I recently discovered a word. Mansplaining. Let me expand:
verb. To explain in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening. The mansplainer is often shocked and hurt when their mansplanation is not taken as absolute fact, criticized or even rejected altogether.
Have you ever been mansplained to? For months now, I have thought that I was alone in this, the only one feeling shut down and patronized. Maybe I really am a crazy radical feminist. Maybe I really am wrong. I certainly don’t know everything, I guess he just happens to know a lot more about what I’m majoring in than I do.
I have learned over the years that I am very confident and outspoken when compared to my female peers. I am that girl that people recognize from their 300 person lectures because I’m always raising my hand. I have to exercise intense control when discussing issues I’m passionate about, because it’s really hard for me to back down. So in that sense, I think that I have a lot to learn when it comes to stepping back, and leaving space for others to speak. And still, I am mansplained to. How many times have I been told that I am being overly emotional, irrational or just too radical for expressing my feminist beliefs?
It makes me think about my incredibly educated and intelligent peers who, when engaging in conversation with very dominant people, will silence themselves. Rebecca Solnit muses that there must be “billions of women out there on this six-billion-person planet being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever.”
She believes that mansplaining “keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; it 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.”
How can we make a space for women in this world when we aren’t taken seriously? How can we fight for equal pay, for reproductive choice, for a right to safety and equity in this world, when we are neither listened to, nor seen as believable? In April, I wrote about street harassment as a means of controlling women’s access to public space. Today, I am writing about how mansplaining asserts that public debate and opinion are not women’s space either. How for every belief we try to push, we first have to convince the world that we are worth listening to in the first place.
Solnit argues that women often have to fight two battles: the struggle to get their beliefs and agenda across, and the struggle to simply be taken seriously. This election season is a wonderful example of this, where women’s reproductive rights are over and over being defined and threatened by men, whether through the idea of legitimate rape, an all male panel on birth control regulation, or Romney’s promise to overturn Roe v. Wade.
So, the next time a man rephrases your perfectly constructed explanation of something, or begins to tell you something you obviously know, or interrupts you, say something. Politely ask him to listen, and pay him the same respect. And women, let’s be aware of this among ourselves as well. Let’s listen, and not shut our sisters down. Let’s assume that everyone is the perfect witness to their own life, and remember that there are multiple truths. My personal goal is to hear all of these truths, and to respect all for whom they are true.