Monday, 22 April 2013

I wasn't talking to you

Manpanion: "What is 'mansplaining'?
Me: "Well. Remember when we first started going out, and you kept saying that the noun 'patriarchy' shouldn't be used with the definite article? That was a prime example of mansplaining. That was basically the platonic ideal of mansplaining, to which all other mansplanations were but shadows on the mansplainy cave wall."
Manpanion: "'Mansplaining' is a really stupid word."
Me: "..."
Manpanion: "'Man' doesn't sound anything like 'ex'."
Me: "..."
Manpanion: "You're going to blog about this, aren't you?"


The Manpanion's other beef with the word Patriarchy is that no one knows what it means. So, I suppose, people will read a feminist blog post, nod along, agree with some bits, question others, and then run up against a brick wall: The Word That They Do Not Know. At which point they could either:

1. Highlight it, right click, select "search google for 'patriarchy'", read the definition and maybe a 101 blog post, move on.
2. Get up, go over to the bookshelf, pick up Ye Olde Paper Dictionary, flip to P.
3. Run away screaming, convinced that feminism is IMPENETRABLE.

For reasons lost to the mists of time, I start all conversations with my mum in German. Really bad German, on my side, given that I speak about twelve words of the language, so it generally goes something like: "Mutti! Ich habe sehr lecke, um, pies gemacht! Sehr klein, und so süß! (Wie sagt man 'pie'?)" *

Similarly, conversations with Straight Best Friend tend to begin with a selection from my three Chinese phrases "Wei, ni hao? You mei you xiong mao ma? Wo DA bu hao. Ke lian de Han. Um, what's Mandarin for 'fucking massive hangover'?" **) before reverting back to one of our common languages - English, or Scouse.

* Mummy! I've made very tasty pies! Very small, and so sweet! How do you say 'pie'?
** Hi, how are you? Do you have any pandas? I'm SO not good. Poor Han.

Manpanion has yet to complain that he is being excluded by my cack-handed linguistic forays, because it's understood that a phone conversation is between two people, and only has to be intelligible to those two.

I think it needs to be understood that a lot of posts in the social justice blogosphere are like that: part of a broader conversation between members of a community, which don't necessarily have to be accessible to the rest of the world.

Specialist language, like Patriarchy and Intersectionality and Rape Culture, is not there to shut non-initiates out: it's just to save our own time. Yeah, I could say "a culture of systemic and long-standing oppression of women", but it saves time and typing fingers and word count if I just use the word Patriarchy. My intended audience knows what I'm talking about: why waste their time, too?

You don't eavesdrop on a French conversation class and complain that you've no idea what they're banging on about. You don't read a knitting blog and demand that, if they're going to say stuff like "I frogged my intarsia WIP and am heading over to my LYS to stock up on DPNs and feed my stash", they define each of those terms every time they appear.

So why are feminists and anti-racists and LGBT activists and co expected to conduct our every conversation at entry-level?

Sure, we want to appeal to a wider audience; I don't really think that the world's going to get fixed by a couple of hundred people debating the ideological implications of Vajazzling. But spreading the word is only one prong of the social justice blogging thing. We're also doing it to keep our spirits up, to work through new ideas, to move theory along, and to be able to do that, it has to be taken as read that participants in the conversation have a firm grasp on the basics.

The accusation is frequently thrown that this creates an echo chamber of agreement, a lovely great circle jerk where we all sit around congratulating each other on being so very right on. Which is bollocks. We disagree all the time, on almost every issue; feminism is far from being a monolith and hammering out new ideas can't be done without disagreements. It's just that we don't have to waste our time and energy demonstrating, for the fiftieth fucking time, that sexism actually exists.


  1. This is brilliant. I hope it's okay if I link to it on my blog?

    1. Of course it's okay - I'm honoured! And thanks x