We’ve been hearing a lot lately about “mansplaining”: the phenomenon in which a man speaks to a woman with total and unearned authority on a subject about which she is already fully versed. Mansplaining is particularly unsavory in feminist discourse, and we’ve experienced some spectacular implosions which show that men who speak on this subject are rarely qualified to do so. One feminist response is that men should stop speaking so much and do more listening, and with this I am in complete agreement.
However, there is a shadow side to this critique that is worth bringing into the light. In some instances, there is a danger that the mansplain claim can become a tool to silence. If, after a period of sincere listening, a man feels he has something useful to say and is told he is mansplaining, what kind of agenda is being served? Certainly, the claim may serve as a vent and a re-articulation of the phenomena, but it may be less useful in terms of effecting change: Indeed, the only men likely to take the mansplaining claim seriously are those already sympathetic to the cause of feminism (in all its diversity). What we see is a pattern that repeats itself among most counter-cultural communities (and feminism is inherently counter-cultural as mainstream culture is patriarchal): that at the very time the community seeks to overturn power orthodoxies, it creates new ones.
I believe the only way forward for any person-centered movement (of which feminism is an exemplar) is for all stakeholders to have equal rights to listen and speak with complete responsible freedom, framed with an ethic of care. And if that’s men speaking about feminism, white people speaking about Indigenous people, or straight folks speaking about queer folks, so be it. What do you think?