By now you’ve almost certainly heard the term “mansplainer.” The word is used to describe the thing where some men automatically think they know more about certain things than women and feel compelled to share whatever limited knowledge they have on a subject with any woman who has the misfortune of being in a conversation them. It’s as if women are maidens in need of information and men are wardens of information roaming the land looking to explain things. I think they truly believe that whatever opinion they hold on a matter is the “correct” one and they want to make sure that the people, especially women, are blessed with hearing it.
The word “mansplain” makes a lot of people angry because they don’t believe that being a know-it-all is a gender trait. And it’s true, not all men do it! But the overwhelming majority of people who condescendingly explain something to women, especially something the woman happens to know quite a bit about, are men. Bloviators tend to be male. Sorry, but true.
A perfect example of the “mansplaining” phenomenon is what happened to Hilary Scarsella, an expert in religion, psychological trauma, and sexual and gender-based violence. She holds two masters degrees and is completing a Ph.D. in Theological Studies. According to Bored Panda, she was invited to speak at a conference last year to speak about these issues.
She was sitting in the airport waiting for her flight back home, enjoying a conversation with a (male) friend she’d made at the conference when another man joined them and felt the need to bestow upon this expert his opinions on the subject of theology. But in the end, it was Scarsella’s friend who stepped in to illustrate to the guy just where he went wrong.
In a lengthy Facebook post, Scarsella wrote:
Story time. I’m at the airport, working on my laptop, sitting near a guy I just met at a conference this weekend. He and I were both invited speakers, and he was waiting for his flight home too. Another guy comes and sits across from us. He starts talking. He is talking a lot. He finds out we were speakers at a conference about trauma, theology, sexual abuse, and the church. He thinks this is really interesting. He’s into theology and trauma. He asks what my degrees are in. He launches into explaining his belief that everything happens for a reason, that the universe is filled with forces that even out all wrongdoing, that everyone is where they are supposed to be at all times, that something good comes from each thing that is bad, and so on. I listen and ask him questions and let him know kindly that I disagree. Did slavery happen for a reason? Has the Native American genocide been evened out? Was that woman really supposed to be in the room where she was raped? We argue. He works hard to show me that he is right. I look at my laptop. My work is not getting done. I say “I understand your perspective and I disagree.” He reiterates his points and then says, “It was great talking to you, I’m gonna go catch my flight!”
Then this brilliant thing happened. My new friend leaned forward as airport guy was about to walk away, and he said, “Dude, you missed an opportunity. You had an expert in theology and trauma sitting in front of you. You say you’re interested in these things but you didn’t ask her a single question. You didn’t try to learn anything at all from her. You know she has advanced degrees and is published but you just tried to show her that you know more about her work than she does. You missed out. Big fail, man.”
I’m sure I didn’t remember that verbatim, but I think the quote is pretty close.
The guy got uncomfortable and tried to defend himself, but my new friend and I smiled and shook our heads. Nope, we weren’t having it. Then, the guy sat back down and asked me to “teach him” for 5 minutes before he went to board his plane. He was trying to make it right. I smiled and said no thank you, I didn’t want to be put on the spot or responsible for him missing his flight (which had been boarding for 15 minutes). My new friend added, “No, man, you gotta live with the consequences of your mistake. Time’s up.”
We each said a pleasant goodbye, waved, and the guy went off to his gate.
This was (for me, in this particular situation) an awesome experience of a man (my new friend) using his male privilege to call bs on another man’s (airport guy) entitlement and sexism in a way that redirected power and dignity, and honestly, needed emotional energy back to me. When he spoke up, my body relaxed. My new friend wasn’t the least bit concerned about hurting airport guy’s feelings or making him uncomfortable. He was concerned about interrupting men’s patterns of lowkey dominating women. I found his priorities startling and refreshing. They made the physical space I was in change. It went from hostile space to safe(er) space in the time it took to speak a sentence. The ease with which my new friend expressed his priorities signaled a long term, practiced commitment to not only holding them in his mind but to embodying them as well. I wish I encountered this more often. My new friend shouldn’t get accolades. I’m not writing this to praise him or put him in some kind of weird male savior position. His priorities should be normal and interrupting sexism should be mundane. But they’re not, so. Here we are.
Menfolk, will you please make this happen more often? I could get by on half the energy it currently takes me to exist in the world if y’all would each take on one or two airport guys a month.
In earnest, though. I hope this might be a helpful example for those looking to build habits of supporting women and challenging sexism. This isn’t the only way to do it but it’s one way that worked today.
As she said, the point of the story wasn’t just that this one man was good for pointing out to the stranger what an opportunity he’d missed, it’s that more men should be calling out blatant sexism like this. If you were around someone being racist, you’d definitely call them out, right? So why isn’t it the same for sexism?
Even the stranger sitting back down and saying, “I have 5 minutes, teach me” is sexist, because he clearly doesn’t value her time and thinks that she’ll just jump at the chance to explain her life’s work to someone in 5 minutes in an airport. No thanks, dude.
The comments under Scarsella’s Facebook post are full of people arguing about whether or not “mansplaining” is a thing.
What do you think?
h/t: Bored Panda