First, everybody read this, its intelligent, funny and by a woman who kicks butt in the writing world:
I don’t frequently get “mansplained.” I think this is a rare occurrence for me for two reasons. Firstly, I am a speaking fellow and thus spend most of my time explaining to other people how to sound confident when speaking, (not to be confused with arrogant). The other, more obvious, reason is that I go to Barnard College. You will not find much mansplaining going on in the halls or classrooms of Barnard College. Sure, there are professors who are men, but they don’t mansplain (they just explain). As Rebecca Solnit points out, mansplaining is not the act of a man explaining something to a woman, after all we all need to explain things to people constantly. Solnit describes it as “… not a universal flaw of the gender, just the intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.”
So what role will mansplaing play in a Barnard girl’s life if it doesn’t present itself to her in the halls she walks in and the classrooms she frequents? This is the perfect segway to address an always hot topic debated constantly using both formal and informal methods: whether Barnard College should (could is a different story entirely) merge with Columbia University. In fact, we have another article on Fellow Voices by Tabia Santos about a controversial editorial from bwog published by Lambo Zhang pertaining to this issue. This is also an especially fun topic as a speaking fellow because in our training we often use this topic when practicing our debate teaching sesssions. Watching speaking fellows, and then later my fellow Barnard Students, debate about this in a structured manner has allowed me to spend a significant amount of time not only thinking about this but looking at the pros and cons from other’s perspectives.
The question frequently posed by pro-merger debaters goes something like this: “Sure, Barnard is empowering for women, but does it empower them in a way that allows them to compete with men in the real world?” The suggestion here is that, in a world where the feminine perspective is given room to germinate, grow roots and thrive, there is no challenge- feminism, like a goldfish in a bowl, will die immediately when released into the “wild” (aka man inhabited world). Will we feel confident until someone tries to mansplain us? Will voices once heard loud and clear in the classroom be silenced by an arrogant boss in a board meeting? Will there be no Sheryl Sanbergesque “leaning in” for us sheltered women’s school attendees. The answer I’ve heard from every woman who has attended Barnard is a resounding no.
We don’t need to have constant resistance to grow strong. I would argue that the man’s perspective seems to have been thriving for thousands of years without any challenges whatsoever. In fact, the opposite is often true. Feminism unchallenged runs rampant. It is allowed to ramble along streets, avenues, grow over old buildings of misguided misogyny and occasionally tear down the walls. Sometimes these uninhibited explorations are public and sometimes private. Barnard is the solution to the “I’m not a feminist because…” sentiment that runs unchecked in both my and upcoming generations. In fact, recently a 17 year old girl I know uttered the sentiment “I’m not a feminist because I’m an equalist.” I had to resist what I will call femsplaining her into oblivion (aka explaining, in a voice dripping with disdain, to this woman that she was saying a statement that was, itself an oxymoron. She might as well say “I’m not a feminist because I’m a feminist.” But I have to admit, before Barnard my own views on feminism were lack-luster. I wasn’t as misinformed as this young woman but I was lost. I knew that feminism was something good, it was something my mom was and is, it was historically important, definitely, but I was not entirely sure how relevant it was anymore.
In my opinion, the reason that most women think that they are not feminist is because they equate feminism with the traditional “battle of the sexes” rhetoric. Thus far the iconic moments in feminism have been about resistance, women breaking free of chains placed on them by men, Society, the much hated, much talked about patriarchy. But what do we do now that the chains are off? Where does feminism go? Is it (was it) only a liberating force? This is where Barnard comes in. You see, feminism is not lost and does not only live on in “traditionally feminist” canonized texts and the more “traditionally feminist” women who read them (you know the ones that you can see and just “tell” that they’re a feminist?). Feminism at Barnard is something that lies under the skin of every woman, every discipline, every club. It is like the bones and muscles that support more delicate forays into business, medicine, law, writing, whatever you choose to study.
But it is only allowed to be so subtle and so clearly ubiquitous because it has been fostered here. It is not forced into a binary, into a fight. I have become a self proclaimed feminist since coming here and it has been a slow and self-interest based journey. And it was NOT based on any negative experience with men or women. My feminism will always be separate from any negative experiences I have because it is not based in anger, fear, or competitiveness. It cannot be reinforced nor torn down by mansplaining because it has no relation to mansplaining. Rather, mansplaining moments will looked at with my trained and indeed feminist eye and filed away as ignorance and part over-arrogance.
I do not wish to imply that this can’t go on in a coed school, of course it can, its just more difficult. The structure of feminism seems superfluous at times, like its an added thing to learn, an added “lens” to look through. It is hard to grow something organically when it is treated as a side dish to the main course of higher learning. Sure “everyone” must graduate having taken at least one class that has a feminist perspective in it or some kind of feminist teaching. But the vivacity of feminism can be so easily stifled by forcing it on people and thus implying that it is not interesting on its own.
Connecting back to Solnit’s point, mansplaining implies that women are dumb, that they know nothing and it reinforces a gendered hierarchy. Yet, manspalining is only a term with real cultural meaning because of the historic patriarchy that has given men power over women and created these cultural and societal habits that are acted out so frequently. It is true calling attention to the habit is important, but let us probe further. How do we keep history from repeating itself? If feminism becomes canonized, if a counter culture begins to exists that femsplains people then feminism runs the risk of becoming as inaccessible as partriarchy. This is where I think Barnard faces its greatest challenge, not in making feminists, but in teaching them how to share and interact around their feminism. The reason that Barnard is still relevant is because we need ambasadors, people who can go out and topple the walls that seem to be built around feminism. People that can explain feminism as a crossroads of individual experience that interacts with the current world and a rich historical past and, most of all, something that does not solely exist to tear down the patriarchy.