Tuesday, June 25, 2013

People Explain Things To Me

This is a good piece on the issue of Mansplaining, the history behind it,  how universal it is and hopefully a solution.
Last summer, bits of the internet found a new word: Mansplained. You know when someone explains something to you, but you already know about it, and you feel a bit patronised? Maybe because you are even wearing a giant flashing badge with “I KNOW LOADS ABOUT THIS I HAVE SIX ZILLION NOBEL PRIZES IN IT” which they somehow manage not to see, too caught up in their own knowledge. That’s mansplaining. The word is a mix of the words explaining and man because it’s seen as something men are especially guilty of when it comes to their interactions with women’s expertise.
It's annoying, it's frustrating and it happens all the time. I wish I could count the number of times I've had it done to me. My latest "favorite" was a friend of a friend explaining to me what a computer virus is. After 15 years of IT experience, an almost completed Master's degree and a job at one of the top InfoSec companies in the US, I'm pretty sure I have a handle on it. However if one of our investigators at work tells me about a new virus seen in the "wild" you can be damned sure I'll listen to him. So what's the difference between the two conversations? The level of expertise involved.

And that's where it gets interesting. It's impossible to know everything, there will always be someone who knows more about a subject than you do, just as you know more about a subject than someone else. As she puts it:
The tensions around mansplaining also reflect hang-ups we have dealing with expertise in this world of specialisms we’ve made for ourselves. I think one of the reasons it’s sparked recently, especially around social media, is because we increasingly bump into expertise without much context, and as a result see our prejudices laid out quite clearly. We can be shocked to see someone we didn’t know holding a confident opinion in 140 characters or a simple independent blog. WHAT DO THEY KNOW ANYWAY? Oh, quite a lot actually. I didn’t realise that. Whoops. Or, more often maybe, we discover that this new person knows about the world in a slightly different way from us, one we might disagree with but can still learn from.
I'm guilty of "mansplaining" even though I'm by no means male but hopefully I'm aware enough of it to ensure I'm not talking down to people who know less about a subject than I do. I hope I can answer questions in a way that encourages learning and discourse rather than shutting it down. It's certainly something I try to be aware of just as I'm aware of my tendency to talk fast and to rapid fire information at people. And that right there is the solution, be aware of how you're communicating and try not to erect more barriers to communication. Benefit of the doubt, trust and a lack of contempt (conscious or unconscious) for the people around you.

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