And I’m not taking about Alison or Karen, who really have explained some very important things to me. Nor am I talking about women who take time and make the effort to explain something or how to do something, even if I may know better than they do, because it is a generous impulse, they are truly trying to help me, not patronize (or in this case, matronize) me – as are most men who explain things to women. (Although that may be coming to an end. I suppose we’ll start seeing articles now about how “men are failing to mentor women”.
First, a note about “mansplaining”, since this is a post about femsplaining. Rebecca Solnit wrote the essay Men Explain Things to Me” that is the basis of the term “mansplaining.” This is how she described it: “I’d been joking about writing it for years. Men explaining things to me had been happening my whole life. The infamous incident I described — in which a man talked over me to explain a Very Important Book he thought I should read that it turns out I wrote — happened five years earlier in 2003.” In other words, this is about a man being so arrogant as to say what he thinks of something assuming she knows less than he does. An article in the New Statesmen describes the conversation Solnit had that sparked her essay:
“Thanks to the lead essay in this collection by Rebecca Solnit, I knew that I wasn’t alone in being patronised in this intriguingly gendered way. Men Explain Things to Me begins with the writer in Aspen at the home of an “imposing man who’d made a lot of money”. Hearing that she is an author, the man asks, “in the way you encourage your friend’s seven-year-old to describe flute practice”, what her books are about. She begins to tell him about her latest work, on Eadweard Muybridge, but he cuts her off: “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?” She and her friend try in vain to tell him that it’s her book he’s talking about. But he carries on, “with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority”. When her friend finally communicates the idea that a woman could have written the book the Very Important Man liked so much, it transpires he has not even read it, just read about it in the New York Review of Books. He turns ashen.”
So that’s what mansplaining is. It’s offering information in a patronizing way. Femsplaining is something much more destructive. Femsplaining is the tendency so many women have of explaining men’s own experiences to them or “correcting” them on what their experiences really are. It’s a woman explaining to a man what he actually said. Mansplaining is patronizing; femsplaining is manipulative and controlling. Femsplaining is a form of gaslighting. We see this all the time in the discussion of gender where a man will say something and a feminist will swoop in to “correct” him on this or that subtlety of gender, because what would he know about his own life after all?
Probably every man has experienced this at one time or another. Here are some common examples – in no particular order or comprehensiveness.
MGM: Those of us who have been commenting on threads about infant circumcision – I don’t even need to specify that it’s about infant boys, do I? – have seen all the althoughs and howevers when the subject comes up, about how it’s nowhere as much of an injury or a deprivation as FGM is, about how unlike FGM it’s not intended to diminish men’s sexual pleasure (this part is completely false, and easy to research, so they have no excuse.) and most disgustingly and monstrously, about how MGM is a means to prevent cervical cancer and that justifies it, or it just “looks better.” Amy Schumer has the witless nerve to opine about circumcision, saying foreskins are gross. Tell us all about it, Beef Curtain. (So you don’t like it when it’s turned around. The simple truth is that the procedure is depraved when it’s done on a non-consenting person and her support of it is depraved too.
Rape: Rape is supposedly a woman’s issue and men should “be good allies” at best. The fact that women rape boys all the time, that female rapists are only rarely prosecuted and if convicted serve much less time and are often not even registered as sex offenders – well, that’s just misogyny, even to say such things. And watch the fireworks when the subject of false rape accusations comes up. There are no false rape accusations, “why would a woman lie about such a thing?”; and anyway the man whose life has been destroyed, and sometimes ended, isn’t really suffering so it’s no big issue and just an attempt to derail the conversation away from painting women as the only victims and the only ones with anything valid to say on the subject. It’s basically sociopathy as a social norm. The other sociopathy is how so many feminists have shut male rape victims down. They are not alone in this, not by a long shot, but they are alone in claiming some kind of moral high ground on the stinking corpse that is their sanctimony and high-mindedness.
Then there is the plain old pig ignorance of some of these commenters on male anatomy and sexual response. How can you have sex with a sleeping man – how would he get hard? How can it be rape? He consented, right, he got hard. And besides, guys just always want it, right? And if they don’t they’re just faggots and woman haters, right?
Abortion: We see the same thing when abortion comes up. It’s a woman’s issue pure and simple and men can just shut up. This is true as far as bodily autonomy is concerned, so it’s only half true and a half truth is a whole lie. Abortion is a reproductive issue and in this species – we’re dioecious – reproduction involves and requires both a male and a female parent. Making abortion all about bodily autonomy and ignoring its reproductive aspect reflects a weirdly sub-adult way of looking at the issue. I happen to think just from a practical point of view women have to have the right to abort, if only because who wants an unwilling mother anywhere around their child?
Parenting: A lot of women think they are the experts on parenting and take great offense if you don’t agree. They insist that women are more nurturing and caring while men are self-centered. (Apparently they’ve never had a high maintenance wife to keep mollified.) They deny that men develop a hormonal bond with their infants, though this is now a matter of settled science (And here let me just say that I have no respect for people’s comfortable anti-scientific superstitions – paternal bonding is a biochemical reality, the world was not created in six days, Joseph did not build the pyramids to store grain, get over it.) This feeds and proceeds from traditionalist narratives that inform family law in in practice and sometimes in statute, in a seamless feedback loop. This is where punitive and exclusionary attitudes about child custody, child support and visitation come from . This is the attitude that the children are really just an extension of the mother so after the divorce their relationship with their father is severed just as hers is – completely narcissistic and widely accepted.
Included in this are sneering assertions that fathers only want equal parenting so they can get their CS payments lowered. (Well then, does that mean that mothers only want full custody so they can reap full CS payments?) This is mind-reading and mind-reading is a denial of subjectivity, which Martha Nussbaum lists as a form of objectification. Also included are claims that men just want to screw women and then hit the wind. That’s dehumanizing and disrespectful, and I see no reason to respect it or the people who dehumanize and disrespect me and other men. A
s a digression while we’re on the subject of mind-reading, all this bloviation by feminist theorists and Religious Right types on pornography and how it teaches men to devalue women and contributes to “rape culture” is dehumanizing and objectifying – as well as being a disingenuously narrow and selective in its circumscription of pornography. For one thing it ignores gay porn, which involves no women at all and says not a thing about them. For another it ignores women’s viewing of gay porn. (Which I find very positive and even at least a little flattering.) For another it ignores women’s use of porn in the form of romance novels. It is dishonest, bad faith argumentation.
Gay men and homophobia: If I had a dime for every time I have heard a feminist, usually a woman, opine that homophobia is really misogyny, Bill Gates would be my driver. Homophobia is supposedly “femmephobia”, an opinion you can only form based on the most superficial and external understanding of the homophobia little gay boys and gay men actually face every day from straight people is actually like, something which they by definition cannot have any experience of. Yes, these women do have their gay pets who parrot the same line, but they all seem to come out of the same Social Justice mills as the women peddling this nonsense. If this analysis were true, only effeminate gay men would be attacked or fired summarily or thrown out of the military, back when that was in force, but that is hardly the case. Recall the scene in Brokeback Mountain when Ennis remembers his father making sure he saw what had happened to two gay cowboys living as a couple. They had been murdered and mutilated. That’s how safe their masculine presentation kept them.
Feminist hatred for and denunciations of male homosexuality go all the way back to the Redstockings Manifesto, but it is a continuing theme. One manifestation is the “gay misogyny” meme. There are all sorts of rationalizations and prevarications to justify this meme, but the truth is they basically come down to the fact that gay men don’t need women and have no reason to put up with much shit from a woman. For some women this is an intolerable affront to their whole sense of self-worth. For those whose power derives from getting men to do things on the promise of sexual access or whose self-esteem and power comes from the validation a man’s admiring and longing gaze, this is a threat to their ego. Their Quando M’en Vo won’t work, and that failure infuriates them, and it comes out as accusations of misogyny, supposedly, at least by their lights, the Ultimate Heinous when it comes to accusations.
On the other hand in an inverse way this same analysis explains the many warm and close friendships between gay men and straight women. When someone enjoys your company based solely on the strength of your opinions or your talents or the general sweet gentleness of your soul that is the basis for real friendship. It’s like when a cat likes you. They need you for nothing or at least they don’t think they do, so their approval is 100% genuine.
I have a much more to say on the subject of[some] women’s homophobia and hatred of gay men and we’ll get to that another time. A variation on this theme is Rose McGowan’s complaint that gay men are misogynist because we don’t do enough for women’s issues. We don’t fight hard enough for feminism. Sorry, Rose, you need a man like a fish needs a bicycle, remember? In other words You’re On Your Own. Let us hear you roar.
Gender: Have you ever heard that what men for our ills is more feminism (Amanda Marcotte)? Have you brought up some issue only to be told that feminism is the answer to that, that feminists have been advocating, when actually on most of these issues they have been doing the exact opposite. Equal parenting jumps to mind (NOW). Have you ever heard that feminism is what men need, but then that feminism is women’s thing and men must necessarily be secondary – in our own struggles around our own issues!
How to avoid femsplaining and actually contribute to the discussion:
1) Don’t speak for men. Don’t impose your own interpretation on their explanations or assertions. Listen.
2) Don’t mind-read men. Don’t invent and then ascribe motivations to men and their actions.
3) Here is the list of anti-male shaming language. Read it and avoid this kind of thing. Expect to experience some struggle over this because women have full license to talk this way to men and no one condemns it for the misandry and bigotry it is. (You may disagree, but then you haven’t had to live subject to this kind of thing, so what do you know?) It’s quite possible to do this right, to really and actually contribute to the gender discusssion, with some determination and a little practice.
Some examples of women do it right… The simple commonality is that they don’t analyze and explain things through a gynonormative lens. They are not female chauvinists. They are truly gender egalitarian, and that means they can see things from both men’s and women’s perspectives. This is why people listen so readily to women MRAs. Here’s a concrete example of this. Zeba Blay at Huffpo Gay Voices has a great article up about what boys hear when they hear “man up.” Here’s the beauty part – she doesn’t presume to say what that is. She lets men and boys say what they hear and how they feel. She shows actual respect for them as human beings with their own understanding of their own experience. So it can be done. It is possible. And thankfully she is young and may be the future.
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