The Answer is Undefined: Rejecting Clean-cut Stereotypical Classifications Concerning Behaviors of Women
Jeez. That was a mouthful and a little bit scary.
Let’s start with talking about talking. Maybe that will help. Don’t you hate it when people interru–
Yes, I am aware that was an insanely cheesy move. Let’s just take a moment and acknowledge that. Good. Now we can move on.
Don’t you hate it when people repeat exactly what you have just said or over-explain something to you? For some people this happens once in a while. For others it is something that they have to deal with on a daily basis whether it is at school, in social settings, at home, or even in the workplace.
These people that are plagued with the constant interruptions, over-explaining, and repetition of what they have just said are usually women. And the people who tend to do the interrupting, over-explaining, and repeating of what was just said are usually men.
In other words, there are many women who are being mansplained to.
There. I said it.
Here is a more humorous example of mansplaining.
I am sure that many of us have seen the popular moments in media when women were interrupted, spoken for, or their explanations or testimonials were discredited and seen as inferior when compared to that of their male counterparts.
The first example is the tired, worn out, reference to when Kanye interrupted Taylor Swift at the VMAs.
Let’s tire it out some more. What I really want to focus on are the words that Kanye spoke. He took the stage and said, “Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’m gonna let you finish, but I’m sorry, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.”
I think that the most interesting part of ordeal was that Kanye felt that he was speaking up for Beyonce, who is a woman, instead of allowing her to speak for herself. As a result Kanye faced a lot of backlash. Many people defended Taylor and the entire cringe worthy event received millions of views.
What might be even more baffling is that during the recent Grammys, Kanye walked up to the stage again, when Beyonce lost to Beck for the best album. Except this time, instead of completing his action, Kanye turned around and sat down. But his point was still clear: Beyonce should have won.
In this case, Kanye was speaking up for Beyonce, but this time, he would have had to interrupt Beck and not Swift. I wonder if Kanye did not interrupt Beck because Kanye was already familiar with the brutality of the backlash.. or if was simply because Beck was a man.
Obviously, Kanye is Kanye. And it seems to me that he does whatever he wants.
However, the act of a man speaking for another woman without her consent or interrupting another woman because he believes that his opinion is more important does not end with Kanye.
I am sure many of you have also seen the catcalling video that went viral this past fall, and especially the CNN reaction segment about that catcalling video that also went viral. In the discussion, Steve Santagati and Amanda Seales discussed catcalling, the controversy behind the video, and societal and personal effects of catcalling.
This is the second example where a man believes that it is okay for him, more so that it is his right, to speak on the behalf, interpret, and correct a woman without her asking for him to.
I say this because it was from early on in the video that Steve tried to explain to Amanda… what women want. From there he went down a slippery cringe worthy slope.
Amanda spoke about her personal experiences with catcalling when she was asked if the catcalling video was realistic. As she vehemently agreed, yes, she had to deal with this every day– Steve could be heard in the background exclaiming “Nice!” As if Amanda was bragging about receiving unwanted attention from strangers.
Amanda began to address the problem by stating, “Women are expected to be smiling and available to whatever men want to say to us.”
As a response, Steve at first nonverbally disagreed, which led Amanda to say, “I can see you shaking your head, but you are not an expert on this, my brother, because you are not a woman walking in the street!”
As if this was not enough, Steve interrupted Amanda saying, “No, no!” And for a split second, I would like to think that he was beginning to agree with her.. as if he was going to say “no, no.. you’re completely right. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Please continue.”
In a perfect world, maybe. But then again, in a perfect world, he wouldn’t have interrupted her in the first place.
Here’s the rest of his statement:
“But I am more of an expert than you and I’ll tell you why, because I am a guy and I know what we think…There is nothing more what a woman wants to hear than how pretty she is.”
There are so many things wrong with that statement.
The reason that I included these two examples is not so that we can become peeved again or narrowly target these two men as the only offenders. I don’t want to project the entirety of my internalized resentment onto two individuals. I don’t want to bear any resentment towards a group of people much less the entire male population.
The saddening realization is that these are not the only instances where women are being interrupted or quieted. What is even more unsettling is that we can’t solve this entire problem by simply telling men one at a time to stop interrupting us.
The reason why women are interrupted and are spoken for without their consent is not so much because men intentionally do this to oppress women. It is because of the way that we are all socialized into society. From a young age gender roles are perpetuated by others mainly because of the structure of our curriculum, and the societal rules around us. Boys are expected to act a certain way and girls are expected to act a certain, very different, way.
These behaviors diverge exponentially by the time boys and girls approach adolescence. As a result these rules not only influence the way that we all view one another– they also influence the ways in which we interact with one another.
The troubling revelation is that a lot of these expectations are enforced in school. Children are learning these gender roles not only because of how they are expected to behave while in the classroom–they are also learning these behaviors through their curriculum.
In fact, in 2013, a study conducted by the American Association of Women found that
“Whether one looks at achievement scores, curriculum design, or teacher-student interaction, it is clear that sex and gender make a difference in the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.”
These interactions, influenced by gender based stereotypes, greatly impact boys and girls within the classroom. Boys are perceived to typically be more rowdy. Girls, on the other hand, are encouraged to be polite.
When boys are not following classroom rules, many teachers will often that “Boys will be boys.” Whereas, if a girl displays the same behavior, her deviance is seen as more negative because she is not being polite.
This gap between expected behavior begins at such a young age that by the time boys and girls reach adolescence, they no longer seem to question them.
By the time boys and girls reach adulthood they are all too familiar with the clear cut behaviors associated with acting like a man or acting like a woman.
What is the solution? Should women act like men so that they might be respectfully heard? No, at least, I don’t think that’s a good idea.
What does it mean to act like a man anyway? The bitter revelation is that when we try to reject one expected behavior by embracing another expected behavior (for the sake of rebelling against the norm) is that we are not actually rebelling against the confining system itself. We are still giving into these clear-cut definitions. We are still allowing these patriarchal definitions to define us, because in the end, we still measure ourselves to the definitions and look to them for approval.
A true rejection these stereotypes and gender roles requires a disassociation from the stifling rules and strictly defined expectations.
As long as I personally give into these definitions I will continue to see ourselves and other women as either fully embracing feminine qualities or completely rejecting them. But when I reject the spectrum altogether—I find that I do not have to be one thing or another. Defining others defines me.
When we confine ourselves to these limited roles and stereotypes… we give others permission to overpower us.
I guess what I mean to say is that mansplaining is a symptom of a much larger issue that is caused by the ideology of gender roles and behaviors that are instilled in us at a young and impressionable age.
As always, it’s hard for me to leave this conversation at such a depressing point.
So here are a few possible approaches to solutions (I say this warily because this problem probably can’t be solved through a chronological number of steps).
We must acknowledge that the symptoms that we see are caused by a complex problem. We should also probably agree that this is a problem that both men and women must acknowledge.
We, as women, should stop labeling other women or holding ourselves to these ridiculous black and white standards.
For when we are being mansplained to:
I found quite a few articles on the topic that reply along the lines of “I just said that, no further explanation is needed.”
For when we think that we might be mansplaining:
Be more aware of who we interrupt, when we interrupt, why we interrupt, the reaction of the person that we interrupted, and trying to limit our interruptions to zero (if possible). You can take this advice or leave it, really. I dunno–these are just ideas that came to me as a result of years of people telling me to ‘be more polite.’
For the deeply socialized problems that are consequences of how we were taught about the world and what we were taught about:
Reforming our curriculum. (Is that too big of a dream?) Reforming our curriculum by trying to make the time spent learning about influential men as proportional to the time spent learning influential women. And making sure that while in the classroom both boys and girls adhere to the same standard of what is considered proper classroom behavior.
I have realized lately that when there is a designated section for something, it is usually placed in order to compensate for its lack of appearance in the bulk of things. Did that make sense? What I mean to say is that in my past history classes, in our textbooks, women’s sections are commonly labeled and women’s history is located in these designated places. Pretty much everything else is about men and their influence in our history.
I know, I know.. men have accomplished a lot of things. Men are great. But so are women! There are women who have been influential in our history. There are women who are influential today.
All I sincerely would like is for all voices to be heard, respected, and valued.
Education is the answer to a lot of our world’s problems… including this one! By now you’re probably going.. Jeez.. this post is already long enough. Now you’re going to try to teach me something?
It’s for your own good. And mine too.
So I’ll leave us with a little educational lesson—a peek at the list of women in the past and of women today— who did not allow gender role inspired insecurities to hinder them from impacting our world.
“Marie Curie was a famous chemist and physicist who held many achievements for women. She won the Nobel Prize twice and as influential in the world of chemistry”.
“Smith was the first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress, both in the House of Representatives and Senate.”
“As president of the Indian National Congress, Gandhi heads the ruling political party of the world’s second largest population.”
“Currently working as CNN’s Chief International Consultant, Christiane Amanpour is most widely known for her up-close coverage of the Middle East, beginning with the Gulf War in 1990. She is widely recognized as one of the most influential international correspondents in the world, due partly to her willingness to report from dangerous situations, usually in war-torn areas.”
“Argentina’s first elected female President, Fernandez de Kirchner presides over the government of the second-largest country in South America, and one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. President Kirchner serves as an example to women everywhere that they have the ability to lead a nation through hard times and political turmoil, as well as through economic growth and sensitive diplomatic relations.”
I hope that there will be a day when all people of all ages will be able to easily recall the accomplishments of Susan B Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Marie Curie, Christiane Amanpour and so on.
Until then, we will continue to work towards un-defining ourselves and those around us.