Monday, May 9, 2016

You Got Some 'Splainin' To Do

Mansplaining covers a heterogeneous mix of mannerisms in which a speaker's reduced respect for the stance of a listener, or a person being discussed, appears to have little reason behind it other than the speaker's assumption that the listener or subject, being female, does not have the same capacity to understand as a man. It also covers situations in which it appears a person is using a conversation primarily for the purpose of self-aggrandizement — holding forth to a female listener, presumed to be less capable, in order to appear knowledgeable by comparison.
While I understand the idea behind "mansplaining," I'm not a fan of the term itself. Mainly because it ignores the fact that just about everyone is capable of placing someone in a group apart from themselves, and then assuming that, as a member of some out-group, the listener lacks the same capacity to understand as themselves. Likewise, anyone can hold forth to another person in order to make themselves appear (or feel) knowledgeable.

I've been "'splained" to on many occasions, by advocates for the homeless, social justice warriors, writers, parents, Democrats, conservatives, Millennials et cetera - each of them presumably convinced that my not being a member of whatever group they identified with robbed me of the ability to comprehend some basic fact about the human condition. Sometimes, it's a simple matter of the fact that they are a member of group "X," and I am not. For instance I'm not a woman, and for some, this means that I obviously can't grok what it must be like be told, "You'll change your mind about not wanting children one day." Now, as near as I can tell, there's nothing about that statement that means it applies only to women. After all, we're not talking specifically about the process of giving birth to a child, but rather the experience of being a parent.

And by the same token, there are times when I've felt that the occasional lecture on not knowing what it means to live under moral/ethical restraints that I've been subjected to by the occasional Internet Christian is more for the purpose of proving one's religious bona fides to other people on the internet (or themselves) than it is for illustrating to me the experience of not feeling free to do "whatever one wants."

This isn't to bash women or Christians specifically - as I've noted, a lot of people indulge themselves in a little 'splaining, now and again. Sometimes it seems to be as human as breathing. And I think that the terms that we've coined to describe this sort of thing, like "Mansplaining" or "Whitesplaining" or "Rightsplaining" seek to limit it to certain segments of the population that we consider not progressive enough to understand that it's poor behavior. But the fact of the matter is we can all be jackasses, when we put our minds to it. The first experience I had with the phenomenon could easily have been labeled "Blacksplaining." Sure, there are certain aspects to being Black in the United States that require a certain level of firsthand experience in order to really understand, and are unlikely to happen to people who aren't themselves Black. But poor service in a restaurant, to give an example, is not one of them. Poor service isn't a universal part of the human experience, to be sure, but it happens to more than just the approximately 40 million of us who see ourselves as "Black."

One of the inescapable facts of life is that barring some sort of truly blatant action (and sometimes, even when there is one), it can be impossible to tell a chauvinist, bigot or extremist from any other sort of garden-variety jackass. And this can lead to a lot of jackasses being labelled as chauvinists, bigots or extremists because it suits the worldview of the person doing the labeling. The realization that few, if any of us, are above being jackasses is an unlikely path to a more egalitarian outlook on the world, but I do think that it's helpful. because being aware of the 'splainer in ourselves might help us be less vigilant about calling it out in others.

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