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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Feel the Shame"

Every woman knows what I'm talking about. It's the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men's unsupported overconfidence.
--Rebecca Solnit on "The Problem With Men Explaining Things"(@Mother Jones)

Over at FB today, a friend of mine linked to the article excerpted above. With his link, he included a very thoughtful comment about sexism as fundamentally dehumanizing, and "mansplaining" as a manifestation of that, tied to the notion that a good woman is "silent and submissive." (Well said all around, A.) Two interesting things happened in response to the link he'd posted and the comment he'd made. First, women started commenting with tales of having been mainsplained to. It's a familiar experience for many (I'd guess most) of us, so this was not surprising. Second, within the 1st five comments, someone replied with the following:

It's the kind of comment that is intended to put the discussion to bed by explaining that the thing being discussed is unworthy of the attention the discussants are giving it. According to this reply, mansplaining is not worth actually having this discussion about, because there are lots of assholes in the world, male and female. My friend, and another friend of his, had already left responses pointing out how problematic this comment is by the time I got there. It is, as one of them wrote, derailing and dismissive. It also, as the other pointed out, misses the point that "mansplaining" is a very specific type of idiocy. So, here's the 2 cents that I didn't write over there (I tend to be sparing with how much I "argue" on Facebook, since there's so little payoff to it.)

Yes, idiots come in all genders. But, it is far more common for an idiot with a dick to think that he has any right to offer such a truism as an adequate response to anything. The fact that idiots with dicks are given a far larger slice of the authority pie than anyone -- idiot or otherwise -- without a dick is exactly why they feel like they can mansplain away legitimate objections to unfair power dynamics. (See also: Why So Many of Those Feminists Are Angry.)

It was pointed out that the comment smacks of privilege. Must be nice. What privilege I have (and I do have some, as straight, cis-gender, ridiculously well-educated citizen of one of the world's richest countries) is spotty, and always in peril, so it rarely has that sort of free reign. The sort of privilege that allows for this comment is, I would argue, closely tied to the privilege that allowed Todd Akin to utter -- with a straight face -- his asinine and sexist comments on "legitimate rape." President Obama said in response to that particular bit of idiocy that "these comments do underscore...why we shouldn't have a bunch of politicians -- a majority of whom are men -- making health care decisions on behalf of women." But we do. And, as an excellent article co-authored by another friend (well done, A.R.!) points out, those men are not just making health care decisions on behalf of American women.
There's a 38 year-old Congolese woman named Josephine who has probably never heard of U.S. Representative and Senatorial candidate Todd Akin. But, if she had, Josephine would know all too well how wrong Akin was when he said that a woman's body can "shut the whole thing down" and prevent a pregnancy if she experiences a "legitimate rape." When Josephine was 29, she, like many of the estimated 1.8 million other women and girls who were raped during the Congo's series of conflicts, became pregnant. Akin's comments will never affect Josephine, so she has little reason to care. But she cares very much about the U.S. legislative efforts to restrict abortion access, because that decades-long campaign, of which Akin is only an example, has changed her life permanently.
.....Thousands of girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict are routinely denied abortions with devastating consequences. Health experts say that about 5 percent of rapes lead to pregnancy, which suggests that the 1.8 million women and girls raped during the Congo's crisis may have led to as many as 90,000 unwanted pregnancies.
Though international humanitarian law provides a right to non-discriminatory medical care for rape victims in conflict, U.S. legislation forbids U.S. foreign assistance funds from being used to provide abortion services or information about abortion. This means that aid groups of the sort that might have helped Josephine are forced to choose between offering even basic information about abortion or accepting U.S. funding, which is often their largest source of funds. In effect, this pressures aid groups to deny a necessary medical service to pregnant women.
--Akila Radhakrishnan & Kristina Kallas, Foreign Policy, Akin-Style: How the U.S. Denies Abortions to Women Raped in War" (It's an informative and well-written piece, and you should check it out.)

I'm sure that A.'s friend had no intention of denying abortion to rape victims in the Congo when he wrote that comment. But every time you dismissively shut down a conversation about sexism, bigotry, the right to personal expression, educational access, autonomy, dignity, the silencing of those less powerful by those with greater resources -- every time you treat those things as unimportant, you allow the mindset in which women are not really deserving of the integrity of their own thoughts and bodies to persist. You contribute to a world in which LGBT teens are bullied. You make it impossible to address the injustice inherent in the fact that in this, one of the richest countries in the world, only a small percentage of the population has full access to those riches. So, this comment -- a perfect storm of cluelessness and hegemonic privilege -- is my internet Moment of the Day. It is a fantastic object lesson in missing the point and unwittingly (I have to presume) taking part in exactly the problematic behavior being discussed, an excellent object lesson in how not to move through the world. If someone says, "Wow -- it's really a problem that an entire class of people has their concerns dismissed and their humanity devalued on a regular basis," you should not respond by dismissing that concern, which devalues their humanity. Unless you mean to be a dick.

Oh, sorry -- an idiot with a dick.

1 comment:

  1. From my perspective, these idiots with dicks are insufferable bores to everyone, not just women. How women respond to that sort of aggressive, bullying behavior is a symptom of male privilege, for sure; our society teaches us that the stakes are much higher, and the punishment much harsher, for women who try to spew bullshit in such a glib manner. But the ignorant man doing the splaining in this scenario treats women the same way they treat beta-males who don’t speak up the same way they treat a dog who happens to wander in front of them while they’re holding forth on the latest series of Doctor Who. They’re not necessarily motivated by sexism, they’re just arrogant and self-absorbed. It’s male privilege and hegemonic oppression that makes some women struggle to tell these mansplainers to STFU.

    I feel like we mis-diagnose the problem when we call it “mansplaining,” though it’s a minor point. The solution is the same regardless: what we really need is for non-arrogant men and informed women to call out this behavior when we see it, whether it’s directed at a woman or a man. Women need to be supported in standing up for themselves, and also, not dismissed as crazy or emotional if they tell some arrogant boob to peddle their attention-seeking garbage elsewhere.