|Photo credit: Swiped at Pinterest.|
As many readers already know, March is National Women’s History Month.
In 1979, Molly Murphy MacGregor, a member of our group, was invited to participate in The Women’s History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, which was chaired by noted historian, Gerda Lerner and attended by the national leaders of organizations for women and girls. When the participants learned about the success of the Sonoma County’s Women’s History Week celebration, they decided to initiate similar celebrations within their own organizations, communities, and school districts. They also agreed to support an effort to secure a “National Women’s History Week.”
At some point earlier this month, an article (below) was disgorged in one of my feeds. I saved it and later asked Diana for her thoughts on “mansplaining,” to which she replied, “Isn’t that what a male chauvinist does?”
1. a male who patronizes, disparages, or otherwise denigrates females in the belief that they are inferior to males and thus deserving of less than equal treatment or benefit.
Origin of male chauvinist: 1965-1970
This decidedly imperfect male appreciates the refresher course.
Happy Birthday, mansplainers! You are officially 10 years old, and I am the last feminist left on earth who is still charmed by your existence.
Maybe this is not literally true (if so, please do power up the old Twitter account and mansplain the rhetorical uses of hyperbole to me), but it does seem that the term has fallen into some disrepute. It was intended to refer to the act of a man explaining something to a woman that she already knows.
The most famous example dates back to 2008, when Rebecca Solnit wrote “Men Explain Things to Me,” in which she recounted how a man at a party aggressively explained a recent book about Eadweard Muybridge to her, while she tried in vain to tell him that she had in fact written that book.
These days, “mansplain” has a more elastic definition. It includes the times when men tell an expert about her job, as in the above cases, or the moments when men just talk about things they clearly don’t understand. (See: the account “Men React to Cat Person,” a feed devoted to men’s responses to the female sexual experience in the viral New Yorker short story of the same name). And sometimes, it can mean what happens when men explain anything to women, or men talk to women, or just men who talk, about anything, to anyone, ever.
Whether or not you think men should get to ban a word intended to describe their own grievous, uniquely male behavior, “mansplaining” does feel a little dated; a relic from the snappy, sunny Internet activism at the beginning of the Obama administration, when feminists could afford to communicate in cute neologisms and buy ironic “Male Tears” mugs because we were not yet in a permanent state of crisis.
Back then, in the words of writer Kat Stoeffel, “misandry was the coin of the feminist-internet realm and, to me, eye-rolling felt more persuasive than shrill political correctness.” The election of Donald Trump and the emergence of the alt-right has made it clear that misogyny is a far more serious problem than many of us supposed. As anti-woman sentiment seems to increasingly take the form of violent mobs online and off, Stoeffel wonders whether “we feminists set ourselves up for this…by talking among ourselves about who should sit down and the taste of male tears, at the expense of addressing the substance of anti-feminist arguments?”
These are good questions, and I’m thankful to Stoeffel for womansplaining them. Yet, if I may splain, nothing makes my heart soar like the reaction caused by a well-timed accusation of “mansplaining.” What matters to me isn’t whether the term is used in for its initial purpose, but that fact that almost every time I’ve seen it deployed, it provokes the kind of intense, aggressive reaction from the man accused of it that seems to prove its very point.