By Jessica Semler
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
Rebecca Solnit wrote a book called “Men Explain Things to Me,” a collection of essays that illustrate the way women are silenced by the assumption that our voices and opinions carry less weight than those of men.
This is the book that inspired the term “mansplaining” — when a man comments on or explains something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner. One of my favorite times that I witnessed this phenomenon was a few years ago when I was working with Planned Parenthood.
We had a big lobbying day. Volunteers, advocates, patients and physicians from all over the country Pinked out the capitol. Representing Western PA, I brought two badass women doctors with me to speak with legislators and their staff about the importance of family planning services and access to basic healthcare. During a visit to one Democratic congressman’s office, a male legislative assistant we met with talked over the physicians (who were women) and went on a diatribe about the healthcare system, and explained how hard it was for doctors. He was talking to two doctors!
*Cue the Jim Halpert glance towards camera.*
As a woman who puts very informed opinions into the public sphere, not only do I have a steady mix of men explaining things to me, I have a lot of men who try to convince me that these well-informed opinions of mine are wrong, despite my actual lived experiences and being a subject-matter expert in different areas. With regularity, men I don’t know reach out demanding justification for why I think the way I do, or insisting I give them time for them to change my mind. Guys, I can’t stress this enough. Google is your friend. I am not.
I’ve witnessed a fair amount of mansplaining this week. A woman I know matched with a seemingly rad guy on Tinder. Dude #1 was progressive, funny, and they liked the same music. They texted for a few days and made plans to go to a concert. He would buy the tickets, she’d pay for their drinks. While discussing date logistics, she asked what time they should meet, and he offered to drive. She informed him that she had a personal rule to not get into cars with strangers. This eventually led to him saying, “I have a personal rule that I don’t buy tickets for someone if they won’t ride in the same car and be afraid of me for no reason.” My friend didn’t go to the concert with this prince, despite the subsequent texts about what a great guy he was, that he had four sisters, and how offended he was about her request. She offered to Venmo him the cost of her ticket.
My suggestion for what to send to this person, who apparently has no awareness whatsoever that women live in a world of rape culture and murder? Or that the second-biggest killer of women after heart disease is men? Send him a Venmo request, an invoice for the time she spent explaining to him how dating works in two-thousand-fucking-nineteen.
I’ve done this myself; I highly recommend it. Men often feel entitled to our time and attention. We don’t owe anyone emotional labor, especially if they aren’t showing respect, including acknowledging the fact that we might not want to talk to them. I began the Venmo bit years ago. A guy I knew kept asking me out, even though I was clear about not being interested. Eventually I sent a link to my Venmo account.
Him: Are you in trouble, do you need some money?
Me: No. But I’m going to need some type of payment if you insist on continuing this damn conversation after I’ve said ‘no’ multiple times.
My personal adventures in mansplaining this week were a result of my last column, when I begged folks to not give presidential candidate Marianne Williamson the time of day. When I finish my columns and hit the button to send it to my editor, I have to just let go and let God. Maybe I’ll get hate mail, maybe not! When you talk about hotbutton issues like abortion, racism and misogyny, this is a reality. But this was the first time I had a handful of men request that the Current make corrections to my opinion piece, and scolded me for my tone. I guess I underestimated the Marianne stans! Here are some snippets from a couple emails below:
- “Hello, I couldn’t find the email address of Jessica Semler… I’m not hostile, I don’t think crystals have healing energies, but how can I let them know some correct information about Williamson?”
- “It might have been ‘witchy’ of you to write this piece on Marianne; but I think your formidable talents could have been used to more positive ends at this moment in history… And after all, are you a Good Witch, or a Bad Witch? I’d like to bet on the former.”
My musician and activist friend Katy Otto summed up my reaction reading these: “It is wild to me that so many men think women who disagree with them owe them a debate.” Comedian Matt Goldrich quipped, “Joe Crowley is the only white man who never wanted to debate AOC.”
Women don’t owe men time to be mainsplained to, nor do we need to justify ourselves. Our time is valuable. Now, I’d be happy to talk about “what kind of witch I am” or any “non-hostile crystal” talk, or any number of things, but I will be sending an invoice.