Number 155 -
In this issue:
Not Enough Men
We Got Some 'Splainin' To Do
Hot Links: The Gender Pay Gap
Not Enough Men
The phrase "not all men" had been around for maybe a decade before it had its fifteen minutes of fame as part of the response to the Isla Vista killings and the manifesto left behind by its perpetrator, Elliot Roger.
"Not all men" acquired status as a meme, the exact meaning depending on the social context and on the speaker/writer and his audience.
"Not all men" is a feeble response to generalizations some women make about men. I can imagine it being part of the conversation on a first date. "Not all men" implies that there may be some bad men out there, but they are in the minority, and I'm certainly not one of them.
The phrase is also a way to derail conversation when a specific instance arises of a woman's undergoing unfair, sexist, and/or harassing behavior from a man. The "not all men" phrase is a defensive maneuver, a "Get out of jail free card" in a bad-faith argument about gender equality. (It was the successor to another derailing expression, "What about the men?" - as in "Men are trapped in gender roles too," or "Men are also victims of the patriarchy.")
With Isla Vista, "not all men" went viral, got satirized, got vilified, got justified. Thoughtful discourse was swamped by nasty flame wars on Twitter and Reddit. Time magazine online has a short history of what happened, and I wrote last summer on the topic.
Now it could be argued that the vast majority of us guys are stand-up citizens who think women deserve respect and dignity - and that it's only the bad characters who make the news - the guys who abuse women, deny them equal pay, objectify them with crude language, and so on. We are not them. We are "not all men."
True enough perhaps. But what comes up for me lately is another phrase: Not enough men.
No matter how virtuous we feel, it's one thing to sit back passively and bask in the self-satisfied and self-directed glow of being "not all men." And it seems lately that there is no shortage of men wielding defensive verbal weapons like "not all men" and "What about the men?"
It's another thing entirely to be actively engaged in examining our unconscious biases - and in thinking of, and dealing with, women as equals; in not allowing disrespectful, demeaning, cruel, or indecent comments about women to pass by without challenge; in making sure the young people in our lives understand all this well enough to take it into the next generation.
There are not enough of the other kind.
We Got Some 'Splainin' To Do
Ricky Ricardo to Lucille Ball on the "I Love Lucy" TV show of the 1950s: "You got some 'splainin' to do." Delivered in a Cuban accent, the sentence became a catchword. Back then, nobody apparently caught the inherent racism of an accent being played for laughs or the sexist put-down of a ditzy dame.
The fragment splainin has reappeared in the word mansplaining. The word was coined shortly after an essay by Rebecca Solnit, "Men Who Explain Things." Solnit recounts a party at which the host, an imposing man older than she, held forth at length about a "very important book" that had been published recently. He didn't even shut up when it was pointed out that Solnit herself was the author of the book. (He knew the title and the gist of the book only from reading a review of it.)
Mansplaining first appeared on feminist blogs to describe the phenomenon of men explaining things to women that women already know.
But, thanks to the Internet, the word has been generalized to mean almost anything a man says in the presence of women - and sometimes even in the presence of men. According to Benjamin Hart in Salon.com, mansplaining has "morphed from a useful descriptor of a real problem in contemporary gender dynamics to an increasingly vague catchall expression that seems to be inflaming the Internet gender wars more than clarifying them." Hart goes on to note instances in which any explanation given by a man is labeled mansplaining, and other instances in which boorish and ignorant pronouncements should be labeled for what they are - and that the mansplaining label actually diminishes the awfulness of the pronouncements.
Britt Peterson, in the Boston Globe, takes a wider look at the use of words containing male gender markers - the man in mansplaining, and manspreading, along with other man terms like man cave, man boobs, and manscaping.
She also notes female gender markers, both in current use and obsolete, along with their linguistic and social history. These include the -ess and -ette endings as in poetess or bachelorette. Unmarked forms are automatically male and imply that they are the norm. Grammatical and semantic markers indicate that something is different. Words with female gender markers have come to be seen as implicit declarations that women are somehow lesser creatures.
Over the past several decades, writers and editors in English have sought out or coined "gender-neutral" terms such as firefighter instead of fireman, or chair instead of chairman.
Peterson observes that newly minted words such as mansplaining and manspreading can be seen as an attempt to confront linguistic and social imbalances. On the other hand, the man- compounds are overt and intentional put-downs in a way that goes beyond the original intention of female markers. (The female markers like -ess and -ette derive from inflected languages that mark gender as a matter of course. The inflections are tightly bonded to the words they connect to. Such languages do not typically have the linguistic mechanisms for creating gender-neutral words. English is far more flexible in the ability to create new words.)
Liz Cookman, in theguardian.com, says of mansplaining and manspreading that "the man-shaming portmanteau undermines feminism's message of equality." She says that casual use, and overuse, of terms such as these tend to trivialize real issues of gender inequality.
She also says:
It reeks of gender essentialism - the idea that specific physical, social and cultural traits are native to a particular gender. It may be satisfying, refreshing, even empowering, to give men a hard time, but I can't help imagine how I would feel if faced with similar accusations - "womanterrupting" or "womansplaining" for example. It would be degrading.
She concludes: ". . . [B]efore we go smooshing any more man-words together, it might be worth remembering that a prat* is a prat, whatever their gender."
*prat: British for stupid idiot
Hot Links: The Gender Pay Gap
Every year we get to read about the significance of a particular date in April (it varies from year to year; this year it's April 14). For the most recent year on record, that's supposedly how far beyond the end of 2013 and into 2014 women have to work to make as much money as the men did in just 2013. What this boils down to is that, for every dollar a man earns, a woman earns only 77 cents.
On the face of it, the statistic may be accurate. But like many statistics in many areas, it doesn't tell the whole story.
In past years, several websites have explored the intricacies of the pay gap, looking at education, the kind of work done, seniority, marital status, and continuity of employment, among other factors. And the 23-cent gap shrinks and expands depending on who is looking at what. Here are some of the analyses:
Susan Adams in Forbes: "Are Women Catching Up in Pay?"
Hanna Rosin in Slate: "The Gender Wage Gap Lie"
Glenn Kessler in The Washington Post: "President Obama's persistent '77-cent' claim on the wage gap gets a new Pinocchio rating"
June E. O'Neill in The National Center for Policy Analysis: "The Disappearing Gender Wage Gap"
Yes, real pay inequities and unequal opportunity exist and are perpetuated by people who profit from them or who just don't think women deserve equal treatment. Those situations are worthy of everyone's focus.
But taking a sledge-hammer approach to statistics doesn't help anybody. It blurs the focus and, at least in the popular press, fuels gender wars and prevents real progress.
Where does that leave us? We guys can flap our gums all we want, but the 77-cent figure has become a fixture and isn't about to go away. We may have few opportunities to address the issue as thoroughly as Adams, Rosin, Kessler, or O'Neill with those who consider the number to be unassailable.
There are many times when it's better to just shut up about an issue. But this issue may be worth the effort and risk to speak up about.