OK, stick with me here everyone, because this is not a pass for men to perpetuate toxic behavior… it’s an attempt to make a little positive impact at the root of some really toxic symptoms.
I expect that if you are like me, your social media feed of late* has contained a lot of (rightful) frustration over the finally highlighted epidemic of men apparently feeling the right and need to inform women about topics which those women are not only conversant in already, but usually far more so than the men engaged in this activity. (* the past three years at least)
In short: mansplaining.
(If you have NOT heard this term, please PM me with your address because you have clearly discovered an as-yet-unknown dead zone of communications… and how you are reading this is a scientific miracle.)
A lot of reactions to the mansplain crop up, from amusement to confusion, to absolute ire. I can totally understand all of those, and while this writing may be interesting to women as a peek inside the toxic narrative playing out unrealized in men’s heads, it’s mainly for the guys out there who are operating with some basic brain OS variables that are, in short: horseshit.
OK. Let’s be honest guys. It’s best to be the MVP, right? People like it when you’re confident, when you can contribute. If you’re not problem solving, you’re problem making. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. No pain, no gain? You’re the hero of your own story, and that means that you’re basically on your own. If YOU don’t take care of yourself, and everyone around you, nobody will. People will be upset with you. You’ll let them down. You’ll be a failure. If you can’t be useful, can’t fix things, don’t KNOW things… then you’re a waste of resources, right? You’re never going to hit the metrics of success, never going to get the girl or boy of your dreams, never be respected, never be promoted. You will, in all likelihood, die alone, in a pauper’s grave, because History Teaches Us that it’s the DOERS, the THINKERS who succeed. Everyone else is a drone, and DRONES DIE. You need to be a man’s man, your own man, THE MAN. It doesn’t matter if you hurt some feelings along the way because if there’s anything that every book, movie, song, social interaction, and gender expectation has taught you, it’s that you’re either RIGHT, or you’re NOTHING. Heck, there are times when you need to kill something because that’s the hard requirement of being a man. Might be a rabid dog, might be a thief. Might be someone who just falls behind and the zombies are gonna get them. Anyone who hesitates is uncertain, and if they’re uncertain they’re going to get you killed and YOU AND ONLY YOU CAN STOP THAT FROM HAPPENING, SO MAN UP YOU WUSS AND DON’T LET ANYONE TELL YOU THAT THEY KNOW MORE ABOUT PARTICLE PHYSICS THAN YOU BECAUSE IF YOU AREN’T PERFECT AND AN EXPERT AT EVERYTHING YOU’RE GOING TO BE MADE IN TO SOYLENT FUCKING GREEN!!!
…. How long did you make it through that before it started to sound crazy? I guarantee you that if you poke at the subtle expectations in your head from all the shit you’ve read and watched and heard your WHOLE LIFE, that’s basically what it says.
- “Fuck cooperation, it’ll just get you taken advantage of and left behind.”
- “Women are smart and great, sure, but they’re not assertive right? They don’t push their agenda as much as other men you know, so they much be a risk.”
- “You need to be one who KNOWS, because if you’re not, who will value you? No woman will want you if you don’t KNOW.” (I’m going to go with largely hetero romantic interaction here because when you add in the social matrix of gay men, it’s a different essay… no less valid, but there is a ‘reproductive pressure’ aspect to a lot of guys in specifically the origins of mansplaining.)
… Here’s the thing.
It’s. All. Bullshit.
And when you stop to think about it, you mostly KNOW that… you’re smart, and you can be rational and go “well, sure, I mean, that’s just silly!” …but the whispers in your head don’t stop. They push. They wheedle. They undermine. They tell you that in THIS case, you’re not being rude and pushy… you are problem-solving!
There’s a woman in an online forum talking about making macrons. You’re not a baker, but you know chemistry, and you want to help… so you weigh in with your guess on the behavior of proteins based on what you know… and then it goes to hell. She pushes back. She says you’re wrong, AND… she isn’t grateful that you were trying to help! She questions your knowledge! And worse… she’s just robbed you of validity. She’s triggered your whole compensation mechanism that’s been built in that starts here, and goes all the way to the walkers winning and killing us all.
Except she didn’t. It was you.
You meant it well, and I get that, but you let your invalid OS instructions drive, and you set YOURSELF up for this cascade.
I want you to actually say this part out loud with me:
“I am enough as I am. I do not need to be the sole solution to the world. I am only responsible for myself and to provide help where asked. I am enough. I am worthy just because I am here. I am loved.”
Women do not want you to lack validity. They do not want you to be without agency. They are not trying to force you into some post-apocalyptic eunuch role of drone like subservience, despite what the incel nutjobs say.
Women want men to believe, really believe, that your worth is not dependent on reducing theirs.
When we can interrupt the toxic hero-message routine, we open up a whole new world of possibilities. Instead of fear that our lack of knowledge will be the source of our ridicule, and cause us to be shoved to the outside of the group… we experience wonder and curiosity. Instead of the anxiety of being the only focal point of solving the world’s issues… we realize that we are part of a huge and ever-changing team.
And instead of making our colleagues, friends, partners and acquaintances irate over our apparent assumption that possessing a penis makes us experts in everything, we can honor their skills and expertise, learn from them, and be respected in turn when our knowledge happens to BE the greater.
The toxic hero-message routine brought with it some useful traits… the willingness to try things we know nothing about, to teach ourselves on the fly. But we can value those and nurture them in everyone, without using them as blunt instruments of social placement.
So I want to say this once and clearly: It’s ok not to be perfect.
You don’t have to be the hero. I love you anyway, and more people will love you with flaws and uncertainty than will for trying to be the John Wayne of your block. Tell the whispers that they’re liars. Be uncertain. Listen and ask questions. Offer what you know and acknowledge the limits of what you know. Honor what others know, and learn from them, and acknowledge that you learned FROM THEM.
Not only will you rarely if ever be guilty of mansplaining, I bet you’ll be freer and feel less stress too.