Posts Tagged ‘mansplaining’

I’m fond of starting my posts with a hypothetical scenario for demonstration purposes, so let’s have another one here.

Short Version
Woman: I am making a complaint about sexism and misogyny in skepticism.
Man: I am making a disproportionate response.

Long Version
I am noticing more and more often in reading the blogs (and probably in following the videos, although I don’t generally participate in the videosphere but have heard plenty about it) that whenever a woman makes a pretty straightforward point about sexism, there are predictably people–usually men, but not always–who show up to shut her down by flooding her with words. Written words, spoken words, short statements by lots of other people saying the same kind of thing… you’ve seen it. A woman makes a point that is met with a disproportionate response so often that you can almost bank on the inverse relationship between worthiness of the response and its word count. It’s like some sort of Feminist Godwin’s Law without Nazis: The longer the blog comment, the less likely the commenter has anything productive to contribute or is even directly engaging in the point.

Let’s get the exception out of the way so we don’t have to play gotcha in the comments section. Here is an example of a proportionate response:

Woman: I am writing a 1500-word blog post about sexism I have experienced.
Man: I am writing a 1500-word blog post in response to your blog post about sexism you have experienced.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about protesting too much, which takes many forms:



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Misogyny on the Internet has been a very hot topic these past several days, what with the Reddit business I wrote about here and this new business with Penn Jillette and the Tweet written about by Jen McCreight here (“The Straw Woman of the Skeptical Movement), and like all hot topics online it comes with comments. Lots and lots of comments that follow at this point a fairly predictable pattern. Within the first twenty on any well-trafficked blog you’ll probably see someone accused of mansplaining, and someone else objecting to the term, on the basis of not understanding what it actually is or simply not liking the way the word sounds. With that confusion in mind, I drew something up that hopefully illustrates what mansplaining is and is not.

The term “mansplaining”  is a portmanteau of “man” and “explaining.” A definition of the term can be found in a blog post by Karen Healey, “A Woman’s Born to Weep and Fret,” with an excerpt here:

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.

I hope to show with my chart how a conversation, particularly a conversation about sexism, can drift into mansplaining despite the best of intentions. I did do a search for such a chart first and didn’t find anything, so if you know of one better, please send me the link and I’ll include it here. Finally, if the term itself bothers you, get over it. It’s mostly men who do it, and yes, we know that all men don’t. If you don’t do it, it doesn’t apply to you. Just because you are a man and it includes the word “man” doesn’t qualify it as a gross, unfair, mean generalization any more than the term “chick flick” is understood to mean that all women like those kinds of movies–and besides, being called “chick” is way worse than being called “man.”

Clicking on the graphic will display it in a larger size. Enjoy!

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I frequently read a blog called Skepchick, which anyone who is reading this post probably already knows about. The blog covers a wide variety of topics, but two posts this week addressed the kind of thing I address in this blog: Why aren’t more women participating in the skeptical movement? The first, by Heina, pondered the question of the disparity between men and women at skeptical events; the second, by Rebecca Watson, linked to a thread at Reddit that showed an actual real woman being driven out of the actual atheist movement by actual participants in an atheists’ forum. Comments abound, both at Reddit and at each of the posts at Skepchick, and I’ve noticed some common themes among them, mostly from men, regarding the hostile environments women face and what women should do about it:

Theme #1: It’s just how things are because <reason here>.

Theme #2: I hope you realize not all men are like that and that men that are like that make up a very small minority of men.

Let’s tackle each theme in turn.

Theme #1
You know what? Women don’t care. They don’t care why men harass them–they just want them to stop doing it. Perhaps it’s a topic to explore at some point somewhere, but not with women, and certainly not when women are complaining about being harassed. Trying to explain why men behave badly to the women they have behaved badly to is a derailment, and an especially offensive one. What’s the point of bringing it up? Do you expect women to express sympathy for those poor men? Excuse them for their age? Analyze their problems and offer solutions for how the harassing men can be fixed? It’s not their problem to fix. It’s the harassers’ problem to fix. And if their behavior is unacceptable, it’s unacceptable. There’s no point to finding out why in a conversation about how it needs to stop.

If it’s so noteworthy and interesting to learn why the men who are creating hostile environments for women are being hostile–and it probably is, causes and symptoms and all that–then go talk to the men about it. Approach them about their behavior; engage the men in exploratory conversations about why they behave as they do and what their motivations are for harassing women. Work with the men on this problem; solve it with them. Don’t drag women into the morass. They have nothing to do with it. You’re trying to make it better for women to become active skeptics, remember–not give them more stressful and more complicated things to do before they can participate. If you have so much to say about why those raunchy teenagers or those “neckbeards” or those jokesters with a completely disgusting sense of humor make the remarks they do, say it to them.

If you can’t be bothered to confront the people who are actually causing the problem, then keep your mouth shut.

Theme #2
So there’s this concern that women are unable to tell the difference between the horrible men who are harassing them at skeptic and atheist environments and the regular guys who are made to look bad because of it. In fact, it’s such a concern that whenever a woman brings up the topic of abuse and harassment she’s experienced invariably a regular guy will express some worry that when a woman speaks about a group of men doing a horrible thing that she is including him, and that it’s important to criticize the woman for being sloppy with her language, or tarring everyone with the same brush, or making hasty generalizations, and basically being unfair and hurting the feelings of regular guys who would never, ever harass women. He’s sorry that she has been hurt, but he implores her to change her behavior so that she doesn’t make that mistake in the future, because it would hurt the movement if outsiders thought–because of her–that all the men were like this. And he’s not. No! He’s an ally, and he understands how women feel, but really, they better speak more carefully or they’ll ruin everything. And also you should apologize to him for being rude. Because there’s nothing ruder than speaking in general terms.

First of all, really? You think women really can’t tell the difference between a regular guy who is talking to them and a guy making rape jokes to a fifteen-year-old girl who had the nerve to post in an online space? Do you have so little faith in a woman’s ability to tell the difference between individuals and loosely bounded groups that you have to remind her that differences exist? Spare me. If all men in skepticism or atheism “look bad” because a few of them predictably commit grotesque harassment, it’s not because women have generally addressed bad behavior–it’s because a few men are grotesque harassers and the rest of the men let it slide. Not when they are talking with women about the harassment, no–they will roundly denounce all the bad parts and tell women they are on their side, and only slip in at the last moment that pesky bit about being sure to explicitly excuse those good regular guys from their analysis so they don’t look bad by mistake.

You know a better way to avoid looking bad because of the behavior of bad men? Confront the bad men. Tell the men who are harassing women in the skeptical and atheist movements and anywhere else that you are tired of crap like that and that all men get a bad rap when just a small minority behave reprehensibly. Tell the men who supposedly make all men look bad how unfair it is, and how their behavior affects the perception of skeptics and atheists in the larger community. Criticize them for their sloppy language, and their tendency to hurt the feelings of women, and implore them to change their habits and avoid sexist mistakes in the future. Demand apologies from them. They are the ones causing problems–why shouldn’t you call them out for it? Instead of telling women that not all men are harassers, tell men not to harass women. If they do it anyway, make a stink. If they still don’t change, find ways to exclude them.

If you can’t be bothered to confront the people who are actually causing the problem, then keep your mouth shut.

If such a small number of men can have such a negative effect on how women perceive the skeptical and atheist movements, why haven’t you contained them yet? If it’s just a few loudmouth jerks with psychological issues who harass women, why haven’t you taught them better yet? Solve problems by confronting the people who cause them, not by explaining to women why these problems exist and explaining why they have nothing to do with you.

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