Mansplaining


I probably don’t have much to add that hasn’t been said before about mansplaining, but I’m always amazed how many people don’t know the term. However, most people (women) I know *do* recognize the behavior. It happens to me every day at work, in a male-dominated industry. Because part of what I live for is calling people out on privilege they are not aware of, I’m writing this post. And because another thing I live for is waking people up to internalized oppression. Like women who shut up when the man is talking. I also want to draw a straight line to the more extreme forms and effects of mansplaining. They are not negligible.

What is Mansplaining?

The Urban Dictionary has several definitions of mansplaining, but I like this one from Karen Healey:

Mansplaining isn’t just the act of explaining while male, of course; many men manage to explain things every day without in the least insulting their listeners. 

Mansplaining is when a dude tells you, a woman, how to do something you already know how to do, or how you are wrong about something you are actually right about, or miscellaneous and inaccurate “facts” about something you know a hell of a lot more about than he does.

Bonus points if he is explaining how you are wrong about something being sexist!

Think about the men you know. Do any of them display that delightful mixture of privilege and ignorance that leads to condescending, inaccurate explanations, delivered with the rock-solid conviction of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation?

That dude is a mansplainer.

…………

Shakesville’s post on mansplaining gives links to some of the best posts on the topic and lists of examples (see for example Zuska’s “You Might Be A Mansplainer If…” post). SMK explains her take on why gender-neutral terms don’t work in this case, and raises the societal factors that lead to it. (Karen Healey also discusses this here.)

Mansplainer even made the NY Times list of the best new words of 2010 … Though of course the concept is not new. In 2008, Rebecca Solnit wrote an op-ed in the LA Times called “Men Who Explain Things“.

Solnit tells of an event where a man pontificated to her about a “very important book” that came out on the subject she had written about… And simply wouldn’t hear the many times it was pointed out to him that Solnit had indeed written that “very important book”… Which it turns out he hadn’t even read, just saw in the NYT Book Review.

Solnit writes that in her experience, this type of behavior is gendered.

“Men explain things to me, and to other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men. Every woman knows what I mean. 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.”

Internalized Oppression

Almost every post on the topic is accompanied by the writer’s experience in giving into self-doubt when faced with the Man Who Explains. It took Solnit a while to realize there wasn’t really another “very important book” out there — she was willing to doubt herself, if even for just a while. Jennifer Ouellette, a science writer, also faced a learning curve in taking control of mansplaining attempts, because of course, she’s “just a girl” so what can she know about physics?

These are not isolated incidents. Samhita, in Feministing, writes that part of mansplaining is that when you are confronted with even blatant sexism, you are made to believe you are imagining it. She gives a list of several types of statements/responses that can help you spot mansplaining, including:

This is not a big fucking deal: AKA, we have more important things to worry about. Yes, there is sexism out there, but this is hardly an example of it…

I need more evidence: AKA, I think you are imagining that you experienced sexism, but maybe you can prove it to me. Get in your defensive position, and I’ll be the judge… And here are all the reasons maybe that wasn’t really sexism (maybe the guy was just an asshole, not a misogynist)…

You were “just kidding”: AKA, you feminists have no sense of humor. I know all about sexism, you are just not able to appreciate my “highly nuanced, deeply political humor”.

You find one woman to claim you are not sexist: AKA, if a woman agrees with me, it doesn’t matter how many women I actually offended.

The list goes on…
(Note that the list is Samhita’s, the definitions are my own interpretation of what she wrote.)

It’s All About Privilege

Fannie, of FanniesRoom, writes:

The mansplainer’s problem isn’t so much that he’s trying to teach a woman something, but rather that he takes it as a given that she doesn’t already know whatever it is he is going to tell her. 

As someone who lives life as a female human, the sheer numbers of women in comment threads who have recounted experiences of Being Mansplained To is not at all surprising. Despite my general competence at life, dudes mansplain things to me all the time. 

The thing is, no man who does this is consciously thinking — I am a man, therefore I know more than this woman who has written books/gotten degrees/just lectured on this subject. The thing with privilege is that when you say “people” the default person is a man. In the US, he is a white man. So the default [i.e., correct] attitude is that of a white man. Any explaining that comes from that privileged status to someone is not of that privileged status, has a risk of being ___splaining. Like mansplaining to women, there is also whitesplaining between whites and people of color.

Whereas whitesplaining is the result of the white experience being “normed,” mansplaining, is the logical result of males possessing the privilege whereby they are largely assumed to be both default human beings and automatically competent at life. If white people and men, and especially white males, are not aware of this, they are incredibly likely to wrongly assume themselves to be more competent than women and people of color at pretty much everything, up to and including what it means to live as a female or person of color in society.

Here is another good example of mansplaining from Jill in I Blame the Patriarchy. (We all love it when guys tell us why we’re wrong, and if we disagree with them, it is probably because we don’t understand, and if we “honestly” disagree with them, we really aren’t feminists. Because *they* know feminism better than we do…)

The Consequences

In addition to silencing women and making it difficult for them to be heard (and therefore advance, or even enter) in their own fields of expertise, and in addition to women being socialized not to make a fuss about it, the basic attitude at the heart of mansplaining has significant ramifications.

It is the attitude that what women have to say is unimportant, or even worse — unreliable, that is at the heart of various practices that harm women directly. For example, in Saudi Arabia women may not testify in court. In the rare cases they are permitted to, their testimony is deemed “non-factual”. This is particularly onerous if a woman is the victim of a crime, or if she is raped, as the perpetrator’s testimony is deemed more reliable than hers, so she must have male witnesses to the crime, and how often does that happen?

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So every time a guy “gets” it, I feel a small sliver of hope. Here’s one who does: http://roboseyo.blogspot.com/2011/05/let-me-tell-you-about-mansplaining-ill.html.

Thursday Round-Up

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A genderqueer love story; A 13 year-old girl who knows more about slut-shaming and why it’s wrong than almost any adult I know; Pink tanks;  Transgender Israeli man gives birth; Why you should buy girl scout cookies; Metonymy; Who’s the queerest of the queer?
It’s another Thursday Round-Up!
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From the Queer Blogosphere

Israeli Transgender Man Gives Birth

Yuval Topper-Erez is the first Israeli transgender man to give birth. Congratulations to him, his spouse, and their baby Lyrrie!

Girls Scout Cookie Boycott?

There are plenty of reasons why I’m not a fan of the Girl Scouts or their cookies… But right now, I want to buy a case!

This girl scout wants to boycott the Girl Scouts cookie fundraiser because some divisions allow transgender girls to be members. She attempts to find a basis in girl scout values like honesty — the thesis being that girls and parents are being lied to, and that transgender girls are actually boys who decided they want to be girls… Well, watch for yourself.

Edit: The video seems to have been removed — perhaps because of all the hackles it raised? I hope so! But you can still see who and what is behind it, and get a full nauseating look at their agenda at the Honest Girl Scouts website.


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Some good response videos here and here. And this one by a queer former girl scout →
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(And someone needs to explain to Huffington Post that transgender is NOT gay)

Queerer Than Thou

I love this comedy, which aims to answer the age-old question —
Who’s the queerest of them all? (Which is all eerily familiar…)

(“I’m so queer, I’m beyond identity politics…” 🙂 )

Genderqueer love story

A poem.

Discovery of the Week

Activist Language

I love learning new stuff. Here are two words I was not familiar with before:

Microaggression: The idea that specific interactions between those of different races, cultures, or genders can be interpreted as non-physical aggression.

Type Definition
Microassault An explicit derogation characterized primarily by verbal or nonverbal attack meant to hurt the intended victim through name calling, avoidant behavior, or purposeful discriminatory actions.
Microinsult Characterized by communications that convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person’s racial/cultural/gender heritage or identity
Microinvalidation Characterized by communications that exclude, negate, or nullify a person’s psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality.

Metonymy: A figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept. For instance, “Hollywood” as used to represent the American movie industry. Or, “The pen is mightier than the sword”, whereas “pen” represents the written word, and “sword” represents physical force.

While not necessarily a political/activist term, I learned it in this context. It’s dangerous to send me on Google searches to discover why a feminist-orientalist-activist-academician-Facebook-friend of mine used it in a political argument… I came up with a whole new way to look at how we use words in our political discourse. For example, this academic paper explores how the Bush administration used metaphorical and metonymical references to create solidarity (with “The American People”) and distance (from “The Iraqi People).

But you don’t need to delve into high-level academics to understand this: Just think about the automatic substitutions we do every day. Can you spot the difference in these (made-up) headlines?

  1. Russia Plans War With Japan
  2. Russian Premier, Sergei Doe, Opines That War With Japan Is Inevitable.

Think about how that changes our perception of what we read and hear.

Gender & Socialization

Fotoshop by Adobé

This video by Jesse Rosten has gone mega-viral, but just in case you haven’t seen it — it’s a must!

**This commercial isn’t real, and neither are society’s standards of beauty.**

13 Y.O. Explains Why Slut Shaming Is Wrong

I love this girl — I can’t believe she’s thirteen! Most adults I know cannot reason this well, and don’t know as much.

.

MRI Scan of Female Orgasm

You know what it feels like… Do you know what it looks like? Really, science knows so little about it. Have you any idea how many sections of your brain light up?

To me — this is BEAUTIFUL.

 

Random 

And just because it’s fun – Art Cars!

Feminist Art Car — Vain Van

Peacenik Art Car — Ping-Pong VW

Make Afghans, Not War

http://artcar.blogspot.com/

http://www.braball.com/MoreArt/artcars.htm

……..

Thursday Round-Up

It’s another round-up! Today: gender & bullying, gender & socialization, little girl rant, penis mom, tropes, and did I mention a new favorite blog? If you don’t think this one is crazy brilliant, you can get your money back.

Queer Politics

Psychiatry in Israel 2011: Homosexuality is a disease that can be cured

Some forty years after the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders, and 20 years after its removal from the WHO IC-10 list, an Israeli psychiatry reference book (university textbook) describes homosexuality as a disease treatable by conversion therapy.

Gender & Bullying

Here is one amazing teacher’s approach to preventing gender bullying.

And together with that – because boys are still more important: Anti-bullying campaigns and the erasure of sexism.

And an interesting note: When I was putting this post together I went to Google to look for images. I started with “gender bullying”. I got images of girls bullying boys, and some of girls bullying girls. Some of the boys looked genderqueer to me, and I thought that might be a good angle – so I went looking for genderqueer images. But losing focus on the erasure of sexism bothered me. So this time, I looked up “boy bullying girl”. Again, I got lots of images of girls bullying boys, and a few of girls bullying girls.

In the end, I could not find one single image that was real, or even real-looking, of a boy (or boys) bullying a girl. Not one.
(Just some cutesy braid-pulling stock images).

Truly, it seems that boys never harass girls. Must’ve been a figment of my imagination. And that girls are the only bullies out there [puke icon].

Gender & Socialization

Socialization of little girls: 

One little girl’s rant about girl stuff and boy stuff:
(Riley for prez…!)

And women’s socialization: 

Culture & Media

The weekly Trope:

This week, three “queer” tropes that particularly annoy me.

Sweeps Week Girl on Girl Kiss

This one is actually losing steam these days, but remember what happened when Roseanne kissed Sharon?

Sorry, I’m Gay

Though meant to be gender neutral, it’s usually a guy trying to get away from a girl. When two women are together, somehow that doesn’t deter men – they just ask for a threesome.

I saw just this scenario on Rizzoli & Isles (please don’t ask why I was watching that…). Three notes: Indeed, used by a woman. But — they were extremely uncomfortable about it, squirmy, and inexplicit. So they “hugged”. Meh. Then — predictably — the guy (soul mate?) asked for a threesome.

Token Lesbian

The token lesbian in a cast of gay men

Blog Pick of the Week

Best for last? Check out this blog. You will not regret it!

Hyperbole and a half

Some of my favorite posts:

God of Cake

Party

This Is Why I’ll Never Be An Adult

.

 

Thursday Round-Up

Personal and work pressures make it difficult to be as focused as I’d like on my pet topics. But these great blogs and articles keep coming my way, so I thought I’d share some. If it works out I’ll do it regularly.

Gender Violence

Dear Abby, Thank You for Saving My Life

December 6 was Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, held each year on the anniversary of the 1989 École Polytechnique Massacre, where 14 young women were killed for being women.

In this moving post, Marvelist shares her own story and her thoughts on Canada’s decreasing support for gender equality.

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an annual international campaign that runs from November 25, International Day Against Violence Against Women, to December 10, International Human Rights Day. Over 2000 organizations in 154 countries have participated in the campaign.

I wanted to post this before the 16 days were over… Oh well. It’s worth noting anyway.

  • Nobel Women’s Round-UpIf you click on nothing else, DO check out the Nobel Women’s Initiative 16 Days of Activism blog: Each day features another amazing woman activist from a different part of the world: Palestine and Israel and the Congo and Iran and South America… Well, there are a lot of amazing women out there!!

  • And here is a great initiative that runs during the 16 days, aimed at encouraging girls and women to take control of technology and end violence.
    Take Back The Tech
From The Queer Activist Blogosphere

The Social Justice League’s blog post Fauxgress Watch: “Born This Way” examines why it is actually detrimental to queer folk to use the argument “we were born this way” or “being queer is not a choice!” as a justification for seeking rights/equality.

Nobel Peace Prize Winners

Of course, I had several tearful moments watching three women accept the Nobel Peace Prize. Women from areas fraught with violence, who were brave enough to find their personal power, raise their voices, become leaders, and make a change.

Heifer International – an organization committed to ending hunger and poverty – opine that these three women can start a movement.

Culture & Media

Deconstructing the Bechdel test

Ana Mardoll discusses what the Bechdel test is actually for.

Rethinking the Strong Female Character

Feminist literary blog Canonball’s thought-provoking post on why we might want to rethink what Hollywood considers to be strong female characters.

The weekly Trope

I will love and/or curse my lovely friend L. forever for getting me hooked on TV Tropes. Today’s trope: Abuse Is Okay When It Is Female On Male

And of course, the “shocking” discovery that rapists and men’s magazines sound suspiciously alike

An investment manager’s email asking for a second date 

This email had me laughing out loud in my office. There are a LOT of responses, but so many of them are just so hysterical it’s worth scrolling around a while.

In Israel

Israeli former president, Moshe Katsav, finally begins his prison sentence for rape!

This New Yorker blog post gives a quick history of the case.

How our fearless leaders REALLY see women (without their uniforms!!)

But sexism is still rife at the top of Israel’s government and military, as evidenced by the “joke” – caught on tape – in which Defense Minister Ehud Barak and army Chief of Staff Benny Ganz objectify female soldiers and one of the minister’s own media team. These two senior men then threaten the press if they release the tape.

Murder of Mustafa Tamimi

I began this as an item in my roundup, and it grew, and grew… So this horrible episode got its own post.

The Lolita Effect (Lessons for Girls series)

What do you think of thongs for 10-year-olds with slogans like “eye candy”? Underwear for teens with “Who needs credit cards…?” written across the crotch? Tini-Bikinis for toddlers? High heels for 5-year-olds?

~**~

Last week I wrote about what Disney princesses teach little girls, and it’s pretty scary. Except that this is only one of a multitude of ways in which little girls are socialized to be partners in their own objectification. Examples include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Teaching girls that it is more important to be pretty than to be smart (or successful/independent/fill-in-your-positive-value-here).
  • Sexualizing girls from a young age
  • Silencing. Girls are taught to avoid confrontation (so they have trouble saying and meaning NO). They are taught to please. They are taught that their role is to nurture others (often at their own expense). They are taught to apologize for having opinions. They are taught to be comfortable in support positions/the back row.

Each of these can be broken down into sub-categories, and I could probably happily spend my life writing a dissertation on each of them if I had the time and resources. Alas, all I have is this blog, but hey, that’s what I started it for. I have a feeling that I can’t begin to do justice to any of the topics in a mere paragraph, so I’ll do a separate post for each.

Part 1: The Lolita Effect, and sexualization of girls in the mainstream media.

In her book, The Lolita Effect, M. Gigi Durham, Ph.D., discusses what pop culture, and especially advertising, teaches young girls and boys about sex and sexuality. She defines five myths that are ingrained in this culture, which make up the Lolita Effect:

  • Girls don’t choose boys, boys choose girls–but only sexy girls
  • There’s only one kind of sexy–slender, curvy, white beauty
  • Girls should work to be that type of sexy
  • The younger a girl is, the sexier she is
  • Sexual violence can be hot

She talks about how the mass media undermines girls’ self-confidence, condones female objectification, and tacitly fosters sex crimes. (Here is an in-depth interview.)

I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of this – but how closely are we watching? Little girls are increasingly portrayed in mainstream media and advertising in a sexualized way, and treated as consumers of a sexualized self-image.

Remember in the late 70s early 80s all the controversy around Brooke Shields? At the age of TEN she was photographed by Gary Gross (via Playboy Press) in a series meant to “reveal the femininity of prepubescent girls by comparing them to adult women”.

Later, at the age of twelve, she triggered another media frenzy when she portrayed a child prostitute in the movie Pretty Baby. The movie included four Shields nude scenes (note: the original version of the movie with these scenes is no longer available; today’s version on DVD has edited out the nudity).

And later yet, at the age of fifteen, Shields let us know on national television, in no uncertain terms that “nothing comes between me and my Calvins”. Hard to interpret that in a non-sexualized way.

    

The thing is that back then, this still stirred controversy. Brooke Shields was not in any way mainstream. Let’s take a look at some of what’s being presented to little girls *these* days:

In 2006, UK supermarket chain Tesco marketed this in their online TOYS AND GAMES section with the words:Peekaboo Pole Dance Set

“Unleash the sex kitten inside…simply extend the Peekaboo pole inside the tube, slip on the sexy tunes and away you go!”

“Soon you’ll be flaunting it to the world and earning a fortune in Peekaboo Dance Dollars”.

The store subsequently removed it from the toy section and repackaged it as a “fitness accessory”, but continued to deny that it was sexually oriented. However, Tesco continued to face public outrage due to padded bras and other sexy items it marketed to young girls.

Other UK chains that targeted sexy clothes and underwear to pre-teens include M&S, ASDA, and Argos, while US retailers Walmart, and Abercrombie & Fitch also marketed push-up bras, padded bras, and thongs to girls as young as six years old. French Jours Apres Lunes markets lingerie for pre-teens. And have I mentioned Tini-Bikinis for toddlers?

Major UK retailers have since signed on to a government guideline banning such items for children under twelve (12-year-olds can still be sexualized freely). A&F, on the other hand, were pretty happy with the publicity they received (they eventually removed the word “push-up” but left “padded”).

Whether or not public pressure is applied on a case-by-case basis, there is still a very clear truth being outlined here: That there is a MARKET for this. This article suggests that 30% of clothing sold to girls is sexualized. And much has been written on how girls’ Halloween costumes are increasingly sexualized.

The fashion world hasn’t missed out on the party. This ten-year-old model featured in French Vogue in lipstick, high heels, and provocative poses has become the darling of fashion if not of parents:

Finally, lest anyone think that all this is objectionable from “merely” an ideological perspective, or that parents are being “moralistic” when they oppose this, the American Psychological Association concluded in their 2010 task force report that sexualization negatively affects girls and young women across a variety of health domains:

  • Cognitive and Emotional Consequences: Sexualization and objectification undermine a person’s confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety.
  • Mental and Physical Health: Sexualization is linked with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women – eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.
  • Sexual Development: Sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls’ ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.

Read the full report here.