What has no name cannot be acknowledged or shared »« The religious domination of the culture

Even male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness

From Rebecca Solnit’s essay (which later became a book) “Men Explain Things to Me”:

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.

I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the trajectory of American politics since 2001 was shaped by, say, the inability to hear Coleen Rowley, the FBI woman who issued those early warnings about al-Qaeda, and it was certainly shaped by a Bush administration to which you couldn’t tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to al-Qaeda and no WMDs, or that the war was not going to be a “cakewalk.” (Even male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness.)

Arrogance might have had something to do with the war, but this syndrome is a war that nearly every woman faces every day, a war within herself too, a belief in her superfluity, an invitation to silence, one from which a fairly nice career as a writer (with a lot of research and facts correctly deployed) has not entirely freed me. After all, there was a moment there when I was willing to let Mr. Important and his overweening confidence bowl over my more shaky certainty.

Never be a person you can’t tell anything. Never be that person.

Comments

  1. chrislawson says

    …a Bush administration to which you couldn’t tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to al-Qaeda and no WMDs, or that the war was not going to be a “cakewalk.”

    I agree with the second part of that sentence, but not the first. It’s absolutely clear that Bush and his team were 100% aware that Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaeda from the start. This was not secret knowledge. Anyone with even a passing understanding of the situation knew full well that Baathist Iraq and al-Qaeda were deadly enemies and that the trail from 9/11 led not to Iraq but to Saudi Arabia. This was a genuine Big Lie, knowingly put about by a cynical presidency, in direct contradiction to their established intelligence sources, *none* of which linked al-Qaeda to Iraq.

    But this is an aside. Yes, women in most parts of the world have been accultured to shut up when men are talking and men, even if they don’t consciously realise it, have been accultured to cut women off, minimise their speech, etc., etc., and I’m from a generation where I have to make sure I don’t do this reflexively. On the positive side, in the tutorials I run I see women who are confident and feel that their views are valued, and the men in the room do not tend to talk over them. (At least that’s my perception. Maybe a video study would show different.)

  2. Reality_based_community says

    I wonder if this is a gender-based thing, or if it’s just part of a more general pattern sometimes referred to as the Dunning-Kruger effect. We all know loud bullshit artists that are in love with the sound of their own voice, and they feel free to expound on their bullshit to both genders in equal measure. Granted, they seem to be almost always male, but I doubt if they are in any way representative of said gender. Perhaps there is a kind of Peter Principal…let’s call it the Dick Principal, whereby such persons are more likely to find themselves in positions of authority because we seem to elevate glibness and bullshit above actual knowledge and talent. They can sometimes be likable, in a Cliff Claven sort of way, and variously annoying, but it’s hard for me to take them seriously. That said, I did note that the term “mansplain” has been added to the OED, so it must be a widespread perception that it’s something that men typically do.

  3. says

    @Reality based community

    Yeah, it’s not just a perception. It is definitely something men do, and they do it more to women than to men. Perhaps because ‘splaining to a man runs the risk of being caught out as ignorant by another man and being humiliated in front of everyone. And unless you can be sure to show him up in front of some women, why bother. But mansplaining to a woman? Well she might just admire you for your perfect knowledge & understanding, and worst case you can just ignore her or rationalize it away if it turns out she’s more of an expert than you are. Wait, what, there are women who know stuff? I don’t believe you.

  4. says

    Classic.

    Reality_based_community you say it’s hard for you to take seriously. Well it doesn’t happen to you in the same way, does it. It’s easy to shrug off things that happen only to other people, isn’t it.

    Frankly you do quite a lot of it yourself.

  5. Reality_based_community says

    Reality_based_community you say it’s hard for you to take seriously. Well it doesn’t happen to you in the same way, does it. It’s easy to shrug off things that happen only to other people, isn’t it.

    It happens to me all of the frickin’ time, OB, as I’m sure it does to everybody. And let’s clarify – when you say “it’s hard for you to take seriously,” the “it” refers to pompous fools, not the phenomenon itself. I’m not “shrugging it off.” And while you say I do it “quite a lot,” I believe there is a difference between trying to engage in useful exchange and discussion out of a desire to learn what and how others’ think, sometimes to provoke (admittedly) and challenge …and “mansplaining.” … to suggest otherwise is being rather summarily dismissive, IMHO.

  6. Reality_based_community says

    ah, your quarrel is with the quantity as opposed to the content. Should I stop commenting? I thought any blogger welcomed comments. But I’ll absolutely stop if the admin doesn’t think I have anything to contribute.

  7. says

    No, I don’t have a quarrel with the quantity as such. You are welcome to comment. But I think it’s pretty absurd to accuse me of being summarily dismissive given those numbers.

  8. Claire Ramsey says

    Reality Based Community wrote “We all know loud bullshit artists that are in love with the sound of their own voice, and they feel free to expound on their bullshit to both genders in equal measure.”

    Yes, we do all know this type. However their kind of filling the airwaves w/crap “to both genders” is not identical to the explaining of crap that women receive from men. In your rush to summon evidence that it’s not a “gender-based thing,” you have confused two phenomena.

    There is a powerful gender-based thing. And then there are braying loudmouths who share the contents of their feeble minds with anyone w/in the distance of their honking and snorting and expounding. They aren’t the same. And you have not experienced the gender-based thing, ever. You have clearly experienced the other. But that by itself does not give you the experience to grasp the gender-based thing.

  9. Katydid says

    I was in a meeting the other day when one of my male colleagues began with, “[Subject] isn’t my area of expertise, BUT, [tons of bullshit].” [Subject] *was*, in fact, my area of expertise (I wrote my dissertation on it) but there was no cutting through the fog of bullshit he’d surrounded himself with, and furthermore, the rest of the meeting attendees (all male) were not interested in hearing the reality because they were so caught up in “man says something”.

  10. iknklast says

    I actually sat in my bosses office one day while he explained to me something about my field (environmental science) that was totally “common knowledge” and totally wrong. I had answered a question he asked me, he said, No, that’s wrong – in those exact words. This was a common occurrence with him – couple my being female with my being an environmental scientist (Ph.D., 20 years of field experience, original research – you know the routine) which of course everyone knows about because it’s in the newspapers…common occurrence, mansplaining. And I know for a fact he didn’t do the same to the person (male) who had the job before me, because I have had numerous conversations with my predecessor. I’ve also watched the way he talks to women vs the way he talks to men. If he has to explain something to a male, it’s not something in that male’s field, and he talks to him totally like an equal. He never corrects any of the men in their own field of expertise. This man, by the way, would be horrified to hear that he was sexist; he had no clue he was doing this.

  11. otrame says

    @12

    That is why they get so angry when you tell them what they are doing. They don’t actually realize what they are doing. They don’t like thinking that they are sexist. Being a sexist is bad. Besides, they KNOW that they like women. So all this talk about sexism is nonsense and you feminists are a bunch of radicals who hate men.

    That’s why I prefer not to use the word misogynist except when the dislike of women is open and the hostility obvious. Most men like the boss you mention are not conscious of just how much misogyny they have absorbed from the culture. The trouble is that the best way to make it clear what they are doing without making them so defensive they won’t listen depends entirely on the man in question.

  12. John Morales says

    otrame,

    That’s why I prefer not to use the word misogynist except when the dislike of women is open and the hostility obvious. Most men like the boss you mention are not conscious of just how much misogyny they have absorbed from the culture. The trouble is that the best way to make it clear what they are doing without making them so defensive they won’t listen depends entirely on the man in question.

    The distinction between functional vs intentional misogyny is important, and yeah… if I’m called on the latter, my inclination is to get defensive. :|

    However, I personally think that there is also a qualitative distinction between mere sexism and misogyny, and sometimes the two are conflated.

  13. Reality_based_community says

    Katydid –

    I was in a meeting the other day when one of my male colleagues began with, “[Subject] isn’t my area of expertise, BUT, [tons of bullshit].” [Subject] *was*, in fact, my area of expertise (I wrote my dissertation on it)

    I’ve experienced this sort of thing myself. In fact, exactly this same thing – people refuting my expertise (and about which I’ve written a dissertation). And I’ve experienced it from both men and women. I won’t deny that kind of dismissive attitude seems to be tilted disproportionately toward men though. Those who say I haven’t experienced it from the perspective of being a women…well obvious. So I’ll take y’all at your word re your own experiences, as we all should. I do actually listen to what folks try to tell me. I tend to shrug it off, but perhaps gender dynamics make things a bit different in ways I don’t entirely understand. And I’m willing to learn…

  14. Silentbob says

    @ 15 Reality_based_community

    perhaps gender dynamics make things a bit different in ways I don’t entirely understand. And I’m willing to learn…

    For your consideration, an article describing a set of phenomena known as “Chilly Climate” (PDF).
    (In the context of education, but applies elsewhere.)

  15. Reality_based_community says

    I have read some studies that support the interpretation of pedagogy explored in the piece you cite, Silent Bob. It would have helped if the author provided supporting citations for some of the assertions. But nevermind, it appears to be an informal discussion.

    I would suggest, though, it might be wise not to be too pessimistic about gendered pedagogy. It undoubtedly exists, and as a father of a daughter, pisses me off at times. But there is reason for hope. Women are now significantly more likely to obtain a university degree than men, and tend to achieve better grades than men. Women are now making inroads into STEM fields,which previously were demarcated by strong barriers against female participation. For example, women are the majority of students in med school these days. We are still in the throes of shaking off the old cultural buffoonery of yesteryear, but it appears to me that significant progress is being made. And if some ignorant fool, including an authority figure such as a teacher, starts mansplaining or being dismissive of stuff my daughter knows to be true, she is now well equipped to tell him or her to fuck off.

  16. Maureen Brian says

    If you had read to the end of that you’d have seen, Reality_based_community, that it advises readers it is a summary – the main points of more detailed work, put together for a particular purpose. It is not designed to be an authoritative research paper.

    If you are looking for such papers, here are 37,000 and more of them – http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?hl=en&q=chilly+climate&btnG=&as_sdt=1%2C5&as_sdtp= – and that’s just a single search.

    By the way, you do your daughter no favours by presenting these as a set of problems entirely solved. Things are quite a bit better for some women, not for all, but it didn’t happen by the complacent sprinkling magic fairy dust about. Every step forward cost grief. Some cost lives and, however bright she is, one day she’s going to run into a professor who thinks he’s entitled to her arse or a man who “doesn’t do business with women” (no explanation given) even when he’s been told that a woman controls that budget, and that she – i.e. me – is the one at the top of that particular tree. Yes, he would have been happier if I’d brought in a male proxy who would not have known what he was talking about.

    Instead he got a flea in his ear on account of his rudeness and extreme irrationality.

  17. Reality_based_community says

    Maureen –

    By the way, you do your daughter no favours by presenting these as a set of problems entirely solved.

    As I said, we are still in throes…so I’m not teaching her that the problem is solved. I’m teaching her that sexism won’t be an impediment to her life choices.

  18. says

    That’s so simple-minded.

    And it’s not helpful, not to your daughter and not to other women.

    People aren’t magic. They can’t just magically overcome all obstacles because they’re magic enough.

    Also? They shouldn’t have to be. The way to deal with obstacles is not to be magic enough to overcome them, because why should anyone have to be? The way to deal with obstacles is to get rid of them, not to tell yourself that if you just knock yourself out enough you will overcome.

    That’s such a Romantic, simplistic, individualistic, cult-of-the-hero way to look at it. Systemic obstacles are systemic. Personal greatness is not the solution.

  19. says

    You don’t seem to have the faintest clue about the countless women who have thought exactly that, and then slammed up against obstacles that simply did not yield to their magical wonderfulness.

  20. Reality_based_community says

    Perhaps this is the point where I depart from certain brands of feminist thought. I don’t think “patriarchy” is so totalizing that it invades every nook and cranny of individual experience, or that it is at this point a significant impediment to living one’s life. There are far far more toxic elements imbedded in our culture that will have far more deleterious impacts on her life. Vacuous materialism and mindless consumption come to mind. And those things will imperil her very life. Not that she frequently has to interact with boorish know-it-all men. While you are waiting for culture to change, I’m doing what I can at the moment. That’s all that is within my power to do.

  21. says

    Notice that I didn’t mention patriarchy, with or without scare-quotes. Notice that you’re not in a position to know exactly how invasive sexist attitudes and behaviors are. Notice that I didn’t say anything about every nook and cranny of individual experience. Notice that you just plain might not be aware of exactly how significant an impediment it might be to people who are unlike you in the gender department. Notice that I didn’t say that sexism is the most toxic element in our culture. Notice that I didn’t say that sexism is what would have the most deleterious impact on your daughter’s life.

    And that last bit? That’s just an insulting taunt.

  22. says

    I overlooked your reply @ 26. No, that’s not what I’m saying. Obviously it’s not. Of course raising strong independent women is helpful. What’s not helpful is telling them fairytales about some magical ability to overcome all sexist obstacles because they are strong and independent.

  23. Reality_based_community says

    OB, I’m seriously not trying to be insulting, and any insult was unintentional. So I can only ask for a little forbearance, which you have hitherto extended in good measure. And please don’t think it’s not appreciated. All I’m saying is I do what I can.

  24. says

    Well, not exactly. It’s well worded in the superficial sense. It’s not so well thought. Frankly I think that’s a problem with your commenting generally – your writing is highly skilled, though too formal for my taste, but the very skill somewhat disguises the…how shall I put it…the lack of effort in the thinking.

    It seems to me it shouldn’t be that difficult to see – to think hard enough to see – that accusing me of waiting while you act is in fact insulting.

  25. Reality_based_community says

    Fair enough, OB. I trust my instincts enough to know you are a kind, decent and generous person. I just happen to disagree that I’m telling my daughter a lie when I tell her that she is free to pursue her passions and will not be impeded by sexist obstacles. Is that somehow wrong?

  26. says

    Yes I think it is wrong. Granted, it’s a balancing act – but yes, I think it’s wrong to tell her, just flat-out like that with no qualifications or hedges, that she will not be impeded by sexist obstacles. You can’t possibly know that, and (I’m sorry to say) it’s very likely not to be true. It’s like telling her she’ll never get sick.

    I’m not saying you should discourage her, I’m not even saying you should dwell on the obstacles. I am saying you shouldn’t mislead her into thinking that there are no obstacles.

  27. Reality_based_community says

    Well, since I don’t generally force the topic of conversation, she usually leads. The topic of sexism, quite frankly, has never really come up. She doesn’t even seem to be aware of it. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

  28. says

    Oh. So when you said “I’m teaching her that sexism won’t be an impediment to her life choices” that actually wasn’t what you meant.

    So let me see if I can suss out what you do mean. You’re raising her to be strong and independent, and you’re taking your lead from her, so you’re not at this stage talking about sexism or obstacles.

    If that’s what you mean, I haven’t a word to say.

  29. Reality_based_community says

    OB –

    Oh. So when you said “I’m teaching her that sexism won’t be an impediment to her life choices” that actually wasn’t what you meant.

    Again, another poorly worded sentence. What I should have said was that I’m trying to teach her to have faith in herself, and that she has the ability to achieve what she wants from life. Indirectly, I believe those and other faculties will overcome any sexism she might experience in life. But that’s where you and I disagree. You said flat out that sexism will almost inevitably impede her life. I simply don’t believe that. I would be very much interested to hear from others who believe that sexism has impeded their life in any fundamental way. Aside from the threat of rape or other physical violence, I really just don’t see sexism to be so ubiquitous as to pose a serious challenge to her. I really don’t.

  30. says

    No, I didn’t say that. Do please try to be accurate. It’s wasteful to go round and round because of inaccurate wording.

    You said: “I’m teaching her that sexism won’t be an impediment to her life choices.”

    I said that’s a falsehood. You can’t possibly know that. She might be lucky and avoid all sexism in her chosen work, but it’s not very likely.

    And the last bit – I think I’ve pointed this out to you at least a couple of times, and I think others have too – I do wish you would LISTEN – this bit:

    Aside from the threat of rape or other physical violence, I really just don’t see sexism to be so ubiquitous as to pose a serious challenge to her. I really don’t.

    – is just a fatuous claim to make, because you wouldn’t know. You’re not exposed to all the sexism that women are, so you have no way of knowing from your personal experience how much of it there is. What you “see” is just thoroughly beside the point. It would be like me announcing that I don’t see much racism. Well I wouldn’t, would I! Because it happens to other people.

    Please try to take that in. It’s important. It applies to so many things. Daniel Kahneman considers it so central he has an acronym for it – WYSIATI – what you see is all there is. That’s a cognitive error. What you see is NOT all there is.

    http://jeffreysaltzman.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/wysiati/

  31. Reality_based_community says

    You’re not exposed to all the sexism that women are, so you have no way of knowing from your personal experience how much of it there is.

    I think that is what is known is evidence, which generally informs my opinion. That which I’m exposed to, directly or indirectly. I’m not entirely unobservant (I do witness plenty of racism)…But again, I have to ask, how is sexism going to impede my daughter’s life? Will it bar her from certain careers? From certain universities? Lower her self-esteem? Make her doubt herself? Fill her with self-loathing? I find all of those things terribly unlikely. And what is it that you would have me teach her?

  32. says

    No, skip that. I’ll just take you at your own valuation. You’re infallible, you have all the evidence, you’re observant, you don’t see much sexism, so there isn’t much sexism. Hooray.

    Thank you for straightening all that out.

  33. Reality_based_community says

    Ophelia, don’t be mean. We disagree on some things. But I do like you, for what it’s worth. And I’m the last person to presume I have all of the answers. I have none of the answers…

  34. says

    Realitybasedcommunity, don’t be deaf. I don’t know how to have a conversation with a guy who can’t even acknowledge that he’s not well placed to know how much sexism there is via what he can see. And no, I’m sorry, you’re not the last person to presume you have all the answers. You just told us how reliable your judgment and observation are, in reply to my pointing out that sexism doesn’t happen to you so you’re not the best source for how much of it there is. That’s pretty much the opposite of being the last person to presume you have all of the answers.

  35. Reality_based_community says

    Ophelia, I don’t have too terrible much faith in my observations. It’s all that I have, though. As does anyone.

  36. smhll says

    Again, another poorly worded sentence. What I should have said was that I’m trying to teach her to have faith in herself, and that she has the ability to achieve what she wants from life. Indirectly, I believe those and other faculties will overcome any sexism she might experience in life. But that’s where you and I disagree. You said flat out that sexism will almost inevitably impede her life. I simply don’t believe that

    Are you aware that while women outnumber men in colleges and grad schools, in most universities the professors are more likely to be male than female? (And they have a wide range of discrertion in how they support and encourage their students. Studies do show that people tend to favor and hire people who are as much like themselves as possible.)

    There have been quite a few good posts on the internet the last couple of years about how juggling sexual interest from a thesis adviser is like juggling dynamite.

    It’s great that you are teaching your daughter to be assertive. Have you also taught her how to react when people turn on her and tell her she’s being too aggressive?

  37. Crimson Clupeidae says

    I think it’s time for Anger, Part 2: Why are you feminists so ANGRY!?!

    Chapter 1: Mansplaining……

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