An act of mansplaining

In this article the author illustrates the idea of mansplaining as a through an episode of Wizard of Oz  in the author’s words “When Dorothy comes to him upset and worried about her dog-napping witchy neighbor, he accuses the young girl of not having a brain. He dismisses her problem abruptly: Just don’t go by her place so Toto won’t go in her garden. No trouble, see?”

While the response is short, I don’t know why it is something that should be discouraged.    Dorothy presents her problem in short terms and she gets a comparably short response.   I guess the problem is that the response is not what Dorothy wanted, but his response does add some new information.    The author criticizes the man for not being more responsive to Dorothy’s request.   I criticize Dorothy for ending the exchange by saying “Oh Hunk, you just won’t listen.”

Dorothy starts the conversation with an observation or request.  The man responds with thoughtful answer that appears to solve the problem and thus acknowledges he is interpreting what she say and responding in a thoughtful manner.   Now, it is her turn to acknowledge that he said something.   She dismissed him.

So I take it that mansplaining is a man responding with a explanation to answer a request by a female.   She wasn’t asking for an explanation.  She was requesting an action.

Why is an explanation not warranted here?   Perhaps he did intend the end the discussion with the response, but it was Dorothy who ended it.   She could have instead followed up by providing more details why his understanding was incomplete, thus returning to him the obligation to defend his position.    In other words, she could have engaged in a dialog.   She chose instead to dismiss it.

Mansplaining is a label used to dismiss the possibility of a dialog.   Modern civil discussions are reduced to imperatives.   Every statement is a request for an action.   Dialog (or worse a debate or argument) is not the default expected response to a statement.   Permission must be extended to allow an offer of a counter argument.

This seems to characterize modern discourse.   It is illustrated with Twitter messages (tweets) where the desired response is to re-tweet the tweet or to modify it.   A response to a tweet is another tweet, essentially responding to an imperative with counter imperative where that latter often is some variation of “shut up”.

In my last post, I described how we have evolved our conversations to condense entire essays into a short two-word phrase.    We expect it to be sufficient to say something like “mansplaining” to express a complete argument that is beyond debate.  Or, we may allow ourselves to elaborate our concept to fit into a 140 character tweet with the same expectation that this should be sufficient to end the argument.

To counter a short tweet with a lengthy blog response is to engage in mansplaining.    In earlier times, we would have said it was engaging in a dialog.   I imagine also in earlier times we would be flattered to receive a lengthy response even if it challenges us to return another counter response.   The argument could go on for a while but we welcomed it.    Engaging in dialog is to engage in an intelligent exercise of formal and informal logic that can determine a better solution that what was initially suggested.

The proper response to an explanation is a counter explanation.   Dorothy terminated the discussion.  If the movie were made today she may have even accused the guy of mansplaining to his face.

In an earlier post, I described my fascination with story telling.   I could have expanded that discussion with an equal fascination to story listening.   I’m recalling discussions of pre-modern times where life was not enhanced by electronics.  People entertained themselves by listening to each other.   One form of entertainment was to allow one person to speak at length while others listened.

An extreme example is the oral tradition of epic story telling such as Homer’s epics that were spoken in one or two settings of many hours of duration where one person talked and the audience listened intently and silently.    The oral tradition itself is a type of dialog in that someone in the audience would eventually have to memorize the story so that he can carry it on when the original teller dies.

The art of listening is to listen closely and understand what is said.  In public debates when one speaker stops, another would would respond to what he just heard with a thoughtful counter argument.

I return back to the ancient greeks with the great dramas that have been preserved.   There were presented orally on stage and some of it involved lengthy detailed verbal explanation.   The entire audience listened intently.

Even in more modern times the typical 19th century novel often included long passages of a monologue addressed to other characters in the story.   Apparently, the readers approved of this form.   I suppose they even thought this was natural.   When someone speaks, it was not unusual to have him speak at great length without prompting or interruption.   And when he is done, a lengthy and relevant response can be expected from someone else.

Are these early examples of mansplaining?

I am amazed by the lengthy essays written in the pre-electronic age.   These were long letters, or essays that were book-length but intended instead to be a response to some earlier essay.   I imagine the tedious effort to write such essays by hand with very deliberate movement to avoid wasting precious ink or parchment.   It amazes me that this lengthy document would be eagerly anticipated by its intended audience in part for the opportunity to respond in kind.

Today we live by tweets, powerpoint presentations, or elevator speeches.  Each one meant to be delivered quickly.   Each one expecting no counter argument.   The only purpose of speech is one-way direction to a listener whose default duty is to act or not act.  A counter argument is a diversion from that purpose: a counter-productive mansplaining either to avoid the request or to postpone the inevitable compliance with the request.

To look at communication in such trivial terms is to lose the entire benefit of communications.   Everything becomes just instructions or imperatives.    Even a statement as simple as “mansplaining” is meant a directive to do something about it.  It is not a mere observation, and certainly not an invitation to argue about it.

In several earlier posts, I explored from different angles the importance of acknowledging intelligence.  I described acknowledging intelligence as a kind of a dialog.  It starts with a concept held by one entity.  That entity attempts to communicate it to the other entity, and then looks for a response that confirms the other entity understands the concept.    I distinguished this kind of communication from imperative commands.   To have a dog play dead after a verbal command to play dead does not necessarily mean the dog understands the concept of being dead.   An intelligent acknowledgement would be some kind of restatement of the concept.   Perhaps in the dog example, the dog would play dead and then get up and command the human to now play dead.    That complete transfer of a concept with proof that the recipient understands the concept is a satisfying proof of intelligence.

Here is another example.   In my last job, I often wore a sports jacket in the office that generally had a casual dress code.   I didn’t wear a matching suit and yet I didn’t take off the jacket unless it got too hot.   At one point, someone says something simple like “what’s with the jacket?”.

I’d be inclined to give an explanation of how I want to strike a compromise between casual and formal.  I’d be inclined to elaborate how I feel more comfortable in the jacket.  In other words, this could be an invitation to a dialog about the merits of jackets in the office.

Answering that way would be mansplaining.   The statement was not an invitation for a discussion.   It was a request to take the jacket off.

Certainly in the office it would be silly to spend an inordinate time discussion the merits of wearing certain types of clothing when there is work to be done.    But more serious topics are approached pretty much the same way.   I recall similar events that started with “what is the deal with data science”.    It was not a request for an explanation (that would be mansplaining).   It was a request to shut up about it already.

To the author of the article linked at top, I would like to say that you wrote a long explanation of a concept you had.  That concept was how academic explanations can undercut influence by coming across as mansplaining.   In the end you offer that even your complaint is a form of mansplaining but you mention it as if to demand the reader to not follow your example.    You opened a very interesting topic of discussion and this is my response.   You may be blessed in never seeing this manplaining because your site doesn’t appear to support trackbacks.


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