Scene: A row house in Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.
Me: Hi, Joanna! Bob tells me you're writing a book about mansplaining — that’s so interesting!
Joanna: Yeah, I'm excited! It got picked up by a publisher and they're thinking of doing a pretty serious marketing push.
Me: Awesome. I'm a pretty quiet dude by inclination, so I thought I was immune to mansplaining. Then I found myself holding court on Aristotelian metaphysics at a party last week and realized that I was terribly mistaken. I totally speak over and ignore women who know what they are talking about and spend ages explaining things to them anyway.
Joanna: Well, the concept is a bit more complicated than that—
Me: And, of course, society teaches women that you need to nod politely even when you really don't care.
Me: And usually I'm too oblivious to even notice! I think it might even be worse, in a way, when I'm complicit in these conversations, when I don't try to make space for women who know what they're taking about. Most of the time — shamefully — I prefer to listen to a dude gas on about something. Why do I do this? Two big reasons that I can think of (I hold up two fingers):
First (index), I'm a sexist pig. …I can't really play that down. I don't pay attention to women like I should, because I simply don't care enough. I've got some serious respect I need to build when it comes to actually paying attention to people who know what they are talking about, especially when those people are women. I mean, I call myself a feminist but I still have a lot of work left to do.
Joanna: Well, most guys do. But—
Me: Second (add the middle), like with most of the ways men screw up, I think this flows from a deep insecurity. Ninety-five percent of everything a guy does is because he's afraid of being found out. Personally, I'm usually super concerned that I'm going to sound like an idiot or not sound important in any given conversation. This leads me to over-react, to aggressively stake out a claim on the area that I do know, and block out other voices who may well know better than I do.
This insecurity helps explain the passive not-helping thing men can too, I think — I'm not willing to shame a guy by calling him out for ignoring a woman. It's tough to realize, y'know, in the moment, how terrible it is to not be listened to or feel like you won't be heard.
Anyway, I'm sorry if I've done that to you in the past — I'm sure it sucks.
Joanna: Well, y'know, it isn't the greatest thing. But I think there are some cool things that we can do in our conversations—
Me: Oh, hey, Jeremy! Sorry — I need to go holler at my boy, it's been too long. Glad we were able to talk about this. Good luck with the book — let me know if you need a bit of male perspective on it!
Joanna: Sure... Good to see you.