Saturday, January 13, 2018

Going There: Mansplaining and Real Men

I touched on this recently on Facebook, but because the horse isn't fully dead yet, here's a more thorough another beating: The term "mansplaining" exists for a very good reason.

No, not all men do it. That doesn't mean it's not a real occurrence, on a regular basis, for many women. I'd wager that nearly all women can point to a time when they've been mansplained.

Probably in the last week.

 It's not the same thing as "womensplained," an alternative I've had two men suggest lately to show how "mansplaining" is an insulting term them. (First off, if that were true, which it is not, welcome to the club. English has dozens of words to denigrate women and precious few to insult men with.)

A lot of women may have an insulting way of interacting with men; I'm not saying they don't. However it may be happening, it's different from mansplaining. The truth this, I don't have a heck of a lot of pity for men who are mansplaining all over the place and then whine that a woman might have spoken to them in a way they didn't like.

For anyone up in arms about the term, please go read Deborah Tannen's NY Times bestselling book about conversational styles, You Just Don't Understand. The book does not use the term "mansplaining" (the term didn't exist when the book came out), but it does go into the differences between how women and men speak—real differences backed by science.

The author is a sociolinguist with a specialty is in conversational styles across gender, nationalities, in the workplace, between various groups, and even wrote has a book about mother-daughter conversations. Tannen's work isn't all stuff about gender interactions.

The fact is that the way women and men speak, and the motivation behind their speech is different. And yes, it's on a continuum. For example, my speaking style is not nearly as "female" as that of many women I know, and I know some men whose speaking style leans toward the female side of the spectrum. But in general, the gender differences shed light on the phenomenon of mansplaining.

Go read the book. Seriously. But back to mansplaining itself.

No, not all men do it. 

My father and my brother are great examples. They both (spoiler alert) deeply respect and admire the women in their lives. My dad's a retired professor. He made a living teaching people. He could easily have been patronizing when I was a kid and, indeed, asking him dumb questions. But he never once made me feel that way, no matter what dumb thing I asked. Dad was a safe, respectful place. 

He also didn't jump in to answer an unspoken question, assuming I was inept, a very common way mansplaining shows up. 

My brother doesn't mansplain either. At times I get the sense that he's so proud of his wife that he thinks she's smarter than he is (which may or may not be true—they're both pretty dang smart and both have advanced degrees), but he never lets his wife's Ph.D. (and her knowledge in a field that isn't his specialty) get in the way of his masculinity.

Guess what? That makes him more of a man

In my experience, it's the insecure men who get up in arms about hearing women mention mansplaining. Insecure men are most definitely the ones who do not understand the concept. They don't believe women when they say it happens, and that it happens often. They're the ones who insist that the term is sexist.

Oh, and those also are the men who insist on explaining to women what mansplaining means. (They're mansplaining mansplaining. Let that sink in a bit.) I've seen this many, many times. 

Real Men, on the Other Hand

Real men respect women in word and deed, and that's counting times when no one is watching. Real character shows up in private moments, in small numbers. It's much easier to be gallant and inclusive and outwardly respectful in front of dozens or hundreds, when you can plan your words and then open your arms to receive public adulation. 

Which brings me back to my dad. He does what he believes in his core is the right thing to do, no matter who will or will not ever know about it. And I can guarantee that much of the good he's done is known by no one but him and Lord. He does it anyway. I know this because I've inadvertently learned of some of the things he's quietly done, things I shouldn't have found out about. 

For every one of those I discovered, how many others has he done that I don't know about? Hundreds of thousands, I have no doubt. 

Real men don't need to announce their awesomeness to the crowds. 

Real men don't need to demand that women stop using a term that precisely describes a regular frustration and source of pain. 

Real men don't want women to be in pain. 

Real men listen to women and intentionally change their behavior, if needed, to avoid causing women pain, especially those in their personal sphere. 

Real men stand up for women who are being put down, patronized, or demeaned. 

Real men hear terms like mansplaining, and instead of being offended, they listen and try to understand. 

Real men take a close look at their own behavior to see if they've been guilty of mansplaining, even unawares. 

Real men make a determination to do better, if needed. 

Real men defend those who need protection, and yes, that's often women. 

A Real Man with a Hat 

An awesome is example was a Facebook post from a couple of years ago, one the author surely thought was just a funny situation he'd share. To me it was so much more: Dan Wells* told a story of how his young son (maybe 11 at the time?) mansplained to his own mother something that the son was obviously wrong about. The story was hilarious. That's why Dan shared it. 

But I saw something much deeper in the account. Guess what, men? Dan gets mansplaining. 

He sees it. He understands it and why it's a bad thing.

Even better, I'm quite sure that his son will be taught by word and by example that you don't behave like that. 

His daughters are lucky to have a father who is so open to trying to understand other points of view, who has compassion for women. Who feels protective toward them. Who expects his daughters to do great things, just as much as he'd expect it from a son.

That story wasn't the only time I've seen that side of Dan (I could list several other examples), but it's fitting for this post because he himself used the term "mansplain" in the story. He gets it. 

 I should really give a shout out to his parents, because their other son, Robison Wells** (one of my dearest friends), is just as awesome in this regard. He's never mansplained to me or anyone around me.

Small things, people. They say so much.

Warning: The first person who tries to defend mansplaining, say it doesn't exist, or insist that women do it too (or anything like unto those things) gets their comment deleted and may be blocked. I do not have emotional room in my life right now for jerks.

*Dan is known for his trademark Indiana Jones-style hat. I've known him for years, but if he's not wearing it, I'll probably (and have) walked right past him, not realizing it. 

**The Wells brothers are both writers, and they're both excellent writers. Go buy their books by clicking their names above. You'll thank me later, so you're welcome.


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