AS I SEE IT
BY MARIANNE HERON
ALL may be fair in love and war but hardly in politics, where below-the-belt insults get traded regularly. Recent examples of accusations levelled at our representatives include ‘leaking’ and ‘blindsiding’ and now Mary Lou McDonald has added ‘mansplaining’ to the list.
That’s a hard one to take. Not necessarily because it brings gender politics into the fray but because it’s a difficult one for men to defend themselves against. At least when someone uses the term leaking, we know what they are talking about, even if the leak isn’t strictly speaking a leak.
The difficulty with mansplaining or womansplaining (let’s not engage in gender bias here, although I do notice that the spell check on my laptop doesn’t recognise the latter term) is that it can be hard to define where to draw the line between a regular explanation and one which involves talking down to the explainee as though you have swallowed a textbook.
On top of which is the inference that the splainer is better informed and that you, the explainee, are an ignoramus on account of your sex, so what could you possibly know about such matters? This kind of splaining is infuriating, all the more so because the splainer may be quite unaware of the offence they have given.
There are glaring examples: like the doctor who contradicted a labouring woman who said her baby was about the arrive and who told her that she was nowhere near delivery, left the room in search of refreshment and the baby arrived unassisted a couple of minutes later.
Then there are grey areas. I nearly caused a cold war in the kitchen recently by telling a man dear to me that he should wait for the oven to heat to temperature before putting pastry in otherwise it would go limp.
Was this womansplaining? He evidently thought it was and shoved the pie in a cold oven which had only just been turned on ( the dish turned out fine by the way.)
That’s the thing, men don’t like womansplaining, anymore that they are reputed to dislike asking for directions when driving and so women avoid doing it. It can also be, in these woke times, that folk are sensitised to patronising man to womansplanations. Was Mary Lou being sensitive when Michael Martin spoke about the housing issue and the possibility of power outages in the Dail recently, or was she weaponsing the mansplaining term to use against Martin? (Don’t answer that one if you have a good idea of the individuals’ characters.) Politics does lend itself to splaining, given the cut and thrust of interchanges where the aim is to rubbish the proposals of the opposition and to tell them in no uncertain terms that their policies are totally out the window.
One of the vexations things about splaining is that it makes the person on the receiving end feel belittled and that they are being treated as if they were stupid.
My Dad was a great one for explaining things to me at length, like why helicopter blades make the noise they do, (something to do with breaking the sound barrier but I am not going to womansplain that one). I am glad that he did.
Let’s face it though, we rely on experts, like the accountants, financial advisers, lawyers, dentists and medics who know what they are talking about and if we aren’t certain that they do we can always look for a second opinion.
Wouldn’t it be a step too far if people became wary of sharing knowledge or opinions for fear of being politically incorrect if mansplaining or other splaining became part of the weaponry of sexism?