Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How my life has been enriched by "mansplaining"

These days one frequently finds complaints by women about "mansplaining" - especially those truly annoying experiences where a man with little knowledge explains (often inaccurately) something to a woman who is a verified, recognized authority and expert in that very subject.  This is especially likely to happen to women who are authorities and experts in fields viewed by the backward among us as "masculine" like technology, science, medicine, engineering, politics, and many others. Women are also understandably and reasonably annoyed when men start to lecture them about the nature of women, women's biology, psychology or life experiences, especially when the man's ideas are contradicted by women's lived experiences. So just to be clear, I'm not denying the reality of the problem of "mansplaining" as experienced by all too many women today.

However, an enormous amount of the knowledge and skill I have today comes from being a willing listener to many men, who over the years liked telling women about some interest or passion they had. Sometimes the things men told me were things I already knew, but if I hadn't sat through that part of the explanation I never would have gained the additional knowledge or skill that they had to impart that I did not already know.

It started with my father. Sometimes I would take one of my math homework problems to him, even though I already knew how to work the problem because after he had explained my assignment to me, he would go on and show me something from his college homework. As a result, I learned about powers, roots, and logs at an age when my peers had just learned long division. If I went to him with a question about geography he might start telling me things about air travel and aircraft and the airline industry.

In school, I quickly figured out that boys and later men liked to show off to girls, to explain things to them, and that this became even more important in college with men explaining things to women. I only took one science in college - general biology - but I learned a lot about chemistry and physics from getting young men to explain and show things to me. I also learned about wine, gourmet food, about classical music, folk music, foreign films, motorcycles, race car driving, ten-speed bicycles, sports cars, fencing, the printing industry, modern art, audio equipment, electronics, broadcasting, existential philosophy, psychology, British culture, and a hell of a lot of other things. Many of the things that I learned from all these men eager to explain things to women helped me get and advance in jobs after college.

I became a safer, more skilled, driver because one of my boyfriends in college had been a race car driver, and I was a willing listener and student. I can get into and out of tight parking spots that flummox other drivers. I still, to this day, can out drive most people on windy mountain roads because of those lessons.

I'm not saying that everything a man every explained to me held information of value. Nor am I saying that I did not also learn much from women. What I am saying is that my life and my career as a sociologist and college professor, has been richer and held greater depth, because of many things I learned from men - boyfriends, friends, friends fathers, acquaintances, strangers at parties and many other places - who wanted to explain something to me.

1 comment:

Sandy said...

Your patience serves you well.