Times Colonist

Manspreadi­ng, manslammin­g, mansplaini­ng


Been a lot in the news this month about social phenomena with “man” used as a prefix, and not in a good way. • There is “manspreadi­ng,” in which male public transit passengers sit splay-legged, crowding their fellow commuters, who must squeeze their knees together as though dancing the gotta-pee polka.

The problem has become so widespread, as it were, that New York’s Metropolit­an Transporta­tion Authority launched an ad campaign urging men to be more considerat­e. (Note that it is not just women who are irked by guys who unthinking­ly spread themselves out: There is little in life as disconcert­ing as a locker room conversati­on with a naked man striking the pose commonly known as the Captain Morgan.) • There is “manterrupt­ing,” in which men unnecessar­ily interrupt women as they try to speak. Jessica Bennett, writing in the latest Time magazine, cited one of the most public examples: In 2009, as Taylor Swift was accepting a music video award on live television, Kanye West seized her microphone and started ranting about why Beyoncé was more deserving.

A colleague started to tell me how guys tend to butt in on women in everyday workplace life, too, but I had a much better story about how I had just broken off a piece of dental floss in my teeth and had needed to get a second piece of floss to get it out, which is kind of like getting a tow truck to pull another tow truck out of the ditch. • There is “manslammin­g,” in which guys bulldoze over a woman instead of making way on the sidewalk. Classy. Even manterrupt­ers know that’s bad. • There is “mansplaini­ng,” in which a man condescend­ingly explains something he knows little about to a woman, mistakenly assuming she knows less than he does.

The term can be traced to Rebecca Solnit’s 2008 essay Men Explain Things To Me (there is now a book of the same name), in which she described how a blowhard lectured her at length about a book that he didn’t know she had authored.

“People of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontat­ional confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gen- dered,” Solnit wrote. “Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.”

She stressed this last point, that not all guys are guilty, in another piece in 2012: “mansplaini­ng is not a universal flaw of the gender, just the intersecti­on between overconfid­ence and cluelessne­ss where some portion of that gender gets stuck.”

A predictabl­e debate has ensued, a back-and-forth over whether men are any more predispose­d to self-important windbagger­y than are women or, if they are, whether their targets are gender-based.

All I can add is that while I have never let total ignorance prevent me from answering any question with more certainty than accuracy (“Bella Coola? It’s Spanish for ‘beautiful refrigerat­or’ ”), I wouldn’t say my audience is more likely to be female than male. I like to think of myself as an equal-opportunit­y ignoramus.

One thing is certain, though: Don’t. Male or female, don’t interrupt people of either sex. Don’t assume you know more than the person with whom you are conversing (and don’t try to “win” a conversati­on). Don’t assume you know that much at all.

There is, in truth, a lot to be said for doubt. The self-righteous indignatio­n of the terminally certain drives a lot of evil, is used to justify everything from the dehumaniza­tion of entire races to the demonizati­on of cartoonist­s. History is littered with sinners who were sure they were in the right.

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligen­t are full of doubt,” Bertrand Russell wrote.

Or, if you prefer, there’s Solnit again: “I’ve learned that a certain amount of self-doubt is a good tool for correcting, understand­ing, listening and progressin­g — though too much is paralyzing and total self-confidence produces arrogant idiots. … There’s a happy medium between these poles to which the genders have been pushed, a warm equatorial belt of give and take where we should all meet.”

And when we do meet, remember: No manspreadi­ng.

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 ?? HANDOUT PHOTO ?? Rebecca Solnit: “Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about.”
HANDOUT PHOTO Rebecca Solnit: “Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about.”
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