Mansplaining (and other things) – A Mansplanation

Please note that while I thought this was a catchy title, this isn’t mansplaining. I was asked my opinion by a lady and Admin. So that’s my little Inb4 a smartarse out of the way.

First, a helpful definition

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Definition from Merriam-Webster

I always think context is key, so bear with me.

Context P1

Let’s start with men, as usual. Well, me.
I’m going to share a bit about my attitudes, not because I’m unique or special but for the opposite reason. I’m hoping some men can relate to my experience.
I always thought men were smarter than women, or more specifically boys were smarter than girls. Even more specifically, that I was smarter than every girl I knew. I definitely didn’t think I’d met a girl who was smarter than me until I got to uni. When girls at school out-performed me I could easily dismiss that, it was because I was lazy. If I’d tried I’d have done just as well, conveniently over-looking the fact that the smart thing to do would have been to try.
I think the context I grew up in contributed to that, it was a culture of benevolent sexism. Girls were complimented for being pretty or working hard, I was complimented when I was clever or brave. Girls to me were something to be protected. Like a work of art, beautiful, delicate and liable to inspire deep feeling, but not necessarily of great practical use.
On the other side of that I had a mother almost single-handedly financially supporting a family when my dad became too ill to work, who taught me to think critically when a politician opened their mouth and how being clever was a poor substitute for being kind. Nevertheless I still felt a pang of embarrassment for what I perceived as my dad’s emasculation when my mom had to give him money for things and not the other way around.
Jumping forward to a few years ago, I’m an egalitarian, I notionally believe in equal rights for all, I also say stuff like, “modern feminists are annoying, why can’t they focus on something important like FGM and stop moaning about how X is sexist?” I’m just as disappointed as you are as the logical fallacy in that sentence, don’t worry.
Some things changed.
I started working on myself which entailed shedding some of the hold traditional concepts of masculinity had over me, in doing so I became open to new ways of looking at things that I just couldn’t before, because they challenged the very core of who I saw myself as.
I stopped seeing being wrong as a catastrophe to be avoided, being wrong or making hurtful mistakes no longer made me a bad person, once you let go of that you can just say, “shit, I’m sorry I’ll think about that in future” instead of thinking, “if what I said was racist/sexist then I’m a racist/sexist, therefore I’m evil. I’m not evil; therefore what I said can’t have been racist/sexist”.
Finally I started seeing women truly as my friends for the first time, instead of people I may want to have sex with some day, or weirdly I may have to have sex with some day (but that’s another topic).
Being able to be truly open with women, without worrying whether what I was saying was making me more or less attractive to them opened me up to some of the best friendships I’ve had in my life and ultimately to gaining insight I’d never have been privy to without it.
The other thing I did was starting to argue online as a way of developing better conflict management skills. Fuck me does that teach you a thing or two about how women are treated.

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Sometimes you should just answer the question you were asked.
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Classic example
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Sometimes we can actually do things all by ourselves. 
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And for the Grand finale… the man who explained how to breastfeed to women. And he knows because he asked a woman.

Context P2

Women online, and why your noble intentions may be misinterpreted.
You’ve probably heard of famous instances of mansplaining, most notably when Random Dude tried to explain thermodynamics to a female astronaut.
Sadly this isn’t just a case of a random jackass on the internet. As reliable as Godwin’s Law is the fact that if I wait long enough a man will condescend to explain to a woman something she’s eminently more qualified on.
A few days ago I watched a man tell two women with science backgrounds (one of which is in psychology) how the human mind works based on his being really clever and having “thought about these things”, with his three friends. You could assume he was ignorant of their qualifications, had they not told him. He was proven wrong, but clung to his assertions he was smarter than them and correct about the topic in hand.
Ok, but maybe he’s just a dick, and not representative. Besides no one has a complete understanding of exactly how the human mind works, so don’t we all get an opinion?
I was reading a thread pertaining to women’s issues, when this gem of a man appeared.
His entire argument was that he’s more qualified to talk about women than women are because he’s spoken to more than one woman. The women he’s speaking to online had only been one woman each and are therefore less qualified (because women don’t talk to other women anyway?) If you open your eyes to it this is not an exception, it happens in every thread about women’s issues sooner or later.
In the last year I have witnessed men explain to women how they should think and/or feel about: periods, pregnancy, abortion, assaults and rapes they’ve suffered, their clothes, their makeup and their bodies.
This is where we have a bit of confusion I think. Yes you get an opinion. I’ve got opinions on what I like women to wear, how much makeup I like to see, what shape I prefer women I might date to be, I don’t really have much to say on periods, however.
So you have an opinion, what are you going to do with it? My experience teaches me you should probably keep it to your fucking self until you’re asked, unless it’s supportive. However if you venture in thinking you’re being helpful and get shut down, don’t get hurt. It’s not about you; it’s not always about us. In pretty much the same way I don’t give a shit about whether women think I should have a foreskin or not, they don’t care what you and I think about their eye liner, or sexual proclivities.
Add to this a broader context where women are regularly threatened with rape for displaying dissenting opinions, called dumb cunts when they reject a man, are surrounded by “jokes” like the #itsnotrapeif trend on twitter. The internet can be an incredibly hostile environment for women and that’s not even taking into account that they face the same and worse in real life.

We have context, hopefully we have empathy, now what do we do with it?

These are my top tips for joining in discussions on women’s (or any) issue without being accused of mansplaining.

1. Forgive the lady your talking to if she seems a little suspicious of your intentions, it’s not personal; given the aforementioned broader context it’s sensible.

2. If you’re not sure whether the lady you’re speaking to is as/more qualified don’t assume she’s not. If the topic is a women’s issue then their lived experience always trumps your opinion. If you’re going to challenge that bring good evidence and prepare to defend it (although I recommend asking questions that don’t pre-suppose answer instead).

3. Ask yourself, “do I really have anything to contribute to this discussion or would I be better off listening and learning?” This one is really hard for me, I love sharing my opinion and I love debate. However I have a pretty privileged background in all ways except wealth, I can probably stand to learn a lot from the perspectives of others.

4. Support women; show them you’re an ally. I guarantee you’ll come across men dismissing female voices online only to accept the same line of reasoning when a man says it. As annoying as the fact it needs doing is, magnifying women’s voices with our own can only be a good thing. Just don’t let the other bloke off the hook in the process. He’ll invariably appeal to your ego by pointing out the women were all unreasonable in their tone/language and you were much more logical etc.

5. Your support will probably earn you a fair hearing next time. But bear in mind not everyone in the next discussion will know you’re not a dick, be mindful.

6. Be prepared to be excluded, not every conversation needs a male voice. But they can all benefit from open male eyes and ears.

From a male perspective, mansplaining can be avoided without necessarily silencing male voices in the conversation. It’s a fine line between contributing and mansplaining and finding that balance is the key to avoiding being accused of mansplaining in the future. Good luck!

This has been a guest post by the lovely Paul Paverly! 

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments or share your stories on our Facebook page!

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