A Brief Guide to Mansplaining

It happens on a near-daily basis, both on the internet and out and about in daily life. I say something – anything, really; an opinion, a fact, a remark about a book or a comic character or a historical figure – and it happens. I think my knowledge of things must have some kind of scent, because it draws in a certain kind of creature called the Mansplainer.

Now, I didn’t notice the phenomenon of Mansplaining much in my teens. I was – well, a teenager, and assumed there were many things I didn’t know. However as an adult woman, I’ve become keenly aware of how much I really do know – and how much the average male does not want to believe I know.

For those of you who don’t know, Mansplaining is the particular activity many men have when a woman says words, and a man feels the need to either a) correct her b) take the subject matter and discuss it as though she knows very little about it and he knows everything, or c) ask why she feels the need to talk about a thing at all.

Not every man who Mansplains is a terrible person. Often I think they simply don’t realize it’s what they’re doing – but not only does it make them look insecure and small, it has the opposite effect of what they probably wanted. Instead of seeming like a Superior Intelligence, they look foolish. Instead of seeming well-educated or well-rounded, they come across as desperate and threatened.

Are they always desperate and threatened? Of course not. Like I said, I don’t think most Mansplainers even realize they’re doing it and if someone were to point this out, they might be horrified. It isn’t just ‘one type’ of man who does this, either. I see equal culprits from the public-schooled guys as I do from the homeschooled ones. One is a culture of beer-chugging horn-honking pick-up lines (or even suit-wearing despot types), and the other comes from the uber-Patriarchal ‘women are your lessers, you are the Man and therefore the Better Creation’ mindset.

Both are equally bad.  And here’s the thing – everyone does this at some point. I’ve done it before – and when I realized it, made amends. That’s the important part. Just because I know something more about a subject (or think I do) doesn’t give me leave to trample over someone else or make them look stupid in a public setting. It’s bad manners, it’s rude, and it makes the person doing it look like an idiot.

If you find yourself being Mansplained to, don’t roll over and take it, but don’t get nasty either. Gently, calmly assure the man doing the splaining that you do know what you’re talking about. (If you do NOT know what you’re talking about, then feel free to ask questions and learn more – turning away good lessons just because you don’t like the teacher is a mistake. But you should still point out the fact he’s being less than stellar.) If he insists he wasn’t doing anything and you’re overreacting (which happens, even when you’ve been extremely kind and subtle about how you feel), shrug, let out a deep breath, and tell him (kindly – again, you don’t want to stoop) that he’s assuming you’re stupid, you don’t appreciate it, and ask him not to do it again.

He probably will do it again, but next time you have a good base for saying ‘Hey, look, I asked you politely last time not to treat me like a moron,’ and you can have no qualms about letting him have it. (Kindly. Always kindly.)

If you find out YOU’RE the one doing the Mansplaining (even if you’re a woman. It happens) then just fortify yourself and apologize. Because in the immortal words of King Arthur,

Why have enemies when you could have friends?

Or, as my friend Lex added, when you could at least have not-enemies.

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A Staff, a Sling, and Five Rocks

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Who else takes pride in their individuality? I know I do. Being something Other, going against the flow, has always been important to me for reasons I’ve never been able to put my finger on. Being unique is important to me, although it used to be moreso. Nowadays I don’t think about it nearly as much; I don’t feel the need to let other people know when I have a specific Quirk. It’s not urgent for me to let anyone know.

That said, the Christian community often has a problem with individuality. Not everyone is ‘out to get anyone different,’ but there’s a common mindset that claims things like You must do everything like X Great Person or, You must have these habits or, You must walk/talk/eat/dress like/sound a certain way.

These ways aren’t usually bad, of course; that’s not what I’m saying. They’re perfectly fine – for some people. But not for everyone. ‘God wants Unity in his children,’ I hear, and that’s true. It’s a common theme throughout the New Testament. One thing I don’t read, however, is ‘God wants all his children to be the same.’

How do I know this? Because He created us all in vastly different ways. He made us individuals. He made us unique; and the beauty of unity doesn’t lie in a bunch of perfectly cookie-cutter people being perfectly cookie-cutter, but in unique and multi-faceted individuals coming together because their goal is God. Their reason is God. Their work is God.

My favorite illustration of this is in 1 Samuel 17.

David, after he goes up to give his brothers lunch, finds a Philistine giant laughing at the terrified Israelites. David decides hey, nobody else is killing him, so I will; and then one of my favorite things happens – Saul puts his own armor on David. He gives him his own sword. Both are honors; but David walks around in them for a minute and says, “I can’t wear these; I’m not used to them.” And he takes the king’s armor off. He picks up a staff and a sling and some rocks – because he’s used to those. He’s grown up with those.

You all know how the story ends; David defeats Goliath with the first stone. He does it without armor and without a sword, with no real protection except God and the tools he already had. God wants us to do things our own unique ways. He doesn’t want us sitting around trying to mimic someone else; putting on their armor. He wants you to use your staffs and slings and pens and pencils and music and crafting and whatever it is you are called to do; the things you love doing, the things you’re good at. God doesn’t want you wielding someone else’s weapon.

Saul said to David, Go; and the Lord be with you.

//angels in the wilderness

There are many good ways to start off a weekend, but waking up with severe pain, unable to use my right leg, wasn’t one of them. As I hobbled on crutches from the car to the emergency room, I found it almost funny – and if my leg hadn’t been hurting so badly, I might actually have laughed. The situation was almost absurd – I’ve used the phrase ‘one thing after another’ to describe 2016 for me, and each time I think What’s the worst that could happen now? The question is answered in the form of another blow. Like finding out you have some kind of arthritis in your right knee, and needing to take anti-inflammatory painkillers while you prop your leg up at home and wait for the bloodwork results.

I mean really, on top of everything else, now I’m laid up and unable to be physically comfortable? WHAT DID I DO? Granted, I would rather handle some physical pain than another emotional whammy, but this was insult to injury. Or rather injury to insult.

I find myself asking why fairly often these days. Why me? Why us? Why now? But in the midst of all the questions, I found an unexpected response. The other night when I couldn’t sleep, I finished reading Matthew and began reading Mark – and three verses struck a very relevant chord.

And there came a voice from heaven saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.

Talk about one thing after another. Jesus hadn’t ‘done anything’ to deserve this, but it happened anyway. His father was pleased with him – pleased enough to send a physical envoy from heaven to tell him just how pleased – but he didn’t say ‘Now you can rest for a while.’  No – immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness, where he was tested and tempted for forty days. There’s no human sense of ‘fairness’ about it. And yet, moving on, we read, ‘…and the angels ministered unto him.’

God sent his son into the wilderness for forty days in a seemingly unfair move, but he didn’t leave him alone. I believe we, too, are cared for by angels when driven into our deserts. This ministering comes in the form of encouragement from family, from friends. Of unexpected little good things happening – of a good book, or an excellent idea, or finding a great new song, or a surprise letter. I think sometimes we’re so busy waiting for a ‘Sign’ of God’s presence to hit us between the eyes that we forget he’s a still, small voice – and sometimes he ministers in still, small ways.

It’s been a rough year, and the last few months have been even rougher than the rest; and the desert may be dry and vast, but I am still alive, I am still breathing, and I am still working. Nobody said life was fair, but his eye is on the sparrow, and so it is on you. And me. And I’m learning to see the touch of ministering angels, whatever the disguise.

 

//in which I am a dropout

I hate quitting. Even when I pile my metaphorical plate higher than Vesuvius, I hate to remove even a single thing from that plate. It feels like giving up. It feels like failure.

Which is why it took me two weeks to realize I had to strategically retreat from quit NaNo.

The setup was perfect – I was raring to go, my heart was 100% in the novel. I’ve done it many times before and only ever intentionally dropped out once, in 2014, when I realized the subject matter was too heavy to rush in a month.

Well, Mirriam, psychopaths aren’t exactly a fluffy subject either. You probably should have guessed this would happen.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the subject matter this time around that caused the problem. It was several factors.

  • I wrote 17k+ words in The Dying of the Light – and subsequently finished my year-long project – in the three days before I started another novel. Having never done this before, I can safely tell you now – with experience – that it’s a terrible idea. You can’t just dive from one novel right into the next and expect it to work out – or at least I can’t. My mind was still in another world, along with most of my emotions. Not to mention I’d all but burnt out – which is a terrible way to start NaNo
  • Sometimes I take firm hold of a novel, only for it to change on me. Several times. Nihilum forced me to re-start it twice. (If I have to re-start a novel three days after I start it, it’s usually a good sign the novel isn’t ready.) I could have forced it, I could have wrung the words out for a month and struggled the whole way – but the novel would have been a sad, deformed shadow of itself. It deserves to percolate and be born as healthy as possible. Is it shelved? Not in the least. Is it still growing? Yes. And it will continue to grow until it’s ready.
  • This year has been a series of unfortunate events; some big, some small, all amounting to a very large pile. Every time I think things are evening out…they aren’t. And when something becomes a stress factor I can actually remove, I have to take it. This month that meant dropping NaNo.

So now what? I need to focus on the art commissions at hand, so that’s mostly what I’ll be doing for the rest of the month. I have a stack of books to finish, and I have a novel I can toy with (only plotting, at least until the month is out) on the side. Soon I’ll need to read back over and revise The Dying of the Light, and then find an editor, as it’s the next book I’d like to publish. (Although it may be harder than most, since it’s….long.)

So that’s my update – and I’ll keep telling myself that quitting NaNo isn’t failure. It’s the equivalent of retiring before your boss can fire you.

//I choose to be the moon

Tired. Exhausted. Worn out. These are the adjectives I would use to describe my soul right now – and not just mine, but the collective soul of everyone around me. Everyone is stressed, everyone wishes they could just rest somewhere until they felt energized and inspired again. Nothing is easy, and each day seems to add on more weight. My social media feed is filled with angry political arguments, or those desperately attempting to make peace. I start out the day feeling fine and halfway through the day I just want to curl up in a blanket fort and watch every Studio Ghibli movie consecutively.

My family is here for me. My spirit-wife Arielle and my best friend Lauren are here for me. But I’m used to being there for others, too, and lately I’ve felt, more or less, like I wasn’t ‘doing my job.’ I’m supposed to be the one helping other people, uplifting other people, encouraging other people. Instead, I’m tired. I’m struggling with my confidence in writing, although my novel is coming along well (and I’m even enjoying it). I’m struggling with my confidence in art, in my ability to be a kind person under pressure.

Last night, after all the lights were out, sat down on my bed and I prayed. It wasn’t much of a prayer, but I confessed I wasn’t feeling like I was doing my job. Whatever light I have that I’m supposed to share was too dim, and a dim light equals a useless me. As I sat there in the dark, a single phrase came to me – I am the light of the world. And I blinked in surprise, because wait just a diddly-darn second.

That was the problem, and the answer. I had been relying on myself and my own light, but the trouble with personal light is there’s only so much of it. Personal light can flicker out when the oil runs low. Personal light can be depleted. And yet here I was, exhausted with my seeming inability to do the work I feel like I’m supposed to do, because I was doing it all wrong.

I remember a tacky glow-in-the-dark tee shirt that was all the rage in Christian stores back when I was thirteen or fourteen. (It might still be all the rage; I wouldn’t know.) It was one of those itchy, thick cotton tees and on the front it proclaimed ‘be the moon’ and on the back it finished, ‘reflect the Son.’ Cheesy, right? Very. And if you’re going to make a ‘Christian statement’ you might put it on soft cotton, I’m just saying.

But as tacky as the shirt was, the statement was one that stuck with me.

I am not the light of the world, He is. I am only one person; He is the God of the universe. I’ve been relying on my meager flame to ‘light thousands’ and wondering why I felt so drained and used-up.

And so my prayer to get me through the current climate isn’t grand or complicated – it’s only a request to reflect. To stop relying on myself, to stop thinking I can light up the world alone, because I can’t. Nobody can. So I choose to be a conductor, to reflect Him and not myself. I choose to be the moon.