We all know people who think that having an opinion on something automatically turns them into experts. The worst part, their inflated egos encourage them to challenge the actual knowledge of the experts. However many people noticed an interesting tendency – men do this to women way much often and gave this phenomenon a name – mansplaining. The term is guilty of many many heated debates, with opponents saying that this sort of ‘Iknow better than you’ behavior has nothing to do with gender. However, the women who have experienced it kindly disagree. There are just so many men who assume that if a woman doesn’t agree with their opinion she must know nothing about the topic and proceeds to explain it to her, completely ignoring her education on the subject. Last year, a woman named Hilary Scarsella shared a situation which highlights this ridiculous mindset some men have and gave good advice on how it can be solved.
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Scarsella has two masters degrees and is completing a Ph.D. in Theological Studies. Her field of focus is religion, psychological trauma, and sexual and gender-based violence. Last year, she was an invited speaker in a conference, where she got the chance to talk about these issues. After the conference was over, she was sitting in the airport with a friend she made there, when a guy sat next to them and engaged in a discussion about Scarsella’s work. Well, to be fair, it didn’t seem like a discussion, this person, who has no knowledge in the field, tried to convince Scarsella of his point of view. While there’s nothing wrong with stating your opinion, Scarsella friend noticing something important the guy in questions failed to see it himself. Here’s how the situation unfolded.
“Story time. I’m at the airport, working on my laptop, sitting near a guy I just met at a conference this weekend. He and I were both invited speakers, and he was waiting for his flight home too. Another guy comes and sits across from us. He starts talking. He is talking a lot. He finds out we were speakers at a conference about trauma, theology, sexual abuse, and the church. He thinks this is really interesting. He’s into theology and trauma. He asks what my degrees are in. He launches into explaining his belief that everything happens for a reason, that the universe is filled with forces that even out all wrongdoing, that everyone is where they are supposed to be at all times, that something good comes from each thing that is bad, and so on. I listen and ask him questions and let him know kindly that I disagree. Did slavery happen for a reason? Has the Native American genocide been evened out? Was that woman really supposed to be in the room where she was raped? We argue. He works hard to show me that he is right. I look at my laptop. My work is not getting done. I say “I understand your perspective and I disagree.” He reiterates his points and then says, “It was great talking to you, I’m gonna go catch my flight!”
Then this brilliant thing happened. My new friend leaned forward as airport guy was about to walk away, and he said, “Dude, you missed an opportunity. You had an expert in theology and trauma sitting in front of you. You say you’re interested in these things but you didn’t ask her a single question. You didn’t try to learn anything at all from her. You know she has advanced degrees and is published but you just tried to show her that you know more about her work than she does. You missed out. Big fail, man.”
I’m sure I didn’t remember that verbatim, but I think the quote is pretty close.
The guy got uncomfortable and tried to defend himself, but my new friend and I smiled and shook our heads. Nope, we weren’t having it. Then, the guy sat back down and asked me to “teach him” for 5 minutes before he went to board his plane. He was trying to make it right. I smiled and said no thank you, I didn’t want to be put on the spot or responsible for him missing his flight (which had been boarding for 15 minutes). My new friend added, “No, man, you gotta live with the consequences of your mistake. Time’s up.”
We each said a pleasant goodbye, waved, and the guy went off to his gate.
This was (for me, in this particular situation) an awesome experience of a man (my new friend) using his male privilege to call bs on another man’s (airport guy) entitlement and sexism in a way that redirected power and dignity, and honestly, needed emotional energy back to me. When he spoke up, my body relaxed. My new friend wasn’t the least bit concerned about hurting airport guy’s feelings or making him uncomfortable. He was concerned about interrupting men’s patterns of lowkey dominating women. I found his priorities startling and refreshing. They made the physical space I was in change. It went from hostile space to safe(er) space in the time it took to speak a sentence. The ease with which my new friend expressed his priorities signaled a long term, practiced commitment to not only holding them in his mind but to embodying them as well. I wish I encountered this more often. My new friend shouldn’t get accolades. I’m not writing this to praise him or put him in some kind of weird male savior position. His priorities should be normal and interrupting sexism should be mundane. But they’re not, so. Here we are.
Menfolk, will you please make this happen more often? I could get by on half the energy it currently takes me to exist in the world if y’all would each take on one or two airport guys a month.
In earnest, though. I hope this might be a helpful example for those looking to build habits of supporting women and challenging sexism. This isn’t the only way to do it but it’s one way that worked today.”
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