Wednesday, 27 November 2013

you know when you've been mansplained

This picture was retweeted into my feed yesterday. So I contributed my tweaked version of it.

...and instantly got told off my a couple of men, who pointed out that they were not like that. One of them said "bit harsh. I've built a bike from old parts & I just swoon if I see a girl with a bike" ....which strikes me as being a less than entirely helpful response... Another chap said that he had a history of challenging sexism in cycling and elsewhere, and that gross generalisations do not help.

To which Phoebe (*waves*) replied that there is a difference between a generalisation and a common experience. Which sums it up so neatly that I don't feel the need to add to it.

I'm writing this up because the last time something similar happened, I felt effectively stifled. On that occasion, I'd mentioned 'mansplaining', and an old friend complained that he felt offended by the term, and that the sort of people who do mansplain do it to him too. And I didn't want to argue with him and hurt his feelings so I shut up.

The thing is, that there are indeed men who get talked down to, and men who talk down to men. And that is bad.

And  there are men who don't treat women like idiots, and men who challenge men who treat women like idiots. And that is good.

But there is still a huge difference in experiences going on, based on gender. Which is why the term 'mansplaining' is so instantly recognisable to the women who've been on the receiving end of it.

 I gained something of an insight into this process when I transitioned, of course. Not that I was oblivious to sexism beforehand, obviously; but the great mass of sexist assumptions that underlies our lives, like that great bulk of the iceberg that you can't see because it's underwater? -maybe we're not as alert to that as we might be, simply because it is all-pervasive and has informed our lives from the very beginning.

Certainly, before I changed gender roles from male to female, I had a good work record and reputation (I worked as a mechanic in the Merchant Navy, if you didn't know). And I thought that it would stand me in good stead post-transition; that I had earned the right to be respected in my professional life. Hmmm. Up to a point, Dru, up to a point.

The reality was rather more complicated than that. There were some good people in my workplace (a large ferry going between Portsmouth and Bilbao), and I was promoted out of the engine room to the repair team, which was both more interesting and a great relief, as it got me away from the more troglodyte elements of the crew, who looked on the engine room as a sort of floating Jurassic Park for sexist dinosaurs.

But at the same time there was a lot of doublethink going on; so I was doing a good job, but thought of as doing a bad one - at the employment tribunal that I ended up taking the company to, it was claimed that the quality of my work had gone right down (though they would say that, of course, wouldn't they!) -and I often felt invisible, as men talked right past me to get advice on things from other men rather less experienced than me.... nothing unusual in that, of course, but the contrast between that, and the way I used to be treated simply because I presented as male, was a visceral lesson in how different are men's and women's experiences.

So if you're one of the good guys, please be assured that you are valued, and all the more so because there are so many bad guys. And please don't feel got at when we talk of mansplaining. It's not about you.

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