How to Not Mansplain

Being a Useful and Instructive Guide to Better Feminism on the Internet

A dude I love and trust and respect came to me today with a question. He wanted to know “was I mansplaining on the inteu16999529rnet?”

I went and had a look at the conversation in question and said “as a matter of fact, yes.”

He took the criticism, listened to why it was mansplaining, got it and it was evident that he’d take my comments and do what he could to refrain from the practice going forward.

This guy is a close friend and not a jerk and absolutely a feminist.

Here’s your takeaway:  we’re all just a little bit sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic/classist. How we take responsibility and change that in ourselves is what makes the real difference.

So here’s my quick and dirty guide to Not Being That Mansplainer.

 

1.  Acknowledge your privilege.

It’d be nice if we were all equals and we came to the conversation that way. The thing is, we’re not, and we don’t. In any conversation, men come to the table confident that they are right, that they will be heard and their opinions will be respected. They are used to being listened to, to being told they’re right, to being respected.

That’s not true for women. We are socialized to listen, not talk, we are socialized to believe or at least pretend to believe that men know more than we do. We are in fact told and shown at nearly every opportunity that this is the case. We get constant messages that our opinion is wrong or doesn’t matter.

Level the field. You have the privilege. That means you have responsibility for leveling the field. Yes, you.

If you hold the societal advantage and you don’t want to be a jackass, then you have to actively work to make sure you are not just thoughtlessly enjoying that advantage. Let the other person know that the field is level, that you will everything you can do make it that way. Acknowledge the discrepancy. In your heart, in your mind, and in the course of the conversation. Call it out clearly, if necessary. In text.

Make it clear there are two people in the room.

“I’m interested in your opinion about this.”

Which brings me to this:

 

2.  LISTEN. Listen.

She’s talking.  LISTEN.

Because, really?  This is the internet. Maybe rocket science is your field and maybe, just maybe you know more about this rocket science topic than she does. Don’t assume that’s the case.  Maybe the woman you’re talking to is also a rocket scientist, with more hands on rocket experience and published papers and time in the field than you.  So listen to her.

You are not automatically right by default because you  have testicles.

So don’t argue that way. What she’s saying may be correct, and/or her opinion is equally valid and important.  LISTEN. ACKNOWLEDGE. ADMIT SHE MAY BE OR IS CORRECT IN WHAT SHE’S SAYING. IN WRITING IN PUBLIC GOD DAMMIT.

Why? Because:

 

3. You need to remember this is a dialogue.

A woman talking is not your opportunity to dive in, hold forth and demonstrate how amazing you are, particularly not by showing how wrong she is.

Let me say this again:

Do not let a woman’s opinion become yet one more way to draw attention to yourself.

Because admit it, part of us gets a charge out of BEING RIGHT ON THE INTERNET and it particularly feels great when we prove someone else wrong in the process. But dude, you have your day in the sun and it is EVERY DAY.

If you want to not mansplain, step out of the sunlight. Have a dialogue.

Ask what she thinks. Ask why. Make this an exchange of ideas where you are open to learning something and regardless have interest in her view, because she comes from a different place, a different background and we grow by expanding our own views, by sharing the views of others.

“I’m interested in what you’re saying here. Tell me more. What about X? What do you think of Y?”

That is code for “I give a shit about your participation in this conversation.”

 

Let’s recap:

Acknowledge your privilege. Level the field by making it clear her opinion is important and valid even if you happen to disagree. Listen, and be willing to be educated. Make it a dialogue, not your stage.

It’s not that hard, guys. Finally, this:

If a woman tells you you’re mansplaining, the correct response regardless of your opinion is “I’m sorry.”

What she’s saying is “I had an opinion and you just shouted me down and your unwillingness to listen and consider I might be right is reinforcing everything I’m fighting every day in this dumbass patriarchy.”

So: “I’m sorry.”  It costs you nothing.  Then go back to Step One and try again.

Why I Knit

sweater1In his lovely post about why we knit on Lion Brand’s site, Franklin Habit asked his readers why they knit.

I’ve done crafts all my life. No matter what country we were in, what temporary housing in places like Rangoon, Accra, Vailima, what foreign hotel or airport or on any given type of transportation, I had books and crafts as a constant.

Art. Created worlds, created things. The Famous Five, Helen Cresswell’s Bagthorpes, books about brumbies or tollbooths or tesseracts, dragons… I carried all these with me in a bag over my shoulder. They could be pulled out in the middle of the night, escaped into when thousands of miles away from home or when I had sort of lost touch with what “home” actually was.

I wasn’t content just to take it all in, though. Inhale, exhale, I read and also wrote, I took in all the fantasy and future worlds and deliciously scary things that took my mind away from real scary things, then breathed them all back out again. Stories, pictures, creatures made of found objects like the admittedly kind of disgusting “dolls” my friend and I made of dried mango pits (we brushed out the dried fibers like hair and drew eyes on them), or endless creatures made up of tied-up kleenex or when yarn was available, googly eyes and pom poms.

The first ID I ever forged was my access card for the star destroyer I commanded. That kind of thing.
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knit-alongs: because misery loves company.

I was taught to knit by two elderly ladies on the train from London to Edinburgh. I’d run out of books and for those of you who’ve made that train ride, you know how excruciatingly long it is even when you’re not seven years old.

The ladies invited me over, sat me down between them and put two enormous sword-like metal needles in my hands, then gave me wool from Woolworth’s (it was years later that I found out that Woolworth’s was named after a person and sold other things and wasn’t just some enormous British chain LYS) and set me to making a little sampler intarsia square with a black Scottie dog on a field of blue and red.

I added knitting to all the other crafts I did, another way to bide time, to escape, to author and control and create a thing when the world around me was often unfamiliar, sometimes chaotic, sometimes frightening and dangerous.

I came back to knitting seriously when I began my career in game design, forming a fast alliance with only other female game designer in my company. We knit in solidarity, at lunch in the cafeteria, in stolen moments having coffee, in meetings where our projects, vibrant and present and beautiful were often symbols of the latent, wasted talent we brought to every conference room table, the potential we had that was often ignored, squandered, wasted. We knit to calm ourselves. We knit to remind ourselves that we were competent and creative and skilled and could produce beautiful things.

After I had cancer, I knit in doctor’s offices to combat the “high blood pressure” that was actually a case of white coat syndrome. I’d feel myself getting panicky as I waited for my appointment, then would haul my knitting out and magically my blood pressure symptoms resolved.

These days, though, knitting is something that is deeply familial, deeply social. I knit with people with whom I have built a fiber-based life, a business. Women immediately around me, my wife and close friends whose good times and bad I share over coffee, booze, whose secrets I know and advice and help I have taken over the years. We are a coven, a sisterhood. They are strong and rooted friendships, a cornerstone of my happiness.

That extends, though, too. Fiber family are all over the world, built through my business or via Ravelry. Close, close friends whom I wouldn’t know except that we share this thing, this art, this creativity, this discipline of this thing we all do.
035_medium2My business is now fiber, built around knitting and other fiber crafts. I hand-dye yarn, make beautiful colors and textures and then other people go off and do their own crafting with it. It’s deeply satisfying, craft to enable and promote craft. Transmission of all that beauty and art and tradition, person to person down the line.

It’s come full circle, you see. I used to knit to ease loneliness and uncertainty. Now I knit as part of a vibrant, wonderful family, close to home and worldwide.

Created, creative life.

Following Sea

dark shadow of a seal in water

The professor wears a terrible brown jacket.

His students joke about it behind his back; he’s an otherwise handsome, weathered older man who carries with him the added mystery of supposedly having once been a soldier.

We follow him down to the rocks and water where he claims he’s more comfortable teaching us the impenetrable Welsh epics. Y Gododdin, the Mabinogion. They scarcely make sense in English; it’s all made worse by the crashing waves, the roaring wind and how we have to huddle down in our jackets.

We read the texts, we write the papers, we blow life back into our icy, numbed fingers after a lecture.

The terrible brown jacket hangs on a hook in his office, the rare times he ever gives office hours in there.

“No, no, just meet me down by the water,” he tells us, and so down to the water we go, and as the term wears on finally one day it’s just me, me and stolid old David Rhys down there.  David, who I think might fancy Professor Lindsey and except for the horrible brown coat, who wouldn’t? That and David’s Welsh, so they have that connection, though I read Old Welsh better than David does.

“Not much of a class today,” the professor remarks, as we scramble down the rocks to the thinly sunny spot he favors.

A wave bangs the cliff wall, and spray flies up.

“We can have class anyway,” David says.

Kissass, I think.  The professor’s looking at me.

“Perhaps a swim, instead?”

“A swim??” David says, incredulous. “It’s freezing out here, never mind in the water!” It’s the first he’s spoken up against the Professor since we started.

Lindsey’s still looking at me, like a challenge.

I like the water. I’m a strong swimmer.

I don’t like water near cliffs when it’s cold enough for a down jacket, long wool skirt, and boots.

“Come on,” Lindsey says, and as usual I can’t tell if he’s joking or serious or both. “I was a SEAL.”  He’s talking only to me, now.  “I’ll save you if you drown.”

“Ha, ha,” says David. Timorous.

For no good reason at all, I’m stripping my jacket off.

“There you are,” Lindsey says, as though I’d been missing and just now located. “David?” But David’s backing up, as though whatever madness we have is contagious. And the professor’s all but dismissed him.  He beckons to me.  “This side. Time your dive.  After me, not til I tell you.”

The water, I think.

Hypothermia.

People dive into icy water all the time, for charity. Don’t they?

Also:  Professor Lindsey will lose tenure if I drown.

It’s this last thought that brings me to the edge of the cliff.  Lindsey’s there, and the water isn’t far below.  I’m down to leggings and T-shirt, barefoot.  He’s just wearing pants.  Thankfully.  I only look at his bare skin long enough to see thick, old scars.  “In we get.”

He dives.  It’s a perfect dive into the water, clean and effortless.

I watch, breath held, and a moment later he pops up, looks for a wave behind him.  Dives under it.  Once it breaks, he gestures to me, sharply.

I hesitate.  I hesitate.

“There’s always another wave, but you only live once,” he shouts up and his voice carries perfectly. All term, it’s been impossible to hear him. “Wait!” He dives under again, a wave breaks and he pops back up, gestures.

I dive.

I dive and the shock of the water takes my breath, everything straight out of my body and I think “I just died here,” and my second thought is “oh holy shit the cliff” as bubbles are everywhere and the water is moving in what feels like all directions at once, and it must mean a wave is breaking.

I feel a hard hand around my arm, and I’m dragged.

Impossible strength, a dark shape in the water and I still haven’t taken a breath yet.

Through dark and I can look up and see the sky, through the water. And the ocean was gray, chipped into flint by the wind, just a few moments ago.

Now it’s all blue.

All green.

We break surface.

“Breathe,” a voice says, and I suck in a huge breath, cough.

“…can’t feel my legs,” I chatter.

“You don’t need legs out here. You need a tail!” He’s laughing, swimming away from me.  He curves a broad hand, splashes water into my face.

I sputter.  I swim after him, possibly to kill him.

We arc and spin in the icy water and after a time I stop feeling the cold anywhere. We surf waves halfway in, bodies murkily silhouetted, dropping out just in time to avoid being crashed against the cliffs.

There’s a rhythm all that water has, that is easy enough to know, once you’re in it.

“Not as big as it looks, from up there.”

Lindsey tilts his head to the shore, which got a very long way away, when I wasn’t looking.

“Come on, my girl. Time to go in.”

*

It was inevitable I would become an academic. I like dusty old books, and moving my lips to form the words of forgotten languages.

I have tenure at a university by the water, though I don’t make my students take their lessons down on the beach. Usually.

I get the occasional postcard, from an old friend, still teaching at another distant university. Impenetrable old epics. He sends news of himself and his lover, an insufferable old pedant named David who only speaks Welsh passably, and is aging faster than the professor is by decades.

I keep a horrible ugly brown coat hanging on my office door.

I know my students make fun of it; it amuses me.
I go swimming every day.

It’s not about the dress

So I promised some trans/QG stuff last November and am finally following through now.

Part of the reason for the lag is garden variety fear. Me, I know. Fear. Right? But it is, and it’s because I’ve found I have to defend myself not just to the non-queer community but also the queer community, and in some ways I feel like this part of me is trivial, and so trivial I shouldn’t, you know, rock the boat.

DANGER, WILHELMINA ROBINSON.

Right, so having acknowledged that issue, here I go.

I’m going to start with a moment at WisCon a couple of years ago. I’m sitting on a panel to talk ostensibly about non binary gender in SF/F — cool topic — which has as we predicted devolved into a Nonbinary 101 discussion. Less cool. In particular it’s less cool because someone on my panel is saying she’s never heard of nonbinary gender before and is it actually a thing, even though we asked her in discussions about the panel before the panel to not go there.

She went there.

I was the only nonbinary, queergender identifying person on the panel. Originally the person who wanted to know if nonbinary was really a thing and had never heard of it before was put in charge of the panel, which we finally protested particularly because she kept relegating what I am to “well, it’s a matter of opinion.”

Hey, guess what? It’s not.
We’re not even going to have that discussion. It’s not a matter of opinion. Right? Okay.

So then we get on this kind of dangerous tangent about “gender” being only a product of society’s construction. Which I get, I see why that’s said and in part it’s true but in part it’s absolutely not true.

Perception of gender is absolutely partially about behaviors, and perceptions, and socialization.

Perception of gender is also absolutely about biology and perception of body.

Which is why when someone said to me “well, given that gender doesn’t really exist, who cares how you identify? It doesn’t really matter.”

I replied thus, and when you think and talk about nonbinary gender, I want you to hear my voice in your head, saying this:

“Around half or more of the time, I think of myself as having a COCK.”

I said COCK really loudly like that and people jumped visibly. I want you to think it loudly like that in your head too. COCK!

So. I am by birth female. Despite being female-bodied, I still conceive of myself as having a cock a good portion of the time.  COCK! God, I love that word.  Anyway, yes, this means that a large portion of the time I experience dysphoria. Is it bad enough for me to do anything about?  No. Because if I went and got an operation to have a cock, then my physiological gender, my sex would be wrong less than half the time and I would have gotten expensive surgery that didn’t really fix anything, or only half fixed it, and I was mostly right half the time.

Which brings me to, weirdly enough, pronouns.

The majority of the time I’m referred to as “she,” which isn’t wrong much of the time, and when it is wrong, it seems pointless to me to correct someone and say “actually right now it’s he,” because listen, short of a placard there’s really no way to know.

This brings me to dress.

“If you’re feeling male, then you signify that by dressing male, and if you feel female, you signify that by dressing female.”  Right?  So fucking simple.  I wear a skirt, you call me by the “she” pronoun, I wear — oh, crap. Men and women both wear pants.  Fuckity fuck!  Now what?

See the issue?

VELCRO MOUSTACHE!!!

… which would be hilarious but, well, no.

So I’m going to present this to you, dear reader, as our mutual dilemma. You want to gender me properly and I reserve the right to be the gender I am in this moment, and this moment may actually change five minutes from now. And it changed fifteen minutes ago. Like when a gorgeous ass walked by and I thought “goddamn I would love to tap that.”

“Zie!” you exclaim helpfully. “Hir.”

Sure.  If you must.  But I am male, when I am male, and I want “he.” In fact I want “Sir,” in fact I want “dude you are one fine specimen of manhood get your COCK over here.”

If it helps, I have the same problems you do. When I get up in the morning and get dressed, I wind up settling on a day to day basis for pants and a tank top or T-shirt and generally no bra (because nothing makes a guy feel less masculine than a bra except maybe a vagina), and go from there.

Going out?

Jesus, it gets complicated.

What I’m trying to say here is that being nonbinary being queergendered is complicated. It’s complicated for me, for you, and that’s why, I think, those of us who are both — not simultaneously, not agender (yes, that is also a thing, go look it up) and in my case, not genderfluid, which I consider to be something else, something I’m not — tend to be quiet about it. Because it’s powerful, real but also nuanced, and extremely difficult to explain and even express.

And when members of our trans family are having enough trouble as it is getting recognition and rights they deserve, our “mostly okay at least half the time” seems kind of pissant, or at least that’s how I feel.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

COCK.

 

 

*

I have to put a disclaimer here. My experience of gender is mine. I don’ t speak for others. There’s a crapton of ways to be out there, and this is mine. Don’t generalize by my experience and view, just add it to your box of knowledge and continue to add to that box. Trust me, I’m doing the same, all the time.

What the dog eats

We don’t do things by halves, so we got a puppy that at eight months weighs sixty pounds.

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I am faint with hunger. Faint. O me.

If you measure a dog’s potential growth by the size of Laska’s feet, you can figure she’ll be around six feet tall by the time she’s done growing.

What, you say, will you ever feed her?

Well, the answer to that is

FUCKING EVERYTHING.

Anyway, because we need our heads examined (and because friends with healthy dogs provided a lot of convincing reasons that we have seen borne out), we decided to feed raw.

What does feeding raw mean?

“OH GOD GROSS”

“MAKE HER TAKE THAT FUCKING THING OUTSIDE”

“WHAT IS THAT SMELL”

“IS THIS LEFTOVER – OH GOD OH GOD NEVER MIND”

“NOT ON THE GOOD CUTTING BOARD”

“I’M NOT TOUCHING THAT, YOU FEED HER”

And so on.

Why do it?

Look, I’m not going to try and debate raw versus kibble to you, because honestly I don’t know enough to tell you much.  I do know that we’ve fed our cats mostly raw for a while, and they seem healthier for it. Is it measurable for us?  Not really.

We’re also not super scientific.  I know a lot of people get all… Martha Stewart about it. I mean in a Ferocious Homemaker way not a prison cell kind of way, anyway…

AH HA HAH HAH HA HA HA

I would seriously love to have that kind of time on my hands and love and devotion for my fur babies

(!!)

But I don’t. Dog wants a Polenta Chicken Ball she can go catch a chicken and roll it around in some rice herself.

Instead, raw feeding for us more or less means buying cheap raw meat like chicken, beef, pork, fish, that’s usually discounted because it’s past its date or people looked at it and went “my dog wouldn’t eat that!” but of course they will, with a minimum of chewing.

GULP.

Look. Okay.

Yes, it feels good to feed the dog a big hunk of raw chicken. I toss it out in the yard with her and feel pretty damned superior. And watching my cats deal with mackerel heads?  Worth the price of admission.

I hear by report that lungs are bouncy and provide hours of feeding time entertainment. I can’t wait, frankly.

So, you ask me, Kate… where do you get this food?

We don’t get it at the “SPEND ALL YOUR MONEY HERE THIS IS ORGANIC FOOD IF YOU DON’T FEED YOUR PET THIS FOOD YOU’RE A SHITTY OWNER AND CONTRIBUTING TO GLOBAL WARMING” display at Target.  We get some of it in the meat section at Shaws, in the discount section.

But the really good way to get it?

In a parking lot.

Oh.

Oh, yes.

Yes, there are RAW MEAT DEALERS and you pull over in different locations at arranged times and bring your checks and toss your meat in the back of your car and drive away fast before the KIBBLE POLICE come and get you. Or the real police. Or the FDA. Or something.

It’s gangster.

It’s fantastic.

Today I screwed up the rendezvous. So the Meat Dealer, the Meat Man, the Driver of the Goods kindly left our meat for us.

Here.

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Psst. The goods will be under the tree by the potted plant. Good luck.

Nothing like driving two hours, winding up into the parking lot of a Days Inn, strolling nonchalantly across the lawn, picking up two random boxes that smell slightly pungent and are attracting flies, tossing them in your truck and driving off again to feel like you’re going above and beyond for your furry friend.

But hey, raw meat off the back of the truck is about $40 for a huge box of chicken legs that will last Laska a month or so, and other assorted yummies like mackerel, bones, organ meat and some pork stuff I can’t remember the name of but comes in a sausage sleeve only cost around $20 more.

And, look.  There are a lot of really good arguments for raw food and you can research those yourself, but mostly it’s hilarious and not that much work and a bit less cost when it comes right down to it.

Laska definitely approves.

IMG_5068

Magic Mike: XXLlent.

posterall

Maybe it’s a queer perspective.

Maybe it’s a genderqueer perspective.

Maybe it’s a leather perspective.

Maybe it’s a feminist perspective or maybe it’s just my perspective.

This is a great fucking movie.

I really hate movies with a “you go girl” theme.  It’s fucking condescending and I get that their heart’s in the right place and I appreciate that but it’s not what I want to hear.

I want to see a movie where the only men of any significance in the movie exist wholly for the female gaze. Who rate their worth by their worth to women, who don’t let women have power, but instead assume that women have the power in the first place.

“Queen” as a concept got set up early in the movie.

It’s a word that exists outside biological sex, outside the conformity or nonconformity of looks, and it isn’t about “girl,” it’s about “women,” or as Rome says, “grown up women,” who are powerful, beautiful not because they are “special” somehow but simply because they are.

They are, and therefore are worthy of worship and a beautiful, powerful sexy man knocking himself out for someone just to make her smile.

Starting the movie with the men competing to see who can be the best woman, the best “queen,” wasn’t an accident.

It sets a precedent, and it’s not about glass women on pedestals, it’s not about courtly love, it’s not about the removal of sexuality but a sudden, slamming, visceral closing of that courtly distance only at the end of the consummation it’s about her pleasure, her satisfaction, her self. Not his.

I might have had a moment where a glass slipper was a euphemism for vagina and it might have pissed me off except that Cinderella was the best possible southern belle looking for, frankly, a cock, and referred to in admiring jealousy after the fact as “beautiful, sweet woman,” which, frankly doesn’t make it sound anything like a conquest.

The love interest wasn’t anything like a usual love interest especially because she was in a “girl phase” and… thank god, hallelujah, they didn’t fuck that up.

At all.

Jada Pinkett Smith walked away with the movie and never took her clothes off. And the subcurrent of power exchange with she and Mike was hands down the hottest thing in the movie except possibly Matt Bomer in a sarong.

Yeah. You're welcome.

Yeah. You’re welcome.

Before you open your mouth to tell me that the elevation of women shouldn’t rely on the subjugation of men, let me just say this:

Shut the fuck up.

There is no subjugation where yield is generously, lovingly given. Acknowledgment and celebration of someone else’s power does not render anyone powerless. You got me?

Let me say it again. Just in case you didn’t hear me the first time.

If you think that men giving power to women weakens men, you are dead wrong.  Men never had the power to give women anything in the first place.

See what I’m saying?

Go read it again.  I’ll wait.

Ken (Matt Bomer, the guy in the sarong and fedora), and Andre (Danny Glover, beautifully done), discuss healing and it’s about the rift between men and women, about rifts between people in general. They talk about the gift of giving pleasure, not for reward but for its own sake. Smile. Not for me, not to perform for me or to be beautiful for me, but for you. Because I have made you happy, because I have given you pleasure.

This movie isn’t deep. It’s not meant to be deep but that doesn’t mean that message isn’t clearly and completely delivered.

The men don’t come out on top.

No one wins anything, unless you count those of us, many of us onscreen and in the audience watching, who really really enjoyed watching a handful of guys strip off their clothes and dance.

For us.

bomer

Matt Bomer. One more time. Oh. God.