Recently I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in my classes this semester. In more than one class, a white male consistently dominates the day-to-day conversation. Let it be stated that my university is female dominated and all of my classes are female dominated. Yet, the fact remains that it is a white dude whose voice is heard above all others. My professors are all women, and yet some of them allow the voices of men to be amplified over those of the female students. If this was singular occurrence – one day, in one class – I might shake it off. But the fact that it seems to be happening consistently leads me to believe that something bigger is going on.
I can suggest a few explanations for why these male students seem to be heard over female students. One contributing factor is the differing socialization of men and women. Starting from an early age, boys are encouraged to speak their mind and are bolstered with confidence. Conversely, girls are encouraged to be timid and polite, and they have far less confidence in their academic abilities. Some studies have shown that teachers literally call on boys more often than girls to speak and answer questions – inadvertently or not. We end up with a population of young men who believe that their voices are of the utmost importance, while our young women aren’t so sure that they have anything of worth to say.
Obviously, many women have fought against this standard and outspoken young women aren’t too hard to find these days (I’m one of them myself). But the fact still remains that even in my mostly female classes, males control the conversation. It’s possible that these men feel that because they are outnumbered, they must speak on behalf of their gender to bridge the gap, and it’s not that I’m not interested in what they have to say – but it would be nice if they would give the rest of us an opportunity to speak as well. For many young men, listening seems to be something of a struggle, presumably because they are so used to being listened to.
Mansplaining is a common manifestation of men’s refusal to listen, particularly to women. This refers to a situation in which a woman is discussing something related to her personal experiences as a woman or a specifically woman’s issue, and a man steps in to disprove her. In doing so he negates the value of her lived experiences and pretends to be an expert on the oppression of women – something he has no true understanding of. Just today, a guy in my class asserted that sexism is basically dead and that women have achieved true equality. It’s easy for him to say this – a luxury, in fact – because he has never lived the experiences of a woman and has no idea what it’s like. While he meant no harm, his ignorance is astounding. What he needs to do is stop talking for a moment and listen.
The ongoing historical trend of male voices being amplified and female voices silenced highlights the sheer ignorance and arrogance of MRA sites like A Voice for Men (highly offensive material – read at your own risk). The title of the site alone implies that men are somehow institutionally disenfranchised and silenced, which is exactly the opposite of real life. Really guys? When have your white male voices ever been silenced? The egotism and overwhelming sense of self-importance is nauseating. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. In many men I’ve encountered, there is a sense that their beliefs and opinions are of more worth than my own. What they have to say is more important and more objective. Think about the fact that we often question the validity of a statement or idea – until it comes from a straight, white male, the “objective voice of reason.”
So to all the mansplainers out there, and especially the men in my classes: stop talking just to hear yourself speak. Listen to people of different backgrounds and perspectives. Regardless of what you’ve been taught, your voice is no more important than mine. Question the patriarchal society that values your voice above others and realize the implications of silencing marginalized groups so that you can be heard. Recognize that you won’t always be right and that you may be forced to challenge your previously held assumptions. Whether you’re interested in being an ally or just a decent human being, the first and most important step is to listen.