Let’s get this off the table right now: Not all men and not all explanations from men. Some of my best friends are men; men with information, men whose explanations are helpful, entertaining, and wise.
But this is a post about mansplaining nonetheless.
My twelve-year-old daughter and I had a long talk today in the car about old men explaining things to us. She and I share an extremely low tolerance for mansplaining behavior, yet we love talking about it. It’s like passing a terrible roadkill. It’s awful. But damn. Too awful not to look.
A few examples of times I got ‘splained:
- A man at one of my readings for my fantasy book kept me from talking to anyone else for a long time during his fuzzy explanation that women write fantasy books sometimes.
- A man at another of my readings for my latest novel explained to me that The Ghost Daughter isn’t about the female main characters at all, but about the homeless man that’s on a total of two pages. He hadn’t read the book. Didn’t plan to.
- When he heard I was a teacher, one man explained to me all about the problems in education and kids these days and standards, and if you are wondering if he had experience as a father or a teacher or in any capacity in schools or with children, the answer is no. No, he didn’t.
- When he heard I was a writer, a man explained to me all about how writers really are. The explanation went on for a while. He wasn’t a writer. But he did read something Stephen King said in an interview about writing, so he knew.
I have dozens of examples. There are a lot of men who want to explain to me the real deal on things they know nothing about, especially if it’s something I know a great deal about. Like my own stories. Or teaching.
(To the one guy out there right now thinking I’m picking on dudes, I’m telling you I tried to think of a time a woman with no experience or information sought to explain to me what I didn’t already know about my own areas of expertise. My daughter and I both tried. We could not think of one example in either of our experiences. And besides that, I already said not all men. Although if you’re getting mad, probably you.)
Several of my posts on this blog, in fact, have been met with comments hundreds of words long from men I don’t know who are dying to correct me on my own personal stories. I find it painful but fascinating to read them at the same time. I always wonder if the comments could be jokes, but I honestly don’t think they are.
I don’t publish these comments because I am embarrassed for the commenters. They’ve exposed themselves as horrible mansplainers and even though I don’t know them, I want to protect them. They’ve flashed their mansplain in private, which is bad enough. No need for public shaming from me.
In fact, every time I have found myself in a conversation either in person or online with a man who has no information but lots of opinions, I have been kind. It is highly unlikely that any of those men will recognize themselves here. They all walked away from their conversations with me seeming to feel quite satisfied. I nodded and said uh-huh. I thanked them for their insights. I backed away with a smile.
Good manners are important. Clueless people are sad. No need to cause a fuss.
Except that my daughter is watching. She was at that fantasy reading of mine with the man who spent fifteen minutes explaining to me that women write fantasy sometimes. I’d forgotten about him, but she was the one who told me to add him to this post as an example.
My daughter saw me watch out of the corner of my eye as friends I really wanted to talk to left the event while I let myself be held captive by this one male stranger just because I wanted to be polite. I’m sorry I was so polite. I should have cut him off, cut him loose, maybe just cut him. No, not that last one. Actual violence is wrong.
But so is cutting myself down to size so that someone else can feel big. I would hate for my daughter to reduce herself in the ways I have, even for fifteen minutes.
If you still don’t see what I mean, I’ll leave you with this Tweet by astronaut Jessica Meir that met with a mansplainer who one time went to space camp:
Yeah, I know I said I don’t believe in public humiliation, and yet here I am helping to publicize a mansplaining gaffe that has already appeared on a whole bunch of online news sources. Thank you so much for reminding me of what I said. I so appreciate your insight.
- Whatever your gender, list the times you were in conversations where you felt trapped, annoyed, or condescended to. What do you wish you said?
- List a recent conversation when you could have been a better listener.
- What are you an expert on? List your areas of expertise.
- If you are a parent, what are some things you hope your children learn from the way you act?