Recently, I’ve been experiencing mansplaining. A lot of mansplaining. This phenomenon is one I define as explaining the world and all of its nuances in a supremely confident, woefully simplistic manner. Mansplanations rely on privilege—derived from whiteness, maleness, ability and/or straightness—not accuracy. It doesn’t matter if the mansplainer is misinformed, grossly inept, or just plain wrong.
Worth pointing out as well is that mansplaining as a phenomenon doesn’t mean only self-identified cis men are guilty; whenever privilege is used as the foundation of purported omniscience, or as a tool to silence, or as a means to induce shame in someone for their perceived lack of “real” knowledge … yep, that’s some mansplaining at work.
Mansplainers just know. They know it all. It’s equal parts network news anchor and folksy wisdom, with a dash of “father knows best.” The world, thanks to selfless mansplainers, has been categorized and defined, whether it’s through tried and true logical fallacies like circular logic or poisoning the well. Mansplaining is nothing if not versatile.
Patriarchy is prevalent because it reduces non-conforming subjects into singular entities. It simplistic and it’s violent on literal and symbolic levels. You’re stripped of your you-ness and put into a category. Whatever non-conforming category you’re subjected to, one thing is certain, at least when it comes to mansplaining: in brief, you need to be told how things are and why you are wrong. You need to change.
But patriarchy also functions because of shame. In this blog post, Dr. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work writes, “shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
Shame, Brown continues, is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” I would add to this that shame relies on the notion that at our core, we are broken. Which brings me to a core aspect of my own practice of anti-oppressive, intersectional feminism(s): none of us are broken. We are all whole.
It sounds simple, but beginning with this radical foundation provides me with a toolkit to combat mansplaining, which I experience as rooted in, and emanating from, shame. So, in the interest of storytelling as healing and humour as resistance, I’m going to share my recent (mis)adventures with mansplainers and the lessons I took from these situations.
Scenario 1: So, I’m tabling for Shameless at the Indie Media Fair in London, Ontario, my hometown. It’s a great event—there’s a lively crowd; people are engaged and asking questions; and of course, the public library venue was perfect. A middle-aged, self-identified man approaches the table and asks what Shameless is about. I share our mandate. His response? An exaggerated step back, so as not to be plagued by the scourge of intersectional feminism, followed by the quip, “Oh well, I’m a man, so I guess I better leave.”
“Really?” I asked. “Why do you think that? What does feminism mean to you?”
In all honesty, dialogue was the goal here. Did it happen? No, not so much, but an early, wonderful lesson in my own life was that feminism, as a political practice, is for everybody. Every. Body.
Was I annoyed? Absolutely! That said, I can only hope that this attempt at dialogue and Shameless‘ inspiring mandate plant a seed that leads this person to more inclusive deeds and words in the future.
Was I ashamed? No. There is no shame in working to build communities that dismantle systemic oppression. Ever.(more inside…)