much coddling someone is likely to need and what the level of defensiveness there will be in a given conversation partner about feminism. That way, I can decide on my own terms how much or how little I"m willing to engage ahead of time and prepare myself for it, rather than being blindsided to the point of tears 30 minutes into conversations that had seemed innocuous at the beginning but somehow became increasingly heated, eventually leaving me a shaken nervous mess for hours afterwards. In the bluntest of terms, and using anigbrowl's formulation, I'm perfectly ok with men feeling hurt and belittled by my use of the term 'mansplaining' because experience has taught me the ones who aren't capable of getting past that initial slight with a cursory level of self-awareness or self-examination shouldn't be the ones I cater to and I'm doing us all a favour by dropping the pretense - they sure as fuck aren't going to be watching out for people like me.

tl;dr I advocate to selectively but unabashedly ignore people who mansplain, and in addition, to feel no feminist guilt for doing so.
posted by dustyasymptotes at 11:19 PM on August 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


Its an ingroup outgroup thing because they themselves are embedded in that power structure although their power sources are often manipulative, underhand and yes, borrowed.

There are rewards for reinforcing the systemic sexist bullshit against other women. Eg, the approval of authority figures (among whom men typically outnumber women), the sense of having pulled yourself up by your bootstraps therefore clearly other women are OBVIOUSLY deficient, how much easier it is to go with the flow and reproduce what has been role modelled for you instead of aligning yourself with perceived troublemakers whose troublemaking is likely going to get them squashed, that kind of thing. I've got a book somewhere with a chapter that addresses that second point, the phenomenon of women in authority positions who stomp down other women. If I had it to hand I'd quote from it.

If I may adapt a sentence from a Dick Francis novel: the perks of not rocking the boat are sweet and probably habit-forming.

Again: it's a red herring to think of this as merely a Battle of the Sexes. It's a systemic problem.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:27 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


In the bluntest of terms, and using anigbrowl's formulation, I'm perfectly ok with men feeling hurt and belittled by my use of the term 'mansplaining' because experience has taught me the ones who aren't capable of getting past that initial slight with a cursory level of self-awareness or self-examination shouldn't be the ones I cater to and I'm doing us all a favour by dropping the pretense - they sure as fuck aren't going to be watching out for people like me.

You're wrong. I want to, and do, support women on this issue, but stupid terms like 'mansplaining' draw a substantial amount of my attention instead to the question of whether I, as a man, am going to have to defend myself from people who are going take this term and run with it and use it in situations that have nothing to do with the original problem, because a term like that is just begging to be misused.

And I will continue to support women in spite of that, but the word sure isn't doing you any favors.
posted by Anything at 11:44 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why spend all that energy on defending yourself? why not use that energy to engage with what they have said and listen to the arguments being put forward on their own merits? Why is your need to defend yourself from a word more important than our right to have our ideas engaged with?
posted by jonathanstrange at 11:50 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


The question of which is 'more important' doesn't apply here. I'm an autonomous person just like you are and I'm going to mind things that might cause me problems.
posted by Anything at 11:57 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


But if your automatic defensiveness shuts down your willingness to listen, then that is you prioritising your defensiveness over the ideas, and making that reaction more important than what is being said. So I think "more important" does apply in this situation.

I am so sick of being told that I have to frame my words in certain ways in order for men to listen to me. "If you framed it more politely, then I wouldn't have gotten so aggressive and ignored you". That kind of thing happens a lot. But the thing is, there is always some excuse, some justification for why my ideas or thoughts don't matter. The goal post is constantly shifting. No matter how I frame it, it's going to be wrong. So I don't give a fuck now if people complain about the tones that I use. I don't give a fuck if people object to language that I use. People that complain about that are going to complain anyway, and I'm not going to feed the trolls by continuing discussion on tone, because to me that is time spent not engaging with the topics that really need to be discussed.

I'm not saying that's what you're doing, Anything, but I think by focusing on a word and not the argument being put forward, it can become a slippery slope to doing just that.
posted by jonathanstrange at 12:14 AM on August 22, 2012 [16 favorites]


There are rewards for reinforcing the systemic sexist bullshit against other women. Eg, the approval of authority figures (among whom men typically outnumber women), the sense of having pulled yourself up by your bootstraps therefore clearly other women are OBVIOUSLY deficient, how much easier it is to go with the flow and reproduce what has been role modelled for you instead of aligning yourself with perceived troublemakers whose troublemaking is likely going to get them squashed, that kind of thing. I've got a book somewhere with a chapter that addresses that second point, the phenomenon of women in authority positions who stomp down other women.

I want to unpack this because i believe its conflating two entirely different things, one of which emerges more strongly from women who've "arrived" in the man's world, as you put it, and the second which emerges, even more strongly, from those who are part of the patriarchy.

Perhaps its clearer in cultures where women of generations before the current 20 somethings were rarely working outside the home professionally. But the politics within the extended family set ups, within the women of the household, are far more damaging in that if you're a rulebreaker then you are completely isolated. Men won't support you and the women will ensure you conform.

Imagine, in 2012, I am the first woman in my extended family with a public facing profession (not tuition at home or catering et al) and a science based degree (not teh soft stuff like a BA in History) and a divorcee. We are not blue collar either, every man of course is an engineer.

I was just musing that I'm tired of fighting the good fight but if I put my weapons down I don't exist anymore.
posted by infini at 12:18 AM on August 22, 2012


Jiawen wrote: There are a lot of people, primarily men, who only know how to talk at people, rather than with people. People who don't understand that conversation is a two-way street, rather than a monologue with occasional pauses for breath.

Perhaps you should explain this to them?
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:32 AM on August 22, 2012


Perhaps you should explain this to them?

Doing this can cause some men, IME those who perceive any challenge from somebody who owns a vagina as an attack and as disrespect, to escalate to aggression or negative professional consequences. IIRC there are some comments above that mention this. Maybe I'm mistaken.

I'll point such things out to these men IF I assess that risk to be low.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:41 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Perhaps that's why we end up shouting "You're not listening to me"?

Anyway, that reminds me of a story, now that I feel myself filling into the space that Rebecca Solnik has created with her article. Same client and his COO, being introduced to me.

COO: Oh, have you read XX book which defines our industry?

Introducer: Ha, ha, she's in the book.

COO: Well, let me tell you all about the book (and our industry) anyway because I haven't actually heard what was just said to me nor parsed it.


What I didn't get until now was why wasn't I getting the respect I had earned? In a way, this lesson and this realization, brought about by these threads in the past day or two are infinitely depressing.
posted by infini at 12:46 AM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Solnit, oops typo
posted by infini at 12:47 AM on August 22, 2012


But if your automatic defensiveness shuts down your willingness to listen, [...]

I will note that for my part it does not. I have tried to make my own meager contribution to the substantial side of the conversation, partly in the knowledge and hope that merely acknowledging the problem can sometimes change the minds of others, as seen from previous Mefi threads on related issues.

then that is you prioritising your defensiveness over the ideas, and making that reaction more important than what is being said. So I think "more important" does apply in this situation.

For my part it just means that depending on how the conversation goes, I have less attention for the original problem than I would otherwise have.

I understand that many who react to the tone will only react to your tone if they react to anything at all, and will ignore the real issue in any case. But those are not the only people you're dealing with.
posted by Anything at 12:57 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


its conflating two entirely different things

Bear with me as I try to work out where the conflation is, because I didn't consider them entirely different!

one of which emerges more strongly from women who've "arrived" in the man's world

So, public, paid work, male-dominated professions, etc, lessons learned as an adult and often explicitly as much as implicitly?

and the second which emerges, even more strongly, from those who are part of the patriarchy. . . . the politics within the extended family set ups, within the women of the household, are far more damaging in that if you're a rulebreaker then you are completely isolated. Men won't support you and the women will ensure you conform.

So, private settings, lessons learned at home and from birth by exposure to parental and familial expectations and obligations and therefore the strongest of all because they're largely implicit and the costs to personal life and identity, relations with loved ones etc are devastating?

About that private conditioning: I actually did have in mind (and typed, then deleted for brevity) two things that I encountered over 20 years ago, that gave me shivers with recognition as I processed them: the book The Butcher's Wife by Li Ang, and the movie Raise The Red Lantern directed by Zhang Yimou. The roles of the other women, especially older ones, as enforcers of the status quo and squelchers of the younger troublemakin' women was a gut-punch. These works showed so clearly the rewards that such behaviour got these women, these rewards they craved and felt they had earned. By God, they DID earn them, they worked so hard to crush the troublemakers, and then they got their rewards of being able to choose the food the next dinner would consist of, the master's approval, the respect of the community.

I didn't think they were entirely different because, in effect if not in origin, aren't they both helping to sustain the patriarchy?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:58 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I did not read all of the previous 400+ messages; did anyone point out the hypocrisy of someone claiming to be an expert in 17 disparate fields decrying the arrogance of someone lecturing her on a topic?
posted by karmiolz at 1:02 AM on August 22, 2012


the arrogance of someone lecturing her on a topic?

Specifically: The arrogance of someone lecturing her about a book she had written, that he had just been informed (several times) she had written.

I wouldn't be surprised if someone above did mischaracterize that one paragraph like that. Your future comments might be more interesting if you actually go read that paragraph, or read it more closely.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:11 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]



I didn't think they were entirely different because, in effect if not in origin, aren't they both helping to sustain the patriarchy?


I think I wasn't too clear myself (and that could entirely be due to what you removed for brevity, since this comment of yours made perfect sense to me).

I agree with you that they both sustain but I suspect, due most likely to the nature of the wording, understood your earlier comment to be overlooking the internal suppression and focusing on teh external. My experience is mostly from the former and not enough from the latter.
posted by infini at 1:32 AM on August 22, 2012


I read that cybercoitus interruptus , however I question her expertise. I enjoy her writing, I just do not take her as an authority. I find it hypocritical for someone whose career consists on dipping her toe into a complex topic and writing and entire novel on her understanding to call out, and specifically label it as a male failing, others when they do the same. I agree that men lecture on topics outside of their knowledge, it is clearly not a uniquely masculine trait as her career attests. I will take her as an expert on writing, authorship, and wit, and that is plenty enough.
posted by karmiolz at 1:35 AM on August 22, 2012


[karmiolz, you seem to be here to instigate a fight; don't do this. Engage the subject if you'd like, but don't show up to say you didn't read the comments, but you want to make your opinion known, and writing books is like "mansplaining." I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that you're not trolling at this point; please justify that credit.]
posted by taz at 1:55 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ignore the terminology discussion, it's the most derailly derail ever.

What to do?

I really liked the check-in suggestion earlier from kyrademon. If someone starts lecturing me, but then asks if I already know this (or gives any indication they give a single damn about this being a two-way conversation and not a lecture) I'd respond really positively. It's a win-win: if you've accidentally started mansplaining, you've stopped it now; if you correctly read the situation in the first place and they're interested in hearing you, they ask you to continue.

Would it be useful for some of the more confident guys to explain (ahaha) what they do if another guy presumes they're ignorant on a topic? It's already been mentioned that adversarial attitudes to conversation just compound the problem, but have any guys found other ways of dealing with it?

As a woman who's been Presumed Ignorant many times in the past, I *love* the idea of going silent when the mansplaining starts. It's easy to do even if I'm feeling intimidated, and it withdraws the social approval they assume they have for that behaviour.
posted by harriet vane at 2:12 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain myself taz. I mean to say that there are parallels between her career and the concept of "mansplaining". I completely agree that many men enjoy bloviating, and that there is insulting comedy in being lectured to on her own book. However, I happen to see parallels with her work and that activity. I would like to give credit to her obvious intellect and skill, but with the caveat that her brief forays into the subjects that have been the topics of her work definitely smacks of a similar arrogance.
posted by karmiolz at 2:17 AM on August 22, 2012


Okay, I'm responding in normal voice here, but I'd like to encourage you to sidestep this line of argumentation since unless the author shoves their book in your face and demands that you read it, the usual process is to choose a book you are interested in, buy the book, read the book, put it aside if it turns out to be less interesting than you hoped, or finish the book and feel like you've learned something or had an enjoyable experience. Not a single one of those actions resembles assuming someone is stupid or ignorant and lecturing them on stuff they already know while brushing off their attempts to let you know they are already aware of the information. Authorship isn't the same thing.
posted by taz at 2:26 AM on August 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


I stumbled onto her back story behind this article while exploring the rest of the links in the FPP and found this enlightening:

One evening over dinner, I began to joke, as I often had before, about writing an essay called “Men Explain Things to Me.” Every writer has a stable of ideas that never make it to the racetrack, and I’d been trotting this pony out recreationally every once in a while. My houseguest, the brilliant theorist and activist Marina Sitrin, insisted that I had to write it down because people like her younger sister Sam needed to read it. Young women needed to know that being belittled wasn’t the result of their own secret failings; it was the boring old gender wars.
[...]
Young women subsequently added the word “mansplaining” to the lexicon. Though I hasten to add that the essay makes it clear mansplaining is not a universal flaw of the gender, just the intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.

The battle for women to be treated like human beings with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of involvement in cultural and political arenas continues, and it is sometimes a pretty grim battle. When I wrote the essay below, I surprised myself in seeing that what starts out as minor social misery can expand into violent silencing and even violent death.
[...]
Having the right to show up and speak are basic to survival, to dignity, and to liberty. I’m grateful that, after an early life of being silenced, sometimes violently, I grew up to have a voice, circumstances that will always bind me to the rights of the voiceless. Rebecca (August 19, 2012)


I don't see how her willingness to speak up and share her experiences have much to do with the perceived quality of her other work, in this specific context?

Does her lack of expertise in geopolitics or history diminish her experience as a woman?
posted by infini at 2:28 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I enjoy her writing, I just do not take her as an authority. I find it hypocritical for someone whose career consists on dipping her toe into a complex topic and writing and entire novel on her understanding to call out, and specifically label it as a male failing, others when they do the same.

I'm guessing you mean "an entire novel", as the only way that sentence can be made to make sense. In which case, it is a regrettable duty to point out that "River of Shadows" is not a novel - it's a biography.

Is it possible that you are so eager to express an opinion on Rebecca Solnit that you have skipped over actually reading her work in order to voice an opinion about how her writing books is like a dude lecturing her about a topic with which she is already more than passingly familiar?
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:33 AM on August 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


You're wrong. I want to, and do, support women on this issue, but stupid terms like 'mansplaining' draw a substantial amount of my attention instead to the question of whether I, as a man, am going to have to defend myself from people who are going take this term and run with it and use it in situations that have nothing to do with the original problem, because a term like that is just begging to be misused.
And that's why I'm skeptical about people who get worked up about mansplaining. If your priorities lie with defending yourself against a potential future attack rather than understanding an actually existing problem, if one that doesn't impact much on yourself, how much of an ally are you really? If your first instinct is to seek offence rather than listen, you may be part of the problem.

You may not, you may be genuinely interested in helping to overcome these problems, in which case you may want to stifle that first reaction and actually listen first.

I've never felt offended or attacked by mansplaining or similar names for blokey behaviour that hurts others, as I don't identify with the men who do this, though I do have barely enough self knowledge to know that, yes, I do do that sometimes.

Both mansplaining itself and the umbrage that some men take to the term are perhaps best seen as (unconscious) egocentrism; first the assumption that of course you know better than whoever you're talking to, reinforced by societal gender pressures, then the idea that of course it's you that's being attacked by the use of "mansplaining".
posted by MartinWisse at 2:37 AM on August 22, 2012 [15 favorites]


If your first instinct is to seek offence rather than listen, you may be part of the problem.

You may not, you may be genuinely interested in helping to overcome these problems, in which case you may want to stifle that first reaction and actually listen first.


Instead of assuming that I don't listen you may read what I've already posted in the thread
posted by Anything at 2:47 AM on August 22, 2012


You are correct running the "d" was a typo and renders the sentence incomprehensible. She has published on a broad array of topics, ones that I also find fascinating and imagine I would find the common threads she weaves interesting. I reiterate that I do not doubt there is a healthy dose of misogyny in men lecturing women. I however find a similar arrogance in any journalist, regardless of gender, taking a few years to research a topic and publish with any conclusions. The term expert seems to have been watered down. I have no qualm with her assertion that there are men who consciously or not speak down to women. I was just pointing out that her own work is predicated on brief, no matter how dedicated, studies. There is a parallel between the two. I responded to taz, to whom I wish to extend my gratitude for the dedication to guiding the threads, in the same vein. I was only desiring to spur a conversation regarding the argument from authority. I agree that there is often as assumed patriarchal authority, but that perhaps our bar is frequently too low for many reasons outside of gender.
posted by karmiolz at 2:52 AM on August 22, 2012


Would it be useful for some of the more confident guys to explain (ahaha) what they do if another guy presumes they're ignorant on a topic? It's already been mentioned that adversarial attitudes to conversation just compound the problem, but have any guys found other ways of dealing with it?

Frankly, I really do think it's rarely a problem between men.

If it's coming from someone in a senior position, it usually doesn't matter since it's generally OK to defer to them anyway without all that much regard to who would turn out to be right if there was a debate.

If it's coming from a peer, it's usually easy to assert your own knowledge and there might be some back and forth but they can walk it back without major loss of face. And between peers I think it rarely happens to begin with -- people don't have a reason to assume they can get away with it.

The impression I get is that between men and women you basically have people who are supposed to be your peers -- talking to you like they're your boss. Between men, that's rare, in my experience.
posted by Anything at 2:55 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that is an interesting point of debate Anything. When no clear hierarchy exists between men, there can be an exchange based not only upon veracity but rhetorical skill. Should one man feel they were owed deference often anger and intimidation, both subtle and open, comes into play. I would assert that a grey area is more common among men than between men and women. In short, I agree with your position; the insulting dichotomy is more apparent between peers of opposite sex.
posted by karmiolz at 3:06 AM on August 22, 2012


She has published on a broad array of topics, ones that I also find fascinating and imagine I would find the common threads she weaves interesting.

OK, so, to be clear, you haven't actually read the book? You're imagining what it might be like to read it?

Proceeding from there, it kind of seems like you have not, in fact, been forced to experience the lack of expertise you believe it would display by having Rebecca Solnit read it to you at a dinner party, and I am guessing (assuming you have not dedicated your life to the study of Eadweard Muybridge) that you have also not had Rebecca Solnit force you to listen to her discoursing at length on another topic on which you are more expert than she.

As such, I just don't see the parallel. The minimum number of years you should be allowed to spend researching Eadweard Muybridge before being able to call oneself a Muybridge expert is a possible discussion, but in the context of this topic it's a derail. I'm not, honestly, sure where you are getting the fact that Solnit claims to be an expert in 17 disparate disciplines from - a cite would be useful. It sounds like publisher fluff to me, but regardless, "I find pop science/psychology/history books irritating", while a perfectly reasonable opinion to express, has nothing of value to add to this discussion.

"Rebecca Solnit shouldn't talk about this when she claims to be an expert on things she has only studied for a few years" is not really a logical statement - it's an argumentum ad hominem.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:14 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was basing that statement of the 17 listed publications spanning 20 years. Though I would disagree with your classification of my statement as an ad hominem rebuke. I do not believe that focusing on a topic for a few years could possibly render you an expert; which you admittedly say opens up another topic of discussion, running. Perhaps it is that I have taken for granted that we all agree that men can frequently rely on an unearned position of authority when speaking to, or more accurately at women, that I broached the apparent hypocrisy. I apologize if that strain of thought is truly considered a derail.
posted by karmiolz at 3:30 AM on August 22, 2012


Yeah, derail. Solnit is illustrating an experience that happens to (nearly) all women, and her knowledge of it is confirmed by dozens of women in this thread. Her other areas of expertise are irrelevant to this discussion.

Anything, that's a good analogy about bosses. It's an unwarranted assumption of authority. Some guys have a tendency to engage in sequential monologue-ing as some kind of human equivalent to butting heads the way male goats do. But the goal there is to win an argument, whereas with mansplaining a guy is often completely unaware that he's steamrolling a woman's half of the conversation.
posted by harriet vane at 3:42 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was unaware that paralleling an author's work to their experience would be considered as such; particularly when I frequently stated my belief in the veracity of that experience. I did not mean to.
posted by karmiolz at 3:45 AM on August 22, 2012


I was basing that statement of the 17 listed publications spanning 20 years. Though I would disagree with your classification of my statement as an ad hominem rebuke. I do not believe that focusing on a topic for a few years could possibly render you an expert; which you admittedly say opens up another topic of discussion, running.

Karmlolz, it doesn't sound like you've actually read those publications and are imaging based on some pre-conceived notion of what it takes to be an expert that she is a hypocrite. She also doesn't call herself an expert anywhere in the source material.

I think you need to go back and re-read the article and perhaps her work before coming to such broad conclusions, because it sounds like you're overruling whatever insight she may have because you know more about being an expert than she does. Which is further confirmation of the experiences of the author and the women who have written here.

I understand you believe the phenomenon exists, and that's good, but you must see the irony in what you're doing here, no?
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 3:49 AM on August 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


MartinWisse wrote: Both mansplaining itself and the umbrage that some men take to the term are perhaps best seen as (unconscious) egocentrism; first the assumption that of course you know better than whoever you're talking to, reinforced by societal gender pressures, then the idea that of course it's you that's being attacked by the use of "mansplaining".

But of course it is an attack on all men. If someone is going off about black criminals it's an attack on all people of color, even if the speaker stipulates that they're only talking about black criminals. If they complain about Jewish bankers it's an attack on Jews generally, even if the remarks are clearly limited to bankers. If they talk about hysterical feminists it's an attack on women. And if they use the word "mansplaining", delightful though it is, it is an attack on men. You might well say that the term is apposite and the injury low, that it highlights a major societal problem, and so forth. All of those positions are arguable, but they don't change the nature of the word.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:53 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would like to see this essay reinterpreted as a Chris Rock bit. It would start:

" Men think they know better than women.

Yes!

MEN think they know better than women!

MENNNN think they KNOW better than WOMEN!!!!!!
posted by victory_laser at 3:55 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


harriet vane: As a woman who's been Presumed Ignorant many times in the past, I *love* the idea of going silent when the mansplaining starts. It's easy to do even if I'm feeling intimidated, and it withdraws the social approval they assume they have for that behaviour.

I like this too, but do you think it actually works? My experience with going silent is mixed. I'm male (so take this with a grain of salt, I guess), but for one reason or another I've been on the receiving end of overbearing Explanations* from massively-inexpert people (invariably male). I use the "going silent" trick a lot, because it's so easy to do even when I'm nervous, but to be honest I don't think it's effective. It's useless in groups, for instance. If there's several people in the conversation, going silent just means that someone else jumps in, and they keep talking without noticing that I've withdrawn from the conversation. In one on one conversations it works better. Most people eventually tire of hearing their own voice, so they'll stop. However, if I try to start talking again the Explainer just interrupts again, starting the cycle of condescending overconfidence and frustrated withdrawal again. So these days I don't bother unless there's something at stake: when the Explaining starts I just sigh, go silent for a while and then end the conversation as soon as I can get a word in.

However, what frustrates me is that it doesn't really seem to withdraw the social approval in the way you'd think it should. The Explainer never seems to notice the causal link between his incessant interruptions and overconfident assertions and my ending the conversation. The conclusion isn't "hey, I was being a jerk and now I've pissed mixing off and he won't even talk to me", it's "wow, mixing is a really fucking grumpy guy". The only theory I've got is that it's because they don't realise they're Explaining. If you don't know you're doing it, then you can't ever see how it's shaping other people's responses to you.

[* This happens even within my field of expertise, and even when I'm the tenured professor and they're the grad student, or whatever. Hell, even undergrads do it to me, and even when they're failing the bloody class. I wouldn't have entered this thread at all, but Meese's comment captured my experience eerily well, the tiny detail of my gender notwithstanding. Actually, it hit a bit of a nerve. I wish I knew why men do this. You'd think I would know, since I'm male, but I don't understand and I wish they'd fucking knock it off. Basically, my experience of interactions with other men is very different to what Anything describes. I often wonder what cues I give off that makes my experiences so different.]
posted by mixing at 3:56 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I however find a similar arrogance in any journalist, regardless of gender, taking a few years to research a topic and publish with any conclusions. The term expert seems to have been watered down.

I don't know if you're simply unfamiliar with what research is, what journalism is, or if you would really prefer a world in which all expert-level knowledge remained locked in the academy and was unavailable to the general public in mainstream publications. I wonder, have you ever studied anything for a year or so? Enough to synthesize, summarize, reframe, and publish a treatise on that topic for a lay audience?

If you have, then I'm sure you would accord yourself the position of "expert" in most normal lay conversations on the topic. And if you have, and someone else who purports to know a little about the subject attempts to school you on it, you will probably quickly assess whether they know more about the subject than you or not. And if you are the person with more information, it doesn't require "arrogance" to be able to school them. It just requires more information.

I was surprised to see that I actually have a connection with this person. She's the co-author of, actually, a very important photography book co-written by herself and the curator of photography where I work. He is a leading expert in the field. Absolutely at the top of the field - and he's a specialist, where she is more of a generalist. However, together they were able to collaborate on research to which she brought her cultural history talents and synthetic ability and he brought his technical expertise, and the work they wrote together transformed the state of knowledge in at least two fields.

So I can't agree with you that she's somehow thrown the "expert" mantle around her shoulders with no justification. If you think that, in fact, then I think you are simply unable to evaluate the qualifications of a scholar. You don't have any idea what to be looking for.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone, regardless of gender, who has engaged in extensive original research on a topic, and has even authored original works on that topic, and who has gained the respect and recognition of others who work in that space, has earned the right to consider herself an authority. The idea that some doofus at a dinner or jerk in a newspaper (or 101st fighting keyboardist) could safely assume that, despite her credentials and the widely recognized significance of her work, she doesn't know what she's talking about, is an excellent example of the assumption of superiority that fundamentally lies at the root of this problem.

If you'd like to challenge me further on Solnit's credentials, MeMail me and perhaps I can put into more specific perspective for you.
posted by Miko at 4:04 AM on August 22, 2012 [16 favorites]


Good point, mixer - I have no idea if it works, but it's a low-effort tactic to try so I figure it's worth a shot. I think it's got potential in a one-on-one situation.

In the past with serial offenders, I've tried a loud "Excuse me, you [interrupted before I was finished/ have missed the point/ aren't up to date on the topic]" sort of thing. It works ok in small groups when there's other men present, especially if I can just override my instinct to wait for a response and just keep talking until they stop. But it's unpleasant for the rest of the group.

Maybe I shouldn't care about that - if they know I'll loudly talk over someone if that someone starts to lecture me, maybe they'd cut him off sooner when he starts lecturing.
posted by harriet vane at 4:07 AM on August 22, 2012


My mistake, she was not co-author on that book, but they have worked as collaborators. If she used any of his research in addition to her own to draw her conclusions, then she used the best available research.
posted by Miko at 4:18 AM on August 22, 2012


Hm. I like the loud interjection idea, though as you say I find it's so hard to suppress the instinct to wait until it's my turn. I haven't had a lot of luck with that tactic, but on reading your comment I think I'm doing it wrong. I don't think I'm being as forceful as your phrasing suggests: I usually make the mistake of using "sorry" as the first word in my attempted interrupt. And volume probably buys you a lot too. Worth a try, I suppose. Ta.
posted by mixing at 4:23 AM on August 22, 2012


I do not believe that focusing on a topic for a few years could possibly render you an expert

Oddly, this is just how I got my PhD. Is there a better method?
posted by Wolof at 4:36 AM on August 22, 2012 [27 favorites]


karmiolz, the whole thing is, the fact that you don't rate her as being qualified enough to speak about what she speaks about has absolutely no bearing on the discussion at hand except to give a first class example of the whole attitude that leads to this most heinous word 'mansplaining', a slang word which has sprung up to describe the phenomenon of (some) men just talking all over the top of everyone else, dismissing their opinion as unworthy or insignificant and then proceeding to bloviate about how men react to men doing this to other men and blah blah blah, in a discussion about a woman's point of view on how this feels when men do it to women.

It's a display, that's for sure.
posted by h00py at 4:36 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I usually make the mistake of using "sorry" as the first word in my attempted interrupt.

Heh, I do that too. And also have a habit of couching statements in that kind of unsure, apologetic language in general when disagreeing with someone - "I think that..." or "It might be that..." or "Maybe..." or even "I might be wrong, but..." when I know for a fact that I'm right about the whateveritis in question. It is one of the habits I find most irritating in myself, and something I've been consciously trying to stop doing since I noticed it recently. And of course, it just exacerbates the situation when you're being Explained To.

One response I have found that works sometimes is smiling and shaking my head without saying anything. With some Men Who Explain Things (although not all) it seems to disarm them enough to stop lecturing, at which point you can say "Yeah, actually you're wrong about X" or "Hey, I've been working in Y field for thirty years, I know what I'm talking about here" - but even when that doesn't happen, at least I know that I refused to play the part of their audience, and that makes me feel a bit better.
posted by Catseye at 4:37 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Excuse me" is that it's a sharp phrase with enough vowels that you can drag it out a bit :) "Sorry" is soft and easily ignored. But I do feel pretty damn rude afterwards, because it is a rude thing to do. It's just that if I know from past experience that the guy is never going to shut up, I feel like fighting fire with fire (bad manners with worse manners) is the fastest way for the rest of us to get on with things. I don't think I could do it to someone I'd only just met, though.

Another advantage of 'excuse me' is that it gives you plausible deniability if someone accuses you of being rude :) What, I totally asked for pardon!
posted by harriet vane at 4:42 AM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Another random thought about gendered communication: I listen to a ton of radio, mostly NPR. If you listen to a show like Diane Rheim or Talk of the Nation, at a time when they have both male and female guests, and it's getting politically heated, just count the number of times men interrupt and/or talk over women. It's chronic. Every time it happens I"m rooting for the woman: "Don't stop talking! Power through!" but usually, unless she's trained herself really well, she does stop talking, and the man gets to continue simply by virtue of talking longer than she did, so he ends up with the floor.

If they both continue talking, it's audio gibberish and the host will usually feel they have to moderate and give somebody the floor explicitly. But it's very rare that they just fend this off and stop the man when he tries this and ask the woman to continue instead. Part of the problem, of course, is that two people all het up and fighting to talk make for good radio. But I don't feel they pay adequate attention to moderating with gender dynamics in mind.

It's a really shitty tactic, and I think at some degree it's conscious (especially for people who talk in the media for a living) but sometimes it's also unconscious, as when that happens in a contentious public meeting or something.
posted by Miko at 4:44 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


[Just a note: Let's really, totally drop the "expert" derail from here out. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 4:49 AM on August 22, 2012


The one time I managed to effectively shut up a mansplainer was at work. I was a peon, invited to a meeting specifically for my technical expertise in case I needed to answer questions from all the managers making important decisions about a service we needed. Unfortunately, the very helpful and knowledgeable service provider we were meeting with got roped into bringing his boss. His boss was a dick, and proceeded to tell the whole group exactly why we were wrong, wrong, wrong about what we wanted without providing any alternatives. His employee just sank down in his seat, I felt bad for him having to work with such a douche.

He kept banging on and using big technical words that I could see a lot of the managers didn't understand. And I think he was trying to pull the wool over their eyes, get them to agree to things we didn't want, delivered too late for our needs. So I decided I'd interpret what he was saying for the managers, and vice versa, figuring that if they knew what he was suggesting they'd never agree to it.

He switched his focus to me and started telling me all this bullshit about my specialty topic, blabbing right over the top of me in a way he hadn't done to the managing director. I saw red, but didn't know what to do about it. But he made a mistake: he asked a rhetorical "... and who knows anything about that subject anyway? I don't. No-one has the expertise to decide if we've met those regulations." And then he paused for breath in his monologue.

I looked him right in the eye, and said "I'm qualified in this area. I'll decide." Dude looked shocked. I was so shocked at myself for this mild assertiveness that I couldn't say anything else. And then my fantastic boss stepped in and said "Right, well that's settled. Harriet Vane will take care of that." And his boss followed up with "I don't see any point in discussing this further. Can you do what we want or not?". Afterwards my boss high-fived me and said I used the perfect voice: firm and fed-up. And told me that guy was a known idiot, but hardly anyone talked back to him.

Lessons learned:
- if a woman makes even a half-arsed attempt to assert herself, back her up. She might have used up all her energy trying to be heard the first time.
- rhetorical questions are a good opportunity to break into the flow of verbiage.
- if you're annoyed by a lecture some guy is giving, chances are he's a habitual mansplainer and everyone else thinks he's a douche and will support you if you can shut him up.
posted by harriet vane at 4:52 AM on August 22, 2012 [49 favorites]


harriet vane that is awesome. I also thinks it speaks to the heart of the issue, as it is plane crappy that it is particularly taxing for you to assert your knowledge in that situation, though I absolutely do not doubt it is. Perhaps the setting in which mansplaining happens is particularly telling, if a hierarchy is not clearly defined there is some sick default position of male authority. With a clear hierarchy it is then doubly hard for a women to assert herself.
posted by karmiolz at 5:02 AM on August 22, 2012


[comment deleted; you know where Metatalk is, gman.]
posted by taz at 5:04 AM on August 22, 2012


Right, if that guy were in favor with the boss rather than out of favor, I wonder if you would have been given that support.
posted by Miko at 5:04 AM on August 22, 2012


Yeah, I think my boss would have supported me but I'm not sure anyone else would have.
posted by harriet vane at 5:07 AM on August 22, 2012


[Take the day off, gman.]
posted by taz at 5:09 AM on August 22, 2012


Instead of assuming that I don't listen you may read what I've already posted in the thread

I saw it and I think that was what you'd call paying lip service to the wider issue, before launching back into your being offendedness.

But of course it is an attack on all men. If someone is going off about black criminals [etc. ad nausam]

No matter how much people want it to be, these situations are not equal. There is no such thing as reserved sexism; societal expectations and power relationships are different in the reverse case.

Also, the thing with people who go on and on about Black criminals is that 99/100 it's code for Black people, while women complaining about mansplaining are clearly and emphatically not talking about all men.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:55 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe the guys who hate the term "mansplaining" because they feel unfairly tarred with an ugly brush could spend less time telling women our language makes them feel bad and more time telling the mansplainers that their actions make men look bad.

If your first instinct is to seek offence rather than listen, you may be part of the problem.

So, dudes, just try to not be defensive and fucking listen for once, otherwise you look like a goddamned asshole who's part of the fucking problem, and it makes both MetaFilter and the whole goddamn fucking world worse to be around your dumb ass.

You may not, you may be genuinely interested in helping to overcome these problems, in which case you may want to stifle that first reaction and actually listen first.


I'm amused that people are complaining how others are reacting to the word and telling them their feelings are wrong.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:57 AM on August 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


> Also, the thing with people who go on and on about Black criminals is that 99/100 it's code for Black people, while
> women complaining about mansplaining are clearly and emphatically not talking about all men.

We know this difference exists through our magical intuition of what others are thinking, which boils down to--because it must exist, otherwise the world isn't the way we think it is. And that's inconceivable.
posted by jfuller at 6:18 AM on August 22, 2012


Come on, increasing frustration with what seems to be an almost willful refusal to accept that this is actually a thing is not to be unexpected. People get annoyed with being disregarded. That's the whole point of this conversation, isn't it?

I am not a fan of generalising, myself. I hate the whole if you're this then you must think that point of view. It can't be denied, however, that some attitudes have been passed along and taught in overt and surreptitious ways and speaking out against them can lead to all kinds of pushback.

Men complaining about being pigeonholed by a word or an attitude would do well to step back for a bit and try and empathise with people who, in this thread and indeed in the article posted, are describing what it's like to feel disenfranchised by people who will not take their side into consideration at all.

Empathy. It's a good thing.
posted by h00py at 6:23 AM on August 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


Another drop in the bucket comment for anyone who might still think this isn't a 'thing,' or maybe it's a thing that's a relic of the past (Victorian era, seriously?):

I'm 24. When I was 19, I started being invited to hang out with a new social group. They were about a 50/50 gender split, which was nice, I thought, because I went to a women's college and most of my friends were female. They were into stuff like politics and video games, and so was I! Hooray new friends!

Except I quickly realized something really weird was going on. Every time we had parties, it would devolve into the guys in the group talking loudly about philosophy or politics or something while the women just... listened. When any of us tried to speak up, we were talked over or condescended to. It was almost funny, how any comment by a woman would be immediately shot down.

I was completely baffled. This was the 21st century, right? Was I seriously expected to just sit there? But I did. I'm still angry at myself for that, a little, but what was I supposed to do in the face of that weird condescension? I wanted to make new friends, and I got weird looks for trying to argue 'with the guys'. This got particularly hilarious when they were all discussing feminism and kindly took the time to explain its tenets to a bunch of gender studies majors.

There's a great Neal Stephenson quote: "“It was, of course, nothing more than sexism, the especially virulent type espoused by male techies who sincerely believe that they are too smart to be sexists.”

I stopped hanging out with them, for obvious reasons. What gets to me is that these were largely intelligent, well-educated guys who would probably describe themselves as feminists and progressives. They probably still do, and no woman can get a word in to tell them otherwise.

That wasn't the last time I encountered that behavior-- heck, it probably wasn't even the first. But ever since then I've been hypersensitive to that sort of thing, and it makes me angrier every time I see it.
posted by sonmi at 6:37 AM on August 22, 2012 [22 favorites]


Would it be useful for some of the more confident guys to explain (ahaha) what they do if another guy presumes they're ignorant on a topic? It's already been mentioned that adversarial attitudes to conversation just compound the problem, but have any guys found other ways of dealing with it?

Honestly, I don't think it would be useful. I'm a man, and I work in a field that's highly technical but that everyone feels they know all about because they see and interact with it all the time. It's as if I was a transportation engineer, and everyone drives, so they are experts on how road systems work and can all tell you about your field of expertise, right? Right?

So anyway, the point is whenever I answer the question, "So, what do you do?", I get Explainers explaining things to me. But that's not the same as what Solnit is describing, because I'm a man: A) the meaning of that Explaining is different, B) it doesn't happen outside of the context of conversations about my work, and most importantly C) because I am a man I have a set of conversational options for dealing with this that aren't fully available to most women.

So yeah, I can write up a "how to deal with blowhards," but it just isn't relevant, because the contexts are entirely different. Indeed, it would be classic missing-the-boat mansplaining because of that, and I'm not interested in contributing to the problem. I mean, of what use is advice like "If the person just won't shut up, step closer to invade his body space and lean over him imposingly until he gets uncomfortable and steps back, then repeat" to an average sized woman? The article is describing a very precise phenomenon, and the tools to deal with it aren't going to come from guys like me.
posted by Forktine at 6:38 AM on August 22, 2012 [15 favorites]


We know this difference exists through our magical intuition of what others are thinking, which boils down to--because it must exist, otherwise the world isn't the way we think it is. And that's inconceivable.

*rolls eyes*
posted by MartinWisse at 6:43 AM on August 22, 2012


And another drop in the aforementioned bucket:
I'm a dude. Working as a university instructor (USA) for over 10 years--in a field dominated by women, in a subject that's all about explaining--provided me numerous and striking examples of just how real this sexism-w/r/t-competence phenomenon really is. (And this is recent--not in the 50s or even the 90s, btw)

Most of the striking examples involve male students of my female colleagues (that is, non-tenured faculty). Hearing their stories about being shouted down by their male freshmen, in class, on their own Master's degree topic was chilling. More than one of these colleagues left the profession over incidents like this.

Then I look at the fact that such things never happened to me, and jeez that's depressing. I mean, I'm sure that the youth of my female colleagues was a factor, but I was no older, and demonstrably no more competent. Now that's privilege.
posted by AugieAugustus at 6:45 AM on August 22, 2012 [20 favorites]


The article is describing a very precise phenomenon, and the tools to deal with it aren't going to come from guys like me.

I agree. Us blokes shouldn't try and figure out strategies for women to deal with mansplaining, as much as that we should try and police ourselves for this tendency, both by making sure we're not doing it ourselves and by gently pulling back the foreskin of ignorance and applying the wirebrush of enlightenment to our fellow men when we catch them doing it, if at all possible.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:47 AM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


the young rope-rider: "It happens ALL THE TIME in social situations with men I don't know. I usually handle it by asking them lots of leading questions and acting dense and ignorant until they say something blatantly wrong, and then I either tell them how wrong they are in a way that makes it obvious that I've known they were full of shit the whole time, or I LOL on the inside and repeat some of the more ridiculous stuff to my friends later."



There are those who mansplain because they are just permanent jerks, and some because they are well-meaning idiots. I fall into the latter category. Please, if this happens again, feel free to just stop that person from the get go and say, "Dude, you're mansplaining. I already understand this topic really well and you don't need to tell me about it. Dude, just stop." I would love it if women did this to me. I don't want to be that person, and I try not to be that person, but sometimes I am that person.

There is a good female friend of mine whom I have frequently given cooking advice to, until I learned that she worked professionally for years in the food industry and it turns out she is actually a fantastic cook (and an amazing baker, like off-the-charts, "where did you buy this"). I felt profoundly dumb and, here is the icing on the cake, she was actually really cool and nice about it and even said things like "Oh, I still like hearing advice" etc. which may be true but do you think a man who was in the same situation would have reacted the same way? Probably not.

I love the term mansplain because it is so intuitively obvious to any English-speaking person who lives on this planet what it means. Otherwise, what else have you got, "Excuse me, it seems like you're condescendingly communicating me within the framework of a structural gender imbalance".
posted by Deathalicious at 6:58 AM on August 22, 2012 [16 favorites]


I completely agree that many men enjoy bloviating, and that there is insulting comedy in being lectured to on her own book. However, I happen to see parallels with her work and that activity.

Setting aside the whole question about how "expert" she is - the difference is, her work is writing books, which you have the choice whether or not to avail yourself of reading. If you choose to consult her opinion on something, you may read her book -- if you don't, however, you are perfectly free not to. You can even stop reading her book mid-way if you like.

Whereas the "mansplaining" we are referring to is unsought, foisted upon unwilling listeners, and frequently impossible to stop without appearing rude by interrupting or walking away.

So explain to me again why voluntarily choosing to read a book is exactly like being unwillingly cornered by a self-perceived know it all?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:06 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are those who mansplain because they are just permanent jerks, and some because they are well-meaning idiots. I fall into the latter category. Please, if this happens again, feel free to just stop that person from the get go and say, "Dude, you're mansplaining. I already understand this topic really well and you don't need to tell me about it. Dude, just stop." I would love it if women did this to me. I don't want to be that person, and I try not to be that person, but sometimes I am that person.

The problem is that, for strangers, I don't know which group they fall into. Sure, for friends, I would do that, but for a stranger -- well, it isn't always worth the emotional effort, or the chance of negative fallout from other people in the same circle. It's a risk, one that has to be weighed at the time, and you need to decide whether, even if the risk is low, the energy needed is available.

What works too is when men notice other men doing it (they need to keep their ears open to it, of course), they call them out.
posted by jeather at 7:07 AM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Would it be useful for some of the more confident guys to explain (ahaha) what they do if another guy presumes they're ignorant on a topic? It's already been mentioned that adversarial attitudes to conversation just compound the problem, but have any guys found other ways of dealing with it?

Unfortunately I think I mostly do the same things, just less often. If they're particularly bombastic and the stakes are low I play up to them for entertainment, the way people treat the fool in a Shakespeare play. If they're terminally annoying I arrange not to spend time with them. The difference is that I've only found maybe half a dozen people who treated me this way to the point of annoyance, so it's not much of a sacrifice.

But actually (to take the irony further), what I've done the few times I noticed someone doing this at dinner parties was exactly what you're doing now. I'll throw them something they could legitimately talk about with expertise for a few minutes, and then throw the same kind of question to someone else about their expertise, to kind of establish a norm where we're listening to people talk about their thing and everyone gets a turn.

I haven't done this consistently enough to know how well it works, but I'm realizing now that I've often let bombasts go on in group settings because it's no big deal to me. Maybe I'll try to more consciously step in and make room for others and see what works.
posted by jhc at 7:09 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Would it be useful for some of the more confident guys to explain (ahaha) what they do if another guy presumes they're ignorant on a topic? It's already been mentioned that adversarial attitudes to conversation just compound the problem, but have any guys found other ways of dealing with it?

As it so happens, my husband and I were comparing notes recently on how to deal with blowhard behavior. Husband is a good listener and a gentle soul, so he ends up on the receiving end of this behavior quite often. His tactic is to start asking questions, and then keep asking questions - using the questions to gradually gain authority in the conversation and redefine it on his own terms.

This often works for him, and it is rather amazing to watch him ever-so-subtly and gently disarm the blowhard! But because my gender brings a slight tilt to the equation - both in blowhards' expectations of me and in my own history of being unfairly presumed ignorant - I'm not sure I could successfully use the technique. For one, I expect that the blowhard is more likely to interpret my questions as a sign of ignorance than he would with my husband. For another, I'm more likely to get angry faster when someone treats me this way.

For me, this combined expectation and anger is the crux of the dilemma. This situation is a nasty cocktail of my accumulated exasperation and the blowhard's expectations. Part of my inability to gracefully or generously respond to a blowhard comes from the fact that I have encountered their behavior a few (hundred) too many times, and I have painfully witnessed its oft-genderedness. As infini put it,

I'm tired of fighting the good fight but if I put my weapons down I don't exist anymore.

Yeah. This is the feeling. I do want to exist, thank you very much - in conversation, in my personal life, in my career. I would like to be, not only an authority in my field, but a recognized authority in my field - and here I use "recognized" in the most basic sense imaginable.

So in the face of Explainer behavior, I become highly sensitized to the fact that someone else is - however unconsciously - trying to discount an aspect of my existence. I would love to exercise the patience my husband has for this behavior, but I have yet to find it in the moment. Instead, thanks to having experienced the genderedness of this situation way too many times in my life, my kneejerk defense mechanism - my conversational weaponry - kicks in.
posted by marlys at 7:18 AM on August 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


There are those who mansplain because they are just permanent jerks, and some because they are well-meaning idiots. I fall into the latter category. Please, if this happens again, feel free to just stop that person from the get go and say, "Dude, you're mansplaining. I already understand this topic really well and you don't need to tell me about it. Dude, just stop." I would love it if women did this to me. I don't want to be that person, and I try not to be that person, but sometimes I am that person.

You might have missed this bit of my comment:

To be clear, this is how I act when a guy acts like I might not know what a library card is, or tells me to stop watching basketball because I don't understand it, not when someone is trying to be helpful and is missing the mark. This level of aggressive condescension is something I encounter with relative frequency.

Also, no, I'm not going to tell strangers at a bar that, because it's a favor and I do favors for friends, not for strange dudes who are acting like assholes. I might do it for you if we knew each other and you generally seemed like a nice enough guy, but I'm more likely to approach it with humor because men react much better to it (having been socialized to use it as a way to spar without permanent butthurt resulting).
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:21 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


> There's a great Neal Stephenson quote: “It was, of course, nothing more than sexism, the especially virulent type espoused by male techies who sincerely believe that they are too smart to be sexists.”

That is a great quote, and it explains a great deal of the problem around these parts.
posted by languagehat at 7:21 AM on August 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


Would it be useful for some of the more confident guys to explain (ahaha) what they do if another guy presumes they're ignorant on a topic?

Just in case it would: generally what I do is listen, initially respectfully in case I might learn something new. If it turns out that the person lecturing me is in fact speaking rectally, then what I do next depends on whether I get the impression that they're doing so in order to display a bigger peacock tail than mine or merely because they don't know any better.

If they strike me as ignorant but genuinely interested, I'll go the Socratic option and start asking gentle questions that seem likely to push the boundaries of both our thinking, and we'll generally end up having an interesting conversation on a topic we're clearly both interested in. This is a Win. The appropriate variation of this in a group setting is to direct those questions to somebody else, then stop if we get lucky enough that the pontificator chooses to stop monopolizing the conversation.

If it's all peacock strut and preen, I will generally not bother doing anything other than disengaging as rapidly as possible because frankly I have better things to do than hang about with people who do that and/or the admiring flock who seem impressed by it. Which is probably why I will never make millions in marketing.

If the person in question is one with genuine power to cause harm, I'll go away and fume about them until I figure out how to remove or subvert that power. This has cost me jobs, but it's stopped me turning bitter.

One thing I will usually try very hard to stop myself from doing is getting into a game of Who's the Biggest Arsehole with one of these types. That rarely ends well.

Four of the best pieces of advice I've ever had:

1: Never argue with an idiot, because they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.

2: Don't try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

3: Mad people? Smile and wave.

4: It's not all about me.
posted by flabdablet at 7:24 AM on August 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


Just to back up what AugieAugustus is saying, I'm also a University educator, and have heard many, god far too many, similar stories from female colleagues about a certain kind of male student who just can't deal with being taught by a women that is more knowledgeable and, gasp, perhaps more intelligent then they are. This includes superstar academics that publish multiple journal articles, are always on organising committees for conferences, etc. It is fucking ridiculous. Then there were the creeps that were coming up with all sorts of excuses for why they absolutely had to move into the tutorial that just happened to be taught by an attractive blonde woman. Shame that they didn't realise that not only is she a fantastic teacher, that she just happens to be pioneering a completely new approach to the subject being studied.

I do want to thank Lou Stuells for posting this FPP, despite or the heat and noise it has reminded me that I need to be more mindful of these things, and I have to work harder to change the current situation.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:25 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Shame that they didn't realise that not only is she a fantastic teacher, that she just happens to be pioneering a completely new approach to the subject being studied.

Or that propositioning her in the lift will probably not end up like it does in the magazine with the pages that stick together.
posted by flabdablet at 7:28 AM on August 22, 2012


Instead of assuming that I don't listen you may read what I've already posted in the thread

I saw it and I think that was what you'd call paying lip service to the wider issue, before launching back into your being offendedness.
MartinWisse, you seem to have no idea what comment that was a follow-up to, and are making shit up so you can make weird accusations. Please stop.
posted by Anything at 7:32 AM on August 22, 2012


I'm more likely to approach it with humor because men react much better to it (having been socialized to use it as a way to spar without permanent butthurt resulting).

I've been socialized the same way, for what it's worth, and it generally seems to work pretty well.
posted by flabdablet at 7:32 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Shame that they didn't realise that not only is she a fantastic teacher, that she just happens to be pioneering a completely new approach to the subject being studied.

Or that propositioning her in the lift will probably not end up like it does in the magazine with the pages that stick together.
posted by flabdablet at 7:28 AM on August 22 [+] [!]


In our case, fortunately perhaps, I don't think they had the confidence for such a gambit. But yes. I have a colleague that refuses to teach certain subjects because of the mind bending sexist attitude of some of the students taking those subjects, even though it's her area of speciality.

That's fucked up.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:36 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, now that I'm not on my phone: I think that women should really, really cultivate a smart wit and learn how to shut men down in that particular way.

You know that obnoxious "it's just a joke" thing? Use it to your advantage. It often works. Be more careful when using it in front of lots of other people--it will often get the observers to respect you more, but the person who is the butt of the joke can nurse a grudge about it and act it out in a passive-aggressive way.

Even in conversations here on mefi, I've had men go from calling me stupid to acknowledging me as an equal, because I kept my cool and made a few decent jokes. It's hard to do when you're upset and flustered, but it can be really valuable.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:37 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


infini (in various comments): "[I]ts not a price I would have wished to pay for this autonomy. ... I was just musing that I'm tired of fighting the good fight but if I put my weapons down I don't exist anymore. ... What I didn't get until now was why wasn't I getting the respect I had earned? In a way, this lesson and this realization, brought about by these threads in the past day or two are infinitely depressing."

.

I'm so grateful to you for sharing and for fighting. I was just realizing that my direct supervisors at my last five jobs have all been women, expertly wielding authority in a profession that used to be dominated by men. Hang in there. We improve we improve we improve.
posted by jhc at 7:37 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


(I should point out, though, that men are much less likely to see women as "funny" so you'll have to be a bit better than the men around you. Keep trying!)
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:38 AM on August 22, 2012



If the person in question is one with genuine power to cause harm, I'll go away and fume about them until I figure out how to remove or subvert that power. This has cost me jobs, but it's stopped me turning bitter.


This kept/keeps me sane.

I've worked long and hard to reach the point where I feel confident enough financially to pick and choose with whom I work.

But marlys makes a very good point.

This is the feeling. I do want to exist, thank you very much - in conversation, in my personal life, in my career. I would like to be, not only an authority in my field, but a recognized authority in my field - and here I use "recognized" in the most basic sense imaginable.

I couldn't understand why it wasn't happening when kids young enough to be my sons could get equal recognition for their self published bachelors thesis (on which I was the advisor).

My one big fear right now is that all this consciousness raising will have me far too upset about all these things not right in the world instead of the blissful ignorance in I used to while away my time in my little corner. Its been 25 years since I've let go of the youthful rage that fuelled my departure from docile domesticity. Do I want to become an angry menopausal woman?

hmmmm
posted by infini at 7:38 AM on August 22, 2012


I'm also a University educator, and have heard many, god far too many, similar stories from female colleagues about a certain kind of male student who just can't deal with being taught by a women that is more knowledgeable and, gasp, perhaps more intelligent then they are.

Wow.

You just helped me realize that this happened to me and I never recognized the gendered component.

It was my last semester of graduate school. I was teaching an honor's poetry workshop, which should have been a dream. I've never been an easy teacher, but the assignments weren't particularly hard. Write two pages a week about a poem selected from a packet I'd given them. Write a poem a week, and participate in workshop.

There was one male student, a rising senior. I knew I'd have trouble from his first assignment, which he seemed to have written while stoned. It was littered with references to Joyce, but they made no sense either in or out of context. I asked him to see me; he wouldn't. He just kept handing in these garbled papers that had very little to do withthe poetry we were reading but instead rambled non-sensically about Foucault.

He'd grandstand in class, too, once telling a female student from the Caribbean that her imagery was "obviously a post-colonial appropriation." I kept leaving little "see mes" on his papers, but he'd jet as soon as class was over.

One of our last assignments was one I'd used in previous classes--meant to be fun and silly and play up the positive relationships we'd formed in workshop. The students were asked to work in the voice of another student writer--all semester we'd worked in the voice of various poets, but each student still had developed his or her own unique voice. I talked quite a bit throughout the class about how I expected the students to take their peers' work seriously.

He handed in a "poem" that instead lambasted me for wasting his time on the "facile work of teenagers." He was supposed to be workshopped that week, too. I skipped it--the other students asked me why. That was the disarming thing. Quite a few of them mentioned being intimidated by him, not by the way he talked over people in workshop or by how he used the vocabulary of academia as a way to slyly insult them despite my best efforts but by how smart he was. God, it killed me. They thought he was charming and clever and he was constantly putting them down.

I did my best not to let him get away with that, but it was hard. He'd look at me in a certain way--rolling his eyes, his lip ticking up. Disdain. It was disdain. I was only three, maybe four years older to him and it was clear he didn't see me as anyone fit to teach him at all.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:42 AM on August 22, 2012 [21 favorites]


It's fun thinking about people like that ending up having to offer you fries at the drive-through.

When they're fifty, with a combover.

If they're lucky.
posted by flabdablet at 7:50 AM on August 22, 2012


Sounds a lot like what Gretchen Rubin calls "Operational Conversational Style".
posted by valeries at 7:55 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry - oppositional conversational style.
posted by valeries at 7:56 AM on August 22, 2012


Sadly, they'll probably declare themselves to be An Expert in Something by publishing derivative articles, convince the media of their bonafides and end up becoming a well-paid talking head.

With hairplugs.
posted by likeso at 7:57 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Heh. My comment was responding to flabdablet's.
posted by likeso at 7:58 AM on August 22, 2012


- if a woman makes even a half-arsed attempt to assert herself, back her up. She might have used up all her energy trying to be heard the first time.

Yes! Husband, having heard me mention this issue many times, is now sensitized such that he often recognizes a problematic gendered dynamic in the moment and interjects strategically. Essentially, we end up tag-teaming the Explainer-dude.

I'm not saying this is an ideal solution (yes, the gender dynamic part of it is still fucked). But hey fellas, subtly assisting (not saving, mind you, but assisting) women attempting assert themselves in response to a blowhard is a fine, fine thing to do.

3: Mad people? Smile and wave.

Indeed. When I encounter a young male student disinclined (heh) to recognize my authority, I've learned that delivering feedback with a smile - no matter how critical that feedback may be - works wonders. It's as if a smile short-circuits something in the brain of a gender-defensive young man. Smiling woman = friendly, frowning woman = scary? Ugh - anyhow, after I learned to add the smile - while saying the exact same thing I'd say otherwise - the number of angry/defensive responses diminished astoundingly.

I don't know what this says, exactly, and infini, it certainly won't spare any of us from ingrained sexism and resulting rage. But I do find the smile ever-so-astounding in its inexplicable ability to shift the energy of a gender-warped situation. Perhaps there's some use for it in response to those explaining men...
posted by marlys at 8:11 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher: "I'm amused that people are complaining how others are reacting to the word and telling them their feelings are wrong."

It's probably because this whole thread is focused on the topic of Men Explaining Things to women and how it disenfranchises women. Some people have chosen to use the term "mansplain" but that was not in the original article being discussed.

In this thread, men have jumped in to say that they experience the phenomenon too, and/or that they are offended by the term "mansplaining". Both responses serve to derail the topic in a way.

Really, I can totally see a man coming on and contributing to this thread by saying something along the lines of: "I have experienced situtations similar to this; I have spoken with people who for one reason or another discounted my knowledge and made me feel ignored. So I empathize and will do what I can to observe when I engage in this behavior myself." But that is not what happened. Instead, people are saying things along the lines of, "I disagree that this is something that only happens to women," or even "This happens to me all the time, and I just XYZ (brush it off, confront them, etc). Why can't you?" Then men are complaining about the discourse. I often wonder why men are offended in this particular way when this term is used, or when that elevator thing came up, or other episodes where a behavior involving men disenfranchising, oppressing, or harassing women comes up for discussion. Is it really so hurtful? I think at the very least it would be instructive for people to say, instead of "I find that word offensive." to instead say, "Here's what goes on in my head when I see the word; this is why it upsets me, this is my reaction to it." But it really isn't generally presented this way. It's usually presented in the form of "the argument you are making about your oppression/disenfranchisement/harassment is all well and good, but could we please focus instead on the language you're using to talk about it?"
posted by Deathalicious at 8:16 AM on August 22, 2012 [12 favorites]


the young rope-rider: "Also, no, I'm not going to tell strangers at a bar that, because it's a favor and I do favors for friends, not for strange dudes who are acting like assholes. I might do it for you if we knew each other and you generally seemed like a nice enough guy, but I'm more likely to approach it with humor because men react much better to it (having been socialized to use it as a way to spar without permanent butthurt resulting)."

Okay, right. Obviously not for strangers. It didn't even occur to me that a stranger would do this to someone (how rude!) but I could totally see it happening amongst colleagues, relatives, or friends. The realization, now, that men employ mansplaining towards total strangers is boggling.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:19 AM on August 22, 2012



I don't know what this says, exactly, and infini, it certainly won't spare any of us from ingrained sexism and resulting rage. But I do find the smile ever-so-astounding in its inexplicable ability to shift the energy of a gender-warped situation. Perhaps there's some use for it in response to those explaining men...


I see your point here. My young translator and I were faced by a very smiley woman at the door of a shop we wished to photograph. It was only after we walked away did he tell me that she'd told him to fuck off and get that foreign bitch out of here too. You couldn't have told at all from her body language and speaking tone. Interesting.
posted by infini at 8:20 AM on August 22, 2012


I'm also a University educator, and have heard many, god far too many, similar stories from female colleagues about a certain kind of male student who just can't deal with being taught by a women that is more knowledgeable and, gasp, perhaps more intelligent then they are.

I have had this happen too, almost always with mature students who were either my age or older. Things I have actually heard: "You have made a mistake, this should be an A", and "The comma is correct there and you're wrong to change it and anyway in the real word nobody cares where the comma goes," "No I didn't read the book - I do have a life outside this classroom, you know," and "Let me tell you something about George Orwell."

I don't hold it against them as much as I would in other situations, though (although I do smack it down quickly in the classroom). Quite often mature students are already feeling out of place and uncomfortable surrounded by partying 18-year-olds, already feeling like they're totally out of practice with things like academic writing, and feeling like they're suddenly at the bottom of this pecking order and now a girl is telling them they're wrong, TO THE BARRICADES! So I see it as more bluster covering insecurity than the outright aggression it felt like at first. It is still irritating as hell, though.

Also irritating as hell: being Explained At in a job interview, by the candidate. (Me: "We're using [markup language] to mark up [thing, thing, thing and thing] in these documents. We want the readers to see that when viewing the text on screen, but we don't want it to look cluttered. How would you deal with a task like that?" Candidate: "Well, [markup language] is a language for marking up different bits of a text, you see. So you could mark up whatever you wanted to. Like, if you were interested in trees, you could mark up all the names of a tree in your text using a 'tree' tag, and then..." and on, and on. He never did answer the actual question. He also did not get the job.)
posted by Catseye at 8:46 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the good things about working at a Uni where were allowed to give part of their mark on participation is that we get to talk about what participation means. No, it's not putting your hand up for every question, even if you don't have the slightest idea of the answers. It's not even being right all the time. It's about participating in an environment that encourages people to contribute, even if they might be on the wrong track, cause how would they know otherwise, that's kinda the point of the whole thing. And of course it only helps if you can point them in the right direction in a respectful manner. That's participating, and many young men do get that. Too many don't though.

It is always a bit 'fun' to try to explain to the guy that is critiquing his final mark that being completely disrespectful to the points of view of his classmates was problematic, and that's why he got a 'bad' mark for participation. No, they're not just simply clearly wrong.... ugh.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 8:59 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I often wonder why men are offended in this particular way when this term is used, or when that elevator thing came up, or other episodes where a behavior involving men disenfranchising, oppressing, or harassing women comes up for discussion. Is it really so hurtful?

I'd wager that being lumped into single category or even feeling like you're being lumped into a single category is indeed hurtful.

Now there's a certain amount of "hey, shake it off, you're an adult, etc, etc" that could and probably should be said at times about this. But that's tricky as people are sensitive and then super sensitive when feeling hurt or maligned. And there's little question of a man having it better in society than a woman in the general sense, an individual male many not feel that or may not have a whole lot of that innate privilege.

I say amused, but I'm using it sarcastically, as I see people denying others you're wrong to offended by mansplaining or get over it, your arguments are pointless, I am more hurt) what they are legitimately asking for (to be heard and understood).
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:01 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also irritating as hell: being Explained At in a job interview, by the candidate. (Me: "We're using [markup language] to mark up [thing, thing, thing and thing] in these documents. We want the readers to see that when viewing the text on screen, but we don't want it to look cluttered. How would you deal with a task like that?" Candidate: "Well, [markup language] is a language for marking up different bits of a text, you see. So you could mark up whatever you wanted to. Like, if you were interested in trees, you could mark up all the names of a tree in your text using a 'tree' tag, and then..." and on, and on. He never did answer the actual question. He also did not get the job.)

To be fair, sometimes this kind of explaining indicates educational and professional backgrounds that focused on book learning and winging it, respectively, and a complete inability to apply book learning to practical situations. Doesn't make it any less irritating, though. :D
posted by bardophile at 9:06 AM on August 22, 2012


And there's little question of a man having it better in society than a woman in the general sense ...

This is only a question to those who cannot listen to anything women say because they are so engrossed in themselves. Move on, there is nothing to see here (if you insist on being blind).
posted by Surfurrus at 9:09 AM on August 22, 2012


ack - misread, mispost! ... apologies Brandon!

Note to self: Never post before morning coffee.
posted by Surfurrus at 9:36 AM on August 22, 2012


To be fair, sometimes this kind of explaining indicates educational and professional backgrounds that focused on book learning and winging it, respectively, and a complete inability to apply book learning to practical situations.

Oh, yeah - it was pretty obvious he was struggling with the interview questions throughout. But there was a very noticeable difference between how he answered the previous questions my male colleagues had asked, where he'd at least take a fair stab at the "How would you..." or "Give me an example of a time when you..." questions, and how he answered mine by going into full-on Explain The Basics lecture mode by telling me what a markup language was. So I do think it comes from insecurity, but there's a reason why that insecurity played out differently for him when he was talking to my male colleagues.
posted by Catseye at 9:37 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I too was born in the Victorian era, apparently - 1969, in the rural midwestern United States. My schools had many sports for boys and a few for girls. The superintendent of my elementary school saw me playing roughly with my friends at recess, through her window that overlooked the playground, and pulled me into her office to instruct me not to play with boys any more.

My family lived at a spot where there happened to be occasional serious auto accidents (a narrow bridge), and neighbors would come see if they could help/wait for ambulances, which took up to an hour/decide whether they should drive anyone to the hospital themselves. There would generally be a few boys there my age. Someone would always tell me to go back to the house because girls shouldn't witness such things.

The very last time I bought a car, the salesman pointed out the mirrors on the sun visors and mentioned that "girls" liked them.

Olympics announcers pointed out the gender of female athletes specifically when they did not do so to male athletes. "The young lady with the gold medal." "Those ladies who ..." Never "the gentlemen on the team" or "the men on the podium." For no reason.

I'm really juuuuust about tired of people saying that systemic sexism is dead.
posted by Occula at 9:52 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just as an aside - I didn't go into this earlier because I don't have any juicy anecdotes. But if anyone wants to study this phenomenon, and/or "male answer syndrome," museums are a great place to do that. Because I work in museums, many many times over the years I've observed this phenomenon in action. Men, with a group, sometimes of peers and sometimes with their own family, often have a different response to questions from within the group than women visitors do. "Who is that guy?" about a naval officer in a painting. "Uhh...it's Napoleon." "...it's General Washington." "It's Admiral Nelson." "It's Admiral Perry." "It's the Captain." Regardless of the date of the painting, the nation indicated on the flag, the attributes of the character...dozens of answers. I've seen it at maritime museums, in art museums, at zoos, at aquariums, at history museums, at battlefields and historic sites. I've seen plenty of fairly accurate interpretation by men in groups, too, but it is insane how much of the other kind is demonstrated daily.

The phenomenon seems to be much worse in families, where dads seem to feel under severe pressure to have a confident in front of their children...even if they are totally making it up. And I've often wondered what's happening inside the brain. Is there a moment of recognition that says "I don't know this answer at all...but here's something close/plausible/that I think I read once/that I heard somewhere that vaguely applies" -- or is it more a Dunning-Kreuger thing where they truly believe they have lit on the correct information in their brain by dint of luck? I really don't know.

Women in groups tend to behave differently. With groups of peers, they'll often voice the question, go "huh, I dunno," and read the label. They often read the label aloud to each other. If there's no label, they may just wonder aloud and speculate about who it could be without committing. On rare occasions they may remember their question and ask a guard or a visitor services person when they encounter one. Mothers often turn it into a "let's find out!" project and seek for books and other stuff as a learning project.

Not all people, of course, but the pattern of behavior that generates "I know about this" speechifying from men is easy to observe in museums...pretty much any day.

Someone mentioned the Annie Hall scene -- there are a couple of other really enjoyable Woody Allen scenes in Midnight in Paris involving the tendency to give unasked-for droning, boorish, and often inaccurate lectures. In this scene, it's another male, the Woody Allen character played by Owen Wilson, who has the right information but whose lower status means he can't get credit for it. The women, in this case, take on "ingenue" role completely and reinforce the status of the boorish guy (and contribute nothing themselves) In this other one, where the tour guide played by Carla Bruni sticks by her guns, the boor loses status and the guide is upheld, but only through the corroboration of Wilson's character.

The fact that Allen lampoons it, even though it's as a way of showing a male character being an overconfident ass that we're supposed to dislike, does, I think, lend credence to the degree of frequency with which it occurs. Now that I think about it I would be interested to find other examples from TV and film. You actually don't see it depicted all that often with such clear attention to the power plays at hand, which may be one reason it is relatively invisible to many.
posted by Miko at 10:00 AM on August 22, 2012 [14 favorites]


"Mothers often turn it into a "let's find out!" project and seek for books and other stuff as a learning project. "

Because I work with a bunch of early-20-somethings, they often assume I know everything (I do know a lot of things), but one of the things I keep explaining to them is that I really don't know all that much aside from how to quickly research things, so if I don't know off the top of my head, I always say, "Let's find out!" It's fun, and it's how I know most of the things that I do know. (I also try to make it clear when I'm not sure or I'm guessing, because I've had trouble when people treat things I pulled out my ass like gospel, so unless I'm positive, I want to be clear that I could be wrong about it.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:06 AM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Really, I can totally see a man coming on and contributing to this thread by saying something along the lines of: "I have experienced situtations similar to this; I have spoken with people who for one reason or another discounted my knowledge and made me feel ignored. So I empathize and will do what I can to observe when I engage in this behavior myself." But that is not what happened. Instead, people are saying things along the lines of, "I disagree that this is something that only happens to women," or even "This happens to me all the time, and I just XYZ (brush it off, confront them, etc). Why can't you?"

I do have to point out that there have been better responses from men here as well (yours included -- I'll let others be the judge of my own input, though). Threads like these may not solve everything, but I have seen a number of people come out from previous big gender threads etc with sincerely opened views, whether, for example, instructed directly by the experiences women have shared, or that in combination with seeing other men acknowledge the issues. Hopefully those few changes make a difference somewhere along the way.

(This is why I participate in spite of the sniping I may get for some of my views, instead of just bowing out.)
posted by Anything at 10:13 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Folks, this is a long and difficult thread that has been going on for some time now, please do not show up with meta talking points and expect people to start a new conversation with you. There is an existing MeTa thread or you may start a new one. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 10:17 AM on August 22, 2012


The very last time I bought a car, the salesman pointed out the mirrors on the sun visors and mentioned that "girls" liked them.

When I bought my first car (cute little Miata) way back when, the salesperson told me if I bought the car, it would "catch me a husband" in six months. (It was thereafter known as the Husband Catcher or HC for short in my family...) It also took me 10 minutes of repeated questions to get the sales guy to give me a price for the car, as opposed to the monthly payment ("What is the cost on this? It'll cost you $450 a month. But no, what is the price? The price is $450 a month." etc. etc.)

Seriously one good thing about this thread among a lot of bad is that there has been constructive discussion about how women (and men) deal with the issues Solnit discusses. Thanks to Miko, Elsa, the young rope-rider, and others...
posted by Cocodrillo at 10:25 AM on August 22, 2012


I've been thinking about this thread since yesterday and I thought I'd try to say a little more clearly than I managed to yesterday why I think Solnit's piece frames the issue in an unhelpful way--and why that poor framing contributed to a pretty low-quality discussion of what is a really important issue.

I think the major problem with Solnit's piece is simply that she personalizes it and makes it about bad men being mean to poor victimized women (a framing that the whole "mansplaining" debacle helps to propagate). But of course the whole tragedy of socially constructed discursive breakdowns like this (or like institutionalized racism or what have you) is that they do their destructive work even when all the participants are well meaning.

I'm absolutely sure that many, if not most, of the men participating in this thread who are patting themselves on the back and giving themselves brownie points for being totally cool with a term like "mansplaining" and being quite sure that they would never, ever do such a thing themselves have had communicative transactions with women where they have walked away thinking "well, wasn't I a nice, helpful person" and the woman has walked away thinking "wow, I just got mansplained like a sonofabitch!"

This is why I think Deborah Tannen's work (to harp on that string once again) is so much more valuable in its approach to this issue. What she posits, essentially, is that men and women are raised, to a certain extent, in quite different communicative cultures and when they enter into communicative exchanges those exchanges are fraught with all the usual capacity for cross-cultural misunderstanding. Sure, there are people who are just arrogant jerks in this world, and quite probably there are more of them with penises than with vaginas, but that really isn't the root cause of the problem here. To frame it that way, as Solnit does, is, actually, to minimize the problem. If you're a man you can think "am I a bullying jerk who doesn't believe any woman can possibly have real expertise on a topic? No? Well, obviously this doesn't apply to me!"

In reality, though, the problem is far more pernicious and far more pervasive than that--and it's because it doesn't rely upon anyone being a "bullying jerk" for an unhappy communicative breakdown to occur. The real problem is the man and the woman participating in the conversation with conflicting understandings of the rules, norms and goals of the exchange. Very frequently an exchange in which a woman feels that she is being disrespected, belittled and talked down to by a man will be one in which the man is using precisely the same conversational gambits that he would use in talking to another man--at least at the opening of the discussion. What he expects from his interlocutor is some kind of competitive pushback that will allow each party in the conversation to gauge their relative expertise, authority etc. The woman, on the other hand, has been socialized in a conversational style which does not feature this kind of competitive practice. In response to the male assertion of expertise she will fall (as Solnit describes herself doing in the first example in her piece) into a relatively submissive, student-like role. The male misconstrues this response as acknowledgment of his genuinely superior knowledge about the subject at hand and continues blithely under the delusion that his words of wisdom are being gratefully received.

I think it's all the more important to be aware that we fall into these patterns even when all those involved are well-meaning because that is also crucial to any useful approach to trying to combat this problem. If you go by Solnit's "geez, what a load of jerks guys can be" model then the only "solution" offering is "hey, jerky guys, don't be such jerks." That seems kinda doomed from the get go: if they're arrogant jerks to begin with, why do you think they would care about that? And, again, it's a message that falsely absolves the (let us hope) majority of men who aren't, in fact, arrogant jerks but who DO, in fact, participate unwittingly in these unhappy mismatched conversational strategies.

If you identify the problem in the broader "sociolinguistic cultures" approach that Deborah Tannen takes, on the other hand, you immediately see that a wide range of strategies to attack the problem comes into focus--and, moreover, they are strategies that don't simply rely upon jerkish, unenlightened men suddenly becoming caring and enlightened, but which BOTH men and women can put into play to try to break these unhappy patterns of communicative breakdown. Women, for example, can try consciously to avoid slipping into the passive "tutee" mode in response to a male assertion of expertise (had Solnit, for example, simply said "Oh, sorry, before you go on any further you should know that that was the book I wrote" to the guy in her first example they might possibly have had a perfectly productive discussion). Men, on the other hand, can try to cultivate the practice of eliciting from female interlocutors their views and their understanding of a situation without assuming that it will simply naturally be forthcoming in response to the man's assertion of his opinions. They can also consciously seek to practice explicit validation and endorsement of the woman's views and opinions in a way that is not naturally a part of their communicative repertoire. And so on and so forth.
posted by yoink at 10:32 AM on August 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


For me, as a n00b, she told a story that captured and explained a phenomena that I could instantly recognize.
posted by infini at 10:45 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


she personalizes it and makes it about bad men being mean to poor victimized women

I just went and reread the essay. At no point does Solnit make it about "bad men". She doesn't even speculate about motivations or ascribe beliefs to the men who do this. She characterizes this kind of behavior as "arrogant" and she discusses the effects of this kind of behavior on herself and other women. The closest she comes to "personalizing" it is to address one specific man whose attempt to correct her in public was both blatantly rude and totally incorrect by telling him "Dude, if you're reading this, you're a carbuncle on the face of humanity and an obstacle to civilization. Feel the shame."

Do, please, point to where Solnit talks about the "bad men" and the "poor victimized women". If you can.
posted by Lexica at 10:58 AM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


1: Never argue with an idiot, because they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.

The problem is, though, if a woman chooses this route, then she may later find herself criticized by someone completely different because she didn't "sieze the moment and reclaim her territory." So now what?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:00 AM on August 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


Women, for example, can try consciously to avoid slipping into the passive "tutee" mode in response to a male assertion of expertise (had Solnit, for example, simply said "Oh, sorry, before you go on any further you should know that that was the book I wrote" to the guy in her first example they might possibly have had a perfectly productive discussion).

Hey, they might even have hit it off. Who knows, by now they might be married!

You appear to be writing Rebecca Solnit/Dude at party AU OTP fanfiction.

Back at the actual reported events, however, we can read:
He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. "And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?"

So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingenue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I'd somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book—with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.

***

So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, "That's her book." Or tried to interrupt him anyway.

But he just continued on his way. She had to say "That's her book" three or four times before he finally took it in.
Now, you can of course simply say that she is lying - we've had plenty of people claiming that the reported experiences of women in this thread simply did not happen. But, let's assume for the moment that the testimony of the witness is reliable - that as a matter of bare fact he cut her off at the point where she mentioned Muybridge, and then had to be told three or four times before it sank in that he was talking about her book.

With this in mind, what exactly is different in your hypothetical? That if she'd just said "sorry" before addressing him directly, he might have let her finish her sentence? I feel the solution here may not be for women to be more immediately apologetic when interrupted.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:03 AM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Solnit's framing may indeed be flawed (and you've already heard enough of what I think of the term 'mansplaining', which she didn't coin, but which emerged out of her framing and which she doesn't appear to have a problem with), but there may be a funny thing going on here; the one thing we do know is that we are having this conversation because of what she specifically has written, and maybe it is the case that her approach will cause an inevitable derail where people's attitudes to her framing (and 'mansplaining', as it happens) get worked out-- but a derail is not a disaster. We seem to have mostly worked it out already, and the conversation is already valuable.
posted by Anything at 11:04 AM on August 22, 2012


And the point in the above is that we don't know where we'd be without what she wrote.
posted by Anything at 11:07 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


yoink: "The real problem is the man and the woman participating in the conversation with conflicting understandings of the rules, norms and goals of the exchange. Very frequently an exchange in which a woman feels that she is being disrespected, belittled and talked down to by a man will be one in which the man is using precisely the same conversational gambits that he would use in talking to another man--at least at the opening of the discussion. What he expects from his interlocutor is some kind of competitive pushback that will allow each party in the conversation to gauge their relative expertise, authority etc."

This doesn't map to many of my experiences. Some, yes, but not all and - I think - not most.

Often, when I am in this situation, and I attempt any sort of pushback (waiting for a pause and jumping in politely, collegially, informatively; showing (however faux) excitement and interrupting; even waiting until their spiel is over to politely disagree or say "I actually wrote that article."), it is not met as the opening of a welcome discussion, or the discussion intended.

The reactions I get include: signs of displeasure and dislike, a sneering wariness, a condescending glance up and down my body, an immediate reflexive rejection of what I say (sometimes condescendingly, sometimes with disdain, sometimes with a sneering cutting tone, sometimes with pity), a verbal slap-down, a "hold on, an adult is talking" tone, a "no you don't understand, I'm right about this", skeptical bemusement, a lack of interest in my point of view (unless it's that of an adoring acolyte or an impressed ingenue), reinforcement of his superiority on the topic (making recommendations to me on the topic even if I've just demonstrated that I have an expertise or ability), a patronizing pat on the shoulder (sometimes literally!), and of course, unsolicited advice (two of my favorites are: "You probably don't come to these conventions very much. You'll get along much better if you listen to people and aren't always trying to talk over them. Other people have a lot to share, and you will be a better person to hear them." and "People might respect you more if you were a little more ladylike. Just a tip!")

Sadly, many of these interactions aren't really intended to be a spirited debate or dialogue; I know because in my life, I've had a lot of those spirited debates and dialogues. In those cases, the person I was interacting wanted to hear my perspective and left spaces in the conversation for my point of view and reactions, as I did for his or hers. There's a pretty profound difference. Sometimes, I can turn what is at first the overbearing expaining into an actual conversation; the guys got the conversation off on the wrong foot, but they are interested in a conversation, and a lovely time is had. Frequently, however, that doesn't work, and I either push back too hard and have to deal with the consequences (social awkwardness, the dude tattling on me to my boss, me losing a sale, having my character besmirched, having to answer for making him uncomfortable, etc) or I zone out until I can escape.
posted by julen at 11:08 AM on August 22, 2012 [20 favorites]


> Do, please, point to where Solnit talks about the "bad men" and the "poor victimized women".

yoink has no interest in engaging with what Solnit has to say. He's decided that Solnit is Wrong and Tannen is Right, and he's going to Explain that to us until we agree or give up.
posted by languagehat at 11:09 AM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Women, for example, can try consciously to avoid slipping into the passive "tutee" mode in response to a male assertion of expertise (had Solnit, for example, simply said "Oh, sorry, before you go on any further you should know that that was the book I wrote" to the guy in her first example they might possibly have had a perfectly productive discussion).

From Solnit's essay:

So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, "That's her book." Or tried to interrupt him anyway.

But he just continued on his way. She had to say "That's her book" three or four times before he finally took it in.


Apparently Solnit's friend did exactly what you suggested. Repeatedly.

But it's still somehow Solnit's fault. It has to be.
posted by jhandey at 11:11 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I'm absolutely sure that many, if not most, of the men participating in this thread who are patting themselves on the back and giving themselves brownie points for being totally cool with a term like "mansplaining" and being quite sure that they would never, ever do such a thing themselves have had communicative transactions with women where they have walked away thinking "well, wasn't I a nice, helpful person" and the woman has walked away thinking "wow, I just got mansplained like a sonofabitch!""

Uh, I've been pretty clear about how I both don't think "mansplaining" is all that problematic and how I've been guilty of it many times. I try not to be, and I even make deliberate efforts to short-circuit that path, but it's still there. I think the other guys have been pretty clear on that too — Deathalicious has, at least. And in the MeTa, the guys there have been pretty open about it. So I think you're imagining a bit here.

Both of my favorite farm idioms for "Imagining threats" are inadequate — "Seeing Indians in the tall grass," referring to how horses get spooked, can come across as racist, and "Snapping at farts in a bathtub" requires you to have washed a farting dog at least once.
posted by klangklangston at 11:11 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Interesting, this topic just came up on a bike blog I read.

Occasionally when bicycling, a random guy gives me unsolicited advice. For illustration, here are two scenes from the past month.

The comments section contains a discussion similar to the one here: "You're being oversensitive/They're just trying to help/It has nothing to do with gender" vs. "This is what I experience/It does seem to have a gendered component/I never asked for this advice and don't need it."
posted by misskaz at 12:12 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


*peers out at klang from between tall grass puffs*

oh you meant the kind that cows eat?
posted by infini at 12:13 PM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Something that immediately comes to mind is an incident that happened to one of my advisors, a woman in her early 30s. Despite already being tenured faculty at a top 10 institution, a grad school recruit (i.e., a current undergrad), during his interview with her, took the opportunity to lecture her about how her research was totally wrong-headed and useless. It took the entire interview for my advisor -- then and now not only at the top of her game scientifically, but also a talented communicator who has won teaching awards -- to get him to even admit that there might be a situation in which her research was valuable. I can't imagine a 30-something man with equivalent career accolades and teaching/communication skills getting anywhere close to the same condescending, belligerent treatment. Especially from someone who barely even understood the field! It was a real jaw-dropper.

Obviously this phenomenon can get a lot more insidious; like the first example from the article, this was laughably obvious and extreme, and this dude had absolutely no real power in the situation (except to be annoying as fuck). Even then, though, it was depressing to think of this happening in the 21st century.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:14 PM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


misskaz, that bicycle link reminded me of something. I was walking home. There are no sidewalks where I live, so I was walking along the edge of the street. I am on my block. A car comes up and starts following behind me, very slowly. Creeping along behind me at the speed I am walking. One house, two houses, three houses. I spin around and look at the driver and he says to me "honey, you should always walk facing traffic, it's safer." And then he drove off.

The creeping up behind me was setting off all kind of alarms in my head, I was thinking about which neighbors would be likely to be home if I needed to attract attention, I was reaching for my phone to call 911, and the dude wants to lecture me on safety. Unbelievable.
posted by ambrosia at 12:35 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've told this story before, but when I was in grad school there was a woman so deeply steeped in both Western literature (she introduced me to Auerbach's Mimesis) and Chinese language and literature I was in absolute awe of her. She published a long paper on book culture and textual transmission in ancient China that's still cited admiringly by specialists in the field. But she was treated with such shabby disdain by the men who were supposed to be mentoring her that she left the field for a while. Then she taught at a state university where she was sexually harassed by a superior. She's been out of academia for a long time now. There was also fellow grad student in linguistics who was interested in fieldwork that badly needed to be done; she too was driven out of academia by blatant and unquestioned sexism. There are lots and lots of stories like that.
posted by languagehat at 12:37 PM on August 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


So, this happened to me yesterday. A high school friend to whom I haven't spoken in years got in touch recently, and we decided to catch up on the phone. He asked me what I was doing this summer, and I told him about my summer internship. As I started to describe the research project I'm working on, looking into available safety data for opioid analgesics in adults over age 65 with chronic non-cancer pain, he cut me off and started talking about how opioids are clearly unsafe for older adults, based on his experience having taken opioids after being run over by a car when he was in his early 20s.

Normally, I would have just been like, "Uh huh," and changed the subject, but having read this thread I decided I'd push back to see what happened, basically saying a) while that is interesting about your experience, it isn't really relevant because I'm looking at adults over 65 who have chronic pain, not adults under 25 who've been involved in accidents, b) besides, it's actually more interesting to look at what I'm actually studying because we don't really broadly know how these medicines work in older adults; up till now, no one has gathered the (very small amounts of) available data and put it together.

And then I changed the subject. (I'm still not sure if that was the best way to handle it.)
posted by ocherdraco at 12:37 PM on August 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


How did he respond?
posted by msalt at 12:42 PM on August 22, 2012


I just kind of barreled on into the next subject—I didn't really get a response from him on that. (That's what I'm talking about when I say I'm not sure if that was the best way to handle it.) The conversation went fine from there; he didn't cut me off anymore.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:54 PM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


My experience of trying the "Actually I'm your equal" strategy that yoink proposes is often like julen's. There are a fair amount of things that I know something about, and I vacillate in these situations between being like


  • Strategy 1, aka "Kill me now" - A situation like a party where the person is clearly out of their depth and boorish and uninteresting or not ready for prime time, and I'll be leaving soon and the whole interaction is not worth going to the trouble: "Uh huh, sure," "yes, indeedy!" nodding vaguely, "well, nice talking to you!"


  • Strategy 2, aka "Yes I will show you the length of my metaphorical penis since you seem to need that in order to feel you're not wasting your valuable time" - If it's more like a conference-chat situation between sessions and someone is wanting to follow up on what we just heard or I said or whatever, and if I sense that I need to establish an authority claim with the person: "Well, I've looked into this quite a bit," or "I worked on the research for that exhibit" or "this is part of my thesis work." Sometimes I find you need to explicitly reset the expectation of who they're dealing with. It doesn't always have the intended effect but it's sometimes my response if I think there's a chance the person might be on the up and up, or convinced to move in that direction.


  • Strategy 3, aka "Wow, I may have just met a really interesting person" - If the person gives some appearance of actually engaging as an equal and just isn't sure how wide my frame of reference or something is, then: "it's interesting that you say that, because others say XYZ and I tend to agree, I would like to hear your opinion" or "On thing I'm still questioning is whether ABC had an underappreciated impact" or "but have you seen his California series, it's a totally new direction" or similar. You know, wonky conversation like you'd have with any normal person over a topic.

    In fact, many delightful conversations start the latter way.

    But the thing is, by the second exchange you can immediately tell where you are and what the person's intent is. And it doesn't honestly matter which gambit you, as the woman, take - because the resulting response from the other person is not up to you. They don't respond to your "communication style" anywhere near as quickly as they respond to their own expectations and existing bias.

    So no, you can't steer the conversation in a healthier direction by making the "correct" choice of response. The direction of their response to you is entirely up to them, and quite often entirely a product of what they expect you to be conversant with and how highly they esteem their own knowledge - whether or not this is justified.

    At this point all I'm trying to do with my response to a conversational overture of this kind is assess whether the person is on or off their rocker, whether they're smart/informed enough to have a meaty conversation, and whether we're likely to have a good faith interchange or a bad faith interchange.

    A bad-faith/uninformed interaction can happen with ANY opening strategy I take. I can misread people as smart and informed and go to the 3rd strategy, only to find they're still hung up on sharing their indiosyncratic explanation of what really happened with Native American settlements in the Colonial era or whatever. Or I can do the "sure, uhuh" thing and sometimes find that the person follows up with a really interesting, probing question that they are sincerely interested in my response to.

    So no matter what Tannen would say if she were here, in practice my experience is that (a) I can't control a man's response to my first conversational moves, because his intention and his choice of words are up to him, not me; and (b) even if I could exert control over it, it's still not my responsibility to speak "correctly" - ie, only in a way that's comfortable for men with ego problems or an inability to seek meaning rather than status - in order to converse with men.

  • posted by Miko at 1:18 PM on August 22, 2012 [12 favorites]


    Normally, I would have just been like, "Uh huh," and changed the subject

    Otherdraco, wow, we crossed in preview. Heh.

    If nothing else, maybe some in this thread will think twice next time a woman does the nodding and saying "uh huh" thing in conversation with them.
    posted by Miko at 1:21 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Well, you guys, I feel like this thread helped me out.

    I ended a professional relationship today (think literary agent). I knew I was going to get some explainin' but I was just so on edge about everything, it was a relationship that was totally stifling me and making me feel creatively and professionally terrible and I was lost in crazy headspace over it. It had a TREMENDOUS component where I would bring things up and be dismissed and shut down, over and over. And it was to the point where it wasn't just that my feeeeeelings were hurt, but where it was actually harming me on a job level. So I needed to make a change but had really been dreading it, and had especially been terrified that I would get talked out of what I wanted to do.

    Anyway, my approach was to relentlessly but sweetly hammer away at "We just have different styles. I think you would agree, if you're honest, that we just haven't connected." about a hundred times. I also said "This is nobody's fault." over and over (a polite fiction). I was trying to not trigger a defensive save response, really. (I had a very ugly conversation the last time I fired someone, where the guy screamed at me so badly that when I hung up I had to lie on the floor until I stopped shaking. And these are people who WORK FOR ME and make money because I am working, they should not be screaming at me, ever, under any condition.)

    It was okay. I was really surprised, actually. I have been dreading this conversation for some time. But continually making it Nobody's Fault seemed to stop this person from continuing down the "But you see, this is really YOUR fault, thehmsbeagle, for being wrong in your approach" path, which they did start down a few times.

    So it was effective, as an approach. I do feel a little bit weird that I felt so strongly that I needed to approach this as though I were breaking up with a romantic partner whose ego I needed to soothe instead of a professional "You're fired. This isn't working. Good luck." angle. But that may or may not have a gendered component, who knows.

    Anyway! Thanks, Metafilter! I appreciate so much having access to the thoughts of extremely articulate nerds of all genders in order to calibrate my own ideas about such things.
    posted by thehmsbeagle at 1:23 PM on August 22, 2012 [19 favorites]


    languagehat: "There are lots and lots of stories like that."

    My own story with academia is kind of an example. Lots of crappy treatment by my profs through college and grad school, leading me to get the heck out with my MA instead of my PhD. It wasn't just sexism, but sexism was certainly part of it.
    posted by jiawen at 1:43 PM on August 22, 2012


    I spin around and look at the driver and he says to me "honey, you should always walk facing traffic, it's safer."

    Actual, literal drive-by advice. It's amazing, isn't it?

    A particular intersection I use all the time --- say, 20+ times a week --- is poorly designed to create a predictable pattern of cars turning against the light, pedestrians crossing against the light, and general horn-honkiness. I don't find it dangerous, but it's inconvenient.

    When I'm waiting to cross at that intersection --- which, again, I have use dozens and dozens of times monthly for years --- in my mental background, I'm doing a minor but complex observation of traffic flow from three direction (and sometimes four, since cars often come wrong-way out the one-way street), pedestrian patterns, busses stopping to drop off and pick up passengers, traffic and crosswalk lights, and of course my own condition (am I limping today? Am I carrying a fragile or heavy load that will slow me down? do I see a friend I'd like to speak to on the corner of this busy, heavily trafficked area?) to decide when to cross. It's not a big deal, just the kind of background reckoning one does all day long when you live in even a small city.

    I never block flow at that intersection; often I'm standing well back from the curb, off to the side near a building, while I finish the last line of an article or check my phone or mentally run through my to-do list or one of a thousand other things.

    No woman has ever presumed to instruct me upon when I should cross the street.

    Men do it often, on the order of once every few months. "C'mon, I'll cross with you." "It should be safe now." "Don't be afraid." "We can make it if we run!" Sometimes they reach over as if to take my hand. Sometimes they do put a hand on my arm or hand and get offended when I shake it off. Once, one grabbed my wrist and pulled me into the street into the path of a car he didn't see coming (but I did).

    I am not a frail little old lady nor a child. I am not visibly disabled. (I'm not suggesting that a disabled or physically challenged person would welcome their interference either, but a visible disability might explain their misguided presumption.) I am a big, tall, strapping middle-aged woman who has lived in plenty of cities and knows how to CROSS A STREET. In fact, I probably know better than they do how to patterns of this particular street operate. I certainly don't know less than they do, unless these men who try to lead me across the street are all civil engineers working together to figure out why this intersection is so inconvenient.

    But even if every single one of these men who advised a grown woman on how to cross the street were, unknown to me, part of a team of genius engineers planning to revamp this inefficient intersection, that doesn't make them experts on my fitness or desire to cross at any given moment.

    Maybe I'm crossing at a right angle to the direction they think I'm crossing. Maybe I just remembered I have to back-track. Maybe my shoelace broken and I can't run across the street (as they are often urging: "We can make it if we hurry!"). Maybe my back hurts and I don't want to hurry. Maybe I've been running and I'm catching my breath. Maybe I have a philosophical horror of jaywalking. Maybe I'm waiting for the bus that stops at that corner. Maybe I just felt my phone vibrate and want to answer it without stepping into the street. Maybe I'm watching the sunset. Maybe I'm waiting for my bus to arrive across the street but until it does, I'd rather stay here in the shade. Maybe I'm waiting for a friend to step out of the library on the corner. Maybe I'm meeting someone here.

    These men --- and again, it has never been a woman --- look at a fellow adult and for some reason assume I am incompetent to cross the street, that I need their assistance, that they are somehow better informed on the needs of my daily commute than I am. Why would that be? And why don't women ever think the same of me, or if they do, why don't they ever act upon it? And why are the men who try to help me cross the street universally offended --- often loudly, insultingly offended ---by my refusal?
    posted by Elsa at 1:52 PM on August 22, 2012 [16 favorites]


    I was on the receiving end of some serious mansplaining at the most recent academic conference I attended, by two senior scholars. One who went on at length about a specific research method he claimed to be proficient in, and that I used in the study I presented. Most of what he said either made no sense or was complete bullshit, and in any case had nothing to do with the actual research project I was presenting. The other, who was actually cited in the research, decided I needed to be filled in on a whole bunch of his other work, even though I tried (a few times, until I gave up) to gently point out that those weren't really relevant to the new theoretical model I was developing.

    And in case anyone doubts whether any of this really had anything to do with gender, versus just run-of-the-mill unisex bloviating, Scholar #2 also started referring to me as "Jessica Rabbit," including when he introduced me to other conference attendees who joined our conversation.

    Unfortunately, I'm probably going to need a letter from one or both of these men in a couple of years for my tenure file, so I just nodded and made deferential noises until they went away. But I was fuming inside.
    posted by Superplin at 1:54 PM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I think that's fantiastic, thehmsbeagle.

    An email this afternoon has reminded me that I have a female co-worker who used to do the Explainy-down thing to me. Her role here is to do data entry in an application I built, yet somehow she would assume a voice of authority when Explaining something related to this application. At first, I just thought it was oddly confrontational, or maybe related to the fact that my daughter trained her in her job. Sometime in the last year, I adopted more of a competitive conversational style with her in particular, and it worked. I won, in that she now will take turns in conversation, say thank you, and appear to give me credit for having a clue. I've tried the same thing with men and it's backfired. I wonder if other women have had similar experiences?
    posted by notashroom at 1:55 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Wow, I never thought about the "crossing the street" or bike experience as part of this, but yeah, I've had that happen to. When living in my last city I used to bike to work over an old bridge. Both the bikes and cars had to cross directly on the bridge deck, which was one of those open grates. Only other choice was to walk your bike on the sidewalk part. I usually preferred to ride on the bridge, as it was faster, and wide enough. The grating was not hard to ride on, and I had a hybrid with really knobby tires. It was reasonably safe, as safe as biking ever is given the way people drive.

    One day I was riding along, approximately my 9000th traverse of the bridge in my lifetime, and a pickup truck going in the same direction slowed down and pulled up next to me. Inside were a guy and what looked like his 10-year-old kid or so.

    He said "You shouldn't ride on this bridge. You should walk your bike."

    I tried to keep riding and just looked over at him - I'm not sure he could see my genuinely cocked WTF? eyebrow, because I had my helmet on. He repeated "It's not safe to ride on the bridge. You get a tire caught in this grating, you'll be all over the road. You could get yourself killed."

    I was pretty dumbfounded that another grownup was instructing me about riding my bike as if I were his son's age, while I was crossing a bridge I crossed every day - a task which requires a modicum of attention, as well. I just couldn't imagine why he was doing this and what he must have assumed - that I had never ridden it before and didn't know what I was in for, maybe? - and though I was not worried about the very familiar grating issue, I was definitely a little freaked out by the guy cruising next to me at 10 mph shouting life advice and not going away when I didn't respond.

    Because my brain was having such trouble understanding his motivation, I blurted out "...I LIVE here," as a way of trying to say "...and ride on this bridge all the time and am comfortable with my risk evaluation, so don't worry about me, continue with your day, thanks." I still shake my head at this and wish I'd said something else.

    Never connected it with the "man=help" thing before, though.
    posted by Miko at 2:04 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Oh, yeah! If you want to experience more "fun with 'splaining," show up somewhere on a motorcycle. Or just carrying a helmet around. Or, hell, just mention that you ride. You won't believe the advice you get, including from people whose sole experience with motorcycles was a friend's dirt biked when they were twelve.

    My favorite was a guy at a meetup, who had contacted me through OKC and thus presumably had some level of interest. He explained at great length why my motorcycle (which he had not seen, since I drove my car to this event) was completely wrong for me, in terms of size, and refused to believe me when I told him that I could plant my feet solidly on the ground while seated on it. No, I hadn't had the seat lowered. I was informed that I had chosen my vehicle poorly and was putting myself in danger, and should sell it immediately in exchange for the bike he used to ride... fifteen years ago. (Which, for the record, has a higher seat than my Ninja did. Ninjas are in fact known to be one of the best choices for short and/or women riders because they sit lower than many other motorcycles. Wanker.)

    Needless to say, there was no date forthcoming after that conversation. Mansplaining: not a great courtship technique.
    posted by Superplin at 2:11 PM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Sigh. "dirt biked" = "dirt bike"
    posted by Superplin at 2:12 PM on August 22, 2012


    Unfortunately, I'm probably going to need a letter from one or both of these men in a couple of years for my tenure file

    Ugh. Condolences, FWIW.
    posted by Anything at 2:29 PM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Okay, wow. I knew some of these things happened because of gender bias (like going into a shop to buy technology, and having the male sales-staff assume I know much less than them, and that my desire to test drive is ridiculous - lost sale, guys! Up your bums!) BUT unfortunately some other times this has happened, in a work space, I internalised this because clearly there was something wrong with me - I must look/act particularly stupid to be receiving these explanations over and over again.

    Also, my ex. It explains stuff about him too. Not long ago I was talking about travelling from A to B by public transport. I use it all the time, he never does (in fact he has two cars and a motor bike). I said that it could very well take 3 or 4 buses to get from A to B. He insisted that it was only 2, even though the last bus he took was in a different city, over 10 years ago. I knew there was no point in arguing with him (there was, after all, a reason he was my ex), but now I see, he did this a lot (not just with me, but with the kids too), and in a way - not his fault. Not deliberate. Not an attack.

    It's even been immortalized into Australian legend through this ad. For those who are YouTube challenged, a small son doing homework asks his father why the great wall of China was built. His father immediately comes up with the reason - to keep the rabbits out (which is a reason some fences were built in Australia), and it "was during the time of Emperor Nasi Goreng". The father comes across as completely serious, and meant to be believed.

    So at this point, I think we have two explaining situations (and I don't really like mansplaining either, because I too have done it) - A. where the person explaining does know what they're talking about and assumes you don't - possibly because you are a female/child/perceived inferior in some way; and B. where the person explaining doesn't know what they're talking about, but either believes they do, or just makes stuff up because it's so absolutely necessary that they are known to be infallible.

    I really don't get the B situation. I can handle the A, but the B just blows me away.
    posted by b33j at 4:01 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I blurted out "...I LIVE here," as a way of trying to say "...and ride on this bridge all the time and am comfortable with my risk evaluation, so don't worry about me, continue with your day, thanks."

    When I had my unsolicited lesson on walking safety, my blurted response was "I've got my big girl pants on."
    posted by ambrosia at 4:14 PM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


    [Please refer to the MeTa thread already in progress or consider taking touchy commentary on a touchy topic to MeMail.]
    posted by jessamyn at 4:46 PM on August 22, 2012


    Apparently the MeTa thread is here? I didn't notice it the first few times I looked because it's presented as a thread about bloodthirsty responses to a divorce question on AskMe. Honestly, it would help if links were included in "take it to MeTa" suggestions.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 6:37 PM on August 22, 2012


    And why don't women ever think the same of me, or if they do, why don't they ever act upon it? And why are the men who try to help me cross the street universally offended --- often loudly, insultingly offended ---by my refusal?

    "Helping an old lady across the road" is one of the canonical Good Deeds taught to Boy Scouts everywhere. From the perspective of a Boy Scout, every adult is Old and "helping" is a hands-on and practical process.

    I am not really surprised by demonstrations that some of us (by which I mean people, not just men) continue to display the behaviors we were rewarded for as children without really thinking them through, long after they have become inappropriate and counterproductive. Reflection and self-analysis are hard; many people don't have the time or inclination.
    posted by flabdablet at 7:32 PM on August 22, 2012


    I think Jessamyn linked to the girlzone meta about 300 or so posts ago but this is already a massive thread and that one is even more massive so I think it's understandable that someone might miss the directive in the sheer volume of writing.
    posted by vuron at 7:34 PM on August 22, 2012


    Once upon a time, this is over ten years ago, I worked in retail in Ohio, and drove a really, really, beat up station wagon. The tires had slow leaks, needed replacing really, but I didn't have the money to do it, so I dealt with somewhat frequent flat tires.

    As a teenager in Pakistan, I had frequently heard older boys (my sister's friends, mostly) be very contemptuous of "girls/women who go out in these cars and then if something happens, are totally helpless and stranded by the road." Most of these guys, if not all of them, certainly weren't more car-savvy than to do more than change a flat tire. So, I had vowed that I would know how to change a flat, and do other minor repairs, before I learned how to drive.

    Back to Ohio. My coworker came in from his lunch break and said, "bardophile, you have a flat tire." "Oh damn, not again," I said, and went out to change it while it was still daylight. Just as had loosened the nuts on the tire, two men came out of the shop next door. One of them said "Why don't you let me do that?" "I can manage," I said pleasantly. "No, really, I'll do it," he said. At this point, I stepped back and waved him forward. He proceeded to fumble around with placing the jack. Then he put the wrong end of the jack handle into the jack and was surprised that it wouldn't crank. I kept intervening, getting increasingly frustrated because I didn't want to be taking that long a break from work. Finally, his companion says "You know, HelpfulGuy, I think she knows what she's doing." Only then was I allowed to change my tire in peace.
    posted by bardophile at 7:56 PM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


    He said "You shouldn't ride on this bridge. You should walk your bike."

    I spin around and look at the driver and he says to me "honey, you should always walk facing traffic, it's safer."


    In conversation I get mansplained all the time, but ime, for plain old unsolicited advice, it's nearly always a 60 year old white woman. Bonus if there is any element of tut-tutting they can fit in, as in the above examples.
    posted by small_ruminant at 8:46 PM on August 22, 2012


    Actually, I get advice from 60 year old black women, too, but it's more for my own good than finger wagging. Like "You be careful- there's some mean dogs around the corner right there!" Somehow I never get annoyed by it.
    posted by small_ruminant at 8:54 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Critics Who Explain Things
    posted by homunculus at 9:36 PM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I think one thing that drew me to math was how hard it was for dudes trying to impress me to bullshit me. At one point I remember I was at a networking function for computer science majors and was complaining about my number theory homework. I was in the third quarter of the number theory sequence for majors, so it was pretty nontrivial subject matter by then. The guy I was talking to lit up, saying he'd read a little number theory on the side and would love to take a crack at it and see if he could help me out. I got out my textbook and told him the exercises I was struggling with, thinking privately to myself that this guy had almost certainly read a few popular books on number theory in high school and therefore fancied himself an expert.

    He stood there looking at my textbook for a few minutes, brows knit. I continued to converse with other people at the event. He eventually came back with the book and handed it to me. "Yeah, I got nothin'," he said. This happened over and over to the point where I kind of made a hobby of complaining about my math homework to male nonmajors.
    posted by town of cats at 10:22 PM on August 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


    The defensive way men seem to react to any accusations of male-dominated systems hurting women is one that specifically plays upon a certain way women are conditioned, which is to appease the hurt feelings of the people around them, particularly the men, at the cost of most other things in a social setting. This is the dynamic that allows mansplaining to exist, but it's also a reason that women in discussions of feminism frequently get annoyed at men who come into those discussions and say that they find them hurtful.

    This entire system is a clusterfuck, but I think that dynamic-- the dynamic of women being expected to make the other people in a conversation comfortable-- is one that ends up edging up in conversations about feminism a lot, because men either are capitalizing on that social conditioning or can easily be seen as capitalizing on it when they come in and say that parts of the discussion are hurtful to them.

    The constant sideline discussion of "does this language hurt our cause" and tone arguments in general seems to take up a lot of energy. It's something I see in this thread, it's something I see on reddit, and it's something I see in comment threads on feminist sites. It forces women to second-guess the way that they're telling their own stories, and gives anyone the authority to come in and invalidate what's being said on the grounds that it makes proponents of feminism, or anti-sexism, or people who discuss mansplaining, or whatever, look bad.

    So dudes: Every time you come into a thread like this, state a piece that people've already heard, and claim that your feelings are being dismissed when no one pays you a lot of heed, it's because we're trying to talk about our experiences with patriarchy, which systematically subjugates us in a variety of ways, and sidetracking discussions by doing that is something that might not explicitly be mansplaining but is certainly in the mansplaining family. If the word "mansplaining" is upsetting to you, it's easy to close your browser and go outside. We don't have that option: patriarchy is not something one can force-quit.
    posted by NoraReed at 10:44 PM on August 22, 2012 [35 favorites]


    I don't want to argue that issue any further than this, but I'll make a final note that, for my part, I'm generally not going to complain about even very strong rhetoric used in your cause -- the problem I have is specifically with how this word makes no distinction between men and for that reason is going to be misused for situations that have nothing to do with the actual phenomenon.

    In any case, that is of course a way far lesser problem than all this ubiquitous presumption of ignorance, which is why I'd have preferred the thread to not be about the word at all, but if the word is going to receive a kind of defense that in my view is clearly misguided, I'm going to say my piece. Which I have.

    posted by Anything at 11:37 PM on August 22, 2012


    it's because we're trying to talk about our experiences with patriarchy, which systematically subjugates us in a variety of ways

    This hits on a point that has long seemed obvious to me, which I've started to discover does not seem obvious to those espousing the "men as victims of reaction" line: not only does "feminism" not mean "a belief that women ought to be in charge of everything," but "the patriarchy" does not mean "the men".

    I think it's quite common for men accustomed to reading dickheads like this one and listening to arseholes like this one to experience criticism of "the patriarchy" as an attack on men specifically, and therefore a personal attack on them.

    I'm not sure what it's going to take to make it universally understood that "the patriarchy" is nothing more than a convenient label for the prevailing system of interpersonal power relationships that we all participate in and perpetuate, and that criticisms of it are opportunities to reflect on our own behavior and consider its effect on ourselves and others.
    posted by flabdablet at 11:44 PM on August 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


    If it turns out that the person lecturing me is in fact speaking rectally...

    If I ever need a sockpuppet, these feminism conversations have certainly been fertile naming grounds.

    ...being Explained At in a job interview, by the candidate.

    Hah, I've had that one too. Not a winning tactic. And not done to the 2 guys on the panel with me.

    (a) I can't control a man's response to my first conversational moves, because his intention and his choice of words are up to him, not me; and (b) even if I could exert control over it, it's still not my responsibility to speak "correctly" - ie, only in a way that's comfortable for men with ego problems or an inability to seek meaning rather than status - in order to converse with men.

    Yeah, Tannen's work sound fascinating, but inappropriate for the type of problem we're discussing here. I have a competitive style of conversation with one small circle of guys I know. It's cool, it's fun. But they've already proven to me that they see me as a friend and equal, and sometimes they're in the mood for conversation with more give and take than that. We use a range of communication methods depending on mood and subject and venue.

    Random dudes at work, social gatherings, conferences, in the street? Not so much. I'm not a mind reader. I could be more assertive in conversations, but I don't see that an aggressive style of communicating with more pushback is inherently better than how I naturally do it.
    posted by harriet vane at 11:57 PM on August 22, 2012


    a small son doing homework asks his father why the great wall of China was built. His father immediately comes up with the reason - to keep the rabbits out (which is a reason some fences were built in Australia), and it "was during the time of Emperor Nasi Goreng".

    ye gods, b33j, I hate that ad so much. What kind of arsehole does that? When his kid fails 3rd grade it'll be all dad's fault. I know it's to advertise broadband but holy fuck, show him how to look stuff up at the library! And nasi goreng isn't even a Chinese dish! arrrrgh!

    I wonder how well the "you're an ignorant dickhead, don't stuff up your kid's life by not having broadband" campaign worked out for Telstra.
    posted by harriet vane at 12:01 AM on August 23, 2012


    I think one thing that drew me to math was how hard it was for dudes trying to impress me to bullshit me. At one point I remember I was at a networking function for computer science majors and was complaining about my number theory homework. I was in the third quarter of the number theory sequence for majors, so it was pretty nontrivial subject matter by then. The guy I was talking to lit up, saying he'd read a little number theory on the side and would love to take a crack at it and see if he could help me out. I got out my textbook and told him the exercises I was struggling with, thinking privately to myself that this guy had almost certainly read a few popular books on number theory in high school and therefore fancied himself an expert.

    He stood there looking at my textbook for a few minutes, brows knit. I continued to converse with other people at the event. He eventually came back with the book and handed it to me. "Yeah, I got nothin'," he said. This happened over and over to the point where I kind of made a hobby of complaining about my math homework to male nonmajors.


    I've got another data point suggesting you've got something there -- I've seen many women lecturers on different subjects get the kind of treatment people have described here (and to some extent I've participated, I cringe to say), but if there's one who (to me at least) seemed like an exception, it's the young woman who ran the intro to abstract algebra at my uni. When I took her course, her treatment of the subject clearly left no room for any second-guessing bullshit, and she always looked very happy and confident.
    posted by Anything at 12:41 AM on August 23, 2012


    I used to teach English at an eikaiwa, and once had a student come in and proceed to tell me that everything I knew was wrong.

    He said he'd been to the United States. I asked where. He listed off a number of cities, and then ended with Seattle. "Oh, sorry, Seattle's in Canada," he said.

    Silly girl that I am, I corrected him. "Well, I'm from Seattle, you see."

    "No, no, I'm sure it's in Canada."

    I pulled him over to the map on the wall and we looked at it. Sure enough, Seattle was right where I had left it six months earlier, in the United States.

    He apologized, and then continued to refer to me as being Canadian for the rest of the lesson.
    posted by emmling at 5:16 AM on August 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


    One rather cold winter I made my way to work without having properly dried my hair. As I walked in the door, I looked down and commented that I'd picked up "haircicles" (the water in my hair had frozen.) The man walking next to me burst out with "You shouldn't go out in the cold with wet hair!" To his credit, a second later he looked appalled and apologized, saying that he had a teenaged daughter and was nagging on reflex. On the one hand, I appreciate that he figured out what he'd done wrong all on his own. On the other, I suspect that, if he'd had a teenaged son, he would not keep every man he meets in the same conceptual box as his teenager, while, as a woman, I mapped to being a child much more easily.
    posted by Karmakaze at 5:29 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


    I am southern Californian, and I can attest that Seattle is in Canada. Why do you think so many of us move there? We think we're following through on our promises to immigrate during Bush's second term!
    posted by gilrain at 5:51 AM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


    > The defensive way men seem to react to any accusations of male-dominated systems hurting women is one that specifically plays upon a certain way women are conditioned, which is to appease the hurt feelings of the people around them, particularly the men, at the cost of most other things in a social setting. This is the dynamic that allows mansplaining to exist, but it's also a reason that women in discussions of feminism frequently get annoyed at men who come into those discussions and say that they find them hurtful.

    This is, of course, very true, and it suddenly made me think of Lenin, who would have laughed himself sick at the idea that one should try to spare the other side's feelings. If he had been attacking a bunch of men for patriarchal ideas (rather than what he actually attacked people for, which was supporting nonrevolutionary socialism and/or any movement not led by him), he would have started by eviscerating the whole idea of patriarchy and everything involved in it with withering sarcasm and a bunch of historical examples, then moved on to dumping buckets of rhetorical mud on the men involved, calling them fools, cowards, eunuchs, and any other names that occurred to him. He would have cackled in joy at any hurt reactions. And he would have expelled from the party anyone who expressed any sympathy for the foe. He did pretty well with those tactics.

    I'm not in any way supporting Lenin as a historical actor or saying that women should adopt his tactics. But he did pretty well with them, and it occurs to me that feminism made some significant strides in the period when ballbusting hyperfeminists were scaring the pants off everyone else. From "Whatever happened to feminism's extreme sects?":
    It is a truth that is demonstrated by Vanessa Engle's documentary, Angry Wimmin, which will be show on BBC4 on 15 February. The film opens with Sheila Jeffreys, a twinkly-eyed lady at a scrubbed wooden table. "Men grow bold, as they grow old," she sings, to the tune of Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend. "They all lose their charms in the end. Men are all wankers, said Christabel Pankhurt, 'cause women are a girl's best friend." She chuckles, a revolutionary glint in her eye. She has not changed a bit.

    "Rage is absolutely fundamental," she says, cheerfully. "Not anger. Anger is not strong enough." Jeffreys now lectures in feminism, gender and sexuality at the University of Melbourne - she thinks she failed to find a similar position in the UK because her politics were seen as so controversial. And as a founding member of the Revolutionary Feminists, a group that emerged in Leeds in the late 1970s, Ms Jeffreys had plenty to feel angry about. "I can't imagine how everyone does not feel an entirely reasonable political rage at what is happening in the world," she says now. "Let alone what is happening to women. The international sex industry, the selling of women simply as containers for men's penises worldwide, is huge and increasing incredibly rapidly as a part of globalisation. How could anyone not feel rage? What is the alternative?"
    Give 'em hell, Sheila Jeffreys!
    posted by languagehat at 6:57 AM on August 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


    I'm pretty sure Lenin would get banned from metafilter.
    posted by octobersurprise at 7:14 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


    No, Lenin would have banned MetaFilter. Always do the splitting yourself!
    posted by languagehat at 7:30 AM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


    On the other, I suspect that, if he'd had a teenaged son, he would not keep every man he meets in the same conceptual box as his teenager, while, as a woman, I mapped to being a child much more easily.

    I think that you're right that these sorts of things more frequently happen to women but since we're all relating anecdotes, in the same vein: I had just gotten back from a long-distance overnight trip through airports where all of the food options were either unavailable or unappealing and before driving home hit a passable chain restaurant. I ordered a diner-type breakfast and being ravenous ate every last bit of it.

    The waitress, probably in her thirties like me or maybe a tad older, upon coming back breezily said "What a good job you did! You cleaned your plate!"

    I couldn't get my marbles together well enough to say much more than "Uh, thanks..." and I swear she was about to pat me on the top of the head before she caught herself and had the decency to look a bit embarrassed once she realized she was treating me like one of her kids, as the gentleman in Karmakaze's story did.

    As a one-time thing it was endearing and I left a big tip but I can certainly imagine it being horrible if that's what you encounter with damn near every cross-gender acquaintance and even friends, and getting to the point where you want to start making a game of it and actually bait people to prompt the reaction like town of cats mentions. Much less once it's impacting your career and vital professional activities.
    posted by XMLicious at 7:36 AM on August 23, 2012


    Men are all wankers, said Christabel Pankhurt, 'cause women are a girl's best friend.

    Doesn't that line of thought tend to obscure the fact that so many stereotypically female behaviors (as opposed to stereotypical assigned attributes) also function as props for the patriarchy?

    I'm thinking of things like the assumption of a need to soothe and smooth mentioned at length above, and the backbiting and undercutting and socially manipulative bullying that makes "mean girl" at least as useful an idea as "mansplain", and the fierce insistence that respectability depends on never showing up at work without first having applied layers of high-priced scented colored greased mud.

    It seems to me that although lots of these things are easy to ascribe to a need to pander to the approval of the male gaze, many of them are nothing more than self-sustaining social norms as likely to be policed by other women as by men. Feelings of betrayal by a Sisterhood that reveals itself as unreliable are something I have often heard described by people I care about.

    As a middle-aged white male feminist I spend quite a lot of time reflecting on the ways my own social behaviors act to preserve the privileges afforded my sex and color and social class, and I do my best to effect ongoing improvement in those; far be it from me to deny that male oppression is real and pervasive, or to go about telling feminist women they're doing it wrong. But in feminism as in so many other aspects of politics, I am frequently saddened by the apparent eagerness with which so many chickens work to preserve their relationship with Colonel Sanders.

    Shouldn't we all be aiming to treat ourselves and each other with more respect, at least by default?
    posted by flabdablet at 8:18 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


    I'm not sure it's possible to score a rhetorical point critical of extreme feminism off one verse of a purposely-exaggerated, humorous parody of a very sexist song which came from the very sexist play from 1949.
    posted by gilrain at 8:26 AM on August 23, 2012


    I don't disagree with your larger point, by the way, but it's a little unfair to critique a parody verse as though it weren't.
    posted by gilrain at 8:29 AM on August 23, 2012


    languagehat: Give 'em hell, Sheila Jeffreys!

    I don't want to create another derail, and I appreciate all the support languagehat has given women both here and in the MeTa thread. That said, I won't offer similar exhortations to Sheila Jeffreys to "give 'em hell." Whatever her other contributions to radical feminism are, Sheila Jeffreys is also a notorious transphobe. From where I sit, any feminism that refuses to recognize our trans sisters as women is not feminism, but gender essentialism. It was bullshit when men used it to justify keeping women politically and economically subordinate, and it's bullshit when radfems use it to justify "women-born women" spaces.
    posted by bakerina at 8:43 AM on August 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


    "From where I sit, any feminism that refuses to recognize our trans sisters as women is not feminism, but gender essentialism. It was bullshit when men used it to justify keeping women politically and economically subordinate, and it's bullshit when radfems use it to justify "women-born women" spaces."

    Something that I hope will help is the growing trend of accommodating trans folk prior to puberty with hormone treatment, because I think some of the basis of transphobia from transphobic feminists comes from seeing trans women as parodies or blackface women (something that I know I had reservations about before actually knowing a lot of trans folk) and the attendant belief that living as adult "men" exerts too much influence on the conceptions of femininity for trans women. A transwoman who has spent her whole post-pubescent life as a woman seems conceptually less problematic, and by taking those folks as emblematic of transwomendom seems like it could help get over that reactionary hump. I also hope that the growing number of folks who identify as "gender queer" also helps undermine the gender essentialism that animates some of the radical feminist approaches to transwomen.

    posted by klangklangston at 9:10 AM on August 23, 2012


    it's a little unfair to critique a parody verse as though it weren't

    Point taken, though I don't believe the attitude expressed in that parody verse actually is the straw man one would wish it to be. I've met lots of people seemingly confused about who their actual enemies are, and it saddens me to see people behaving as if they held it to be self-evident that it must be all those people whose plumbing is arranged differently from theirs.
    posted by flabdablet at 9:19 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I also hope that the growing number of folks who identify as "gender queer" also helps undermine the gender essentialism that animates some of the radical feminist approaches to transwomen.

    Ah, to learn a new word that would have solved so much angst in my 18-25 year old world. The closest I had until now (from a friend who described me as such) was a gay man trapped in a woman's body.
    posted by infini at 9:20 AM on August 23, 2012


    As much as I agree with Sheila Jeffreys on the abomination of sex trafficking and related abuses, I absolutely cannot abide the gender essentialism she espouses. Not only is it horribly othering to transfolk, it also ignores the fundamental truth that we all suffer from the systems of patriarchy. There are, in actuality, very, very few items on our cultural agenda which needfully relate to sex or gender. Abortion is one of a handful of examples: you can't have one without first having a uterus. Others which are often gendered, such as domestic partner violence, need not be so, even though the majority of victims are women.

    In fact, I'd say Ms Jeffreys and those in her camp are missing out on a lot of opportunities to learn from the perspectives of people who have experienced society through the lens of being read as different genders at different times. It can be jarring to realize that you are being afforded male privilege when it's something you've only seen from the outside, or to learn, as Poet_Lariat described, what it feels like to lose that privilege and be regularly objectified.
    posted by notashroom at 9:24 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


    (I am not a man but I did feel trapped in a woman's body since it seemed to cut me off at the knees just before shoving me in at the starting gate for a 100m sprint. see existential teenage angst in some comment above)
    posted by infini at 9:25 AM on August 23, 2012


    In fact, I'd say Ms Jeffreys and those in her camp are missing out on a lot of opportunities to learn from the perspectives of people who have experienced society through the lens of being read as different genders at different times. It can be jarring to realize that you are being afforded male privilege when it's something you've only seen from the outside, or to learn, as Poet_Lariat described, what it feels like to lose that privilege and be regularly objectified

    This thread deals with gender and not race however I had this experience for the first time in my life. For the most part in rural Kenya I've been treated as a mzungu - foreigner but mostly used for [white] than Indian (muindi or waindi). In one rural area I was asked if I was from China, just so you know. After my first week long immersion in this context (in Nairobi or the other cities where Kenyan Indians are more common, I passed as a local for the most part) I came back shaking and asking my colleagues "How do you deal with being white 24/7?" The relief of the anonymity of blending in was palpable and the outsized differential behaviour when I was assumed to be white was an eye opener.

    Jarring is the word. I hug you all.
    posted by infini at 9:31 AM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I'm off to gyob and think about all these new ways of thinking about gender of the body vs the gender of the mind vs the gender of the soul.
    posted by infini at 9:32 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Beyond the transphobia, I'm not sure the solution to mansplaining is womansplaining, or Leninesque purges, or being as big of assholes as the assholest men. I'm all for pompous idiots being ridiculed in real time -- that would probably help with a lot of the horrific examples in this topic - but I'd kind of prefer the jerks getting clued in, to competitive tool-ery.
    posted by msalt at 10:29 AM on August 23, 2012


    > I'd kind of prefer the jerks getting clued in

    I'd prefer that, and milk and honey for all and an end to exploitative labor practices and a whole bunch of ponies, but it ain't gonna happen. Jerks gonna be jerks (a few exceptions don't change the general picture), and the point is to figure out how to deal with them. Being nice is not the answer.

    > Whatever her other contributions to radical feminism are, Sheila Jeffreys is also a notorious transphobe.

    I'm sorry to hear that, but if we refuse to quote or applaud powerful statements we agree with because the person quoted has other retrograde views, we're going to wind up with a very tiny group of perfectly right-thinking people (and/or that circular firing squad lefties are so notorious for). To take another example, I love the SCUM Manifesto and quote it at the drop of a hat. Yes, Valerie Solanas was nuts and shot Andy Warhol and I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere near her, but she was a powerful and important writer. One can get carried away with litmus tests.
    posted by languagehat at 10:56 AM on August 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


    Well, as I said, I think real time mockery is the best response to ignorant, overbearing know-it-alls, and also the best method for rehabilitating them. The motive seems to be self-aggrandizement, so the punishment of diminishment is great aversion-therapy.
    posted by msalt at 11:03 AM on August 23, 2012


    > One can get carried away with litmus tests.

    I like this in both the proper sense it's used there and also the image of thousands of tiny vials swarming like insects and spiriting away someone from their keyboard.
    posted by Burhanistan at 11:11 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


    real time mockery is the best response to ignorant, overbearing know-it-alls

    You don't even need mockery, really.

    "I'm not sure why you're telling me this, so I don't know how best to respond. Do you think I need an introduction to the topic? Are you trying to verify whether your understanding matches mine? Or are you just trying to think it through out loud?"
    posted by tangerine at 1:05 PM on August 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


    Me and my fella had a nice talk about the mansplaining concept (if not the term) when he was explaining why my plates get hot in my microwave and also why my way of watering my garden wasn't the proper way to do it.

    He pointed out, rightly so, that I am also often an overbearing "You do not know what you are talking about" overexplainer. I said that just because this sort of thing often shakes out along gender lines does not mean that it always does and if I'm being an overbearing not-taking-his-experiences-to-heart-let-me-tell-YOU-something person and it's bothering him, he's welcome to point it out to me also. I also told him a few horror stories of people doing more egregious versions of that "you don't know what you are talking about" thing to me and he said that must be annoying. And then we had a nice talk about gender roles and statusing behavior (I often feel like he feels that he's just thinking things through out loud but to me it seems like telling me what to do or denying my own expertise in a situation, even if it's accidental) and how to let each other know if we're doing it to the other person.

    It was a useful conversation, got to the root of something that had been a mosquito-like annoyance for me for some time now, and I think we all feel slightly better about the whole thing. Thanks internet!
    posted by jessamyn at 1:14 PM on August 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


    [Folks, absolutely do NOT drag other MeFites into this thread. Period. Full stop. Ask us if you have questions.]
    posted by jessamyn at 1:26 PM on August 23, 2012


    I'm sorry to hear that, but if we refuse to quote or applaud powerful statements we agree with because the person quoted has other retrograde views, we're going to wind up with a very tiny group of perfectly right-thinking people (and/or that circular firing squad lefties are so notorious for).

    Oh, I agree with that. I'm not dunning you for quoting a powerful statement you agree with, and I'm sorry for giving you that impression. I agree that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and that we can't hold out for the ideologically "perfect" quote source that doesn't exist. And I will acknowledge that rhyming "wankers" with "Pankhurst" is a particularly nifty bit of waggish humor.

    But I stand by pointing out that Jeffreys is transphobic, not because I want to call you out -- hell, I'm grateful for your presence here -- but because Jeffreys's name carries baggage for many people in this community, both trans and cis. Her comments in the documentary were certainly eloquent and powerful, but if I'm reading your words correctly, your praise of Jeffreys wasn't just of her words, but of *her* -- or at least of her as an embodiment of a standard of "scare the pants off men" radical feminism. But that particular school of radfem is problematic for trans people, some of whom are MeFites, and I felt that it was important to acknowledge that.

    I think we probably agree on this issue more than we disagree. Your Valerie Solanas example makes sense to me, but I'm thinking more along the lines of a Ron Paul example. Ron Paul was opposed to the Iraq war. I think this is good. Ron Paul has said some very biting things about Dick Cheney. I think this is fabulous. But if I say "give 'em hell, Ron!," and somebody says to me "uh, you know about the racist pamphlets, right?," then it's worth acknowledging that there's a bigger context to Ron Paul than his comments about Dick Cheney would indicate.

    Even as I say all this, though, I recognize that this is a subjective point, and that not everybody shares my standards for "bring the context." I may have dug myself into a hole here -- it's late in the afternoon, I've been writing business correspondence all day, and my brain is kind of fuzzy right now -- so I should probably stop digging. (But if you'd like to talk further in MeMail, I'm game.)
    posted by bakerina at 2:42 PM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


    infini: My one big fear right now is that all this consciousness raising will have me far too upset about all these things not right in the world instead of the blissful ignorance in I used to while away my time in my little corner.

    Your words remind me of some of the (intersectionist!) work of Isis Settles. You may not find that her research rings a bell but in case it does, here's the summary:
    I have further sought to identify ways in which women can best manage experiences of sexual harassment . . . For example, in a comparative study of Black and White women, . . . whereas less traditional (more feminist) gender attitudes buffered the negative effects of sexual harassment for White women, the same attitudes exacerbated its negative effects for Black women. We suggest that for Black women, feminist attitudes may lead them to be more aware of their vulnerability to multiple forms of oppression, which intensifies the negative effects of sexual harassment.

    Future research in the area of the treatment and responses of devalued group members:

    * I plan to examine whether "womanist" attitudes (i.e., feminist attitudes for women of color) buffer the effects of sexual harassment on well-being for Black women, as feminist attitudes did for White women in my previous research.

    I agree with you that they both sustain but I suspect, due most likely to the nature of the wording, understood your earlier comment to be overlooking the internal suppression and focusing on teh external.

    Understandable, considering I was typing out loud in a stream of consciousness kinda way! Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.
    posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:25 PM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


    I often wonder why men are offended in this particular way when this term is used, or when that elevator thing came up, or other episodes where a behavior involving men disenfranchising, oppressing, or harassing women comes up for discussion. Is it really so hurtful?


    Brandon Blatcher: I'd wager that being lumped into single category or even feeling like you're being lumped into a single category is indeed hurtful.

    Certain demographics get used to the hurt cuz that's just the way of the world. Others have rarely if ever encountered it. Thanks for the point, BB. Cutting and pasting from a previous thread, not to make pronouncements about anybody's motivation but just in case somebody finds it resonates:
    Another source of the discomfort and anger that Whites often experience [when first considering the concept of "White Privilege"] stems from the frustration of being seen as a group member, rather than as an individual. People of color learn early in life that they are seen by others as members of a group. For Whites, thinking of oneself only as an individual is a legacy of White privilege. . . .[so] they are sometimes troubled, even angered, to learn that simply because of their group status they are viewed with suspicion by many people of color. 'I'm an individual, view me as an individual!'
    posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:58 PM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


    > But I stand by pointing out that Jeffreys is transphobic, not because I want to call you out -- hell, I'm grateful for your presence here -- but because Jeffreys's name carries baggage for many people in this community, both trans and cis.

    And I'm glad you mentioned it; I had no idea.

    > I think we probably agree on this issue more than we disagree.

    Yup.

    > Even as I say all this, though, I recognize that this is a subjective point, and that not everybody shares my standards for "bring the context."

    No, no, I'm all about the context! Bring it!
    posted by languagehat at 5:02 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


    For the people recommending Deborah Tannen as an alternative on this topic, could you share some of her insights and research you find so compelling rather than tearing down Rebecca Solnit?
    posted by Danila at 11:30 AM on August 21


    One of the most compelling things about Deborah Tannen's work is that she presents it in a way accessible to the layperson, while still maintaining the professional standards used in describing a group of people and their interaction.

    Quite a while back, she gave a short bit on NPR about Thanksgiving dinner behavior: At some Thanksgiving dinners, everyone is very quiet; no one interrupts; people ask for things to be passed; people say 'Please', 'Thank You', 'You're Welcome" a lot. Someone might bring up a topic and there might be a quiet, polite discussion, but no one would ever ask someone something while either had food in their mouth.

    At other Thanksgiving dinners, it's kind of loud. People are talking over each other all the time, they're reaching across the table to grab whatever they want more often than asking for it to be passed to them. There are lots of interruptions -- if two people are discussing a topic, others are likely to jump in at pretty much any point and say whatever they want to say about the subject.

    The term Dr. Tannen used to describe the the people in the first example was "Considerate" -- that was the prime value they had at the Thanksgiving dinner, and what drove their behavior. The people in the second example she described as "Participatory" -- that was what drove their behavior. Although there are subtle differents, I'm sure that many mefites are now remembering the "Ask" vs. "Guess" cultures described on Metafilter some years ago, or discussions about New York conversation styles.

    The thing I most noticed, even beyond the insight as to what drove these strikingly different ways of interaction, was the care she took to choose positive-neutral terms in describing each group. She didn't identify or label them according to ethnicity, and she didn't pick terms with laden with value judgments -- she didn't, for example, call the first group "uptight", and she didn't call the second group "rude". She picked terms that were positive-neutral, and terms that described the underlying motivations, the core drivers of the behavior.

    This, to me, is a sign of someone who makes a real effort to see things from the perspective of the subject of study -- she's able to suspend judgment about either the people, or the behavior of those people. She is observing, measuring, reporting. She is not assigning value. She is, most of all, respectful of the people she's describing, regardless of her personal feelings as to how she thinks things should be. I don't recall her expressing an opinion as to which dynamic was "better", and I doubt that she did.
    posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 10:56 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


    > I don't recall her expressing an opinion as to which dynamic was "better", and I doubt that she did.

    There are a couple of significant differences, though. On a minor note, Deborah Tannen is a linguist, talking about her professional academic work; Rebecca Solnit is writing a blog post about something she has experienced in her personal life. (At the moment, for example, I'm working on a paper that discusses an 18th-century doctor's advice to his patients. If he dismisses their concerns, I won't describe him as 'rude'; I'll talk about the conventions and expectations of medical discourse in the period, the growth of professionalisation within the medical world, the idea of authority, and so on. If my doctor dismisses my medical concerns, though, I will absolutely use the word 'rude'.)

    On a far more important note, though, they're talking about totally different things.

    The phenomenon Rebecca Solnit is describing is not about a culture clash between two different but equally valid methods of communication. It is not about situations where men are socialised with a bolshier give-and-take style of discussion and women are socialised to be conciliatory, so both are misunderstanding the other's approach. I have no doubt that men and women are socialised differently in this respect, and that this might cause problems at times, but that's not what's going on here.

    Take the example Rebecca Solnit gives of the man at the party and the Muybridge book. If this was just about a clash between two different but equally valid conversational styles, the man would have been expecting Solnit to converse with him in the same way he was conversing with her. He wouldn't have been lecturing at her because he thought he knew better; he'd have been lecturing at her because he was expecting her to debate with him when he disagreed with her, to counter his views, to argue, and been surprised to find her just listening quietly.

    But that's not what happened. The man was not disagreeing or debating with Solnit, at all - he wasn't saying "you're wrong about Muybridge" in any aspect. He was just lecturing at her. And he wasn't interested in back-and-forth debate; her friend had to say "that's her book" several times before he heard it. And he wasn't expecting her to challenge or contest his views, either, because once he did hear that it was her book, he "went ashen" and stopped talking for a second. This isn't about one person expecting a lively debate and the other one expecting quiet agreement. This is about one person assuming that they know better than the other person, and that their role in the conversation is therefore to inform and educate.

    This is also the case in the many, many, many examples of this phenomenon people have given above. In this one of mine, for example, the man in question was not interested in a conversation in which we both behaved according to the same conversational norms. He was not interested in a heated academic back-and-forth of ideas. (I'm used to that type of conversation, and enjoy it fine.) He was not interested in me disagreeing with him, not remotely, not at all.

    And disagreement isn't even at the heart of the matter. What's central to this phenomenon is the idea that the man doing the Explaining believes he knows better than the woman he's doing the Explaining to. Even if she's an expert, even if she's been doing the thing in question for thirty years, even if she's a professional in the field and he's not, or she's got a PhD in the field and he only heard about it five minutes ago. It's about being condescending. And there should not be a requirement for the people on the receiving end of condescending behaviour to find 'positive-neutral' terms to describe, it without making any value judgements about whether it's right or wrong to treat a fellow human being like an uneducated child.
    posted by Catseye at 1:46 AM on August 24, 2012 [27 favorites]


    Yes. For example if someone used to one of Tannen's Participatory/Considerate styles was a minority in a majority group of the other type, and they changed their preferred style to match the majority, they'd get a positive outcome: a pleasant meal with good conversation in the Thanksgiving example (and social favours and invitations in Ask/Guess situations). In a less social situation, you'll get a challenging intellectual discussion.

    But all of this presumes the good intent of the majority or higher-status person, a desire on their part for you to have a fun/useful experience.

    In the case of a habitual mansplainer it doesn't matter how you respond, as Miko pointed out earlier. If you maintain the standard Considerate style women are socialised into, you'll get steamrolled. If you switch to a Participatory style you'll just be ignored or insulted openly (instead of the implicit insult of Presumed Ignorance). They're so used to their privilege they don't check to see if they've read the situation correctly, and they don't really think about your needs or wants.

    I guess I think there's a difference between bad-habit mansplaining from someone nice who's just learned it from... I dunno, maybe it just precipitates out of patriarchal air or something... and habitual mansplaining from men who rely on their privilege to gain respect they couldn't earn otherwise.
    posted by harriet vane at 6:26 AM on August 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Also, I think there's an overlap between this phenomenon and the common perception of 'men offer solutions while women just want sympathy for their problems'. Not that there aren't people out there who just want to grumble about their problems and don't want to take any steps towards fixing them, but I am not at all convinced that this is what's usually at play there.

    More often, in my experience, people don't have a problem with being offered workable solutions they haven't thought of yet. What they have a problem with is being offered incredibly simplistic solutions they've already considered and dismissed, delivered by someone whose sole experience of the problem is hearing a two-minute summary, and in a "so just do X thing, problem solved!" sort of way. Like meese's situation, only for non-academic topics.

    And typically again it is men doing this to women (although not universally, of course, and the biggest culprit I know is female). They're often genuinely trying to help; it's just that they're making things worse in doing so, and they probably don't have a magic solution anyway, and it's increasingly frustrating to keep saying "I have THOUGHT of that!", and it's just easier after a while to say "look, I know you're trying to help, but help by giving me sympathy rather than trying to fix the problem, okay?"

    I do wonder how much of this behaviour would disappear if people made a conscious effort to catch themselves. Not even "Am I being condescending?" or "Is this going to seem insulting?", because those are easy to get wrong. Just remind themselves, "This person is a fellow adult with a brain, just like me." Are you about to tell them how to change a tire? Well, they're an adult with a brain, just like you, so there's no reason to think they need your advice unless they've asked you. Are you about to come up with a perfect solution to the problem they've been working on for three years, a problem you only heard about thirty seconds ago? Well, they're an adult with a brain, just like you - they have probably thought of that already. Are you about to tell them they haven't really experienced being Explained To by men? Well, they're adults with brains, just like you, so why would you be a better judge of their experiences than they are? And so on. It might just work!
    posted by Catseye at 7:14 AM on August 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


    And typically again it is men doing this to women (although not universally, of course, and the biggest culprit I know is female). They're often genuinely trying to help; it's just that they're making things worse in doing so, and they probably don't have a magic solution anyway, and it's increasingly frustrating to keep saying "I have THOUGHT of that!", and it's just easier after a while to say "look, I know you're trying to help, but help by giving me sympathy rather than trying to fix the problem, okay?"

    I'm wondering what the proper approach is on this issue, especially here on this meta-level where the risk is to 'mansplain about mansplaining*'. If I have an idea that even after some consideration I still think to be non-obvious and possibly helpful in some circumstances, and I have not seen anyone bring it up -- does there exist a good way to bring it up?

    Feel free to use my earlier suggestion as an example of how exactly to do this wrong, if that's how you see it -- although I did try to address the concerns you mentioned, if I was writing it right now I would bring the caveats (especially the later ones) way up front.

    The thing is, some had already explicitly expressed a wish to find ways to mitigate the problem (outside of just fighting it head on, although both are of course legitimate approaches), and later in the thread women were sharing ideas on how to do that. Should I stay out of it and just stick to acknowledging the problem? I might argue that, considering the nature of the situation, the perspective from inside a potential mansplainer's head might provide some degree of insight.

    *Yes, I still dislike the term, but whatever.
    posted by Anything at 8:15 AM on August 24, 2012


    And I do realize that what you said earlier applies:

    More often, in my experience, people don't have a problem with being offered workable solutions they haven't thought of yet. What they have a problem with is being offered incredibly simplistic solutions they've already considered and dismissed, delivered by someone whose sole experience of the problem is hearing a two-minute summary, and in a "so just do X thing, problem solved!"

    The problem of course is that I don't know in advance whether the potential suggestion is something you've already considered or not, and it can be very difficult to even make an educated guess.
    posted by Anything at 8:27 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


    does there exist a good way to bring it up?

    I think acknowledging the agency of the person you're talking to goes a long way towards making this seem like more of an exchange of ideas and less of a "Please take my superior knowledge, I offer it to you for free..."

    So "Hey you've probably already tried this but it seems non-obvious to me, What happens if you do this?" and then listen to the response and respond accordingly. I think in most cases it's not really a "One strike and you're out" situation for most people [i.e. you get put into the mansplain zone after one overbearing remark] but that people can go along way towards mentioning their own contextual understanding of the issue as part of their friendly advice so that it's more clear that they are trying to be part of a problem-solving team and not, even accidentally, trying to imply that the person with the problem is incapable of problem solving on their own or that they wouldn't have already come up with a basic array of possible solutions.

    The other important part of this is that they may have differing priorities than you or anyone else and being mindful of the fact that solving a problem that works for you and your mindset if it doesn't actually solve a problem for the person you are speaking with does not solve the problem. If the solution is "Just stop worrying about the fact that it doesn't meet some of your criteria instead of trying to find a solution that meets all of them" there is something inherently dismissive about that situation and being aware that even though that might solve the problem, understanding that you are aware of that context is really important. So, again, something like "It seems like you're having trouble meeting all of your criteria here for solving this problem, is it possible that shortening the list of must-haves would make this whole thing simpler?" So more questions, more collaborative language and just generally using words that make it clear that it's her problem to solve and you are available for help if that's useful or needed is HUGE in terms of this not turning into a GRRRRR sort of thing. So, to sum up

    - acknowledge the expertise of the person
    - ask questions instead of making proclamations
    - do not be dismissive of the criteria the person has decided are important to the eventual solution
    - make it clear through what you say that you are aware of the context in which this problem is approached and that several things have already been tried and discarded
    - be clear that you understand that the eventual decision rests with the person making the decision

    The way we often do this in my household is to say something like "This might not be helpful but..." or "You have probably already considered this but..." so that you can easily say "Yeah it's not thanks" or "Yeah I did thanks" Always give the person you are talking to some sort of gracious out to not have to continue the discussion with you. Which is good manners anyhow. And part of the problem is that people who are lower on the social skills ladder will have more trouble with this than other people and so it just feels like Yet Another Hurdle to getting along with people and not bothering them. I just want to restate emphatically that looking like you are in good faith trying to help them solve their problems on their terms goes a long way to it seeming like a good-faith situation and not a "here let me help you little lady" one.
    posted by jessamyn at 8:29 AM on August 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


    Oh and, this is sort of tangential but after listening to these stories in the thread, one other important thing is to not be creepy in the course of trying to explain something.

    So no weird touching or closeness, no doing your questioning in a place where a woman can't easily get away or is constrained by etiquette to be nice to you even if you're being weird, no hollering advice to women from cars (and no following them in cars). Be mindful that many if not most women have had bad situations that started out with some guy appearing to be friendly or helpful, so making sure you're sending off the proper "Hey I'm here to help you on your terms ONLY" vibes can go a long way towards actually being helpful not just doing it for whatever your own reasons are.
    posted by jessamyn at 8:34 AM on August 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


    I'd wager that being lumped into single category or even feeling like you're being lumped into a single category is indeed hurtful.

    Hey, that's just like how lots of women feel all the damn time.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:44 AM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Actually,

    I might argue that, considering the nature of the situation, the perspective from inside a potential mansplainer's head might provide some degree of insight.

    To really be precise, I very much would not, literally, argue that. It's just something that plays into how I think about this at the moment.

    posted by Anything at 9:03 AM on August 24, 2012


    And thanks for the reply; I'm sorry you even have to bother explaining many of these things which from some perspective I suppose should be completely obvious, but I assure for me at least, a lot of it is not.

    I'll try to make it worth your while.
    posted by Anything at 9:16 AM on August 24, 2012


    Agreed that this is not a matter of a clash of conversational rules. Two aspects of the behavior Solnit is describing, overtalking others and ignoring others' backchannel requests to take a turn, are both considered very rude and disrespectful under male conversational rules. Men do not do this to people they regard as being of equal or higher status. (And a lot of them don't do it to lower-status people either because it's rude regardless.)

    A couple things to add to this: Mixed sex conversations almost always follow male rules. (It's interesting to ask why this is the case.) So women have to learn to switch back and forth between female conversation rules when they're talking to women and male rules when they're in mixed groups. I suspect women frequently learn or internalize the male version of turn-taking as something like 'don't talk when the guy is talking' (otherwise they'll get mad). Thinking of it this may make them more acquiescent when men engage in obnoxious behavior that violates the male conversational rule set than men would be.
    posted by nangar at 9:22 AM on August 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


    And even to simplify things, if you're introducing or exploring a topic a woman is talking about, you can use the simplest of questions to find out where you are with regard to knowledge and solutions. Yes, there might be things you know about or pieces of advice you have to give, but certainly you want to give them where they're useful and welcome, so find out whether that's the case first. It almost never hurts to start with questions, and that's a conversational tactic that's pretty awesome anyway when you first meet people: find out about them and where they're coming from.

    Things like "Tell me about..." as in "Tell me about how you got interested in this topic." "Tell me about your work on Marconi." "Tell me about how you discovered the problem and maybe some of the solutions you've tried that didn't work out." And things like "How did you..." and "What interested you about..." : "How did you get interested in Muybridge?" "What was the most surprising thing you learned about Muybridge?"

    In terms of physical, how-to problems: One of the things my career has brought me into contact with a lot is boathandling and boatbuilding. This whole arena has been through lots of change since the 1950s, but it's still one of those things that's gendered pretty male. Many times I've been working with line or tools or equipment, doing things the best way I knew. Sometimes that really is the best way and I was doing it for a good reason, and any 'splainers - which I had plenty of, since I was usually working in public - didn't have enough knowledge to know it really was the best, and I would get the challenge or the lecture (or often, no direct interaction but the person telling his friends how wrong I was as if I couldn't hear). This is one of those fields where people learn a little, or read something in an Aubrey-Maturin book, and think they therefore know a lot. So there is a fair amount of sexist-splaining endemic to being involved in boats.

    But some of the really masterful mentors and teachers I've had - and I really mean this, I profoundly admire and am grateful to some of the men that helped open this world up to me in a respectful and generous way - had these awesome, simple strategies for finding out what I knew and showing me ways to be better without suggesting I'm an incompetent idiot. Like, I'm coiling a line but I have the uncoiled line in a pile to the right of my right leg. Mate sees, observes a minute, says "Are you interested in learning another way to do that that you might find quicker?" That lets me say either "no, I've tried other ways and this just seems most comfortable for me," or "maybe another time, let me just get this one done," or "sure, that'd be great, please show me." It doesn't presume I'm interested in learning, it doesn't tell me I'm doing it 'wrong,' it is just a good offer to add to my toolkit, if I choose to. That it comes from someone who actually is an authority on how to do things doesn't hurt, but there are constant innovations that people make, and some things that you just have to do the way it works for you even if it doesn't work for others, so even very experienced people have the humility to know they can still learn something.

    "I've seen that done another way, would you like me to show you, or are you good?"
    "If that's not working for you, I can show you some alternatives."
    "There are a lot of ways to do this, let me know if you want more suggestions to try."
    "You seem like you have that under control, but I have some additional advice if you want it."
    "I'm just watching to how you do this, let me know if you want feedback or pointers."
    posted by Miko at 9:42 AM on August 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


    I suspect women frequently learn or internalize the male version of turn-taking

    It sounds like you have might more information about this - what is the male version of turn taking? That interests me.
    posted by Miko at 9:45 AM on August 24, 2012


    "Things like "Tell me about..." as in "Tell me about how you got interested in this topic." "Tell me about your work on Marconi." "Tell me about how you discovered the problem and maybe some of the solutions you've tried that didn't work out." And things like "How did you..." and "What interested you about..." : "How did you get interested in Muybridge?" "What was the most surprising thing you learned about Muybridge?" "

    This is both basic interviewing skill, and what I consider the best way to have a conversation with anyone about anything — open-ended questions about someone else's interests.

    (Once, a friend of mine complained about his uncle, who didn't listen to anyone. My friend John told me, "He just doesn't get that every single person you talk to can teach you something, and almost everyone's an expert in something." It's a dictum that I try to live by.)
    posted by klangklangston at 10:12 AM on August 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


    > It's a dictum that I try to live by.

    AKA The Bill Nye Principle.
    posted by Burhanistan at 10:35 AM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


    what is the male version of turn taking?

    Different in different situations, classes, etc. But a common one in casual situations (partying) is, one person loudly holding forth. When they finish, or the natural momentum of their talk flags, one or more other guys jumps in, usually with some sort of contrast to speaker #1s position (refutation or mockery), or enthusiastic confirmation. Occasionally with a quick sniper shot (pithy mocking), the best defended position.
    posted by msalt at 11:18 AM on August 24, 2012


    I think at least some of the "men want to solve, women want to be heard" dynamic comes from -- as has been amply illustrated here in this thread and others on MeFi/MeTa -- the fact that women are very often dismissed, disregarded, devalued, invalidated. Men generally aren't, and when they are, it's typically in a very specific context ("Oh you couldn't possibly know how to make a decent putanesca, let me show you") rather than an overarching pattern. So when we have issues, regardless of whether we feel we have the resources to solve them ourselves (as we often do), often the first thing we want is to wipe away the context of devaluation, dismissal, silencing to empower us to deal with it, before we're ready to move on to how to deal with it.

    Also, a co-worker used an analogy this morning that struck me as applicable to the conversation about how men's feelings about the way we discuss sexism can take focus away from the discussion of sexism itself:
    If someone throws a handful of rocks through a window, are you going to worry about the rocks that got chipped or about the broken window?
    posted by notashroom at 11:39 AM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


    My quick summary of the attitude that jessamyn, Miko (and others above) are suggesting is "service, not correction". If I know something I can provide a service to someone else. It's usually not up to me to correct someone else, other than students in a class I'm teaching.
    posted by benito.strauss at 11:42 AM on August 24, 2012


    If I know something I can provide a service to someone else

    Right; if they need it, and want it.
    posted by Miko at 12:03 PM on August 24, 2012


    Oh, utterly. I actually think of it as a whole service mind-set. We're here to serve other people. If you force something on someone, I don't think you can call it a service to them.

    I guess there are some who would claim "Well, they were doing it wrong/sub-optimally. My service was correcting them." In that case, the corrector is serving Optimization, not the other person. And it's even more likely they're serving their own need to be respected as the person who knows best.

    /In fact, I wish I would have written it as "If I know something, I have an opportunity to provide a service to someone.", and emphasized the "to someone".
    posted by benito.strauss at 12:27 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Somewhat (but not tightly) relevant humor. A friend just posted this on FB and I appreciated the resonance.
    posted by Miko at 12:41 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


    > - what is the male version of turn taking? That interests me.

    Basically, use backchanneling ('uhm', 'err' type stuff) to signal that you want say something first, then wait for the other person to pause before saying anything. Backchanneling should be really short, no more than a couple syllables, and preferably understandable through intonation alone.

    So, basically, the difference is you can't say 'Hey, that's interesting! That reminds me of something'. (Full-sentence backchanneling is considered rude under male rules.) Following male rules, you have go 'huh?!', 'Wait a minute!' or something similar (maybe a couple times), wait for the guy to come to stopping place in what he's saying, and then say 'Hey, that's interesting! That reminds me of something ...'

    I'm pretty sure you already do this when you're talking to men.

    Also, if he's halfway polite, the guy talking should pause periodically to see if you want to interject something, so shouldn't you have to signal that you want to talk all that often. When you do request a turn this way, he should wrap up his immediate point quickly and see what you have to say. (I'd guess he gets about three 'uhm?!'s before he'd be considered rude or disrespectful for not pausing, at least by my standards,)

    The 'information' I have about this comes totally from observation and thinking about it. I'm not an expert. Since I'm male, I've never participated in conversations between women, and I don't actually know how female conversations work. I just know that full-sentence backchanneling is allowed, which wouldn't be permitted in male conversations, and it's a lot more acceptable for people to talk simultaneously, which is never acceptable in male conversations.

    I also realize there has to be a lot of regional and cultural variation in how this works.
    posted by nangar at 1:28 PM on August 24, 2012


    Basically, use backchanneling ('uhm', 'err' type stuff) to signal that you want say something first, then wait for the other person to pause before saying anything.

    Hm, I never perceived that as male-gendered. That's how it seems to work for me, too, and other women, at least in work meetings which are my primary place to observe stuff.

    I'm pretty sure you already do this when you're talking to men.

    Really, everybody. Though at work we have a few teams that are all women, and I think they're better at doing this gesturally - for instance, flagging your hand a little as someone else is winding up, shifting in your seat, leaning forward, tossing your chin in the air a little, etc - all those can effectively "queue you up" to speak, as it were.

    if he's halfway polite, the guy talking should pause periodically to see if you want to interject something

    This is where the 'boorish' thing comes in - some people just don't stop, don't bring their thoughts to a close, and that means you kind of either have to give a push or just shut up and give up. Or, another boorish-esque guy will start talking over his close, take over from there, and you have this elephant chain of guys talking who 'pass the baton' only by interrupting each other's endings, and God help you get a word in there. Of all the behaviors, I think this is the one that's really problematic. We can figure out how to signal we want to speak, but talking over someone's closing lines is generally perceived as extremely rude when done by women and usually doesn't win you allies.
    posted by Miko at 2:20 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


    if he's halfway polite, the guy talking should pause periodically to see if you want to interject something
    This is where the 'boorish' thing comes in - some people just don't stop, don't bring their thoughts to a close, and that means you kind of either have to give a push or just shut up and give up. Or, another boorish-esque guy will start talking over his close, take over from there, and you have this elephant chain of guys talking who 'pass the baton' only by interrupting each other's endings, and God help you get a word in there. Of all the behaviors, I think this is the one that's really problematic.
    This is perhaps tangential, and not a defense of the practice in general, but in my experience there also exist contexts, involving basically self-selected groups, where this sort 'just-not-stopping' and 'passing the baton' is fairly normal, in a way that is essentially non-problematic.

    I have one tight group of friends, and also experience of some small student groups, where this happens a lot, either someone running basically a monologue in the middle of a conversation or two people going back and forth, with any second or third or fourth person having a hard time getting a word in regardless of visible finger-raising or mouth-opening. What tends to interrupt this is some semi-humorous and semi-aggressive variation of 'shut up' or 'shut the fuck up'. It's aggressive, but everyone understands that's it's acceptable. The interrupter gets the floor and the discussion continues, and everyone expects to have to make such an aggressive push occasionally if they want to be heard.

    It basically works as a crude mechanism for strongly filtering the conversation to mostly include openings where the prospective speaker is so highly confident of the relevance of his* point that he's willing to make that aggressive initial push for the sake of getting to make that point.

    It can work nicely for fast, dense and perhaps competitive debate between people who are on good terms with each other and understand and accept this particular type of conversation, so it's not entirely without merit.

    But people damn well ought to have the good sense of not doing this if they have no idea how how other participants feel about it. And I know many will happily force that type of conversation on others regardless.

    *(I was about to add 'or her' but it indeed doesn't really apply for the groups I'm talking of)
    posted by Anything at 3:58 PM on August 24, 2012


    Catseye wrote: The man was not disagreeing or debating with Solnit, at all - he wasn't saying "you're wrong about Muybridge" in any aspect. He was just lecturing at her. And he wasn't interested in back-and-forth debate; her friend had to say "that's her book" several times before he heard it. And he wasn't expecting her to challenge or contest his views, either, because once he did hear that it was her book, he "went ashen" and stopped talking for a second.

    Doesn't the fact that her friend had to say something several times indicate that there may have been something else at work beyond simple boorishness? I had a relative who was like this at one point - for whatever neurological reason he was quite articulate but it took him a long time to process your responses. And like Solnit's interlocutor he got very embarrassed by it, because he knew his mind was going. As it did, in the end.

    This isn't to say that lecturing is a good conversational style, or that the gender of the people involved was irrelevant, but this story keeps being repeated as a cracking good example of sexism at work - he was lecturing her about her own book! And he didn't pay attention to her friend who pointed this out! Such blindness must be due to sexism! Well, some people struggle in conversations due to (literal) deafness or neurological failings, and one notorious way of compensating for it is by ignoring what the other person is saying. There are plenty of examples of overbearing individuals who are quite healthy, but the remarkable features of this story make me suspect that there was something additional in play.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 2:47 AM on August 25, 2012


    There are plenty of examples of overbearing individuals who are quite healthy, but the remarkable features of this story make me suspect that there was something additional in play.

    That presumes there was something remarkable about this story, but there really isn't. It's perfectly ordinary for a lot of us. It's a matter of perspective and privilege.
    posted by notashroom at 3:37 AM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


    the remarkable features of this story make me suspect that there was something additional in play.

    I would respectfully submit that if this kind of behaviour really looks remarkable to you - if it seems so unusual, so far outside the normal pattern of your experiences even with boorish people, that it must indicate neurological issues or hearing problems rather than plain rudeness because plain rudeness just doesn't look like that - then this is because it doesn't happen to you, in a way that it happens to oh so many women.
    posted by Catseye at 3:41 AM on August 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I bet most women are not the authors of books that they happen to be lectured about. It's a great anecdote because he kept on lecturing despite her irrefutable expertise, and because of his extreme reaction on realising his error. But the very facts that makes it a good story also make his behaviour hard to comprehend - he really took three or four repetitions to grasp that she had written the book? Isn't that a bit ... odd? And his visceral reaction when he did grasp it makes it sound as though he was deeply sensitive to his faux pas.

    When you hear hoofbeats expect horses, not unicorns. If I had to repeat something several times I would think that I was talking to someone who was deaf or had a neurological disorder, wouldn't you? We're not talking about someone who hears a comment and then powers through it; we're talking about someone who literally cannot hear it or who literally cannot comprehend it at a normal speed.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 4:30 AM on August 25, 2012


    Clearly, you have a better understanding of what was happening than she did. Perhaps you should call her up and explain it to her?
    posted by running order squabble fest at 4:37 AM on August 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Joe, this kind of thing happens to women on a daily basis. I've worked with many people that are hard of hearing, and I would find the behaviour odd coming from any of them, but sadly, kind of predictable when a man does it.
    posted by peppermind at 4:40 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Even if you want to give the man in that anecdote a high benefit of doubt (I'm not going to argue either way), there are many enough other examples that are very much bad enough that I think questions about that one particular example are sort of moot.
    posted by Anything at 4:51 AM on August 25, 2012


    Joe in Australia: "I bet most women are not the authors of books that they happen to be lectured about. It's a great anecdote because he kept on lecturing despite her irrefutable expertise, and because of his extreme reaction on realising his error. But the very facts that makes it a good story also make his behaviour hard to comprehend - he really took three or four repetitions to grasp that she had written the book? Isn't that a bit ... odd? "

    No, not really. He did make a good clear example, but even the less optimal-for-anecdote events follow a similar pattern. From my perspective, in these situations, it is as if the man has heard a keyword, fastens onto it, and proceeds to do a coredump of everything he knows, thinks he knows, thinks he might know, suspects, or thinks would be cool for about that keyword. It's as if he is obligated to educate me or demonstrate his superiority. Sometimes this keyword doesn't even originate in conversation with him; he's overheard me talking to someone else or sees me reading a book or doing something within his sight and he must share. Sometimes it comes early in the conversation.

    (I once said "Hi, I'm [julen], and I'm from Virginia" and the dude was immediately off an demonstrating his knowledge of Virginia. He talked over all of my polite interjections. His knowledge was based on a trip the dude made 20 years earlier. When I finally got a word in edgewise, I corrected his pronunciation of multiple place names as part of normal speech (Yes, Monticello and the Appalacian Mountains - although we call them the Blue Ridge are lovely, and we have some other really fantastic places, too), and he came back and corrected me as to the pronunciation, and recommended that I actually visit the Blue Ridge Mountains some day.)

    My problem is that I have so many of my anecdotes where it could be inferred that I have some sort of knowledge about the field being discussed (but isn't by the dude who is talking to me who then proceeds to tell me How It Is) , that it's much more convenient to pull those out (because I usually don't then have to debate whether or not the dude really did know more than me, and maybe I really should have just taken the opportunity to learn something) instead of some of the murkier ones where my knowledge/skill/experience isn't necessarily so obvious. Guys on airplanes, dudes in bookstores, the guys who want to "introduce" me to basketball or football, the men who stop me in the street who ask me if I know where I'm going, men who tell me why the book I'm reading is wrong for me, men who stop me while knitting to tell me how terrible it is that America is undomesticated these days, the otherwise normal guy who came up to me in the grocery store, commented on the vegetables in my cart, guessed what I was making (wrongly), and tried to "fix" my recipe all in one big breath ... It was only when he started taking things out of my cart (30 seconds after starting to talk to me) that I snapped a little.
    posted by julen at 5:18 AM on August 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


    he really took three or four repetitions to grasp that she had written the book? Isn't that a bit ... odd?

    No. No, it's not. It's rude, but it's not atypical behaviour for a certain kind of person. Look upthread - this sort of thing is not even unusual.

    When you hear hoofbeats expect horses, not unicorns.

    Typically it's 'expect horses, not zebras', and I don't think it's super-helpful for this discussion to compare condescending attitudes from men directed at women to fantasy creatures that don't exist, but even so:

    "Expect horses" is only a useful maxim because of its context. You're in surroundings where horses are the most common equine, so it makes most sense to assume hoofbeats = horse. If you were at a donkey sanctuary, it would make more sense to assume hoofbeats = donkeys instead. If you were at a safari park, maybe you'd assume hoofbeats = zebras. If you hear hoofbeats coming from your kitchen, you'd probably assume hoofbeats = clanging pipes or something. If you were transported back into the Eocene, before modern horses existed, you'd assume hoofbeats = Epihippus or some other equine ancestor; and hey, maybe if you were teleported into Narnia it would make sense to assume hoofbeats = unicorns.

    What I'm saying here is that not all of us live in that world. Men condescendingly talking over women to the point where they're not even listening to any interjections is not vanishingly rare to us. And I'm guessing your scepticism is due to this behaviour being totally alien to you - you'd never do it, so it defies possibility that other people might - and that is reassuring. But all the same: what you're doing here is the equivalent of going to the African savannah, seeing a herd of stripy-looking equines, and telling the people who live there, "Zebras, really? Doesn't it make more sense to assume somebody's painted stripes on a horse instead?"
    posted by Catseye at 5:45 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Joe In Australia, go back through this thread and count all the anecdotes of women being lectured on a topic they're experts in. Seriously, give it a go.

    You keep calling Solnit's experience odd and remarkable, because it hasn't happened to you. But it's happened to 99% of the women in this thread. Your personal experience is inadequate on this subject, and you'd do well to let the experts who have experienced it frequently over many years and in varied situations be the judges of whether Solnit's story is plausible or not.
    posted by harriet vane at 6:20 AM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Now, now, ladies, Joe knows more about this than you could possibly imagine. Just sit back and let him Explain it to you.
    posted by languagehat at 7:02 AM on August 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


    I have not infrequently had people talk over me, or lecture me about very obvious things. I do know what it's like, although I'm not asserting anything about the frequency with which it happens. The things that I found remarkable about the story were the lecturer's vivid reaction to being corrected ("then, as if in a 19th-century novel, he went ashen") and the fact that she had to say That's her book three or four times before he finally took it in. Those are the story's hooks and they're meant to make the reader think "How overbearing he was! And how great was his comeuppance!" When I read it, though, it made me think that besides being the sort of person who lectures others without regard for their expertise he was also someone whose faculties were failing, and who thought he had now been exposed. Otherwise why the visceral reaction? He evidently didn't mind bluffing his way through things; Solnit tells us that "he began holding forth again" afterwards.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 7:25 AM on August 25, 2012


    You don't need to have written a book to be expert on something. It's not an unusual situation to have depth of knowledge greater than most people around you about some topic. Heavens, plenty of people around here have and use such knowledge here every day.
    posted by Miko at 7:30 AM on August 25, 2012


    The things that I found remarkable about the story were the lecturer's vivid reaction to being corrected ("then, as if in a 19th-century novel, he went ashen") and the fact that "she had to say "That's her book" three or four times before he finally took it in". Those are the story's hooks and they're meant to make the reader think "How overbearing he was! And how great was his comeuppance!"

    It's perfectly fine that those are the things that you found remarkable. We all react to things based on our own wealth of experiences. The majority of women who are commenting in this thread don't seem to find anything remarkable about the anecdote. It's more like, yeah, me too!

    It's possible that you're right. That this gentleman is suffering from some neurological deficit, and that neurological deficits that make it impossible for the listener/interlocutor to process what the other person is saying are so common that all of the women in this thread have dealt with such people multiple times, in a variety of contexts, so frequently as to find the behavior unremarkable. I would submit that this is less likely than that male-female conversations are simply more likely to take this form than male-male conversations.
    posted by bardophile at 7:48 AM on August 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Even if Solnit had the lousiest example in the world of mansplaining the point of this discussion is not just her anecdote but rather the larger phenomenon so nitpicking and making up reasons to dismiss her story does not add to the discussion.
    posted by shakespeherian at 7:49 AM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Joe in Australia, in this case and context, "mansplaining" is the horse and neurological deficits and/or deafness is the zebra. In some cases, both can occur simultaneously: my own father can barely hear anymore, so if he did this to me in person I'd be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt that he hadn't heard my interjections, but when he does it via email, well, that excuse goes right out the window.
    posted by notashroom at 8:01 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Bardophile, do any of the other anecdotes in this thread contain the element that the lecturer found it difficult to hear or process the fact that he was talking to an authority on the subject? And that once he heard or processed it, he was physically shocked? I submit that those elements are why the story is worth repeating, not the relatively-common experience of being lectured by a blowhard. I got a lot more out of your anecdote, or meese's, or thehmsbeagle's.

    And notashroom, I totally agree that In some cases, both[mansplaining and neurological deficits] can occur simultaneously [...], which is why I said it made me think that besides being the sort of person who lectures others without regard for their expertise he was also someone whose faculties were failing. Both things. I don't know why I'm so bothered by that aspect of the story; it's probably because I'm at the stage where I have ageing relatives and it's hard to contemplate.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 8:34 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Joe, that's understandable. Your perspective makes you more sensitive to that sort of phenomenon. Likewise, women are more sensitive to phenomena that result in shifting or reifying power balances toward men, as a result of our perspectives, in a way that men commonly are not.
    posted by notashroom at 8:55 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Joe in Australia, I can see why those elements are the ones that make the story worth repeating to you. I think it's reasonable that different elements resonate with different people.
    posted by bardophile at 9:07 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


    do any of the other anecdotes in this thread contain the element that the lecturer found it difficult to hear or process the fact that he was talking to an authority on the subject?

    Yes. Here are six of them, picked at random from a quick skim through the thread:

    > And here's the thing: I'm a fucking expert on VNUT. I've spent years researching it, looking into it. I wrote a book on VNUT. And here I am, talking to someone who is so incredibly unfamiliar with VNUT that they didn't even know what it is. They had never even heard of it two seconds before, and the only reason they know about it now is because I explained it to them. But what I have experienced over and over again, when my interlocutor is a man, is this follow-up. He then says, "Oh, well that's obvious. The solution to VNUT is clearly X."

    > I am a PhD student and have been working in a lab designed for one very specific task for the last 5 years. I learned the process, rewrote and refined the lab manual, fixed some lab equipment, made the process more efficient and less wasteful in some ways re: acid and test tube waste, etc. And I am constantly challenged by people who were sent to me because they didn't know anything about the process and needed me to teach them.

    > My wife who is the sole female in upper level middle management in her University IT environment is constantly fighting these issues. Most of her peers are substantially older than her, have worked in male dominated industries (a large percentage are ex-military), tend to have aggressive personalities and often do a ton of mansplaining to her even though she's definitely an expert in her area.

    > Particularly on topics close to my knowledge and expertise, I have often interjected in order to open a discussion with the Explainer (I'm not so interested in the terminology debate, so I'll just use "Explainer"). My comment is almost invariably 1) ignored, 2) interrupted, 3) treated disdainfully as ignorant nonsense, or 4) taken as an attack.

    > There are male graduate students in a different subfield who will try to tell me aspects of my dissertation topic. "Well, that's an interesting point, but actually I've found it to be incorrect," I will tell them. "No, no, let me tell you ..." and they're off and they are physically impossible to interrupt.

    > COO: Oh, have you read XX book which defines our industry?

    Introducer: Ha, ha, she's in the book.

    COO: Well, let me tell you all about the book (and our industry) anyway because I haven't actually heard what was just said to me nor parsed it.


    And those are just the first six I noticed while skimming through the thread again. There are plenty of others.

    Truly, really, believe us - this happens.
    posted by Catseye at 9:49 AM on August 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


    Joe, you're just showing that you haven't read anything women have written in this thread so far. If you can't be bothered doing that, don't bother trying to persuade us you know more than we do about it. It's insulting.

    My work brings me into contact with people who have physical impairments, like deafness, and cognitive impairments that make communication difficult. But not a single one of those people has ever been rude or boorish in the way I experience from mansplainers. The difference is painfully obvious. You just don't want to acknowledge it.
    posted by harriet vane at 1:14 AM on August 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


    he facts will not get in Joe's way because it's far more comfortable to assume that something else was going on. Very often, just as with the sexual violence that is our experience, the "good guys" just don't understand how someone could do that so they frequently reach for alternative explanations for the banality that it the routine violation of women and girls in our culture. or the routine and egeregious explaining down at us.
    I have so many examples from University lecturing and hospital medicine, it wpuld take too long. I get mansplained on an almost weekly basis but I only ever call it if it is in front on younger surgical trainees. Otherwise I would not get any work done.

    It will come as an even greater shock to these good guys that their reaction, while understandable, actually doesn't help, it hinders.
    posted by Wilder at 11:39 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Oh, for goodness' sakes. Is this some sort of meta'splaining in an attempt to push the boundaries of surrealism? Or is it just a poorly-conceived pile-on? You're engaging with something I didn't say and, in fact, specifically rejected over and over again. YES I KNOW HE WAS LECTURING HER. YES I KNOW HE WAS NOT INTERESTED IN AN ACTUAL CONVERSATION. YES I KNOW THAT HE DIDN'T CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITY THAT SHE KNEW HER OWN FIELD.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 11:57 AM on August 26, 2012


    AND YET YOU REFUSE TO ACCEPT WHAT ACTUAL WOMEN ARE TELLING YOU ABOUT THEIR ACTUAL EXPERIENCES AND WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS EVERY DAY EVEN THOUGH IT SEEMS INCREDIBLE TO YOU.
    posted by languagehat at 12:36 PM on August 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


    I feel it's only fair to observe that Joe actually linked to several comments he said he thought were particularly helpful, one of which was contemptuously quoted to him in response as though he hadn't mentioned it at all. If he's going to be scathingly censured for supposedly refusing to listen or believe what women are saying it at least ought to be for comments other than the ones he's explicitly agreeing with.
    posted by XMLicious at 1:11 PM on August 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I feel it's only fair to observe that Joe actually linked to several comments he said he thought were particularly helpful, one of which was contemptuously quoted to him in response as though he hadn't mentioned it at all.

    Was it a man or a woman who quoted it to him?
    posted by msalt at 1:43 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I don't know; the gender would not make a difference. I don't agree with everything he's saying but the point is that if there's an issue here with people not reading others' remarks closely enough, Joe is not the only one doing it.
    posted by XMLicious at 1:56 PM on August 26, 2012


    Joe actually linked to several comments he said he thought were particularly helpful, one of which was contemptuously quoted to him in response as though he hadn't mentioned it at all.

    If that was one of mine, 'contemptuous' certainly wasn't what I was going for. Joe asked specifically whether any of the anecdotes in the thread above contained the element that 'the lecturer found it difficult to hear or process the fact that he was talking to an authority on the subject'; I skimmed through the thread and grabbed a few that contained exactly that element, in order to answer Joe's question with a conclusive 'yes'.

    I suppose we could be reading Joe's actual question differently, in that you thought the 'other' referred to 'other than these comments', and I thought it referred to 'other than Solnik's anecdote', which Joe was singling out as particularly unusual because of this specific element? If it was the first one then I apologise, Joe - I misread you. But the point stands that this element is really not that unusual in stories like this one, nowhere near unusual enough to attribute to neurological dysfunction or hearing loss what can be more plausibly explained by plain rudeness.
    posted by Catseye at 2:20 PM on August 26, 2012


    we accept Joe is one of the good guys.
    What I am pointing to is the myriad of examples above where one of the good guys comes back on an actual testimony saying... "but are you sure that what he meant? Couldn't he have misinterpreted? (what the fact that you're the expert?) Maybe he couldn't hear right."

    in so many, many cases I hear a man tell me..... No, but ON THIS OCCASION what he probably meant was.....


    but that right there is man splainin

    what's the difference?

    I did some work recently on the propensity of female surgical trainees to undersell their research with minimising language in interviews. I've been keeping 5 years of examples seeing about 100 trainees per year. ( I see them when we recruit them, I give a 2 hours induction talk to all trainee starting in our region and I see them at the end of their 1st yr)

    Despite the fact that I present the work every single year at the induction of the Year 1 surgical trainees I can guarantee 2 things. 1: the female trainees watch how they present themselves when I'm on the end-of-year interview panel but not when my male colleagues are on the panel (some panels are male only due to a lack of female surgeons) and 2: at the CT1 induction a male trainee will invariably question my findings.
    posted by Wilder at 3:07 PM on August 26, 2012


    I did some work recently on the propensity of female surgical trainees to undersell their research with minimising language in interviews.

    Ugh, that is depressingly familiar. I catch myself doing this kind of thing in discussions about work stuff even though I know better - it's like halfway through talking about my work, some inner demon voice leaps up to say "Stop! Wait! You can't possibly say you got that grant, just because you had the idea and wrote the bid! That would be arrogant and selfish! Quick, start saying "we" a lot and telling people it's just a minor thing!" Argh.
    posted by Catseye at 3:51 PM on August 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Ugh, that is depressingly familiar. I catch myself doing this kind of thing in discussions about work stuff even though I know better - it's like halfway through talking about my work, some inner demon voice leaps up to say "Stop! Wait! You can't possibly say you got that grant, just because you had the idea and wrote the bid! That would be arrogant and selfish! Quick, start saying "we" a lot and telling people it's just a minor thing!" Argh.

    After I caught my partner doing that a couple of times and pointed out how it really sounded, she now role-plays those conversations with me to try out different phrasings to find the ones that hit the right balance of appropriate self-promotion. It was a huge eye-opener for her when I "translated" what was really being said in some of those conversations.

    To stay with your grant example, she'd be doing your thing of downplaying it ("Oh, it was only a pilot project, and anyway we were collaborating...") while the dudes were all humble-bragging ("Those NIH reviewers are such a drag, now they want me to double my budget for field work because it's considered ground-breaking work, but don't they realize that I have a book manuscript to finish and two other grants to write success reports for? Geez...").
    posted by Forktine at 4:41 PM on August 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Catseye: Ugh, that is depressingly familiar. I catch myself doing this kind of thing in discussions about work stuff even though I know better - it's like halfway through talking about my work, some inner demon voice leaps up to say "Stop! Wait! You can't possibly say you got that grant, just because you had the idea and wrote the bid! That would be arrogant and selfish! Quick, start saying "we" a lot and telling people it's just a minor thing!" Argh.

    I do the same thing, and although I've gotten a lot better about it, I still catch myself downplaying my accomplishments or not bothering to point them out. I think it's something deeply ingrained in my psyche that if I've done it, it must not be THAT big a deal.

    The worst consequence of this attitude is my constant self-censoring. I'm trying to push myself more in this area, but it means overcoming a few decades of habit and the internalized core belief that anything I think or do is, by definition, relatively inconsequential. Then I come across people who are tireless self-promoters with banal ideas, or hardcore mansplainers (who, ironically, often serve as a useful reminder that yes, I know and understand things that not everyone does) and realize I am doing it all wrong.

    I need a coach like Forktine, but don't really have access to anyone who could or would help me in this area. There's a market niche waiting to be filled.
    posted by Superplin at 4:56 PM on August 26, 2012


    I need a coach like Forktine, but don't really have access to anyone who could or would help me in this area. There's a market niche waiting to be filled.

    We laugh about it (she calls me her "native informant" and I ask her to please not give me smallpox along with the machetes) but in all seriousness in some fields this is a big deal. Supposedly it's all a meritocracy and everything is above board, but in reality there are all kinds of unspoken rules and men often often have access to mentoring and back-channel communications (like chatting with the boss in the locker room, say) that women might not even know exist.
    posted by Forktine at 5:06 PM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Catseye, here's the thing that made me think the lecturer had a hearing or neurological impairment. Meese is an expert on VNUT, wrote her dissertation and a book on it and so forth. An undeniable expert. None the less, when she mentions that her field is VNUT she gets this:
    He then says, "Oh, well that's obvious. The solution to VNUT is clearly X." [...]

    I'm used to it. Whatever the X given as the solution is, I've heard it before. There's probably a chapter in my dissertation that explains all the many ways that X is a failure of an explanation. But if I try to go into this -- if I try to assert that the man's solution doesn't work -- the conversation goes no where. [...]

    But, no. Now I have the words for it. The reason why the conversation goes nowhere, is this: his scorn is so withering, his confidence so aggressive, that arguing with him seemed a scary exercise in futility and an invitation to more insult.
    OK, there's definitely a lot of similarity between Meese's experiences and Solnit's anecdote, but Solnit's anecdote had an element that stood out to me: suppose that Meese's conversation went on like this:
    Meese: And that's how I became the go-to person on VNUT.
    Interlocutor: You know, there's someone else interested in VNUT. Dr Meese! You should go speak to Dr Meese!
    Meese: Er, I am Dr Meese.
    Interlocutor: Yes, Dr Meese could undoubtedly help you with VNUT.
    Meese: I am Dr Meese. Dr Meese, me.
    Interlocutor: They say Dr Meese is very wise.
    Meese: Um, that's nice - because that's me. Or I. My name is Dr Meese.
    Interlocutor: So if you speak to Dr Meese everything will be clear.
    This is apparently what went on when Solnit was being lectured by her host, and if I experienced something like that I would absolutely think that my host was either deaf or was mentally impaired. Solnit says that the people at the party were "old enough that we, at 40ish, passed as the occasion's young ladies". So we're talking about someone at least in his sixties, more likely seventies or older. Lots of people have clear minds at that age; lots don't. This is what I meant when I said that it seemed as though her host "found it difficult to hear or process the fact that he was talking to an authority on the subject"; not that he shrugged it off or treated her expertise with contempt, but that he really was out of touch with what was being said to him.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 12:33 AM on August 27, 2012


    This is apparently what went on when Solnit was being lectured by her host

    This is where we differ, then, because that's not the way I interpreted Solnit's story. It sounds a lot more like the man was lecturing at Solnit, and just wasn't listening to a third party saying "That's her book" until the third time it was repeated. I know several people who have this conversational style without a pattern of condescension behind it - it's like they toggle between 'broadcast' and 'receive', and there is no point even trying to jump in when they're in the first mode - but it is certainly something which accompanies this kind of condescending explainy behaviour too (as it did in my example).

    If the man in Solnit's story had otherwise given no sign of this kind of behaviour, and the only thing he'd done was to fail to register her friend's interruption, I doubt she'd have used it as such an illustrative anecdote. What makes it an example of condescending behaviour rather than just not listening is the context:
    "So? I hear you've written a couple of books."

    I replied, "Several, actually."

    He said, in the way you encourage your friend's seven-year-old to describe flute practice, "And what are they about?"

    They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.

    He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. "And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?"

    So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingenue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I'd somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book—with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.
    He's already cutting her off, lecturing her, and failing to process that she's someone who's already written a book on Muybridge, in the same way that the people in meese's anecdote failed to process that she's expertly familiar with VNUT. In that context, steamrollering over any interruptions or disagreements is not unusual or even remarkable behaviour - it's sadly familiar.
    posted by Catseye at 2:20 AM on August 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


    The curious thing about this - although we have seen it happen before, and I think happen before in this thread - is that you seem, Joe, to be working on the assumption that the information you have is all the information that is available. And therefore that you are not only as qualified to describe what happened as Solnit, but actually better qualified, presumably because smarter.

    Whereas I would suggest that part of the process of telling a story is to remove superfluous detail. Solnit did not attend the party for precisely as long as it took to have this conversation - it takes place at the end of the evening - and further presumably knew somebody at the party, or somebody who passed on the invitation, and might therefore have access to insights on its host that we, the audience, lack.

    So, if you want to guess that what is going on here is the unjust pillorying of a neurologically impaired elderly man, that's fine. But understand what you are doing.

    You are adding in details which fit the picture you want to build, not analyzing the available information. These details, then, make Solnit either an idiot - she totally failed to understand an experience she was actually having which you can understand better simply by reading her brief account of it - or a monster - she is maliciously twisting an account of meeting a well-meaning but hearing-impaired or confused man to make an unfair point at his expense. Either of these things may be true, but the available evidence is not present to make them anything other than fanfiction.
    posted by running order squabble fest at 2:47 AM on August 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


    Why would anyone think she's twisting it or failing to understand it? The man was an elderly bore who imposed on her (he may also have been sad and lonely, but let's pass over that). The whole point of the story is her malicious pleasure in his failure, by which she is revenged on all the other people who slighted her. He was the one who chose to lecture her on her field of interest; she would have had no victory without his faux pas; why should her joy be any the less sweet if his failure was due to senility rather than mere inattentiveness?

    For all that, I do think there must have been some organic cause for it. If it makes you enjoy the story less then I'm sorry. Let's pretend there isn't.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 4:41 AM on August 27, 2012


    The organic cause is a limbic system originated drive for social status most evident in males of the species.
    posted by seanmpuckett at 4:57 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


    The whole point of the story is her malicious pleasure in his failure, by which she is revenged on all the other people who slighted her.

    Holy crap.

    OK, I think we've found our organic cause.
    posted by running order squabble fest at 5:11 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


    The man was an elderly bore who imposed on her (he may also have been sad and lonely, but let's pass over that). The whole point of the story is her malicious pleasure in his failure, by which she is revenged on all the other people who slighted her. He was the one who chose to lecture her on her field of interest; she would have had no victory without his faux pas; why should her joy be any the less sweet if his failure was due to senility rather than mere inattentiveness?

    It's really clear when someone is senile (or hard of hearing), and when someone is lecturing at you and not listening to other people in the pseudo-conversation. Really, really clear.

    The point of the story was not pleasure in his failure; though it was, no doubt, pleasant to have shown this particular guy up in a way that you cannot always do, it would have been more pleasant to have had a real conversation instead of someone lecturing at you.
    posted by jeather at 5:47 AM on August 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


    > The man was an elderly bore who imposed on her (he may also have been sad and lonely, but let's pass over that). The whole point of the story is her malicious pleasure in his failure, by which she is revenged on all the other people who slighted her.

    Jesus Christ. OK, I'm giving up; you're a lost cause. Enjoy your malicious pleasure.
    posted by languagehat at 7:54 AM on August 27, 2012


    Joe in Australia: Where on earth do you see 'malicious pleasure' in that story? Or even 'failure' on his part? Or that he is 'elderly'? You're adding all kinds of details to this story which are not present in it, and (it seems to me) forcing the story into a rubric so that you can read it in a way that doesn't make sense.

    Joe in Australia: “For all that, I do think there must have been some organic cause for it. If it makes you enjoy the story less then I'm sorry. Let's pretend there isn't.”

    Okay, let's talk about that. Why? Is it really impossible for you to believe that no person has ever disregarded another person to the degree that they don't notice those kinds of details – outside of situations where people have 'organic causes' to act that way?
    posted by koeselitz at 8:10 AM on August 27, 2012


    "Why would anyone think she's twisting it or failing to understand it? The man was an elderly bore who imposed on her (he may also have been sad and lonely, but let's pass over that). The whole point of the story is her malicious pleasure in his failure, by which she is revenged on all the other people who slighted her. He was the one who chose to lecture her on her field of interest; she would have had no victory without his faux pas; why should her joy be any the less sweet if his failure was due to senility rather than mere inattentiveness?"

    Ah, so the point of your contributions is to invent exculpatory fantasies for him while simultaneously inventing damning motivations for her.

    You realize that this makes you look like a misogynist idiot, right? I mean, I'm sure you don't mean to, but I can only hope you take that moment to review what you're writing and realize that it's not some mistake of prose that people are unfairly attributing to you (in echoes of the poor senile old man you're so eager to Stan for) but rather that your very conception of the anecdote is rotten from the floor and that it's actually, you know, your attitudes that are part of the problem. Perhaps this can be a learning moment for you. Perhaps you have some women in your life whom you can ask — and listen to — about this issue, and help reframe your perspective into something that doesn't inherently make you sound like a total tool.
    posted by klangklangston at 10:42 AM on August 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


    On the contrary, I find Joe in Australia to be a very clever, postmodern sort of misogynist.
    posted by LogicalDash at 3:56 PM on August 27, 2012


    Sure, one can go to great lengths to make up enough additional details that the story given as one example of a pervasive phenomenon looks like a unique incident.

    But after you do that, I'm not sure what there is left to offer the additional dozens of similar stories offered in this thread alone - let alone any gathering of intelligent, informed women, all of whom can easily give you similar stories. I'm not sure what explains the incredibly common experience that literally millions of women can corroborate. A few befuddled brain-injured men can't be doing all that much damage on their own - can they? Do they really get around that much?

    I suppose Joe in Australia may wish to construct a narrative in which all -- or, hey, let's be generous, just maybe 80% of men -reasonable, right? I mean, you need to explain the ubiquity - suffer this sort of neurological failure. Sure! Let's go with that.

    It's not that almost all women of knowledge encounter condescenscion regularly - it's that 80% of men have profound neurological impairments that make them unable to communicate adequately. Profound neurological impairments! Most men have them! That's all!

    OK? We all OK with that explanation? Joe, that's cool?
    posted by Miko at 8:50 PM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


    That 80% figure seems a little high to me, even allowing for the fact that my experience of mansplaining is mostly as perpetrator and spectator rather than target. I suspect that with mansplaining, as with any profoundly annoying behavior, that a relatively small number of perpetrators is enough to make the experience objectionably frequent.

    I would quite like to see the results of a study investigating the proportion of men who actually exhibit the "unable to avoid being an asshole" neurological deficit, where a fairly large cohort of women logged all encounters with men for several weeks and identified those included a mansplaining.
    posted by flabdablet at 9:42 PM on September 2, 2012


    Miko: “I suppose Joe in Australia may wish to construct a narrative in which all -- or, hey, let's be generous, just maybe 80% of men -reasonable, right? I mean, you need to explain the ubiquity - suffer this sort of neurological failure. Sure! Let's go with that. It's not that almost all women of knowledge encounter condescenscion regularly - it's that 80% of men have profound neurological impairments that make them unable to communicate adequately. Profound neurological impairments! Most men have them! That's all!”

    flabdablet: “That 80% figure seems a little high to me, even allowing for the fact that my experience of mansplaining is mostly as perpetrator and spectator rather than target. I suspect that with mansplaining, as with any profoundly annoying behavior, that a relatively small number of perpetrators is enough to make the experience objectionably frequent.”

    Miko: “Sure, it's high., much too high. I'm being silly.”

    I don't want to be rude, but this strikes me as self-excusing bullshit. Or maybe my experience is just different from yours, but I suspect not.

    The thing is that every single man I've ever met has done this to a woman at least once in their lives. The distinction between "enlightened dudes" and "nonenlightened dudes" isn't that the enlightened ones have never 'mansplained' before. The difference is that the enlightened ones recognized and confronted that part of themselves. I like to think of myself as enlightened, too, but I won't count on it, and it's always a process one has to work through.

    As with racism, sexism is nice to sweep under the rug with a handy 'oh, it's just a minority that act like that.' That does not seem very realistic to me at all. I grant that a few men are probably doing most of the sexist crap, but the trouble generally isn't those few – they can often just be avoided. The trouble is with the rest of us, those of us who would hate to think of ourselves as sexist but who take part in sexist stuff without wanting to think too hard about it.

    I guess this might be more my personal struggle than anyone else's, but I've spent the last few years coming to terms with just how much I'm involved, and how much I still need to work on this stuff.
    posted by koeselitz at 9:28 AM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I don't want to be rude, but this strikes me as self-excusing bullshit. Or maybe my experience is just different from yours, but I suspect not.

    Man, I don't know why I got slapped with the "bullshit" allegation - I really don't think 80% of men regularly do this. At least not in my experience. I am fortunate to know many men whom I have never heard do this in my presence - not ever.

    So I was fine with not insisting on my 80% figure, which I just threw out there sort of thinking "what's a really high number?" to emphasize how common it is. But I think it's open to fair challenge, as I believe there are more than 20% of men who can and do regularly resist this or just aren't given to it as a conversational interaction. So if even only 10% of men do it, that's still incredibly common - 1 out of 10. So My point, in response to Joe, is that if, as he is trying to argue, there is a non-insignificant number of men with such profound neurological impairments that they can't understand a normal conversation, then that would have serious implications for society that reach far beyond the personal level.

    Basically I didn't want my argument to fall based on what percentage I randomly chose, and I didn't want to get caught in some pointless process of trying to identify what would be an accurate figure, based on no rigorous standard of evidence.

    I certainly understand that you want to police yourself on this, which is great, but as someone who has been on the receiving end frequently enough, I still would not say that every man does or has at some point done this. It's probably a hazard for every man given their socialization, but it's just not everyone's inclination to any explaining at all, to men or to women. I am a pretty strident feminist, and I"m not saying this because I feel the need to backpedal (I don't think I do that very often!). I'm saying it because I don't want to get into an indefensible position in the argument, and I can't honestly say that I've experienced this from every man, and probably not from 80% of men, though it is hard to get a quantifiable sense. The truth might be somewhere around the 50% mark.

    If you look at it across men's entire lifetimes, 80% of men having mansplained somewhere, to somebody, at least once, is probably pretty reasonable, as you say. It's a common thing for men to do. But, IME, not a universal thing to be expected in every interaction. Based only on the set of encounters I've had with men, it's too high to say that 80% of the men I have met have mansplained to me in the time I spent with them. Whether that means that they just do it to other people, or did it a few times and have stopped, or only do it on topics I didn't touch on with them, I can't say.
    posted by Miko at 10:48 AM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


    [We said, specifically, take the mansplain derail to metatalk and we meant it. Go there not here. Knock it off.]
    posted by jessamyn at 1:44 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


    (And this is what I get for using the plain white theme in recent activity and thinking I'm in meta when I'm in mefi; apologies. Also, "bullshit" was absolutely out of line - sorry, Miko. Done here.)
    posted by koeselitz at 5:01 PM on September 3, 2012


    Miko, I'm not sure I follow you when you get into numbers and that. Would you mind explaining it to me again as if I had never heard it before? You needn't refer back to anything I actually wrote.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 10:07 PM on September 3, 2012


    It's hard not to read that comment at this point, as superficially civil as it is, as both disingenuous and passive aggressive.
    posted by OmieWise at 6:09 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Miko/Joe and Australia, you are welcome to take this to email.
    posted by jessamyn at 6:23 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Sooo, getting back to that point about female trainees underselling their research with minimising language...... (interesting that it struck a chord with some of you!), the reason it's vitally important is that situations arise in the operating theatre which require all trainees to overcome their inherent "niceness" or the normal hierarchy and actually point something out to a senior. Situations which taken in conjunction with other things happening at the same time can save lives. The same happens with airline pilots, people have died because other people were too nice. Basically language matters, and language usage can be an indicator of many other things.

    and from the amount of times I've been mansplained too, it is not a vocal minority, it's simply too ubiquitous to be a minority. If it's not happening to you, you may not be as sensitive to it, and you will also probably not recognise it each time I do the anticipatory evasion/extraction when I see it start. When I told my partner about this thread he said "but it hasn't happened in a long while right?" and I had to say, "well, no but I've just gotten really good at spotting the opening stages and I can generally get out of that conversation quickly".
    posted by Wilder at 8:48 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


    MeTa - closed after a vigorous twelve hours, but possibly of use at least in showing that and how the meta-mansplaining argument was conducted.
    posted by running order squabble fest at 8:19 PM on September 5, 2012


    Gosh, it's really quiet in here now.............

    I'm trying to recall any other thread/Meta combo where this happened and I'm coming up blank.

    I really appreciated every single viewpoint I read over these threads and I learned a lot.
    posted by Wilder at 3:43 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Rebecca Solnit: Occupy Wall Street’s First Anniversary
    posted by homunculus at 3:07 PM on September 16, 2012


    « Older DEVO have released their latest single. It's about...  |  "A farming town hid a Jewish-b... Newer »


    This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments