Don’t Man/Femsplain

Read this. It’s intelligent, funny, and written by a woman who kicks butt:


Rebecca Solnit: Men Explain Things to Me


I don’t frequently get “mansplained.” I think this is rare for two reasons. I am a Speaking Fellow, and so I help others sound confident when speaking. Second, I go to Barnard College. You may not find much mansplaining at Barnard. There are professors who are men, but they don’t mansplain (they just explain). As Rebecca Solnit points out, mansplaining is not when a man explains something to a woman; after all, we all need to explain things to others. Solnit describes mansplaining 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 does mansplaining play at Barnard if it isn’t found in the halls or classrooms? This relates to an on-campus formal and informal debate: should (could is a different story) Barnard College merge with Columbia University? Tabia Santos wrote another article about this issue on Fellow Voices, responding to a controversial Bwog editorial by Lambo Zhang. This is especially relevant to Speaking Fellows because, in training, we use this question to practice debate teaching sessions. After watching Speaking Fellows and my fellow Barnard students debate this issue in a structured setting, I am able to consider the pros and cons of the different perspectives involved.


The question posed by pro-mergers often goes like this: “Sure, Barnard is empowering for women, but how does it empower them to compete with men in the real world?” The suggestion is that at Barnard, a world where the female perspective thrives, there is no challenge. Feminism, like goldfish in a bowl, will die immediately when thrown into open water (aka the man-inhabited world). Will Barnard students still feel confident when someone mansplains us? Will voices, once heard loudly and clearly in the classroom, be suddenly silenced by an arrogant boss? Will there be no Sheryl Sandbergesque “leaning in” for sheltered, women’s school attendees? The answer I’ve heard from every woman who attended Barnard is no, absolutely not.


We don’t need constant resistance to grow strong. The male perspective seemed to thrive for thousands of years without such resistance. The opposite is also true: feminism unchallenged runs rampant. It rambles along streets,  grows over old buildings of misogyny, and occasionally tears down walls. Sometimes these 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. Recently, a 17-year-old girl I know declared, “I’m not a feminist because I’m an equalist.” I resisted femsplaining her into oblivion (aka explaining, disdainfully, that she might as well say, “I’m not a feminist because I’m a feminist”). But I admit, before Barnard, my own views on feminism were lackluster. I knew feminism was something good, something my mom was and is, and historically important, but I was not entirely sure of its relevance anymore.


In my opinion, the reason women often think they are not feminists is because they equate feminism with a “battle of the sexes.” Thus far, iconic moments in feminism have been about resistance: women breaking free of chains placed upon them by men, Society, the much-hated patriarchy. But what do we do if the chains are off? Where does feminism go? Is it (was it) a liberating force alone? This is where Barnard comes in. Feminism is not lost and does not only live in traditionally feminist, canonized texts. Feminism at Barnard lies under the skin of every woman, every discipline, every extracurricular. It is the bones and muscles supporting delicate forays into business, medicine, law, writing, whatever you choose to study.


But feminism can only be so ubiquitous because it has been fostered here. Feminism is not forced into a binary, a battle. I have become a self-proclaimed feminist since Barnard, but it has been a slow journey. It was NOT based on negative experiences with men or women. My feminism 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 is seen through my trained, feminist eye as ignorance and arrogance.


I do not mean to imply such growth can’t happen at coed schools. Of course it can; it just may be more difficult. Feminism can sometimes seem in higher education like an added language to learn, an added lens to peer through. Sure “everyone” must graduate having taken one class with a feminist perspective or feminist teaching. But feminism’s vivacity can easily be stifled when forced on people, implying it is not relevant on its own and without a syllabus.


Returning to Solnit, mansplaining implies women are dumb and uninformed, reinforcing a destructive gender hierarchy. Yet, mansplaining exists because an historic patriarchy created such cultural and societal habits. Calling attention to mansplaining habits is important, but let us probe further. If feminism is canonized, if a counter-culture femsplains, then feminism risks becoming as condescending as patriarchy. Barnard’s challenge is not in shaping feminists, but teaching them to share their feminism. Barnard is relevant because we need ambassadors to topple the imagined walls around feminism.