Is it time to reclaim womensplaining?

Today, I had the joy of someone ‘manspreading’ next to me on the bus. For those who aren’t familiar with the term manspreading is a term used to describe when a man sits down next to you, and essentially feels the need to spread their legs as wide as they can, effectively backing you into a corner. I’m not going to get into debates on whether women does this too, but so far in my life I’ve only had men do this to me. Granted, not very often, but each time it’s quite frankly annoying and makes me uncomfortable. What’s wrong with trying as hard as possible not to physically touch the person next to you on the bus, train, tube or whatever your mode of transport is and just be an awkward British person?

In response to this phenomenon the term womenspreading recently took Instagram by storm and is where famous women posted pictures of themselves sat down spread out as much as possible to highlight that they were not afraid to take up space.

However, it’s not manspreading I came to talk to you about today, but another internet fuelled word womensplaining and it’s companion mansplaining.

While writing this I did a quick search for womensplaining and came up with this definition (also I noticed the definitions on Urban Dictionary all are very anti-feminist):

“The tendency of some women to mistakenly believe that they automatically know more about any given topic than does a man and who, consequently, proceed to explain to him- correctly or not- things that he already knows.”

Source: Urban Dictionary 

To explain further, I found an explanation that talk about womensplaining, as being related to women believing themselves to be authorities on anything generally considered ‘women’s work’ and believing that men are incapable of knowing about these things, and consequently looking down on them. This I agree is true, as unconscious bias’ such as these are a major force in society.

For me though womensplaining does not have to be exact opposite to what mansplaining is. And just to be clear mansplaining is, “what occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he’s talking to does”*.

Instead, womensplaining came in my head to explain my intense desire to talk back- to explain my point of view and have it listened to.  Throughout my life I’ve heard what many would describe as ‘geeky’ conversations, usually about the Marvel or DC comic universes or other stereotypically male dominated franchises (or typically male beloved- though this is changing- yay!) where every word of the male-dominated conversation feels like they are talking down to everyone else in the room.

I heard such a conversation today on my bus journey home (the bus didn’t go well for me today) where two male, I’m going to presume college students where discussing DC and Marvel, and which was a multiverse or not. The urge to just turn around, and say ‘Well actually…’ was strong. What stopped me was that although I eagerly follow the films for both comic powerhouses I stopped trying to be a part of the comic verse a long time ago- honestly, because of conversations like these that I had heard that scared me off.

However, I really wanted to. I wanted them to be proven wrong. This was especially exacerbated when I later overheard them talking about how if a women was in charge of the world there would be far more wars because women just can’t help but fight with each other.

Honestly, though I realised it’s not even about proving people wrong (though I’ll admit there is a certain level of satisfaction in that); it’s about having your thoughts on a typically male dominated subject accepted and listened to. For example, yesterday I explained the Star Wars universe to a man. And it felt good that I was the one with the knowledge, and that they accepted it.

That for me I think is the real desire. No, I don’t want to just go around calling people out. I want to be unafraid to be an authority in one of these discussions, and to be listened to. And I don’t think I’m alone. For me, that is what I think womesplaining is. The chance for women to explain their opinions without being made to feel an outsider or judged more harshly.

Perhaps, though a new term needs to be made (as womensplaining as defined above needs to be defined in of itself). As that appears to be the only way we can talk about our experiences now (which is not necessarily a bad thing- such movements have done miles of good). Either way, there needs to be some way to voice this desire to speak out, said by someone with a lot more knowledge than me.

Especially, as my experience doesn’t even begin to touch on the way women of colour,  the LGBTQ+ community, people from disadvantaged economic backgrounds, and anyone with a disability are silenced (this list is by no means exhaustive either!).

*Source: Merriam-Webster

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Feminist Reading Journey: Marge Piercy ‘Woman on the Edge of Time’

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

I’m happy to be back with another post in my feminist reading journey (here’s hoping I can start posting more regularly again). This time I’m focusing on Marge Piercy’s ‘Woman on the Edge of Time’, which is actually something I read in my undergraduate degree, but decided to revisit for this series. Not only because I didn’t have enough money to buy a new book but also because it is a real interesting book in terms of gender.

The novel follows Consuelo (Connie) Ramos, an Hispanic woman who is forcibly committed to a mental institution (somewhere she has been in the past for drug fuelled child abuse, which caused her to lose custody of her daughter) for fighting back against the man who was trying to force her niece Dolly to have a ‘backstreet’ abortion. In her time in the mental institution she is visited (it is never revealed if this is imaginary or not) by someone from the future called Luciente. Through Luciente Connie is able to visit the future, which a communal community where the prejudices of Connie’s time are seemingly eradicated.

Woman On The Edge Of TimeImage: aprilisthecruellestmonth/Instagram 

I won’t gave anything more away from that but let me just say there is a reason this is a classic utopian fiction novel. Though I think utopian fiction somehow doesn’t always shock as much as dystopian fiction. Something maybe, which is indicative of how we don’t notice problems until the worse happens. Hence, the increased amount of social and political commentary and criticism since Donald Trump has become President (which, I’m not saying is a bad thing). The reality of Connie’s life though is incredibly brutal and the dystopia in itself (though tragically just reality), although another dystopian future alternative to Mattapoisett (this is the residence that Connie visits in the future through Luciente) is also explored.

The future world basically plays out the core ideas of the women’s movement at the time, which we know widely have moved on to from in order to incorporate not just one perspective, and is what you will probably know as intersectional feminism. However, the novel does not ignore issues of racism, classism, homophobia or issues surrounding the destruction of the environment so is more intersectional than a lot of the critique from the era (and still that appears today).

Also, to understand Connie’s experience of the mental institution better and the concept of different experiences I think its useful to compare Connie experiences with the experiences related in Girl, Interrupted. Both woman suffer from a lack of privacy, and their agency removed. However, Susanna (played by Winona Ryder) in the film adaptation comes from what appears to be a middle class background and is white (at least this is the case for the film- I have read the book but can’t remember if there was any direct references to financial background). While her experiences in the mental institution are far from therapeutic if something happened to Susanna there would be people that would care, and it would not be as easily dismissed. However, it is important to note in the 1960s in general using psychiatry to control women was still commonplace (and actively criticised by the feminist movement) with Diazepam (Valium), which became known as ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ regularly prescribed to woman to cope with the pressures of being a housewife.

Themes, which were present in Season 1 of the popular show Mad Men, where Donald Draper (Jon Hamm) is told by his wife’s (Betty Draper portrayed by January Jones) psychiatrist what they discuss during their sessions. The way it is framed suggests that this behaviour is most definitely commonplace, and all it did was serve to infantilise Betty even further (which, was arguably contributed to her needing to seek help in the first place).

Betty Draper Mad MenImage: Mad Men/ AMC/ Lionsgate Television

However, there are fewer narratives of what the experience of being a mental institution is like for a woman of colour (this novel being the first I have personally come across), with the general psychiatric patient presented to us by the media as thin, white and generally ‘misunderstood’ (thereby trivialising mental illness). Even depictions in film  that are regarded as doing a good job at exploring mental illness, I have not personally seen show the experiences of a woman of colour experiencing mental illness (if there are examples, please direct me to them).

This is why Piercy’s novel is refreshing, and although as far as I can tell the experiences in the novel do not come from her personal biography, for the novel Marge Piercy was careful to talk to, “past and present inmates of mental institutions who shared their experiences with me” (taken from the acknowledgements page of the novel).

One other important theme within the novel is family, and the expectation that a woman should live only for her family. Connie is a primary example of this, as she is expected by members of her family (especially her brother) to be subservient and grateful no matter what. Because she’s a woman. She also carries the guilt of what happened with her daughter during the time she was going through the grief of losing someone dear to her. Everything Connie does is tied to family, and all the blood, sweat and tears she has lost because of them is dismissed. It is what she is supposed to do.

Hence, why I chose this quote from the novel for this blog post, which has been illustrated by the lovely Caroline from The Kawaii Kollective:

“You’ll do what women do. You’ll pay your debt to your family for your blood.”

Marge Piercy

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

‘Woman on the Edge Of Time’ is heartbreaking, defiant and hopeful all at once and that is why it is a classic piece of both feminist and utopian literature. Whether you are living in a situation where the prejudices against you are depicted still exist entirely or not this is an important novel to remind yourself that preventing these experiences is something that has been fought for a long time, and we should not let ourselves revert back.

 

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