So. That last post generated a ton of responses. Some were guesses about the identities of Friends #1 - 4, to which we replied this, this, and this. And this.
A lot of the responses, though, were questions. “Plenty of women explain things in a condescending way, too — is there such a thing as womansplaining?” “Why do you guys hate music?” (We don’t!) “Why do you guys hate men?” (We don’t!) “Why do you guys hate fun?” (WE LOVE FUN. SRSLY. THAT ONE HURT BC FUN IS OUR FAVORITE.)
But we also got a lot of men asking us how they could ensure that they avoid mansplaining in the future. (Hint: if you’re already wondering that, you’re on the right track!) So I asked those same friends for some tips on How Not To Be A Mansplainer that we could all take away from this discussion and here is what they said.
Friend #2: Men should be mindful that women have a ton of experience having their voices silenced. We’re used to not being heard, whether it’s a man explaining to a woman why her opinion about the best album ever isn’t valid, or male politicians explaining what’s best for women and their bodies. The underlying implication in both of these scenarios is that men not only know more than women, but they know more about women than women themselves. I think men need to stop and remind themselves that women can be experts and authorities on any number of subjects. Maybe the woman you’re talking to actually knows more about metal than you. Maybe you should ask her questions and then listen to her answers, rather than talking at her.
I think it’s hard to explained the gendered aspect of mansplaining to men. Because, of course, there are also women who explain things in a condescending way. This might be something that men just have to take our words on. Men: trust women. Trust us when we say that you’re doing something that’s making us uncomfortable. There is literally no reason for us to make up the phenomenon of mansplaining. The cards are already stacked against women, and the last thing we want is to be labeled whiners or weaklings whatever it is that we’re being labeled.
A final word on the above: privilege is usually invisible to the privileged. So, you know, if you’re a man, and you can’t see the way your voice and your opinions are privileged over women’s voices and opinions, that’s not unusual. But you can combat that by paying better attention and making more of an effort to seek out and promote women’s voices.
Friend #4: May we delete whatever lies in the urban dictionary for mansplaining and, in its place, carve in stone [Friend #2]’s Mansplaining Manifesto.
Also, the worst mansplainer I know is a devil’s advocate. Constantly tricking you to say something that maybe you don’t mean in order to prove his power and superiority. Maybe he’s just an asshole, though.
Friend #1: a) A difference between explaining and mansplaining is that if I WANT something explained to me I will ASK. I did not ask you to give me 6 reasons why I should stop using Internet Explorer.
b) Condescension, presumption, and lack of social skills are definitely large factors, but obviously women can have these traits too. I think where gender comes into play is that (especially in discussing music) men speak in a certain way to me that they would never towards another man: steamrolling over what I say, breaking things down to basic levels, or aggressively quizzing me on anything I do add to the conversation. In a broversation, men assume equal footing about each other both in terms of knowledge and in simple ability to participate.
c) I was talking to my coworker about this, who is an art student very involved in the indie and underground punk scenes in Boston. She said that it’s clear to her that the men who talk to her about music/ film/art believe she can only discuss things in terms of an emotional response. So if they ask her why she liked a particular piece, they urge her to respond in terms of technical minutia to prove that she can “think like them” rather than just liking something because it’s pretty or it made her feel good.
Friend #3: So here is my War & Peace version. How to not be a mansplainer? First of all, there’s that famous privilege checklist. There is never a moment when this checklist is not running through my head, and it’s because I face structural inequality all day, everyday, and especially because for the past three years I’ve been living in a place where I have checks and balances of privilege: I’m a white foreigner, but I’m a woman, but in the end the scales tip in favor of me being a white foreigner in a place impacted deeply by white colonialism. I think it’s also probably not a revelation to mention that the usual perpetrators of mansplaining have, in my experience, been straight white men.
Secondly, I was trying to think of concrete examples of men I know who do not mansplain but still engage in meaningful discussion and debate. Here are a few.
1.) Let’s call him “Fred,” because that’s his real name and I see no need for anonymity when it comes to accolades. Fred could be- operative could- be a textbook mansplainer, if he wanted to be. He is a white dude from Portland who has a shitload of knowledge about a shitload of different things: music, linguistics, China, etc. Here is how a conversation with him goes:
Fred: Here is a link to something about Egypt, and I thought it was pretty cool, and I wanted to see what you thought about it!
Me: Here is what I think about it!
Fred knows a lot. He could probably talk about Egypt pretty knowledgeably without ever having lived here, but instead, he defers to his knowledge base (music, linguistics, China) and lets me defer to mine and not only lets me do that, but actively asks me to do that.
2.) Hady is not a white dude. He is an Egyptian-American dude and we argue all the time. Like, every time we hang out there will be a point in the night where I tell him to die in a fire, whether I’ve been drinking of not. Our relationship is very adversarial and I don’t think I even realized I could actually be friends with him until we discovered our shared love of Harry Potter. He is one of my friends who disagreed with my whole stance on the People’s List, in part because he thought I was being catty and in part because he thought I was being too “men are like this and women are like this.” Both fair points. But here is the thing: when we engage in debate, he is not a mansplainer, because he assumes equal knowledge. We can yell “No, YOU are fucking wrong,” but the reason we can yell that at each other is because we have acknowledged that there is a level playing field and that neither of us is an idiot.
3.) Adam and Ryan are white dudes. They should each receive their own accolades but because they are two of my best friends and are also best friends with each other, and also because they have similar discussion styles, I am lumping them in together. Like all the dudes I’ve profiled so far, they are very smart and very opinionated, and you know what else they do? They ask me what I think. Like Fred, they have their specific knowledge bases (music, education policy, Latin America, particle physics) and they know that I have mine and they want to talk about that. Adam in particular, as a physicist, could have every opportunity to be a dick about things-he-knows-that-I-do-not, but he explains things in a way that reminds me of a patient dad more than anything. Also, having been in the sciences and having known women in the sciences, he is hyper-aware and hyper-sensitive to the sexism in that community. Also (and here is a big one) both of these dudes can admit when they are wrong. Like, I will have literally forgotten about an argument we had, and several days later they will say, “Oh, by the way, you were right about that thing we were arguing about. I looked it up.” Humility. That is a thing you need to have when you are engaging in knowledge-based discussions.
These examples are by no means complete, and in the interest of time I’ve left out a lot of other exemplary men (my brothers and dad, to name a few, as well as some male professor-mentors who totally went against the grain in terms of typical teacher-student power dynamics), but they offer a few traits that a non-mansplainer might have: he asks questions (what do you think?), he assumes a level knowledge playing field, he is humble, he is cognizant of his own male privilege.
Friend #1: To oversimplify, I think what we are all describing as non-mansplainers are those who engage us in the conversation and value our opinions or listen to hear us ask for more information rather than just giving it or assuming things about us. Also I also had somehow forgotten the word cognizant, and henceforth on this day (the day of my birthday party!) I will do the following:
1.) use cognizant in every sentence
2.) listen ONLY to grimes
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