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 internet?”
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.
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.”
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.