Me: “There came a point in the conversation when the only thing I could do was just shut up.”
My Partner: “That’s probably what you were supposed to do.”
My partner was right–in a previous conversation, it had been time for me to shut up. The conversation was not with my partner, but with three other women on Twitter. These three women are incredibly smart and I’m proud to consider them friends, insofar as people one meets on Twitter are friends in the traditional sense of the word. But that hadn’t stopped me from getting into some sort of 140 character argument, and getting to that point of needing to shut up. I didn’t like it at all. The entire experience has been gnawing at me all afternoon and I can’t stop thinking about it. But that didn’t change the need for the shutting up.
The reason why I had to shut up was that I’d fallen into that situation which I take to be generally referred to as “mansplaining”. I didn’t think that I was. I thought I was having a conversation with friends, albeit about a contentious topic. But then I suddenly realized that there was nothing that I could say, and no way to make my point be heard, without falling back into the trope of blindered, internet troll, telling women how women should be. Maybe it was simply the short medium of Twitter, or maybe it was just my poorly chosen words, but I had gotten into a place where the only thing I could say was the wrong thing, and therefore the only right thing to say was nothing at all.
This is an incredibly uncomfortable place to be. Certainly it is hard for an opinionated (accepted as) male blogger to realize that he should shut up. But for whomever it is that I am in real life, it was difficult as well.
It would be easy to deny that I’m an opinionated (accepted as) male blogger. Because I’m a feminist, and a gender theorist, and a couple other merit badges besides. I could say simply, “well that’s just how I come across, but really, I’m a _____”. Then I could argue that I fell into the mansplaining trap by accident, or circumstance, or by any other act of collective unpleasantness other than my own mansplaining fault. And I wanted to do this. Because I didn’t want to feel that it was me that blundered into this trap. I wanted to feel like it wasn’t me that had to shut up. It was everything else that was making me have to shut up.
But this is the third mistake of mansplaining that I made–to assume that it can’t be happening, because it’s not your fault that you’re a man. It feels unfair this way. As if your opinion would be totally valid if only you weren’t a man, or white, or whatever position of privilege you happen to be speaking from, and so what the hell?
This is untrue because you’re not a man. Not really. I’m not either. Sure, I pass as a heterosexual man. I don’t know what I really am, because I never really had a use for performative identification in my daily life, and so I take the easy road. Lucky me. But even if I made it more difficult for myself by being truthful with everyone I met on a daily basis about my real relationship with my prostate, my other less directly queer body parts, or the genders and sexual proclivities of each and every one of my former sexual partners, I wouldn’t be above the capacity for mansplaining. Mansplaining doesn’t occur on the level of body parts, it occurs in words. You are mansplaining when you are telling yourself that you couldn’t possibly be doing so, because you never wanted to be doing such a thing. It’s not about what you are or what you want, it’s about what you are saying.
And that was the second mistake of mansplaining that I made–I thought that as long as my argument was logical, there was no way that I could be wrong. The argument itself (which I still feel I was logically right about) was not the point. It doesn’t matter how right you are. Whether one is wrong or right, if you are not reaching the people you are talking to, the whole thing is moot. I even stooped so low as to mention my academic credentials on the subject, because I had lost sight of the problem. And I do know a lot about the subject! I have a shelf full of books on the subject that I have actually read. But what I didn’t know was that regardless of what you think of book learnin’, we were long past knowledge of the subject or rhetorical skill.
No matter how rational we like to think that we are, this is really not the core of communication. This is not to say that hugging and warm fuzzies (what is the opposite of rationality? I have no idea) are the core of communication either. These are all just tools we use to communicate. Most likely, the best way to communicate involves a little bit of a lot of things from a big tool box. But I certainly haven’t figured it out, as this case would prove. I pride myself on being a pretty decent communicator, and yet I still totally fucked up in this case, so fuck what I know.
And what do I know? The first mistake of mansplaining that I made, was losing my communicative compass entirely. I presented these mistakes backwards, because I actually can identify the smaller, secondary mistakes better than I can the primary one (and more, which I’m sure I committed and still haven’t realized). I suppose if I still had a good idea of what I was trying to communicate and why, then I wouldn’t have gotten to this place at all. I suppose what I wanted to do was to talk about an idea with some friends on Twitter, but I soon lost all that in the “but I’m not wrong” and the “why me why me” of mansplaining. That the disagreement was something complicated regarding sex, gender, and language just made the knots more difficult to unravel at the time, but that wasn’t where the mansplaining happened. It was where I forgot what it was I was trying to do, and just kept talking/typing.
The shitty part of all this is, that despite this analysis and apology (it is an apology, by the way, to those three women who know who they are) I still feel like an asshole, and frankly, I’m still being an asshole, because I’m writing a blogpost about shutting up, rather than simply shutting up. As if mansplaining my way out of mansplaining was any way to fix the problem.
To a certain extent, I feel like I should just say, “fuck it, I am an asshole”, because I am, and coming out as that probably would get me out of privilege guilt much faster than coming out as queer or deviant in any particular way. Except that it doesn’t get me out of guilt, because I like my Twitter friends, whom seem to like me even though I’m an asshole. Acknowledging that I was mansplaining doesn’t really seem to undo the fact that it was done and I made my friends feel shitty by doing so. Especially not if by admitting that I did this, it is foreseeable that I will do so again.
But this is what being a man is about, insofar as I am any such thing, and there is any such thing to be. I don’t know that I have ever actively “been a man”, except that I don’t correct people when they use masculine gendered pronouns to refer to me, and I do sometimes use parts of my body in ways described by those who care about defining really important definitions and flow charts for body parts, and don’t use parts of my body in other ways often enough. But, among other things, to me, being a feminist man means acknowledging and apologizing when one realizes that one is mansplaining–whether on purpose, by accident, or by the unfortunately happenstance of Twitter and the vast social and biological constructions of language, bodies, and society.
So, after manning up to that, I think I’ll just shut up now.