Smart people saying smart things

Elizabeth Drescher: “Masculinity and Mass Violence”

By and large the common denominator in mass killing is gender; the intimate enemy is almost always a man.

Left unexplored in commentary … is the role masculinity itself — not the biological fact of being male, but the behavioral and ideological markers of maleness that are malleable across time and culture — plays in acts of violence in general and mass violence in particular.

Given the centrality of men, masculinity, and masculinist ideologies in most world religions, it is surprising that the influence of such factors on religious and racial violence should be so difficult to engage. After all, it’s been nearly 40 years since Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father exposed the misogynistic roots of the Judeo-Christian traditions. “If God is male, then male is God,” Daly famously argued, cementing the relationship between religious ideas of divine power and authority and masculinist practices of domination and violence.

Pamela Gay: “Make the World Better”

We live in a society that in many ways is broken, but sometimes, remarkable humans decide they are just going to do what they can to make the world better, and they do this because they can, and ask if anyone minds only later.

Two weeks ago, Google high-lighted the Virtual Star Parties that my dear friend Fraser Cain hosts and that I and many others participate in. … In reaction Tim Farley wrote: “Fraser didn’t ask permission from anyone to do this. He didn’t conduct any focus groups or conduct a study. He just saw an opportunity and took it.”

This is powerful.

Fraser is one of those remarkable humans who has decided he is just going to do what he can to make the world better, and he does this because he can, and asks if anyone minds only later.

Rebecca Solnit: “Men Explain Things to Me”

He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his authentically grainy wood table and said to me, “So? I hear you’ve written a couple of books.”

I replied, “Several, actually.”

He said, in the way you encourage your friend’s seven-year-old to describe flute practice, “And what are they about?”

They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent one that summer day in 2003, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.

He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?”

So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book — with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority. …



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  • MikeJ

    Most mass shootings are done by men, but by no means all.  Recently, near Seattle:

  • banancat

    I can totally relate to the article about condescending men.  I was once in a bar talking to a bunch of different people.  I ended up with one guy and he told me about all the Serious Business of staying safe during his many travels.  I saw that we had something in common and told him I understood completely because I have also traveled to various places with various safety risked.  I made a clever remark about how street beggars differ in aggressiveness from place to place, to illustrate my understanding.  Most people would have laughed and realized I know what I’m talking about and been glad to have someone to discuss a common experience with.  But this guy decided to be offended that I already knew about what he was trying to impress me with, and he doubled down.  He rattled off places until he found one I hadn’t been to, and then insisted that that one place was exponentially worse than any place I’d ever been, so clearly I should be grateful for his amazing advice.

    This same guy was later creeping on my friend and tried to guilt her with the line “So, I guess you wouldn’t be interested in a guy like me”.  It’s interesting that we both had bad experiences with him completely separate but when we talked about it later he clearly stood out to both of us (in a bad way).  And he probably went home that night and moped about all the shallow women who wouldn’t have sex with him, because of course it can never be his fault.

  • PJ Evans

     There are guys like that all over the place. One I know spent about ten minutes telling me about engineers and how they think, based on his father being an engineer. I kept quiet – with difficulty: my father was an engineer, I took two years of engineering classes, and I work with engineers.

    You can tell some men, but you can’t tell them much.

  • Chris

    So what is the way to ask a woman what her books are about?   I read the whole article and his question on that was exactly the wording I’d use.  (Hopefully not the same tonality as talking to a child).  Not a Mens Rights A***ole, but a serious question to separate them from me.

  • God, every time I read about condescending men I get a huge dose of Oh My God because I worry that maybe I’ve been That Mansplainer to someone at some point. :O

    Hearing about the word and concept as well as generalized misogyny prevalent in Canadian and USian culture has really made me try to watch that I don’t inadvertently devalue a woman’s statements, but I can never be 100% sure about that.

  • Mary Kaye

    It’s not so much how you ask what her books are about, but whether you listen respectfully to the answer.  If you do that, infelicities in how you ask are totally forgivable–the world is full of awkward people.  But if you aren’t going to listen to the answer,  it’s not a conversation.

    Someone on Captain Awkward posed the self-test question:  do you heed recommendations (of books, movies, games, software, etc.) made by women?  In her experience men prone to the problem described here don’t.

  • Did you read what the guy actually did? He asked her what her books were about. Then he cut her off and started ‘splainin things to her.

    The way to ask a question is to ask a question. The way to listen is to listen, not to talk. Do not interrupt. And for gods’ sake, do not inform women of things unless they specifically ask.

  • christopher_young

    So what is the way to ask a woman what her books are about?

    If she writes fiction or poetry…

    “Which one should I start with?/Where should I start?” Then shut up and listen.

    If she writes non-fiction…

    “What’s your field?” Then shut up and listen.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    I read the whole article and his question on that was exactly the wording I’d use.

    In Solnit’s example, tone seems to’ve been an issue- “in the way you encourage your friend’s seven-year-old to describe flute practice” is how she describes his question.

    But beyond that, it’s what the guy did next that’s really insulting. After she says her that her latest book is on Muybridge, the guy interrupts and asks if she knows about what he assumes is a different book on Muybridge that had also just come out. But it was her own book he was telling her about, and it took Solnit’s friend three attempts to get him to stop talking and realize what he was being told.

    To recap. He 1) assumed he knew about a new book she didn’t on her own subject of expertise, 2) presumed to tell her about it without having even read it himself, 3) assumed the author of said book he had read about but not actually read could not be the woman standing in front of him, 4) did this all as a monologue delivered to Solnit rather than a conversation with her, despite her having just written a book on the subject herself. This is a case where the likely unconscious and reflective disrespect can be easily called out, but imagine this situation multiplied out over years and years and usually without a “that’s her book” to shut the talking-down-to down.

  • Lori


    And for gods’ sake, do not inform women of things unless they specifically ask. 

    This strikes me as a vast over-generalization. There are plenty of things I want or even need to know that I might not know or think to ask about specifically. The problem with mansplainers is not that they provide information without being asked, it’s that they assume that they know more than the woman they’re talking to, no matter what the subject.

    Folks looking to avoid being mansplainers—don’t do that. Assess a woman’s level of knowledge and expertise the same way you would a man’s. You’ll know more than she does about some things and can share your knowledge within the bounds of normal conversational etiquette. You will know less than she does about some things, in which case listen and ask questions within the bounds of normal conversational etiquette. The key is not assuming, even unconsciously, that you automatically know more than she does and that you need to share your vastly greater knowledge with her. That way lies mansplaining and general douchebaggery.

    In the case of the guy in the example, what he should have done was asked the name and basic information about Selnit’s book on Muybridge. He could have mentioned that he had read a review of a book on Muybridge that sounded really interesting and then asked if it was her book instead of assuming that it wasn’t. If he had been talking to a male author of a book on Muybridge I seriously doubt he would have made the same assumption. I also doubt that he would have acted like he knew something about Muybridge that the male author of a book on Muybridge wouldn’t already know. Some people do play dominance games like that with everyone, but they’re much more rare than mansplainers.

  •  Agreed with everything Lori said above, and would add that as a man, I would also prefer that people not behave this way towards me.

    Which is not to claim any sort of equivalence between the two things, merely that the same techniques that help avoid being a sexist jerk toward women (e.g., not automatically assuming that my conversational partner is ignorant and in need of instruction) sometimes also help avoid being a jerk to people generally.

    Of course, if one has to choose between being a jerk to me and being a jerk to someone in a position of less relative power than I have, well, they probably ought to choose to be a jerk to me. But that’s rarely the choice on the table.

  • Tonio

    Elsewhere I’ve read horrifically sexist comments in reaction to the Olympics introducing women’s boxing. It was fairly obvious that these jerks simply felt threatened by strong women who could kick their asses. I’m inclined to see mansplaining as the same reaction of insecurity on an ostensibly intellectual level – the men feel threatened by women who are intelligent and accomplished. 

    It’s possible that at least some of the time, mansplaining is really about sexual posturing. On a subconscious level, the man might want the woman to coo, “Ooh baby, you have such a big brain – take me, you intellectual giant!” But on some level, the two attitudes may very well be variations of the same thing.

  • I was talking about it in the context of a cocktail party. And in that context, I do not think it is a “vast over-generalization”. Actually I don’t think it’s much of an over-generalization at all, especially when you’re talking in person to people you don’t know all that well. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    To be fair, ‘the person I am speaking to about this book did not write said book’ is generally a reasonable assumption. My impression from the example is that what he did wrong was that he acted as though she hadn’t read the book, rather than asking if she had. Compounded, of course, by his not listening the first few times she said she’d written the book, but the initial assumption that she hadn’t written it wasn’t the problem, the initial assumption that she hadn’t read it was.

  • To be fair, ‘the person I am speaking to about this book did not write said book’ is generally a reasonable assumption.

    Yah. But I’m now sort of tempted to, the next time I’m talking about a book to a stranger, stop and ask them whether they wrote it. It should be good for a bewildered chuckle at the least.

    (In much the same vein, one of my favorite responses to “Can I ask you a question?” is “Depends: is it in French? Because I don’t speak French.”)

  • Beroli

     It seems to me, from the article, that the things he did wrong were:

    1) He started with the tone he would use to talk to a seven-year-old.
    2) When she started talking about her book, he interrupted her shortly thereafter to put himself back in the role of the one doing all the talking.
    3) …and started telling her about the same book she’d just been telling him about, which was something that could only make sense to him to do because he hadn’t actually been listening to her at all…
    4) It took Sallie saying “That’s her book” three or four times before he took it in at all.
    5) When he did, instead of–say–going, “Oh, haha, I’m such an idiot! Why don’t you tell me about your book?” or even, “Doesn’t that beat all? Anyway, as I was saying,” *yank the conversation onto another subject like someone who’s in love with the sound of his own voice but isn’t necessarily hugely sexist*, he went ashen and was briefly stunned speechless.
    6) Also, he was trying to show off by lecturing on a very important–in his words–book which he had only read about, not actually read.

  • Aiwhelan

     Yes, *unless the conversation is about the fact that she 1) is a writer and 2) has written a book about the very topic this book I want to talk about is on. Even a joking “its not one of yours, is it?” would have been better than the assumption that it couldn’t possibly be. Or if he said “I heard about X book about that guy you wrote about, do you know if its any good?”

  • Tonio: Elsewhere I’ve read horrifically sexist comments in reaction to the Olympics introducing women’s boxing. It was fairly obvious that these jerks simply felt threatened by strong women who could kick their asses.

    OMG this.

    And now that I’ve become active in roller derby, I’ve gotten to experience first-hand the discomfort some men seem to feel about female athletes in full-contact sports. At our promotional events, there’s always at least one guy who thinks it’s funny to either A) do this mock-scared “Oooh, don’t hurt me!” performance, or B) posture, puff himself up all tall and big, and stand VERY CLOSE IN MY FACE to show how he’s not scared of me. (At least at these events I’m usually on skates, which makes me a couple of inches taller than my usual 5’2″.)

    Sunday night, I went straight  from practice to the airport to pick up my husband. On our way home, I stopped at the truck stop that’s got a Popeye’s in it (all this talk about fried chicken lately has made me super-nostalgic for Popeye’s). There’s two big guys in there placing an order when I show up. (They are placing their order with a side-helping of “Smile, baby!” to the order clerk, so you know these guys are top-quality gentlemen here [barf]). So they finish ordering, so I start to place my order. And behind me I hear them reading my skater name off my jersey and commenting to each other on it. “Fleur de Beast… that means ‘Fear the Beast’, right?” [Hint: No it doesn’t. It’s a riff on the fleur-de-lis. It’s not that obscure, people.]

    Naturally I turn around when I hear this and say, “It’s my skate name. I’m in roller derby.”

    And Mr. “Smile, Baby!” Guy says, “Oh, you’re one of those violent women I’m not allowed to talk to.”

    Now, I’m just off a three and a half hour practice (not usual, don’t worry) and another hour and a half of driving. I’m too tired for my usual play-nice social conditioning to kick in. (Plus, practice involved a lot of blocking and hitting. I’m in Don’t Mess With Me mode.) I snap back, “I’m sure you have no qualms talking to men who play contact sports. What the hell’s your problem with women?”

    The predictable response from Mr. “Smile, Baby!” Assbag was, “Aw, honey, I’m just making a joke.”

    “Well, it was a pretty terrible joke. Try again.”

    But, yeah, that I didn’t have to search farther back than Sunday for this anecdote says something about some men’s attitude toward female athletes, I think.