That Mansplaining Flowchart
I first saw the mansplaining flowchart in a post by a colleague of mine — let’s call her Judith.
She’s an effective and highly respected labor organizer. Judith also reflected on personal experience, adding that women sometimes mansplain too.
A commenter — let’s call her Karen — disagreed, with a learned-sounding rebuttal. Some good stuff about structural patriarchy. But it escalated to a groan of ridicule— “… women can mansplain? That’s like saying black people can be racist.”
Judith—not wanting a pissing contest—replied “whatever.” Then I think someone posted one of those memes with Michael Jackson eating popcorn.
Karen seemed to think Judith was accusing women of mansplaining to men, which, like accusing people of color of ‘anti-white racism’, would be…ignorant…essentially a misunderstanding of what race is. (Forgive me if, for now, I don’t, uh, explain why.) Or maybe Karen didn’t understand terms like structural sexism and racism… maybe she thought only white subjects reinforce anti-black racism, and only men reinforce misogyny and patriarchy. Either way, Karen was, um, explaining — yes, that’s right — to Judith, a woman, that women cannot mansplain. And she didn’t understand things as well as she thought she did. And it was unwelcome. (Let’s take a look at that flowchart again.)
The flowchart is brilliant. We academics are so tempted to explain things—why not? We have authority, we have knowledge. I might not be a sociologist of race and gender, but I teach about popular music, and I have read about race and gender. A lot. Why not share what I’ve learned? And yet we are much more heroic when we ask questions, and when we listen more than we explain. One of the things the flowchart recommends, before you lord your knowledge over someone, is to ask… “do you need such-and-such explained to you?” Karen hadn’t listened to Judith’s actual point, and she was speaking her knowledge pretty much into a void. (Which I am totally not doing right now.) By way of analogy, think of Karen’s speech as if it were unwanted sexual aggression. She was entering a conversation about women being mansplained-to, by sexists both within and without the male gender. And treated it like an opportunity to lecture everyone about some slightly related topic. (Of course, when I teach about race and gender, it’s always a well-managed dialogue, and I know I’m tackling problems that people really want me to solve. And it’s maybe even kind of a dominant-submissive-type situation, but it’s progressive and …consensual! You know, like in that movie Secretary.)
You have a very low opinion of me if you think I explained these problems to Karen. Very low. Or if you think I felt the need to “come to Judith’s rescue.”
But questions are good, right? I asked Karen — “are you sure about that metaphor?… is that really what ‘structural oppression’ means? Are you saying the oppressed can’t contribute to one another’s oppression?” Still not explaining!: “Are you sure they can’t reinforce the structure in which it occurs?”
Yes, she was sure. “My metaphor is fine.” And yeah, she expounded. “Sure, POC can be prejudiced, but they can’t be racist systematically.” And here comes the fake citation: “If you have a problem with my definitions, take it up with the American Sociological Association.”
I consulted the flowchart to remind myself of the steps. “Karen … do you need structural racism explained to you?”
(I know, I know. I have mastered this! Model citizen. And I can tell that Judith is no longer a damsel in distress. Rescue complete! She deleted the thread.)