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Friday, September 20, 2019

'splaining

"Luuuucy......you have some 'splaining to do!"

Lately the term “mansplaining” has been getting used, overused and abused to a point of absurdity. When defined as:” when a man interrupts to condescendingly explain something to a woman who is already knowledgeable of the topic” I totally agree with the frustration. However, there are a few points I’d like to raise:

1: Not every accusation of ‘mansplaining’ is in fact ‘mansplaining’ and as such the accusation is not a valid counterpoint to a debate just because of the genders involved.

2: This act occurs EVERYWHERE. It happens between people of different ranks, different races, different ages, etc. Why has no one complained of "womansplaining"? It happens all of the time. (As a guy quite competent in a kitchen, you have no idea how many times women have tried to talk to me about cooking like I was an idiot, or their own idiot husband. But to me it's just funny.......not a cause with which to take up a buzzword banner to dismiss whatever comes out of a female's mouth as belittling.)

The issue of ‘splaining is complicated. I used to be a manager who had to give directions to people and then hope they executed my instructions correctly in my absence. Initially I gave people more credit than I should have and gotten burned on more than a few projects that, being under my direction, led the blame back to me. After a while I assumed nothing and explained EVERYTHING. Even then I still made sure to check and monitor because even with extensive explanation, things still ended up being executed improperly. However, among every crowd there were always those who were quite capable of doing the job and resented the ‘splaining in an eye-rollling “do you think I’m an idiot?”  sort of way. And to be honest? No, I didn’t automatically assume everyone was an idiot, but I was the one responsible and track records of past endeavors left me suspicious of everyone. 'Splaining was my job, and given that I'm male, I suppose that made my instructions "mansplaining".

(On a side note, over the years I worked with several people who eventually went on to become managers and supervisors themselves. More than a couple admitted to me later that they used to hate or resent when I would explain something that seemed obvious to them, only to find out now in their own leadership roles what I had learned earlier: as a manager, like it or not, you sort of HAVE to or risk being surprised by how many DON’T know what to do without the instruction.)


However, there is also a tendency of people with one experience to assume no one outside of their exact situation could possibly understand the things they do. Old folks do this to young folks all of the time and it’s understandable. But how many times have you told your parents that they didn’t understand what it was to be young? (But they did...because they once were.) Conversely, there are probably plenty of times that an older person  assumes a younger person doesn’t possess a particular experience….when they do.

Another frequent one lately that NO ONE will touch (so I will) is “blacksplaining”. You see it on panel discussions and even debate platforms. An issue of race comes up and the person of color…….regardless of their actual experience or knowledge… will use their skin color to trump whatever a non-ethnic person is saying. (Harris and Biden?) This is as offensive to a thinking white person, as mansplaining is to a competent woman.

There are certainly issues where one’s identity, whether it’s race, handicap, age, or whatever, affords experiences somewhat exclusive to those areas…...but not all of the time, and certainly not with every issue. A veteran certainly knows what war is like better than a civilian. A slave (of any ethnicity) understands the degradation of slavery infinitely more than a free person (of any ethnicity). But it’s not a matter of mere skin color or uniform. A noncombat office clerk veteran probably has more in common with a civilian than someone who went through the experience of frontline battle, just as people of color like  Clarence Thomas or Kamala Harris probably have less in common with a disadvantaged black citizen than a poor white person from an impoverished area and broken home. And even if your situation provides you with experience, it does not automatically impart the knowledge necessary to discuss an issue in terms of resolution. It only means you know what it's like to be a victim of the situation.

Which takes us to similar, if not identical experience. There are two points here: to a degree no two people's experiences are exactly the same, but with enough overlap the experiences can be very close. The second point then being: how close do the experiences have to be before they are essentially relatable? Take discrimination. While discrimination based on a particular ethnicity is probably similar for those of that ethnicity, could not a person of a different ethnicity still relate to the issue based on their own experience of discrimination based on a different criteria? And if that person is trying to help, is that not to be encouraged? Sometimes I feel like everyone just wants to have the ultimate, exclusive handicap. "You don't know what it's like to be me!" No, but we are both human and we probably have some overlap if either of us has any capacity for empathy whatsoever. 

I suppose my issue with these complaints is that often the accused party is not trying to dismiss the person but identify with them. In the past this was a good thing. Not anymore. Whether the person is on your side or not, how dare they try to relate to your own unique and exclusive experience? 


Lyndon Johnson, a tall, white, and somewhat bigoted (he routinely used the n-word in private) guy from Texas, signs the Civil Rights Bill into law. HOW DARE HE? Perhaps the Black community should have refused to go along with this until a Black president was elected?

(I can see how this is a sensitive area. Imagine having the audacity to tell someone descended from a people who were once regarded as subhuman, utterly untrustworthy, and unemployable that you know more about discrimination than they do? And yet I’ve rarely seen an Irish person play the “splaining” card on this one.)




I truly believe that while mansplaining and other ‘splainings’ can be real and do occur, they can easily be dealt with without resorting to the ‘buzzword du jour’. We used to have something a few years back that always worked in these situations. They were called “facts”. It’s too bad they don’t mean much anymore and buzzwords are now a more effective counterargument, because all one needs are facts to explain almost anything. And in discussing complex issues, facts can be more important than anecdotal  experience. 

8 comments:

  1. The idea that we can only relate to our own narrowly defined demographic bucket has, indeed, gotten more than a little out of hand. I love this SNL skit with Tom Hanks that suggests some interesting overlaps: https://www.google.com/search?q=tom+hanks+snl+jeopardy&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS710US710&oq=tom+hanks+snl+&aqs=chrome.2.69i57j0l5.12161j1j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

    And, yes, the person in my office who is the most guilty BY FAR of talking over others and cutting them off at every conversational turn about work is, in fact, a woman.

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    1. Good video. BTW, have you seen the new Bill Burr "Paper Tiger" special on Netflix? Pretty damned funny.

      I love that PC culture is being systemically ridiculed by so many comedians now. Perhaps things will shift back to a more reasonable middle ground?

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    2. I hope so, but it's so deeply ingrained, I kind of doubt it.

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    3. I don’t know. It seems like a solid majority of people are sick of it but the media keeps focusing on the “Twitteralia” as if they were the spokespersons of the masses.

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  2. A simple solution would be for mansplaining to be punished with a public whipping... with the same punishment for misusing/overusing the term :D

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    1. Not so simple. The Constitution would get in the way of this idea. ;-)

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  3. You splained all of that very thoroughly. Nice job.

    Quite thought-provoking

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    1. Thanks, Tomy. Any thoughts of your own that might have been provoked?

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