Coffee and Cake. Mansplaining and Misandry. How the gender wars are getting out of hand.
When the cafés are the battleground, misogyny and misandry are in danger of becoming the defacto form of entrenched warfare.
The cafe was busy and I’d finished my flat white and muffin before you both arrived. The caffeine and chocolatey goodness was payment for an hour with the young lady sat opposite. An informal chat between relative strangers. She was at least a decade younger than me (not that it matters) and an aspiring playwright.
She had leveraged the power of her social network to find me. I’m a friend of a friend. All those self-help books had paid off and she was leveraging her social contacts. She’d asked if I could read her latest play and tell her what I thought. She did this because she’s an aspiring playwright and I’m a published playwright. Our careers are in different places. Our lives are in different places. Our coffee and cake came to the same table.
The request was polite and the promise of coffee and cake offered as part of an exchange. Being a self-confessed procrastinator and a chocoholic, I agreed straight away. In retrospect, I was too keen to get away from the laptop and should have held out for a second coffee.
This is all backstory. The reason why she and I were sitting in a café and talking in an animated fashion about script structure. We had a deal. Coffee and cake in exchange for honest advice. We were three-quarters of the way through our chat when you both arrived. I was explaining why and how you give audiences emotional breathing spaces.
Like this one.
You sat down on the table behind her. I don’t know what you ordered. I suspect it was some sort of herbal faux-tea and gluten-free cakes. You were both young. Younger than the aspiring playwright I was talking to. You both had dungarees on and your coats had more badges than the average Girl Guide. The only thing you were missing was a Caitlyn Moran book tucked under each arm. You may have had them in your bag. I don’t know. I didn’t pay you much attention. At first.
Then the comments began. They were loud enough for me to hear. But not loud enough for me to say anything. They were pitched in that space that allows for plausible deniability. The word ‘mansplaining’ thrown around with reckless abandon.
I suspect you were trying to show solidarity to the girl I was talking to. You may have been trying to empower her to shut me down. There is a chance you may have been trying to get me to learn the error of my ways and dissolve into an apologetic puddle.
There’s an outside chance you may have been talking about something or someone else completely. I suspect not and I’m not prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt. Like many men at the moment, we’re feeling a bit under attack. We aren’t butt-hurt, we don’t need a cuddle or faux-sympathy, we’re becoming mindful of how we interact with people. Particularly people with the opposite sort of genitals to us. People like the both of you.
But here’s why you’ve pissed me off. And here’s why I’m throwing it out on Medium. She wasn’t empowered, and I didn’t melt into an apologetic puddle. Why? Because I wasn’t Mansplaining. You misread the situation.
In the interests of being a facetious bastard, I’m now going to Mansplain Mansplaining to you. I’m afraid you forced my hand. I would use those clap emojis. Once. More. For. People. At. The. Back. But I can’t bear it. And despite my previous assertion of your youth, you weren’t children.
Mansplaining is a pejorative term meaning “ to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner”.
Throwing a definition of Mansplaining into an article read by people who understand the meaning of the word and can use it accurately and contextually. That’s mansplaining.
What do I want you to understand?
Here’s the thing you can take away into your lives. Not all conversations between an older man and a younger woman are mansplaining. Men can impart knowledge to women and vice versa. Human beings exchange information. Some men are bad at it. Some women are bad at it. People are sometimes bad at it. It isn’t a crime.
Sometimes there’s an imbalance of knowledge and power in the relationship. That was the case in my café rendezvous. Had I attended this girl’s play reading and offered an unasked for critique? That would’ve been Mansplaining. Had I been talking her through how to type or hold a pen? That would’ve been Mansplaining. Had I stopped our conversation, phoned up Shonda Rhimes’ agent and given them my critical appraisal on the latest season of ‘How to get away with murder’? That would’ve been Mansplaining.
What was happening in the cafe wasn’t Mansplaining. It was explaining.
I was explaining at the request of the listener on a subject that she is not as experienced in as I am. What you lacked was information and context. What you made was a snap judgement. As a result, what you demonstrated was Misandry.
And I get it. I do. Women get subjected to the most awful patronising men talking absolute crap. There are plenty of examples of men making fools of themselves. These have done the rounds online ad-infinitum. They’re empowering. I’m glad we’re highlighting it. But there’s a fine line between holding men to account for their actions, and just thinking every man is out to get you. Let’s not get carried away.
There are two ways we can go from here. The first. We can draw battle lines.
Let me introduce a new word. Mumsplaining.
Plenty of mums tell about their children. They tell me what they do at different ages. They tell me all about how their child is developing. I’m a ‘non-parent’ and a man. This means in casual conversation that I’m seemingly clueless about children. I’ve got a lot to learn. New mums tell me stuff all the time. What many don’t know is that I studied Social and Developmental Psychology at University. I give training lectures in Child Development to social workers. In most cases, I know more about their child’s development than they do.
Is this Mumsplaining? The tendency of certain women to presume that men are clueless and hapless with children? That we can’t possibly understand tiny humans because we’re just not good at it. Does society think this? Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin suggest that maybe they do. Is it rooted in reality? Perhaps. Sometimes.
Should we be campaigning for men who feel patronised and put upon by pregnant women to fight back? Should I be stopping Mum’s in the street when they’re patronising their partners or telling stories about how useless Dave is at bathing time? Is this the hill I want to die on?
Can you see where I’m coming from? The two of you and your badges? Would you be more inclined to listen to this article if I didn’t have a penis? You’re fighting inherent misogyny with newly empowered misandry. Like fighting fire with a flame thrower. In doing so you got my back up and I penned an angry article.
We could go a different way. We could all take a step back and look at what we’re doing. You made a snap judgement that day. You didn’t have enough information at your disposal. Your snap judgement was wrong.
But so was I.
Those comments about your age, fashion sense, food preferences, badge accumulation and hypothetical book choice I made in the early part of this article. Those were snap judgements too. A cursory glance told me everything I needed to know and how to dismiss you in a literary assassination. That was wrong and one day I’m sure I’ll come to regret it.
Have we moved the conversation forward?
No. Is anyone more empowered or inclined to listen? No. Not yet. But maybe it isn’t time and we’re not grown up enough yet. I’m sure one day we’ll be able to sit down and explain our world view without resorting to lazy generalisation. It may be possible to discuss gender politics without defensive ad-hominem attacks.
Today though. You’re still too angry, young and passionate. And I’m too old, cranky and defensive. The gender Cold-War continues unabated. I’m informed that this week it’s the battle of Joe Biden.
Another stalemate I suspect. Such is the way with entrenched gender warfare.