Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Is It Mansplaining if He's Right?

Extra post today because I am annoyed. I went to the "Mansplaining" tumblr for fun stories of men making asses of themselves, but unfortunately the good times were ruined by my contrarian
brain, which said stuff like, "He was only trying to flirt with her, poor guy" and "But he was right."

Men love to teach women stuff, which can be annoying, but also has its bright side. If you want to know a guy better, you can ask him to explain something to you. And this goes for all men, ages 4 to 94. "Tell me about your collection of trucks" will win the heart of a four year old so quickly that he'll burst into tears when you leave. You can get the most shy and retiring man seated next to you at dinner to chat gaily if you find out what he knows about and ask him to explain it to you.

Men also love to argue ideas. And this is why I think the Hemingway story really doesn't belong (that and the fact that, yes, American literary style has indeed been universally influenced by Hemingway). When a guy doesn't agree with your literary opinions and says so in an academic context, that's not mansplaining. That's free speech. Let's not go crazy here.


Jam said...

I don't know that I've experienced "mansplaining" in academic contexts; academics of both sexes do a lot of blathering to themselves via bystanders. I've had incidents that felt mansplain-y with non-academics at parties, though.

To my mind, mansplaining has to do with *telling* you things instead of *arguing* them. The times I feel like I've been mansplained to are times when it feels like he's not *listening* to the things I am saying. Sometimes guys are just laying down Facts like a steam roller, and when you pipe up with some objection, they just flatly contradict you, even when you put forward your own arguments and long training in the subject.

I've also had it happen that, if I tell a guy I am writing my PhD about, say, the British Navy in the Napoleonic Wars, he will respond by telling me the life of Admiral Nelson like I'd never heard of the guy. Or if a guy asks if I know who Cary Grant is, and I say yes, he responds by telling me which of his movies are the best and strongly urging me to find and watch them. Uh? I just said that I knew something about that topic, why are you talking to me like I don't know anything?

I genuinely do love hearing someone -- anyone! -- explain something they're good at or know a lot about. I realized a few years ago that some of my favorite moments in movies and tv shows are when a character steps up and exercises their special talent or training. The "mansplaining" I've encountered is frustrating because (1) it involves not being listened to (2) it feels like I'm not being given credit for knowing about something when I've asserted that I do. When I've gotten really mad about a conversation, it's always had some pride at the root of the flames. But it's still true that if you're not allowing your conversation to be shaped by what the other person says, you're a boor.

Seraphic said...

I wonder if men in general are just not as good at words as women are? But I have to admit, in recent years I have frequently found myself mentioning my M.Div. as a kind of self-defense against introductory lectures in theology. Back home, though, a bigger problem was men lying about having read books they hadn't read. Always fun to catch them out, though,so it really wasn't a problem.

Truthfinder said...

Hmm, well as far as I can tell, there's no version of this for women, but I think that's because the catch-all 'know-it-all' captures this sort of attitude in women. In men, mansplaining tends to be know-it-all-ish, but with that sense of 'because I'm a man, I'm always right' attitude. I haven't experienced it too much in academia mainly because no one around here works in the particular field that I do. I found it much more often working in retail related to technology.

That being said, I believe that some of the 'mansplaining' on that tumblr site is mainly the reverse of what they're criticizing - 'how dare you tell me something? I am a woman and you are a stupid man out to subjugate me.'

There's a difficult line to walk for men between being interested in something so much that they just gush (to the point where they don't listen), probably because they want to be seen as having intelligence, and the when they cross the line and do this because they think by their biological difference they are automatically better and smarter than women.

Julia said...

I don't encounter mansplaining much these days, but during my first year at university I had to work a lot with a fellow first year who was a little older than I was, and whose skills in the field were a little better developed than mine were.

He felt the need to give advice to me about EVERYTHING, even in the presence of our tutors. It seemed like everything he said or did was a move designed to undercut me.

He wasn't a Bad Guy, and there were times when we really did get along quite well, but I couldn't help but resent that he'd slack off, turn up late, request to reschedule project work because he was tired from a metal gig the night before, want to start late so he could grab a coffee etc. And then he'd still have the gall to issue me with loads of unsolicited advice.

One bust-up I recall happened when he had said 'You know, you really should...' one time too many, and I replied evenly, 'You know, you don't have to tell me what to do all the time.' Then he turned into Mr Drama Queen and exited the building in a dramatic huff. This performance was witnessed by at least two other students, which I found amusing.

Some months later after another bust-up, I received a text message from him with two words: 'F*** you'. Soon after that, he left the degree, the university and the state to go and study philosophy at another university (he was an existentialist at the time).

As it turns out, it wasn't just me being ultra-sensitive or anything. His ex-girlfriend told me some harrowing tales. After our chat next to the sinks in the ladies' room, she said, 'I'm really glad we talked. Everything just clicks now, it all makes sense.' For me too, it all made sense!

sciencegirl said...

I haven't really come across this so much...maybe because I "sciencegirl-splain" things a lot, and because I very much enjoy hearing people talk about interesting things. I like learning from people, women and men included. If the explanations take too long, I tune them out -- this is a skill I developed well in a large, verbose family. We talked so much, and tuned each other out so well, that I was taken rather aback when I got out around people who listened attentively and remembered what I said.

I have met one or two guys who clearly assumed I knew nothing about a topic I understood well, but I didn't much care. That is after a whole lifetime of being in school and dealing with men and women of all stripes, so I think the occasional boor is to be expected. The ones who annoy me are the ones who have their facts wrong and can't back up their assertions -- having coasted by on confidence and intelligence, they aren't used to getting contradicted.

What I don't get is the focus on academia -- academics are notoriously pedantic. That's what we signed on for, so why complain?

Seraphic said...

Science Girl, I agree with you. The example that touched off the whole "mansplaining" protest was a man who asked a woman what she was up to. She said she had written a book about someone. He began to tell her there was this great book about that person that she should read, yadda, yadda, talking about it as if he had read it, and not getting that she had written it. Personally I would have been flattered that he had heard of my book and believed reports that it was great and vastly amused that it featured in another example of Men Lying About What They've Read. However, the author turned it into an enormously popular essay.

Well, good for her, I say, but I don't think it will improve the lot of women if we swim about in resentment because there are boors out there. (Boors like Julia's fellow student perfectly distinguishable from guys who prefer Hemingway to Jane Austen.) I read last week that there were no websites that publish hateful bilge about men in the way the PUA sites publish hateful bilge about women. Having read the "Mansplaining" site, I now doubt that although it itself is not as hateful as it is whining. Bad men, boo hoo.

Seraphic said...

Julia, what an annoying experience for you. I wonder how I would have handled it. The only "You know, you should" remark I remember is a chap who said, "You know, if you did something about your clothes and your hair, you could be really quite attractive." Then he was disappointed that I wouldn't go out with him.

Julia said...

Seraphic, was he confused as well as disappointed? THAT would be the icing on the cake.

Another thing about my fellow student was that he seemed to only be like that with me, or with people he perceived to be 'below' him on this imagining totem pole he had in his head. I was the only girl in our subfield at that time, and I doubt he would have been so pushy with the men, even the ones he didn't think much of. The ones he thought much of? Well, he practically wanted to marry them.

Sheila said...

I used to get some mansplaining in college from time to time. Anytime politics came up, men would explain things to me, and I would be half amused and half annoyed that they assumed that they were experts and I knew nothing, when we were the same age and taking the same classes.

Now it never happens, and I credit it to a few things. First, I'm louder about my knowledge and opinions than I used to be, and second I'm more willing to interrupt. It seems when men see someone politely nodding and smiling, they assume this is someone ignorant who is enjoying the lecture .... not someone who is bored to tears but "trying to be nice." I think it's mainly a difference between "male culture" and "female culture" -- men don't try to be nice, and so they don't recognize when someone's doing it to them. When someone is lecturing them, they butt in with, "Actually I wrote a book about that and here's what I think." You can try to teach the men better manners, or you can be ruder, or you can put up with it. Those are pretty much the only options!

A phrase I've learned to use on my husband is, "If you're enjoying telling me about the French Revolution, you can continue, but if you think you are teaching me something, I have actually heard this lecture from you before." Or even, "Feel free to vent about your work day, but I am not actually interested in which books you put on which shelves." It sounds VERY rude to me to say this, but he appreciates the bluntness. He doesn't *want* to be a bore, but the subtle signals don't always work on him so you really do have to be direct.

MaryJane said...

Sheila, I think this is genius! "I think it's mainly a difference between "male culture" and "female culture" -- men don't try to be nice, and so they don't recognize when someone's doing it to them."

This also helps explain why guys often mistake "nice" for "interested," I think. I always just think I'm being nice and attentive, nodding and smiling as a man talks, but it's not infrequent that the same man assumes I must be interested. I've actually had a male friend tell me that if I want it to stop, I have to stop being so nice, but it's really difficult! To me it feels terribly rude not to look someone in the eye and try to be attentive, asking questions as needed, when he/she is talking.

Seraphic, besides the "touch his arm" advice when one is interested, can you make any suggestions for being polite yet indicating "not interested"?

Amused said...

I recall an incident in college (small, Catholic college) where I disagreed with a man in my class. We argued briefly, but intensely. I was certain that I was right, but, as he seemed so sure of himself, and I privately considered him (on abundant evidence) to have a superior intellect to mine, I later questioned one of our professors on the matter. It turns out I was right.... However, when I mentioned the professor's ruling to my fellow student, he responded, "Well, that's just like what Aristotle says about women--you lack authority. You don't have the strength of your convictions. You go running to some man to back you up." I felt that he had adroitly turned the conversation from the subject of dispute and the fact that he had been mistaken in his understanding, to a personal attack on me as a woman.

Nate said...

These are some pretty rude men (and I tried to read the mansplaining site, but it got a bit whiny and negative for me, so I gave up.)

I'm sure I've done some mansplaining in my life, but I can't fathom doing so from the viewpoint that men are superior to women, though I know some who at least claim that (it's hard to know when these people are serious.) I usually do it because I am really interested in something or have studied something that I think people, both men and women, should know about. I actually prefer it when the people I'm conversing with have things to say as well, but as the technical aspects of my field (architecture)aren't well known by my friends, it often sounds like a lecture (or they just get bored when I talk about it all the time...oh well, it's what comes of being really interested in something. You see connections to it everywhere.)

On the other hand, and I don't mean to turn this into a victimhood contest, I have experienced womansplaining too, which typically consists of explaining about emotions, or more often then not, dismissing my knowledge of people's emotions, at least on the deep level that women understand. I usually take this to either be a running joke on gender stereotypes, an insecurity, or a truth. But it isn't the most pleasant thing to have friends basically dismiss my emotional depth and experience.

But I try not to hold it against them too much. The so called "war of the sexes" is too much of a reality currently to want to add to it.

Seraphic said...

I would have said, "What Aristotle knew about women you could stuff up the left nostril of a ladybug and still have room for snot." That's what I would have said.

Amused said...

Seraphic, that is hilarious!

Nathan, I have to agree with you that women can be awfully supercilious about explaining emotions to men. A fallen world.... Also, I appreciated your take on why men might explain things. I do think women tend to jump to the conclusion that there is some kind of misogyny going on, when likely enough it's just that women are more likely to let themselves get roped into listening.

Which is what Sheila said so awesomely, too.

Julia said...

HAHAHA!!! Seraphic, I've never had reason to say that, but I doubt I'd be quick enough to come up with a response like that!

Nate, you are right that women do this too. Mostly what women will do is what has been dubbed 'momsplaining'. There is also 'dadsplaining', and 'parentsplaining' in general, but mums have a monopoly on this one.

Momsplaining is when mothers feel the need to explain the self-evident about children and parenting to non-parents (in particular, childless women).

Sheila said...

Though parents get it from non-parents too! It's incredibly infuriating .... you are at a social event and your child is misbehaving. You cope with it in the way you think is best -- or, well, sometimes you cope with it badly because it's hard to be a perfect parent 24/7, especially under the pressure of people watching -- and there's always someone who's about 20 and did some babysitting here and there to tell you, "You know, if you give in to a tantrum, you'll spoil him" or "The louder your voice gets, the less authority you have." I always want to sock them. They might be right, but if they had any inkling of just how hard it is to follow all the Good Advice out there on how to parent, they would keep their mouths shut. Or perhaps they would make friends with the kid and play with them for a bit. Anything but lecture someone about their vocation, when it isn't yours.