Wanna is a snarky, smash-the-state, sex-positive, white ally, working-class feminist who is marching in the streets, queering it up, spinning your vinyl, making your latte, nannying for your family, growing veggies in her basement, writing revolutionary poetry, boycotting your corporation, daydreaming about a society where children do not perpetuate racism, or raising her fist next to yours. Wanna hear from Wanna? Submit questions for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org and she just might answer you next.
Last week when I was at the airport, I was in a rush and quickly going through security when a TSA official pulled me aside because I had left a bottle of perfume in my carry-on, and forgotten to remove my laptop from its case. Speaking loudly and slowly the TSA official scolded me. “This bottle of perfume is over three ounces. See, right here on the bottle, it tells you how many ounces it holds. This bottle is 6 ounces. Do you see that? Good.” Irritated, I nodded and began to walk away, but he continued, “when you go to the security at the airport, you need to take your laptop out of its case, and put it in its own bin” he mimed sliding the laptop out of its case. My boyfriend also forgot to remove his laptop from his case. The TSA official politely asked him to remove his case, and said nothing else. I’d like to know, Wanna, if this happens to you and how you navigate it? The more rad I become, the more I notice the abundance of instances when (usually cis, white) men talk down to me, explain really obvious concepts to me, et cetera. And I am realizing slowly that it must be because I am a woman (I’m also white, in my early 20s, and in college)–like, there is no other explanation that I can think of.
Grrrls are Very Smart 2
You got mansplained! I’m sorry that someone talked down to you in a busy public place. I often hear narratives about women who are mansplained on the subway, at work, or at the grocery store—it is common, and that does not mean you need to tolerate it.
The airport security instance you describe accentuates the juxtapositions between your experiences as a woman-identified-woman and your boyfriend’s experiences. Reducing the issue down to a gender binary, however, is not the approach I will take in fleshing out the boys versus girls issue; oversimplifications and generalizations can blemish the positive transformations of feminism.
I must also note how your class and race privileges enter your complaints about mansplaining. When women envision a collective imagination of emancipation from sexist oppression, we must make space for the notion that not all women’s imaginations for freedom are the same.
I am choosing, however, to avoid answering you question using a gender binary framework not because I am advocating that we are post-gender roles, a radical reordering of society is not needed, or we live in a society where male supremacy does not reign. I cannot write with a pen that ostensibly flourishes all men as mansplainers, therefore erasing all men as allies in our work. I think it is more productive to widen the lens, and ask who gets mansplained? Does mansplaining need to stop? Can we prevent mansplaining?
A radical feminism approach is a tempting one to employ when hearing about mansplaining. Radical feminism situates women’s oppression in a network of relationships dominated by the system of power ruled by patriarchy. To subvert the patriarchy, radical feminism challenges traditional gender roles by calling forth a radical reordering of society. A radical reordering of society is a reorganization that overthrows institutional structures, and dismantles societal expectations birth from systematic operations and social conventions. Radical feminism is fierce and defiant, and enables women to dictate their own solutions.
While I am tempted to advise you to respond to all future mansplaining you encounter with a confrontational in-your-face “don’t mess with me; don’t talk to me like that” reaction, I think it is more wise to think of your current and potential allies. If you are confronting all mainsplaining alone, with individual statements and activism, the change you are making is inconsequential, and I predict it will spin your wheels of fury into burnout. The radical reordering of society needed to halt mansplaining will not happen with you alone.
When we unite in struggle, our backbones are strengthened by the solidarity of our male allies, We can tear at the crusty paternal indoctrination that envisions women as inherently unintelligent, and reinforces our daily oppression. The paternal indoctrination that oppresses women drives us into the periphery of knowledge, and into the spotlight of public humiliation.
Our imagination and vision for our future can be just as strong as the paternal indoctrination that oppresses women. We are, and can be more, intentional and direct. For when we are dreaming, and vehemently organizing on the trails of our collective dreams, we are subversive.
While I am suggesting you rally the allies around you, and that you withhold from combating mansplaining alone, do not remain silent when you are mansplained. Speak. Name it. Call it out. Demand that the mansplaining is recognized by the mansplainer. Tell your feminist allies about it. Ask how your allies would have responded. Audre Lorde said, “the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak.” Be subversive with your voice and organizing; resisting the machine’s teeth will give you the momentum and community to counteract mansplaining.
Resist, resist, raise up your fist,