Distracting the mansplainer August 1, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, grad school, research, societal commentary.
Tags: mansplaining, sexism
I used to really think that if I presented people with enough compelling facts, I could totally convince them to change their minds about things. I try to operate that way myself, but it took me a good, long time to realize that’s not how most people think. Not only did it take me a long time, but it took a lot of arguments and hurt feelings. (I’ll admit that I still don’t get the way people view things a lot of times, and it really troubles me when I don’t understand how someone could have come to a particular view. I’ll hammer at it for days trying to understand…which is usually futile because they’re basing their judgement, often times, on experiences I wouldn’t know about.)
I also discovered that arguing with a lot of men really doesn’t work. I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure what does, but I have run into a fair bit of the “mansplaining” phenomenon. Technical guys, in particular, love to tell women how to do things because women just obviously cannot wrap their little brains around those complex things that men do.
Even if she’s got degrees in physics and engineering.
Today I got mansplained again…and it nearly turned into a knock-down drag-out type ordeal. Fortunately, I’ve learned that, at some point, you need to turn an argument into something constructive or it will get you nowhere.
I had to try to explain to someone that my widget didn’t seem to be compatible with their docking station. They were convinced that my widget had a bunch of design problems and they couldn’t see how it would work in any docking station. I tried to explain that I had already used it in several docking stations, and even in their own docking station! But when it was in their docking station, I could only communicate with modem and not with ethernet. It didn’t matter. This person kept insisting the problem was that my widget was the wrong size and shape, and if I happened to get it working, it was working in only one place and as a result of luck. And every time, I would get a lecture on how to design widgets properly.
It almost got to the point of shouting, and I wasn’t sure what to do, so I grabbed my widget and his docking station and made it fit. He was shocked. You see, me saying that it fit really didn’t matter. I am obviously not smart enough to know when the widget fits properly or not, and in his estimation, it shouldn’t have fit. But it did.
It also turned out to be the right thing to do because suddenly he could see what sorts of communications problems the widget had and was distracted from his theoretical notions of appropriate widget dimensions to that actual problem at hand. In about a half hour, we had the kinks worked out so that the widget could use both modem and ethernet.
At this point, the person asked me why I hadn’t talked to him about the problem before. Apparently he didn’t realize that I had and that, each time, he insisted my widget must be the wrong size. I would assume that he knew better and would go off, searching out the problem, only to find that the problem still seemed to be with the communications protocols. Each time it happened, I would try to provide some proof, which would be dismissed with a wave of the hand and, “That can’t be the problem,” regardless of the evidence I’d generated. So why hadn’t I talked to him? Because he’d diagnosed the problem before I even spoke to him and wouldn’t even look at any evidence to the contrary, citing how his own background put him in a much better position to figure out the problem.