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The Big Read: Listen up - I know my stuff

Darrel Bristow-Bovey | 2016-10-21 07:41:39.0
KNOW WHAT I'M SAYING? Women are usually - but not always - on the receiving end of mansplaining
Image by: DMITRIY SHIRONOSOV/ISTOCK.

Look, I'm not a fool, I know that mansplaining is a thing. I'm not denying that.

Mansplaining is when Hilary Clinton is talking on matters of foreign diplomacy, based on years of being secretary of state where she had to do a bunch of foreign diplomacy, and Donald Trump interrupts to explain how foreign diplomacy works. Mansplaining is like the other night at dinner when some dude took it upon himself to explain to my wife the intricacies of acquiring permission to shoot movies on the streets of Cape Town. My wife is a producer whose every working day involves acquiring permission to shoot in the streets of Cape Town.

Mansplaining, I guess, is when a guy assumes he knows more about a subject than a woman because he's a man and she's not. But here's my problem: some women seem to assume that every time a man explains something, he's mansplaining. I was recently accused of mansplaining when I gave someone detailed directions on how best to reach my house in rush hour.

"Am I mansplaining?" I mused, "or am I just sharing specific expertise?"

"You're mansplaining," she snapped, and arrived 40 minutes late, complaining about the traffic.

I would also submit that men don't only do this to women. I'm not saying this makes it more desirable behaviour, just that sexism isn't the only possible diagnosis. Let's say there's a man who has spent his whole life approaching social gatherings in a state of anxiety about whether he has anything interesting to say.

This fellow is getting better at it, but he still nurtures the secret conviction that he may be the least interesting person on Earth, a social black hole, the kind of conversational vacuum that nature and other party guests abhor. He has perpetual unshakeable apprehensions of ruining the day for whoever happens to be seated beside him, dark visions of a succession of individuals sidling up to the host saying, "Where did you find that guy?"

Such a chap might clutch at conversation like a gibbon falling from a tree, so relieved and excited to be saying something that he feverishly outruns his ability to assess the value of what he's saying. If you ever find this chap mansplaining to you, I wistfully encourage you to consider the possibility that he does it not because he thinks less of you, but because he's afraid there's something lacking in himself.

A year or so back this fellow - okay, it's me - was at lunch at a friend's house. It was a fine yellow summer's afternoon, and we had eaten and there was wine and the pleasant low music of scattered conversations.

I found myself beside a fellow named Mike. He was an English gent, older than me, with a trim white beard and he seemed distantly familiar. Perhaps we'd met somewhere before. I don't know how the subject of music came up, and I know nothing about music, but I'd recently read an article in Vanity Fair detailing the sad economics of the modern music industry, and one thing I can do is remember the details of an article I have recently read.

I regaled Mike for, oh, an hour on the subject, informing him that all the money is in touring nowadays, explaining what downloads are, getting technical about royalties. He nodded very thoughtfully. You're doing well, I thought to myself. You had something to say, and Mike's probably enjoying getting some insight into the music biz. You're pulling this off!

Conversation moved on to our fathers. His father had died and so had mine, and we spoke about missing them and the strange ways our relationship with them changes as we grow older yet it stays the same.

I don't know how this happened but something in our conversation reminded me of something, and then I remembered an old song. Had he heard it? Judging by our previous conversation he seemed to be a fan of 1980s music, so perhaps he had. Hey, I said, do you remember that song The Living Years, by Mike and the .

As I spoke there was an almost imperceptible change in the density of the air between us, and a light bulb flashed and I trailed away as a self-protective instinct kicked in, as usual just too late.

I fell into an anguished silence. He is a good man, a kind and decent man, so as my mouth wordlessly opened and shut and opened again, like Melania Trump practising a speech, Mike Rutherford of Mike and the Mechanics, founding member of supergroup Genesis, the man to whom I had been mansplaining the music industry for the better part of the afternoon, cleared his throat and poured some wine and said: "So tell me more about what you do?"

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