Friends, as you may have noticed I am a feminist.
Yes, I’m also a guy, let it go.
Indeed, I would go so far as to say that anyone who knows what feminism is (i.e. that it is the part of the human rights movement that focuses on gender rights issues) who isn’t a feminist themselves had better have a damn good explanation of why that is.
I mean, I believe in human rights, why don’t you?
Anyway, something that comes up from time to time in discussions of gender issues is the concept of ‘mansplaining’.
It’s a tricky thing to get one’s head around though so I’m going to try and explain what’s going on in one specific example of mansplaining, and why it’s bad.
Mansplaining basically involves explaining a situation in a way that disempowers (i.e. takes power away from) someone else.
This is done by providing an explanation that runs contrary to their explanation, and doing it in such a way that their experience is rendered worthless. It also carries with it the assumption that the party who is speaking has a point of view that is automatically superior to that of the person they are attacking.
It’s called ‘mansplaining’ because it usually (but not always) involves a man taking apart something that a woman has said.
But as you’ll see mansplaining can occur regardless of the genders of the people involved.
I’m going to use an example that shows up in comments sections all the time, usually when a woman talks about how a man made her feel uncomfortable in some way.
So here is an example of a situation that is sadly all too common.
A woman is walking down a street. Some men drive past her and one of them leans out the window and yells “hey sexy, looking good!” or some other sufficiently dudebro expression.
It may come as quite a surprise to the above mentioned dudebros that most women don’t actually like it when people in cars shout at them, but it’s true.
Later when discussing what happened the lady in question mentions that the experience made her feel exposed, vulnerable, under surveillance and that she didn’t like it at all. One of her male friends responds that she is over-reacting and that she should just take the compliment. This is an example of a type of mansplaining.
Allow me to mansplain.
In the above conversation there are two types of beliefs being discussed: the woman’s, which is an emotional one and the man’s which is a rational one.
[SIDE NOTE: I’m not implying that women are always emotional and men are always rational. Like I said above mansplaining can occur regardless of gender]
What the dude is saying is that his rational response is more valid than her emotional response.
And he is completely wrong.
Because no one gets to tell anyone else how they feel.
How you feel just is how you feel. If someone says “I feel happy” then either they are lying or they are telling the truth. But in both cases they know how they feel and no one else does. The person who is most qualified to tell us how we feel is us and only us.
So even if the man is absolutely right and the woman should feel differently that is completely irrelevant to determining how she does feel.
If those of you who are regular readers are feeling the familiar tang of the “is/ought distinction” then give yourself a jelly baby, because you are quite right.
The two people aren’t actually disagreeing. The woman is talking about how she is feeling and the man is talking about how she ought to feel. These two positions do not contradict each other, but often in these discussions the person adopting the role of the man in the example will act is if they do. They will say that the two points of view are in conflict and they will argue that theirs is better.
But you can’t have a ‘superior’ view of how someone feels. How they feel just is how they feel.
But even if we acknowledge that how the woman feels is not open to debate that still doesn’t mean that the man’s point of view isn’t worthy of discussion. It’s just a point of view about a different thing.
When one notices this one realises that the conversation that is taking place isn’t a case of two people disagreeing about what happened. And it isn’t even a case of two people disagreeing about what should happen. It’s actually about one person describing what happened and then both people implying an opinion about what should happen next.
When the woman describes how she feels that just is how she feels. But there is a second part to the conversation in which both people are implying something more.
The implication of what the woman is saying is that dudebros in cars should not do what these dudebros did. The implication of what the man is saying is that there is nothing wrong with dudebros doing what dudebros do.
In essence the conversation is going like this:
Part 1 Woman: This is how I feel.
Man: That is indeed how you feel.
Woman: I don’t think dudebros should be allowed to make me feel self-conscious and embarrassed.
Man: There is nothing wrong with dudebros making you feel self-conscious and embarrassed.
This is, as far as I can tell, an accurate description of the discussion. But putting the discussion in these terms is unpopular because as soon as one does so it becomes clear that the man’s argument doesn’t make sense.
He is arguing that people should be allowed to make other people feel bad, for no good reason, and that’s crazy.
The fact is that those dudebros didn’t shout at the woman because they were trying to pay her a compliment. They actually don’t care about how she feels.
If they did care about how she feels then the typical response would be to apologise, not argue that she is supposed to feel differently.
They did it because it made them feel good, and that is the only reason.
And the response that came afterward, that defended them by claiming that a person “isn’t supposed” to feel the way that they feel, that my friends is ‘mansplaining’.
And it’s bad.
[Standard Disclaimer: this post was entirely my own opinion and was not paid for in any way, directly or otherwise, by anyone or anything that stands to gain in any way from the ideas expressed herein.]