Sunday, October 09, 2011

"Is this the right room for an argument?"

Withywindle defends the male know-it-all.

And he's wrong on the Internet! Let me blog-demolish his argument:

Aside from all that ... the ideal is argument, the presentation of non-trivial truth claims, in a conversational tone that invites further argument rather than seeking to end it. Explainering seems an excess of this virtue; the namby-pamby refusal to engage in reasoned argument an insufficiency; I prefer an excess to an insufficiency, especially in this weeny age.
Argumentation, debate, all lovely. But that's not what "Explainering" is. If Withywindle had been able to get past the fact that Solnit's on the left and threw in a few gratuitous jabs at her political opponents - something I don't think Withywindle can claim never to do wrt his political opponents - he might have caught that this is not at all what Solnit's talking about.

"Explainering" is if a woman is the world expert in some area, and a guy who's read one article - one! or less! - on the matter brings it up with her in a tone that makes clear he's confident she doesn't really know anything about it. He may ask her some idiotically trivial detail about it in order to put her on the defensive, to make sure that he's in the position of power. He's not doing diddly squat to further knowledge, or even to further intellectual masturbation. He's just revealing himself incapable of interacting with a woman as her inferior - when he would, in an equivalent situation with a male expert, defer. (It's also what happens when two individuals, both of unremarkable intelligence/expertise, get to talking, and the man, neither the woman's intellectual superior nor inferior, uses his body language and tone to talk down to the woman and do what he can to make her feel like a child.)

Women on the receiving end of this variant of B.S. are in a lose-lose situation. Anything that reads as defensiveness causes Dude to spiral into a web of assumptions - no doubt Ms. Expert here just got where she is because of affirmative action for women, because she slept with the real expert, Mr. Expert, or because Mr. Experts generally wish they could get into her pants and keep her career going with that goal in mind. And saying something like, 'Actually, I won a MacArthur for my work on that very topic' will, to Dude, read as defensiveness. Then there's the option of letting him think he's made a Very Good Point, and addressing it - this ends up being the way to go, getting-through-the-day-wise, but it's sinking to Dude's level, accepting what Mr. Expert wouldn't have to accept, because he'd be allowed to declare himself Expert without anyone think he was protesting too much.

Then there's the rest of Withywindle's post, which seems a bit much coming from someone who blog-interacts with plenty of argumentative "Goilz":
Yeah, it [debating/arguing a point] is a game, and maybe boys do enjoy it more. I think sometimes Da Boyz realize it is a game, when Da Goilz do not; Deze Goilz recoil from what they take as serious, when it is not. And other Goilz, like my interlocutor, know it's a game, and simply choose not to play. But then, some of Da Boyz don't realize it's a game either, and play for keeps, with all their puny and unwarranted self-respect at stake--and enough of them that this makes playing the game unpleasant. Ad utrumque training helps so much.  
Gendered male? Why, yes, the point is to practice asserting "You should go to bed with me" or "You should marry me", in so confident a tone of self-evident fact that the Word becomes Fact. Opinionating, therefore, is a male puberty ritual that too often calcifies into habit. And given the survival of Explainering types, the practice must have positive effects for reproductive survival. Oh, if only we reproduced by sporulation, conversation would be so much more pleasant.
Again, lose-lose. If I point out the wrongness of this, I'm either a) declaring myself not a real woman (on account of liking to argue points and having committed the gender-inverting act that was being opinion editor of the UChicago student paper; on account of thinking it's not only totally OK by me and not infrequently done in our society for women to propose sex/sometimes even marriage to men; on account of quoting from "Monty Python" and not even one of the movies in the post title - no amount of Zappos shoe-ogling will counteract this!), or b) being a flustered, defensive, humorless woman who's all like this like totally offends me as a feminist, waah, how unfair.

So instead, I'll just mention the inconsistency here, which is that Withywindle is on the one hand annoyed that women aren't more argumentative, and on the other declaring that sexual tension itself derives from a more fundamental difference from which come the divergent attitudes towards pontificating in college op-ed pages. The only way to reconcile these is to say that his point is that men are the superior sex, forced, by the unfortunate fact that they by and large prefer women to men romantically, to interact with those bores.

Meh. There are - and fear not, female readers who've yet to locate any - men out there, some of whom are exceptionally Expert, who do not "Explainer" at women. If you find one, and you find him good-looking, and he doesn't, I don't know, have a history of torturing animals or anything, he's probably all right.

Of course, if getting talked down to does it for you, as Dan Savage would say, you need a partner with whom you're compatible. Withywindle's post can even be refuted from a traditional-roles standpoint. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that many women like being with men more knowledgeable than themselves. Let's say this is a dynamic that - due to nature or nurture, for better or for worse, because feminism has yet to destroy it or because it's just part of the beautiful framework of permanent and essential gender differences, take your pick - has stuck. The problem with the condescending, know-it-all stance is that it's not about knowledge or persuasiveness, but about creating the illusion of superiority. As with other male attempts at creating illusions of superiority, born out of their own insecurity, they may snag the occasional insecure woman, but there will be a whole lot of women seeing through it. A woman who does, in fact, know quite a bit will not swoon for a man who pretends to know more, even if she might for a man who actually did.


Britta said...

Ha! I was going to write a comment on the other post, but there's also the term slightly more general than "explainering," which is "mansplain," for when a man explains something to a woman which she already knows about, particularly in a condescending tone, and often might know more than the man.

A related phenomenon I've encountered in grad school is when a woman and man might know the same amount about something (e.g. they took the same class), but their male classmates assume the man is the expert, and if they have a question on the topic, will direct it solely at the man, or comment on the man's knowledge and not the woman's. This isn't exactly mansplaining, but it's also extremely irritating, and arises out of the assumption that a woman is not going to be an expert, particularly if a topic is technical.

Flavia said...

I was just coming here to mention "mansplaining," but Britta beat me to it!

I've met plenty of mansplainers in my life and see them all over academia. My first article submission received a THIRTEEN-PAGE, SINGLE-SPACED review from someone who clearly didn't know half as much as I did on the topic, but was convinced I was wrong; it contained tell-tale mansplaining expressions like, "surely it's can't be the case that. . . " in attempting to refute even some pretty uncontroversial and well-documented claims.

But I think some women are magnets for this kind of behavior. My friends who look younger than their ages, and who are slight and/or blond, and softer spoken, get much more of this than I ever have. (The mansplainers I tend to get are people who are totally outside academia, like my jackass uncle, or nutters at coffee shops; they're a lot easier to deal with than the patronizers within the profession.) Know-it-all men do hit on me (or did, before I was married/engaged), but they tend to do it with a great show of wanting my opinion, and of arguing extremely respectfully, even deferentially. Which is weird, but I'll take it over patronizing any day.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"Mansplaining," yes!


As always seems to come up in these discussions, there's on the one hand the plight of the female Great Mind, on the other that of women in more ordinary situations, in-between situations, etc. What I call "Second After Sartre," after Simone de Beauvoir, who placed second after Sartre on that exam, writing in The Second Sex about how tough it is for female geniuses. Because it's always convenient to be able to say, 'actually I am the world expert,' than to have something less official to back you up, whereas it's also, from a feminist standpoint, especially problematic if a world expert gets laughed off on account of being a woman.

Meanwhile, it's also plenty frustrating to, as you say, have this happen in class, etc. That, too, should be something feminists are concerned with, not just the plight of women near the top who'd be at the very top were it not for sexism.


"But I think some women are magnets for this kind of behavior. My friends who look younger than their ages, and who are slight and/or blond, and softer spoken, get much more of this than I ever have."

Yes. And while it's possible to learn to speak up, there's not much that can be done with size, and women shouldn't have to change their hair color. I'm kind of stuck with short and small-all-around, so it's very easy for a man who's even kind of small for a dude to use body language in his mansplanations. This is no doubt part of the appeal of blog-writing (or in college, column-writing) for me. I hold my own in in-person debate, I'd like to think, but it's a different "game" when my 5'2"-ness isn't viscerally evident.

That said, I do still get commenters who'll take the patronizing tone, although it's generally more re: age (in the way that age is used only to disqualify young women. This has, I'm pleased to say, let up now that I'm 28, married, ABD, and otherwise less appealing as a candidate for strangers on the Internet to want to explain a thing or two to about how the world works. It's far more fun, I suppose, to mansplain at a woman fresh out of college and single, a woman who's the closest to "girl" a grown man can communicate with online without that guy from "To Catch a Predator" showing up at his house.

Paul Gowder said...

Sometimes men get crap from this sort of guy too, but then it's usually a social dominance game. I know some men who will initiate arguments with other men over the most trivial possible things -- like "the sky is blue." "Well, actually, it's a sort of off-mauve..."

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


True enough, That Guy-ishness exists among men as well, but? It's not even a "this sort of guy" thing - there are so, so, so (need I go on?) many men who do this to women but not to other men. Who'll respect a man who's an expert in some area, who'll defer to his knowledge, but who'll talk to a woman who's an expert like she's a naive child with a cute little hobby. No need for a generic condemnation of That Guy-ishness to usurp what is a fairly significant and specifically feminist grievance.

Paul Gowder said...

Fair enough -- sorry for derailing.

Andrew Stevens said...

Then there's the option of letting him think he's made a Very Good Point, and addressing it - this ends up being the way to go, getting-through-the-day-wise, but it's sinking to Dude's level, accepting what Mr. Expert wouldn't have to accept, because he'd be allowed to declare himself Expert without anyone think he was protesting too much.

I may be misunderstanding you here, but you seem to be asking here for a deference in discussion which should not be granted to either Mr. or Ms. Expert. If someone comes to me and explains at great length their pet (but mistaken) theory on statistics and probability (and this has happened to me even with women, though they tend to be far less long-winded), I do not simply draw myself up and pronounce myself an Expert (which I am). I explain to her why she is wrong. And all of my authority as an Expert is completely worthless if I can't do this. Whenever someone responds to an argument with "I am an Expert" (and men are much more likely to do that than women), I am not inclined to believe this ends the debate and that the original point must be wrong (though, of course, it's quite possible that it is wrong). I am more inclined to believe that the Expert has no good answer (though they may believe that a good answer exists, in which case the proper response is "let me think about that and get back to you").

It is one thing for a non-Expert to respond in debate by saying "Well, this is what the Experts believe and I am deferring to their authority." But if I am discussing that point with an Expert, that had better not be his response. Example: Someone says "I believe in God because my priest is an Expert on theology and he says he is convinced." This is, despite what many atheists think, a perfectly good argument for why one might believe in God, but if I then go to the priest, his argument had better not be "I am an Expert on theology and I am convinced."

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


No worries!


I think you're missing the gist of the role expertise plays in the discussion. Imagine that a woman is an expert in some area of Italian history. A man approaches her, knowing this, and says that she might be interested to know that there was this guy named Garibaldi. Has she ever heard of him? Or French history - does a woman who claims to be some big French history prof know the significance of the year 1789? Has she heard of this guy Louis XIV? (Or also, in my field, if someone asked me if I know how to conjugate "aller.") The question is too basic to be one that you'd ask of someone who spent 8-odd years plus undergrad researching some topic. If it's a matter of genuine ignorance/curiosity, that's another matter. "Mansplaining" is when the man assumes the woman needed enlightening on the topic, and that he's the man for the job.

Sometimes experts make mistakes, and an intellectual environment that allows for calling out those mistakes is wonderful. But "mansplaining" is always at a far lower level than this would occur at, and is about casting doubt that a woman might know about anything other than nail salons. Or if not that, then some kind of "gotcha" approach that mistakes encyclopedic knowledge for expertise. (This would be like if someone asked me what day in 1790 the Jews of France were emancipated. Something I'd have fresh in my mind if teaching a class on it, but that otherwise might be at the ready, might not.)

It's not a question of blind faith in experts vs. skepticism. It's about giving someone with proven authority on a topic the benefit of the doubt re: competence in that area, as opposed to assuming that they're a fraud, an idiot, etc. Men who are experts generally get that benefit, women often don't.

-k- said...

If I can engage Withywindle's theory about arguing--which, I agree, is different from mansplaining and from being a pedant generally, so forgive me if this is too off-topic--a related but slightly different point from those you've made would be that, though arguing can be entertaining, it would be more accurate to frame it as games, plural. W. may not be attuned to this phenomenon because he's presumably not experienced arguing for sport from the female perspective, but in my experience it is very much not the same game when played between male acquaintances as it is between my (female) self and male acquaintance(s), because my very femaleness frequently has the disappointing effect of taking the all-in-good-fun-ness out of it for my (male) would-be sparring partners. I'm not overly aggro or 'explainery' (nor are they, for that matter)- I'm simply a debating woman, and that elicits a different kind of (clearly defensive) response from men who I've observed to be quite capable of arguing for sport with other males.

(I say acquaintances because these men don't become friends- happily, I do have male friends with whom this has not been the case, but they are certainly in the minority.)

PG said...

My first article submission received a THIRTEEN-PAGE, SINGLE-SPACED review from someone who clearly didn't know half as much as I did on the topic, but was convinced I was wrong; it contained tell-tale mansplaining expressions like, "surely it's can't be the case that. . . " in attempting to refute even some pretty uncontroversial and well-documented claims.

This is the beauty of legal scholarship's requiring that everything more debatable than "The sky is blue" come with a footnote documenting it.

This is no doubt part of the appeal of blog-writing (or in college, column-writing) for me. I hold my own in in-person debate, I'd like to think, but it's a different "game" when my 5'2"-ness isn't viscerally evident.

A Republican friend, whom I met after we'd both been writing opinion for the college paper for a couple of years, once said to me something like, "You're much less aggressive in person than in your column." I found this a little silly, inasmuch as (1) unlike writing opinion columns, in-person conversation doesn't *rely* on my advancing controversial claims; and (2) I suspect that even when we actually were disagreeing about something, I was using the same rhetoric that I would in the column -- right down to "I read in the NYT last week" -- but it came across as much less "aggressive" out of the mouth of a short round brown girl than in the black-and-white of a newspaper (especially before they made us have our pictures with the column, which I hated, and not just because my picture looked awful).

Anyway, this is part of why I blogged pseudonymously and didn't include my age, sex, ethnicity etc. in an "About," though I would mention them if they were relevant to what I had to say in a given blog post.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I'd be curious to know *how* you find that being female changes things when debating with men. My sense is that just as there are some men who are convinced that a woman can never be knowledgeable, there are others (well, often the same) men who think women can either be ultra-frivolous or super-sensitive, and thus that a woman can't even argue a point without her feelings (and maybe some tears) getting involved.


"but it came across as much less 'aggressive' out of the mouth of a short round brown girl than in the black-and-white of a newspaper"

Yes. In life, I'm give or take going to come across as a small Jewish woman from New York. Even if this is known about me in print, the voice inside people's heads when they read a column/blog is often going to be some kind of default male 'now, look here...' Which is why I almost don't think it matters as much as one might imagine if you do reveal your true identity (I'm not talking overshare, just name, approx. age, gender, photo). So much of what happens in debate in person is tone, body language, etc. In spite of themselves, readers will round up, as it were, the voice they're reading to someone they could find convincing in life, even if that means superimposing a gruff white male onto the articles of a soft-spoken, tiny, young woman.

PG said...

I wonder if there's some equivalent to "mansplaining" that sometimes occurs in interracial interactions. For example, I think what was rubbing people so wrong about Lawrence O'Donnell's recent interview of Herman Cain is that it came across as very "whitesplaining" about the civil rights movement. I don't think that would have come across nearly as offensively if Jesse Jackson had been doing the interview.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


No doubt. Whenever there's a power imbalance (and in a society like ours, this would count), there may be 'splainage. The only difference is that we assume gender differences, unlike "racial" ones, are universal and not something we-as-a-society could or even want to one day transcend. So even from a real reactionary, it's unlikely one would get an argument these days like Withywindle's but re: race, about how the world is a better and more charming place because white people get to whitesplain to non-whites. There is, in other words, a sexual/romantic dimension to mansplaining, even when it's not being used explicitly as a pick-up technique.

-k- said...


Certainly we all know men for whom those beliefs are front and center, but the situation I'm trying to get at is, again, slightly different. Those factors may be at play on some level, insofar as the reaction seems to be about being recognizing that they're playing the debating game with a woman who is pretty clearly on at least the same intellectual plane and who does not argue from emotion, but the reaction isn't really about not taking me seriously, or trying to adopt a superior position to shut me down or dismiss me. It's the palpable defensiveness, the heightened emotional response on their part, the lack of willingness to engage in the 'game' as they would with other men. I think it's just unexpected and represents a heightened threat to ego, particularly the part of the ego tied to a man's sense of his own masculinity (whether or not it is articulated in this way).

So this is maybe a different point on the same continuum- not quite 'I just don't take women seriously, full stop', but 'I can recognize women as serious, but am not really sure how to handle it'.

-k- said...

Pardon the double post- it just struck me that, put more simply, this is the difference between a) laughing off, or b) being unnerved to varying degrees by, the possibility of 'getting beat by a girl'.

(Category B, of course, often manifests itself as Category A.)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I think I see what you're getting at. One possible explanation is that these are men who don't know how to deal with women except in a romantic (thinly veiled or overt) context. They might be able to handle banter, but non-flirtatious yet playful debate with a woman is not something they can manage.

Withywindle said...

Phoebe: A reply! Sorry I didn't check your blog again until there were already so many responses. I will try to be bullet-pointy, if not brief.

1) I wouldn't say "defends" is a full description.

2) I did (and do) wonder whether your Explainerizing is simply hyperargumentation, or something completely different. I suppose if the latter, I have less interesting to say about it. If the former--and I think it possible one could be mistaken for the other--then I have something to say.

3) Certainly I make jabs at my opponents (gratuitous?--heaven forfend), but I generally know when I'm doing so. Solnit's casual use of the Bush administration as an example of her gender-conversation point, without even apparently realizing that this is politically tendentious, makes me dubious about her gender-conversation point--partly because the example she adduces to make her general point I find ungrounded in fact, and partly because if I don't trust her general perception of politics, I have no reason to trust her general perception of gender-conversation.

4) You quoted me on hyperargumentation, but snipped "Though the decay of argument into mere assertion is quite annoying, to be sure." I think that snippage mildly alters the reproduction of my argument.

5) I think I understand what you mean by the word.

6) Don't you think that the very introduction of the concept has the effect of putting men on the defensive in the ensuing conversation?

7) I am personally oblivious, so I don't really have good data points of my own. (Though I do think the existence of words like "blowhard" indicates that the gender lines of the effect have some spillover.) I'm always willing to believe the worst of my own behavior, although sometimes reluctant to generalize from it. I'm willing in theory to believe a gendered Explainerism exists--but I'm more likely to find the argument for its existence persuasive if a woman who posits a gendered Explainerism is willing to accept in theory, and provide an example in practice, of some equivalent conversational defect gendered female. Otherwise I suspect a more banal variety of self-praise.

(And, yes, I know it's a post about Explainerism; and not about its XX equivalent. Still.)

Withywindle said...

8) I provided two different varieties of both Boyz and Goilz; surely that is innoculation against essentialism? I don't think I ever used the dread phrases "All Boyz" or "All Girlz".

9) I grant that you might read "annoyed" from "namby-pamby," although it's stronger than I would have put it myself.

10) I suppose I should have said "Is it really gendered male? If so, then let us say that ..." I was more interested in exploring ramifications than making downright declarations. (This is how I avoid reasoned argument and annoy myself.)

11) But pursuing that ramifying argument ... the point then isn't to be knowledgeable for a lifetime, but to put it on for a sufficient length of time to get the lady to 1) bed; and/or 2) the altar. At which point, 1) you crow about your sexual victory and vamoose; or 2) you rely for your relationship's continuance on the lady's reluctance to end it, for practical reasons, because she would then have to admit (to others and to herself) that she was foolish enough to fall for a fool, and because such temporary blarneying can be reproduced on different marks indefinitely, so perhaps its worth joining in with the bluster and the grift.

12) Some knowledgeable women will prefer men with real knowledge to blusterers; the world is various, sayeth Dear Montaigne.

Flavia: 1) Isn't peer-review supposed to be anonymous? Isn't there a non-trivial possibility that A) your reviewer didn't know that you were female; and/or B) your reviewer actually was female? (Cf. The Eleventh Voyage of Ijon Tichy, if I remember the plot properly.)

2) How is "a great show of wanting my opinion, and of arguing extremely respectfully, even deferentially" different from the real thing?

K: I think my use of "a game" implies the existence of plural games. My capacity for imaginative empathy is godlike & transcendeth the bounds of fleshly self, although the practice is apish. Tsk.

PG: Whitesplaining has a history. Although in my own experience, the most annoying Questioning of Authority was a graduate history seminar in Latin American history, taught by a WASP professor, where a Hispanic student spent much of the first class (I think he dropped afterward) interjecting questions along the lines of "What's the population of Cuba?", and then saying "Hey, you really do know something about Latin America." But I always took that to be an individual nutter, not a Representative of his Race/Gender/What-Have-You.

PG said...


Excellent point. I'm so used to thinking in a sort of liberal, legalistic "gender is barely more permissible than race as a basis for different treatment" framework that I forget how many people don't believe that at all. I wonder how the defenders of mansplaining cope with how to behave toward people of less straightforward gender, e.g. genderqueer or trans folk.

PG said...

I'm puzzled by the notion that the desire to get women in bed somehow excuses acting like a jackass. Why isn't jackassery motivated by the desire for sex just as deserving of social opprobrium as jackassery motivated by the desire for prestige among fellow males (aka "being a douchebag")? Why not treat mansplaining with the same contempt Ellison treated whitesplaining?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


To follow your bulletpoints:

1) Re: "defends," sometimes, in blogging, in writing, one must sum up a more nuanced idea with just one word, assuming the word gives the right idea and is not misleading. So, if you prefer, in your post, you defend, with explanation and minor caveats, the male know-it-all. Better?

2) How are you defining "hyperargumentation"? Being generally contrarian?

3) If you're open to arguments not specifically about politics from those across the political spectrum, you just have to learn to tune out gratuitous jabs. I tuned out hers like I tune out gratuitous jabs at the left. So it's not the article I'd have written. It still makes valid points.

4) I don't think the snippage is relevant, because you didn't address how this relates to the discussion at hand re: gender. Do you think that the deterioration of argument has had any particular influence on mansplaining? Or was this (as I read it to be, thus why I left it out) a gratuitous nostalgic touch in keeping with the overall nostalgic-conservative tone of your post/blog? As with Item 1 here, I was reading for meaning, not doing a close textual analysis of your post. Thus I honed in on passages that struck me as indicative of your point.

5) The word... "mansplaining?

6) If (some) men are indeed guilty of something here, they don't have to approach this by going on the defensive. They could own up to the behavior, or consider the possibility that they have done this to women, and try not to do so in the future. Men who behave impeccably when dealing with female experts might still respect the experiences of women who've dealt with this, and should not become defensive and claim that this never happens simply because they themselves don't do it.

7) Was this a long way of saying that because I didn't come up with something bad that women do, you won't be persuaded? Huh? I guess discussions of racism need to include bits about how black people kind of have it coming? If members of a marginalized group have "defects," as you put it, perhaps those "defects" come from having been marginalized. If women are, for the sake of argument, insufficiently argumentative, this is not something we can say is the fault of Women, even if it ends up being up to individual woman to speak up more.

8) No, still essentialism. One of my favorite academic books of all time deals with the ways "the Jew" was represented in the French Enlightenment - there was more than one cliché circulating, but there were fixed ideas about what "the Jew" could and could not be. See where I'm going with this?

9) See 1, 4 re: textual analysis.

10) Getting tired. Not seeing the difference.

11, 12) So do you like it that (in your view) women can't argue like men can? That was the inconsistency I was highlighting.

It was kind of you to respond, but the gist of your response seems to be that I did not carefully ponder every word of your post for nuance. It's true, I read it for its (man that I must be) argument.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Thanks! And, re: how mansplainers interact with the more gender-ambiguous, my guess would be that, assuming they're not too -phobic to indeed interact, they turn off the mansplaining, because mansplaining is a cousin of flirtation, and these are not men who'd want to be caught flirting with anyone but a woman, ideally a young, small, soft-spoken woman. It's about taking that naive young thing under your wing and teaching her a thing or two, maybe back at your place. Unless a trans (MTF) woman reads as a biological woman, and a non-threatening one at that, mansplaining doesn't apply.

Withywindle said...

PG: Explains, not justifies.

Phoebe: 1) I think your elisions somewhat misconstrue what I was aiming at; not a definite argument about the virtues of mansplaining, but a skepticism about the validity of the concept and the critique. Not denial, but skepticism. As a corollary, working out some of the implications I think might follow from accepting the critique, and seeing whether the proponents of the critique are willing to accept them; where, if they reject them out of court, taking that as further reason for skepticism.

2) I think I am defining hyperargumentative as a taste for argument, and a preference to seek victory rather than truth.

3) Yes, the argument can be true shorn of the politics. But--to bring up an earlier conversation--if Britta argues that Carl Schmitt's Nazism should give one pause about the rest of his ideas, and consider whether they are more than casually related, then I would argue, I think with no less justification, that Solnit's politics should give one comparable pause as one considers the relation of her politics to her ideas expressed here. And again, there is the matter of basic perceptual competence/exercise of imaginative empathy; Solnit's apparent incapacity in one arena undermines her reliability in all.

3) If you make a negative generalization about characteristic male conversational style, drawing upon specifically female experience, it seems to me that you ought to allow the validity of equivalent negative generalizations about characteristic female conversational style, drawing upon specifically male experience. I doubtless read too much from silence, but I don't get the sense that Solnit et al welcome this parallel.

4) I suppose I'll plead guilty to essentializing then.

5) I dislike refusal to even engage in argument. If I were convinced it was a characteristically female trait, I would dislike it in women. I am not so convinced.

PG said...

PG: Explains, not justifies.

Ah, ok, so it's not meant to be a matter of "Be flattered, ladies, he's just treating you like a ninny because he wants to get into your pants." I'm perfectly willing to accept that mansplaining occurs due to a view of women as subordinate sexual objects, it just seemed a peculiar thing to bring up in even a qualified defense of it.

it seems to me that you ought to allow the validity of equivalent negative generalizations about characteristic female conversational style

I think, given that any guy here is intrinsically engaging a woman in argument, his generalizations about characteristic female conversation style that are utterly contrary to Phoebe's own style will seem a bit suspect. Certainly, such a guy would be advised at least to point to specific other blogs written by women where he has run into the style he's deeming characteristic of women. Yes, this has a selection bias of "the kind of women who have blogs," but so does waiting to get a perspective from the kind of women who write op-eds.

5) I dislike refusal to even engage in argument. If I were convinced it was a characteristically female trait, I would dislike it in women. I am not so convinced.

I've certainly encountered refusal to even engage in argument from people of both sexes when it comes to certain topics. I've had a Republican lawyer who also wrote political arguments in public venues simply refuse to discuss his position on "partial-birth" abortion (he favors its prohibition) and say that the position might well be irrational (as per Judge Posner's opinion) but isn't something he cares to argue because he's not trying to persuade someone else about it.

I think this is pretty common. Where you aren't interested in persuading (particularly, where you see the person who claims to be interested in your arguments as essentially unpersuadable), you may deem argument to be a waste of breath/pixels, even if you derive some pleasure from the act of framing your arguments. This will become even more true with regard to positions that spring from deeply-held convictions and values that are often ridiculed or deemed implausible by most people you encounter.

Similarly, if my views on the prevalence of religious bigotry in the rural South is shaped by personal experience, but I know that I don't cope well with people claiming that my experiences must be untrue or I must have misconstrued what was occurring, it's foolish for me to submit that personal experience as evidence for my argument. The whole discussion may well be derailed by my upset at being called a liar/delusional. This tends to happen for a lot of people, including women, whose experiences are marginalized. If in the course of discussion they assert something exists based on their personal experiences, and are told that that their experiences didn't really occur, then that can end up feeling like a personal attack -- even though of course we're all discussing things at a rational, Platonic, impersonal level!

Flavia said...

Withy: to respond to your comments aimed specifically at me: you're right that I don't know that my reviewer knew I was female. But I later reviewed for the journal in question, and was astonished to be told, in an email, the name of the author whose MS they were asking me to review. So I think they're not so very blind on that end of things.

I don't know who my reviewer was, but I do know that he was male because he went into a bizarre rant about the Vietnam War (not, uh, remotely the subject of my article) that revealed his gender pretty clearly.

Re: the great show of wanting my opinion, arguing respectfully, etc: it's not that such a man isn't sincere. But being randomly stopped on the street by an acquaintance who announces that he wants to know what I think of some very public matter that we've never discussed before is pretty transparently coming up with an excuse to talk to me. Better than mansplaining by a long shot, but when it happens out of the blue with someone typically more aggressive in his conversation, it's natural to wonder whether it's totally sincere. (And yes, this has actually happened to me a bunch.)

Andrew Stevens said...

I wouldn't necessarily read too much into it. This often happens to me, with both men and women. It might just mean that people think you're interesting to talk to and value your opinions. Now, when a female acquaintance comes up to me and tries to engage in small talk (which I am notoriously bad at), that's when I have suspicions. But obviously you'd know better which behavior is suspicious (body language and all that - even I can usually detect flirtation and I'm notoriously bad at that too).

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


We have two options here. One is that I could put on my "literary analysis" hat and try to figure out, turn of phrase by turn of phrase, what you're driving at. The other is that I might sum up what I believe is your argument - the risk being that, in summarizing, I fail to capture every tiniest nuance - and make your argument a bit more straightforward for all of us. I'm going with the latter.

You're arguing, it appears:

-That Democrats/leftists/those-who-knee-jerk-hate-the-Bush-admin. are, like those who sympathized with Nazis (really the road you wanted to go down?) inherently suspect in other areas. The obvious question for you is if you yourself would like to be dismissed in other areas of your life on account of being a conservative. If you really want such a partisan split in all discourse.

-That a woman (or feminist regardless of gender) can't make a claim about sexism coming from men, directed at women, without coming up with some corresponding claim about women's failures. That doing so constitutes some kind of rah-rah, down-with-men approach.

-That... I still don't know where you were going with what I initially highlighted as an inconsistency - do you like that women are (in your view) so non-argumentative that men get to take that role, demanding sex, marriage, etc. as they (in your view) sit passively by?

I mean, one possibility here is that the female commenters (and WWPD herself) are imagining that men behave in this way. (See PG, above, on why arguing a point gets old quick when others declare your experiences of marginalization delusional.) Another is that this is something we have, in fact, all experienced, even if we can't link to specific examples because these things tend to happen more in real life. I really don't see what the big deal would be in accepting that this phenomenon, which has been amply described above, exists. It doesn't implicate you personally. Is the problem just that admitting it would mean agreeing with this Solnit, who doesn't like the Republican party?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Oh, and "imagining that men [...]" is in the "some men" sense, not the "all men" one.

Withywindle said...

Flavia: Odd peer review experience.

Ay, sincerity she wants? It's a wonderful thing, and when you can fake it, etc.

Phoebe: 1) When I make a point about gender, I try not to make hostile citation to Hillary Clinton or Bella Abzug. I should think that if I did, it would and should degrade the persuasiveness of my argument to all those not in my political camp.

2) There are a sufficiency of "rah-rah-us, down-with-not-us" attitudes in the world that I am cautious of heartfelt witness that endorses them too neatly.

3)I think I was spinning corollaries from the use of "gendered." I was not particularly claiming Truth, much less Endorsement.

4) Accepting "I'm a Good X, not like all those other Bad Xes" has its own problems.

PG said...

4) Accepting "I'm a Good X, not like all those other Bad Xes" has its own problems.

Sometimes, but I don't see why it would here. I have no problem saying stuff like "Yeah, I'm not the kind of woman who needs a man to make more money than I do." That some guys may appreciate this about me (just as some won't, correctly detecting that it arises from being a feminist) and deem me a Good X, is no reason not to say it.

For that matter, it's no reason not to challenge other women who feel differently about why they feel differently. Relations between the sexes probably would be much better if those who are deemed the Good Ones did more to challenge the behavior of their brethren or sistren. Certainly, it'd be nice if men would speak up when they see mansplaining going on, though of course this would require acknowledging its existence.