Mansplaining, Whitesplaning, and the Power of Listening

Mansplaining, Whitesplaning, and the Power of Listening September 17, 2015

love that cant' be defined or confined
Totally unprepared are you
To face a world of men
Timid and shy and scared are you
Of things beyond your ken

The composition date is 1959, the composers Rogers and Hammerstein, the musical The Sound of Music. “You are Sixteen Going on Seventeen” is perhaps the epitome of mansplaining.

Mansplaining. It’s about speaking from a position of privilege. There’s a Tumblr site, mansplained.tumblr.com. An internet search will reveal several related words:

“man-turuption”

man-turpreting

bro-propriating (or bro-opting), when a man steals a woman’s idea.

The plethora of words indicates how widespread the problem is.

And it’s already pretty clear that this presidential election cycle we’re going to hear a whole lot of mansplaining going on . . .

I’m right because I’m male.
I’m right because I’m white.
I’m right because I’m rich.
I’m right because . . . I have a masters degree in science!

Whitesplaining.
Straightsplaining.
Cissplaining.
Middle-class-splaining.

In all these cases the message is the same: you have to listen to me explain away social inequalities: you don’t know what you’re doing with Black Lives Matter because . . .

All these are saying: “All you female, brown, queer, working-class people—just listen to this white guy tell you how it is: ‘It’s SO MUCH BETTER than it used to be! You don’t know what you’re doing with Black Lives Matter because ‘It’s SO MUCH BETTER than it used to be . . .’”

Totally unprepared are you
To face a world of . . .

“old, straight, white” men

Timid and shy and scared are you
Of things beyond your ken

OK, fact is nearly all of us are privileged in some ways and oppressed in others. Nearly all of us can be some sort of ‘splainer. Besides gender and color there’s how old you are; how much you weigh; if you’re in a wheelchair . . . if you’re a theist or an a-theist . . . the list just goes on and on.

Few of us escape some degree of oppression; but some are more insulated than others. If we begin comparing oppressions or explaining way oppressions, ultimately we reach the bottom of a long, slippery slope, where none of us can speak for or to another.

In the face of so many negative distinctions about all we can do is listen. We can listen, whether that’s with our two good ears; or our hearing-aided ears; or in American Sign Language. We can listen to each other.

We can realize the validity of lived experience. We can encourage people to tell their stories. And we can listen to the pain in the stories. Our own stories are valid and true prima facie. In order to listen to others, we must strive to think outside of the categories of sociology, to deeper and more universal human truths.

Shutting up and listening.

OMG.

That’s a challenge.

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