• Mon, Aug 27 2012

How Do We Stop Men From Explaining Things To Us?

There is a great piece on Salon right now about a woman who goes to a party only to have her own book explained to her. She writes that:

I still don’t know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen. The people were all older than us and dull in a distinguished way, old enough that we, at forty-ish, passed as the occasion’s young ladies. The house was great — if you like Ralph Lauren-style chalets — a rugged luxury cabin at 9,000 feet complete with elk antlers, lots of kilims, and a wood-burning stove. We were preparing to leave, when our host said, “No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you.” He was an imposing man who’d made a lot of money.

He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his authentically grainy wood table and said to me, “So? I hear you’ve written a couple of books.”

I replied, “Several, actually.”

He said, in the way you encourage your friend’s 7-year-old to describe flute practice, “And what are they about?”

They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, “River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West,” my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.

He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?”

So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book — with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.

Here, let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, with a long succession of editors who have, since I was young, listened and encouraged and published me, with my infinitely generous younger brother, with splendid friends of whom it could be said — like the Clerk in The Canterbury Tales I still remember from Mr. Pelen’s class on Chaucer — “gladly would he learn and gladly teach.” Still, there are these other men, too. So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, “That’s her book.” Or tried to interrupt him anyway.

But he just continued on his way. She had to say, “That’s her book” three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn’t read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless — for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing, and we’ve never really stopped.

Every man I know seems to feel like the woman here was being really mean because the guy was probably just deaf, or trying to engage her, or something. Every woman I’ve talked to seems to feel like something just like this has happened to her. In the past week.

God knows, I feel like it has happened to me. The author cites powerful men doing this, but I am not bothered too much when powerful men do this. I figure powerful old men get to do what they want. When I’m old, I’m going to pretend to be deaf and blackmail people and it’s going to be “wacky”, so I give old people a lot of leeway.

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  • BeccaTheCyborg

    This post is amazing. Your use of the Schwyzer meme made my damn week.

  • MollyB

    Loved this!

  • The manlyman

    So, how do I point out the mistakes in this article without seeming presumptuous?

    • Jennifer Wright

      Oh, you do it in private. Contact e-mails for each writer appear at the bottom of every post.

    • The manlyman

      yeah, this is a good reply. I will e-mail you to explain to you how your reply really created tension and uncertainty for the original commenter.

  • Lemona

    Thank you for pointing out this annoying phenomenon, an effect of “men being trained to let their opinions be heard,” as you so deftly put it, in such a concise, non-shouty way.

    *I’m glad you’re also watching TCM at night.*

  • SB

    Do you find that these ignorant lectures are gender specific, or do the same jerkoffs spray both genders with their firehoses of benightedness? I’ve always assumed the latter, but I’m a guy.

    • Jennifer Wright

      I think the big difference is that men feel comfortable saying “dude, you’re being a jagoff, you don’t know Kane.” And women will be more inclined to sit there nodding politely.

  • Suriah

    I can’t tell you how much this article rings true to me

  • Jamie Peck

    I agree with you that humor can be a potent weapon against the patriarchy/assholes in general. But not everyone has the wherewithal to make good jokes all the time. I think we need both kinds of responses to douchebaggery: the people who will make jokes that poke holes in it, and the people who will take it to the streets. Some people can even do both. Maybe even at the same time!

    • Jenny

      Humor is my greatest weapon. This inspires a different conversation though. Sarcasm isn’t “seemly” for women.

  • Sabrina

    Yes.

  • Sam

    I was literally just talking to somebody about how many people believe they themselves are amazing because they are aware of amazing things, as though they themselves directed/wrote/etc. those works. As though their taste makes them better than everyone else–and, of course, they usually assume nobody knows those works the way they do. I’ve worked with so many men that are like this, FAR less than the amount of women.

    I think you’re right on about the humor thing. There’s definitely something about responding laughingly that not only makes them shut up and take themselves less seriously, but also helps you not feel so frustrated about being spoken down to.

  • Kj

    As soon as I read this headline, I thought of the guy that started lecturing me on the subtleties of Farsi grammar… IN BED. As in, he interrupted sexy times to see if I remembered the three lines of vocab he had tried to teach me me during our date the week before.

    I think it’s been kind of “cosmo’d” into us to pretend that mens’ random rambling is interesting and stimulating, just so that they feel flattered and that their precious little egos can bask in the attention of a captive audience. Obviously women ramble too, and demand attention undeservedly, but it’s more of the “look at me, I am great!” as opposed to the “look at me, I know everything! Or at least, more than you!” of men. Ugh.

  • Natalie

    I honestly just thought this was something that happened to me/my friends because we are in our early twenties and before that, teenagers, etc. Now I realize that even some men my own age treat us like this. That our opinion means less because we are girls or our facts are less valid. I’m not sure if humor is the best answer, but it is almost the only one. If we demand to be accepted, we will get laughed and made fun of anyway, so might as well make a joke of it.

  • Katie

    Loved this! So true. Just two days ago, a guy in my study group began explaining where implantation of embryos takes place, complete with a sketch of the uterus. We kept trying to interrupt to tell him we knew what a uterus looks like, but he kept on going until I thanked him profusely for finally letting me know where my cervix was.

  • porkchop

    HA!

    Explaining things is like crack! You can tell by the way drunk people are always doing it. You can’t make it stop except by shouting at them. That is my technique.

  • M

    Oh man. I know this happens to everyone in life at a certain level, but I’m a mechanic and work in an automotive repair shop, both on the cars and in customer service. It is ASTOUNDING how many guys are sure they know more about cars than me. Not gonna lie, there are guys who do [I'm always learning] but generally they aren’t cocky about it; they’ll start light and when they see I keep up just fine they’ll give me everything. And they are frequently my favorite customers because it’s easiest to replicate their problems, I can explain what’s wrong in technical terms without them getting lost, and because they understand why it’s an issue they’ll buy the repair. But the cocky guys, usually they did a little reading on the internet and suddenly they think they’re experts. Seriously, if you know so damn much about it, why are you paying me to get it fixed?

  • Don’t want to bother you :p

    Thanks for the 3 page article in which you explain things.