Friday, February 6, 2015

Not sure if 'mansplaining' is gendered

Most  online op eds* tend to talk about workplace gender politics like it all goes down in a boardroom or an office somewhere. I suspect most Australian workers don't spend their working days in cubicles in front of screens as opposed to, say, barmaiding, wiring, teaching or digging holes. I'm wondering if the folk who type (thanks Capote, maaate) daily click bait reflect little more than their own personal universes. My caveat anyway is that I've never worked in an office and so I have no idea of how office politics fester and solidify into something toxic.

But I'm bloody good at making cement.

I love mixing cement. Last week I did at least thirty loads in one day. Shovelling and counting. Blue metal 3, sand 3, cracking open cement bags with a shovel, concrete 2. Getting it right, watching dirt and water and concrete dust spiralling into a mix that, once dried, will hopefully stay put for a century or so. I love watching the hopper spin, clag up, go lumpy and then get to that sweet spot where the mix starts to peel away from the back wall of the hopper. I'll chuck another half cup of water in at this point just to perfect it. Pour it into a wheelbarrow. Inspect my work.

The whole time I'm thinking such ephemera as Western colonial expansion in the 17th century, who I'd like to fuck, what day the rubbish bin goes out, or maybe even an article I read on my phone that morning about how the Macquarie dictionary has deigned 'mansplaining' as their word of the year.

I get the mansplaining thing. I get it. It's when you know what you are on about, and some bloke will still stopper you and say, "Shhh, stop talking. I'll explain it all to you, darling."
When I was building my shack with the help of a mate, he said, "Quickset cement? You can't just drop that stuff into the uprights. That's not how it's done. This is how you do foundations etc ...etc ... etc. Blah blah blah."
In the end I acquiesced and helped him mix quickset cement in a wheelbarrow so he could trowel it into the foundations. "Oo ... shit, well it's setting pretty quickly now, isn't it?" as he desperately troweled out the cement into the holes before it, like, set really quick.

One of my best examples of mansplaining was quite recently. I'd just brought the motherlode of Moort honey home from the hives in Kundip and taken them to the local apiarist to be tested for water content and purity of nectar. He dipped his finger into the twenty kilo bucket, put it on his tongue and looked at me quizzically. "It's Moort."
"Yes. The Moorts are flowering out there at the moment."
"But there's no Moorts at your place," he said. "They're further up the road, at Kundip."
"I am at Kundip and there's Moorts flowering there."
"No, you're in Mallee country, at Elverstone."
"No, I'm at Kundip. That's where the hives are."
"No! No. Your hives are in the Mallee country." He was so sure that I began to doubt myself.
He showed me some samples of Moort and Mallee flowers. "Which one is growing at your place?"
"This one," I picked up the Moort.
"But that grows at Kundip."
"Yeah ... that's because the hives are at Kundip."
"But you're at Elverstone mine, where the shack is, and that's Mallee country. Mate, you've got it all wrong."
"No, I'm at Kundip. Look." I drew him a map in the sand. "See Road 11? I'm back one kilometre. I'm at Kundip."
He stared at my drawing. "Did you build a shack there?"
"She built a shack there," Kyabla said helpfully.
"That's where the hives are," I said, again.
"Did you really build that shack at Kundip?"
"Then I'll have you know," he said, "that's Moort honey you have there, Sarah."

My feeling about the new word 'mansplaining' is complicated ... Yes, I've encountered Macquarie's interpretation of mansplaining often throughout my life but it has always been an interaction that makes me laugh at the Byronesque factor rather than enrage me. Is it about gender? Have women always, quietly, pulled the same kind of stunt anyway? Yes, they have. Mary Wollstonecraft saw the revolutionary girls' way out as "her individuality as a way to escape the mindless conformity of the mass media machine." And I do believe one of her daughters may have had something to do with the writing of Frankenstein.

At the moment (I may change my mind) I see the word 'mansplain' as a censorial, finger wagger that doesn't do anything special, really. I think men and women both say really stupid shit at barbeques and pull power trips in their workplaces to override or bully their inferiors. But at least it's a new word that 'splains something.

That is what's so interesting about this language thing.

*And isn't 'op ed' short for opinion editorial? In which case shouldn't they be written by the editor of a publication and not an intern/freelancer/late night cleaner with a password? Dunno. Please enlighten me here.


  1. I think an editorial is supposed to be an opinion piece written by an editor (or editorial representative, or some shit); while the term op-ed denotes an opinion piece which is specifically NOT written by someone who is one of those people ... for some reason. Does the "op" actually stand for opinion, or something else? Opposing? Opposite? Optional? Ophthalmologist? There's probably a long and fascinating history about it somewhere.

    Mansplaining? Oh dear; I suppose they've got Roflcopter in the dictionary now too, do they? Out of curiosity though, do you have any anecdotes about the last time a woman "mansplained" something to you?

    Also, while I know it's impossible for larger jobs, I've come to the conclusion that you're better off mixing your own cement whenever you can; as the "professionals" will ofter mix it thin to save money. In one place where I was working once, a local bloke lost his arse after pouring a slab for a major building project that never set properly. Bit of an ugly scene, that one was.

  2. So ... some one opposing the editor? It gets better ...

    "Out of curiosity though, do you have any anecdotes about the last time a woman "mansplained" something to you?"

    Yes I do.

    1. Sorry Alex, dropped out there! I think I've been guilty of 'mansplaining'. Even to myself :~)

    2. By the way, a friend reckons that the op ed is the opinion column on the page opposite the editorial, thus op ed. Geddit?
      Still not sure.

  3. Well being a much angrier woman than you Sarah, 'mansplaining' makes me want to do something violent to the perpetrator. I don't have your patience or humour, not about this anyway. My fuse on this issue is very short and someone is likely to cop a barrage of: 'don't fucking patronise me, tell me what to do or how to do this - I know what the fuck I am doing'. 'Patronise' being the operative word here: derived no doubt from 'patri' - the 'father'. All that's wrong with the world and why the 'feminine' is being fucked over.

    Good post. I've learnt a new word and will now be able to accuse people of the crime.

  4. Which, to be fair, may also be directed towards some women.

    1. That's where I was getting to, about it not being gendered.

      The op eds and the word itself plays into rather boring gender stereotypes ie women are passive and can't speak up to a boorish, stupid male. I find that kind of labelling more offensive than being 'mansplained' to. So it's all very circular really. What to do.

  5. Now Sarah, let me just explain to you where you went wrong ............................ Let me see have I ever been subjected to (wo)mansplain? I've certainly been bullied. My wife regularly tells me what I'm thinking or what my motivation is despite my protestations. Hmmmmm. Men are more inclined to it but women have the capacity for it. Maybe when men do more sewing they might experience more of it!

  6. Is it just me, or did your most recent post disappear, Sarah?

    1. Yes, I decided in the morning that it was a rather tired and emotional one :~)

    2. Ah, right. My feed reader picked it up, and then when I went to comment -- *POOF* -- it was gone.

      Handy to know it's not something on my end.

  7. Great discussion here!
    I often encounter mansplaining when I talk politics.
    I guess women aren't supposed to be interested in politics.
    Go figure.

    1. Hi T.
      Nice to hear from you. I've worked in quite a few male-dominated work places where they would probably prefer that I shut up. Sometimes I want to call an ambulance for them when my raised middle finger starts asserting itself.
      But it's funny.
      More Pythonesque rather than Byronesque.