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credit: Kaye Blegvad

‘When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression’

I first heard that quote a couple of weeks ago and it really spoke to me. You see, I am a person who thinks a lot about women’s rights and I am occasionally met with quite hostile responses by some men.

I write about why we need feminism, the structural nature of violence against women, and I ask why only 12% of women think they are attractive (irish times) (and why we are made to believe our ‘beauty’ should even matter!)

I recently read Solnit’s ‘Men explain things to me’ in which she spoke about the concept (that she coined herself) – mansplaining.

Solnit was telling a gentleman about a book she had recently written and he smirked at her smugly ‘did you know a very important book was written on that except same subject recently’

Yes. It had. It was her bloody book you patronising moron.

You know what hurts the most? That Solnit hesitated. An educated, experienced woman who had spent years researching for a book and she didn’t immediately realise this trollop would be talking about her book. She thought ‘oh god how did I miss that a similar book has just come out.’

You see us women are very good at doubting ourselves. In Jess Phillips’ fantastic book called ‘One women’s truth about speaking the truth’ she explained that a woman wouldn’t feel qualified enough to apply for a job even if she met more than 90% of the requirements. Men on the other hand characteristically apply for jobs where they don’t even meet 50% of the criteria.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Confidence is key and there’s no shame in being bold. But there is a reason why women are less likely to put themselves forward, and it comes from the structural ‘shushing’ and underestimation that we receive from a minority of our male peers, which hammers in the ideas that we are ‘frauds’ in the work place and don’t feel we have a right to ask for more, or even want it.

‘Mansplaining’ is a big part of this. Lily Rothman of The Atlantic defines it as “explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman”

Mansplaining isn’t the same as being patronising or rude. It is called ‘mansplaining’ because it is specifically gender-related, ‘rooted in a sexist assumption that a man will normally be more knowledgeable than a woman.’

The patronizing manner of mansplaining crushes any further dialogue.

This phenomenon is something that millions upon millions of women can identify with. It is something that women experience daily. We are constantly faced with the decision of biting our tongues to avoid conflict, or to speak up against the routine silencing of women’s knowledge, which is literally going on all the time.

It doesn’t matter about our age, wealth, career, experiences: women get mansplained to all the time. It is about gender and we have experienced it for thousands of years.

Recently, someone commented on one of my blogs, complaining I was tarring all men with an unfair brush and said he experienced ‘womensplaining’ all the time at work. I’m sorry someone has been rude to him, and it really could be linked to gender, but I would argue that the term ‘womensplaining’ is laughable, and insulting to the millions of women going through mansplaining.

A woman can explain things and she can do it patronisingly. A women can be annoying and rude. A woman can be a pain in the arse.

You know what else? A man can be kind. He can be supportive, uplifting and inspirational. The vast majority of men are wonderful people. But the difference is that the small minority of men who do mansplain and underestimate women, are having a huge impact on so many people through their behaviour.

How many women have avoided using their voice because they knew they’d be laughed at and silenced? It chills me to think.

I believe that ‘womansplaining’ is an inappropriate term that goes to console men who don’t like hearing criticism and shoot back a counter word as a protective shield. Ironically, the men who are less able to accept the idea that women are disadvantaged in society, are the exact people that need to understand the reality.

Us women naturally question ourselves and doubt ourselves more than men, because society has taught us to do exactly that. A little boy will be told he’s showing leadership qualities when a little girl acting the same way will be called bossy.

A woman demanding justice in government is more likely to be called hysterical where a man would be called passionate. There is a systematic ‘shushing’ of women’s voices that needs to be addressed. It’s not just about a person being a bit rude, it’s about illegitimating women’s knowledge and structural disempowerment.

According to the Independent, ‘mansplaining’ can lead to men earning more than women and getting more promotions, and that’s something that all reasonable people want to avoid. (Independent)

The gender pay gap continues to thrive and that isn’t ok. This is largely because society has taught men to ‘overestimate their intelligence to a much greater extent than women” (American Psychological Organization)

I’m not blaming modern men, society has developed to silence women over thousands of years and many men are up to fight this just as much as women and LGBT+ people.

I am saying it’s not ok.

High status politicians and business people continue to be majority men, women continue to take on the majority of caring roles at the expense of their career and free time. We need to acknowledge that there is so much progress still to make, and that mansplaining is one of many means used to disempower and undermine women.

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