Mansplaining apparently occurs when a male, in a condescending manner is explaining something to a woman. Femsplaining, as the inverse, occurs when a feminist, also in a condescending manner explains something to a man.
Noa that these concepts have wormed their way into such publications as Daily Kos, there is a genuine danger that all debates between men and women will be categorized as man/fem-splaining, and the integral content of the explaining automatically morphs into another “gender-war-bullet”.
This it what occurred in a recent story in Daily Kos, reporting on an exchange between Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Madame Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Gorsuch apparently in an attempt to justify a hands-off approach to gerrymandering by the Supreme Court, leaving the matter to the states, cited three or four amendments, in his haughty, arrogant, condescending manner. This manner, according to the report in Daily Kos, has become common and infuriating to others on the court and Madame Justice Ginsburg decided to cut Gorsuch’s argument into shreds.
"Where did 'one person, one vote' come from?" she asked, rhetorically. Of course the answer is from Supreme Court precedent, where the court did indeed find the authority to weigh in. (quoted from Daily Kos, Community and Classics, March 8, 2020)
Naturally, Gorsuch remained silent for the remainder of the argument.
While I applaud the incisive interjection by Madame Justice Ginsburg, I deplore the reporter’s and the editor’s use of the word, mansplaining, thereby reducing arguments in the Supreme Court of the United States to another inevitable battle between men and women.
Just yesterday, appearing on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS on CNN, Hillary Clinton legitimately bemoaned the continuing disparity between men and women, without once mentioning how men might be brought into the conversation, both to legitimize the demands and aspirations of all women, and to give voice to the contemporary masculine perspective. Gorsuch, while admittedly a male, does not represent me or millions of other men, in his condescension to all members of the Supreme Court, including Madame Justice Ginsburg. His right-wing arguments on behalf of states rights, and the desired exclusion of the Supreme Court from all the various nefarious attempts to restrict voting to minority voters need not, indeed must not be categorized as just another “dumb, arrogant, male” in the proverbial, ubiquitous gender wars. Mansplaining, given the meaning that is attached to its use, as well as femsplaining, do not belong in a report on the words, arguments being deploying in the highest court of the land.
Reporting, and editing that sanctions the use of such derogatory, dismissive and outright weaponizing of the words chosen by the justice, even if the reporter disagrees with the position Gorsuch is articulating, only exacerbates the conflict between men and women, highlighting the female “put-down” at the expense of just another dunder-header, arrogant, supercilious and deeply condescending male.
If we are to accept such reporting as “factual” there is little reason to doubt the president when he screams, “fake news” if and when he senses his own defamation in the media.
The words, mansplaining and femsplaining do not belong in any report on the proceedings of the Supreme Court. In fact, they do not belong in a report on any public issue, safe and except those concerning the direct rights and responsibilities of men and women. Words do matter so much in fact that they undergird and foreshadow the pathways of our thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and eventually the culture in which we live.
Slipping into an “everyday way of going about our business” can be very dangerous. And the above slippage is only one of many we all need to confront.
In a March 5 edition of Slate, Mary Harris interviews Peter Daszak, a zoologist who works in China and runs the EcoHealth Alliance, on organization that studies the connections between human and wildlife health. As an expert on matters including the raging coronavirus, COVID-19, Daszak bluntly tells Harris,
“I would say we are the cause of almost all emerging diseases. (And when asked to explain) goes on:
We’re not doing it on purpose, but it’s our everyday way of going about business on the planet that seems to be driving this. The big things that drive these diseases are place on the planet where there’s lots of wildlife diversity, because they carry viruses, some of which can become pandemics in places where the human population is dense and growing. Because our contact with wildlife is higher, there’s more of a chance for viruses to get to us…
It’s the way we bump up against them. I’ve found that things like land use, change, deforestation, road building, mining and agriculture intensification are the reasons we push ourselves into wildlife habitat and get infected.
And when Harris asks why we are not hearing this kind of thinking and perceptions, Daszak’s answer seems to apply to more issues that the coronavirus:
We’ve got used to this idea that we’re in a reductionist strategy to deal with things. We find this virus. We learn everything about the molecules on the surface. WE have high-tech solutions to design vaccines and produce them. Truly, it all doesn’t work quickly enough to actually deal with an outbreak. These outbreaks are now moving in a matter of days. We saw cells emerge after two months and spread globally. This one took two weeks. We haven’t got time to develop vaccines and drugs quickly, But the public demands it and expects it.
Harris then poses a very frightening portrait: There are over a million viruses like the novel coronavirus out there. You’ve found 500 different coronaviruses in bats alone, but it took you 10 years to do that work.
Daszak: We need to do that on this scale so that we discover all the rest of those viruses. We need many more groups in many more regions doing this work. We then need to get those sequences we find into the hands of vaccine designers, because what’s the point in spending billions of dollars designing a vaccine to SARS if the virus that emerges this year is 20 percent different and the vaccine doesn’t work? Let’s have vaccines across the whole group. We’ve heard about the universal flu vaccine. Let’s have a universal coronavirus vaccine. Let’s have a universal Ebola Virus vaccine. I think that’s common sense.
When Harris details government resistance, virologist focus on a single vaccine, and manufacturers resistance because of cost, Daszak responds brilliantly, fundamentally and prophetically:
We need voices out there that advocate for dealing with pandemics as a process, not just individual pathogens. And it’s not just vaccines and drugs. We have the basic public health message of getting to rural communities that are building roads to new mining facilities and asking about building a clinic. As we think about a more sustainable approach to doing business, sustainability regarding our health and the environment should be part of it.
If ever there were a clarion call to human culture to transition from micro-management of the immediate crisis, Daszak’s voice is one worthy of our attention. Whether the crisis be viral, or environmental, or ethical or economic, it is clear that there is really no justification for separate boundaries given the overlap and the inter-dependence of all facets of human existence, in all corners of the planet. The political class, fixated as it is on the latest opinion poll numbers, (e.g. Trudeau’s popularity is down partly because of his response to indigenous blockades of rail lines, in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ opposition to the Coastal Gaslink pipeline, while the Dow has languished over coronavirus, interest rates have dipped, oil prices are plunging and recession is looming) is paying attention to those matters they believe determine their own electability.
Just as there is no longer justification for segregation of issues from each other, so too there is no justification for our reporting on public issues to be isolated into those instant headlines that generate ratings. We are all enmeshed in the reductionism Daszak details over coronavirus. Only trouble is that the reductionisms pervade our public discourse. Isolating roads to new mines from the impact on wildlife, and the impact on the spread of viruses from those very animals and birds that are displaced by the new roads, cannot be reported on, analyses or editorialized about in a silo, especially given that the silo itself is constructed, funded and dependent on the investors of that very mine who seek their profit, without having to consider the “collateral damage” that mine will cause.
We can no longer use the word “collateral damage” in reference only to the deaths and injuries caused by bombs or missiles dropped from drones. Our complicity in the shaping of our culture “norms” has to be radically shaken. We can no longer sleep through the headlines, or through the talking heads’ conversations shaped and warped as they are by the corporate, financial, economic and profit-driven frenzy of those with the power of their wallets and their portfolios.
This profit-driven, reductionistic, competitive, and highly short-sighted mentality risks not only the emergence of more viruses, just as lethal or perhaps more lethal than COVIC-19, but also the rise of sea levels, the swamping of coastal cities, the plague of both drought and raging forest fires, not to mention the displacement of millions of human beings and the impact of their legitimate demand for food, water and health care and education.
Given that men have been “leading” the political debates in the west for centuries, and given that dramatic shifts are not merely necessary, but actually urgently required, there will have to be a significant shift in the collective thinking of what it is to do our daily business. In some ways, the Bernie-Sanders-promised revolution is only a beginning when the longer-term survivability of the planet is considered.
Clinging to our immediate neuroses, in our personal "identity", as well as in our family lives, in our education and academic pursuits, and certainly in our public discourse, including the vernacular and the attitudes of our reporters, editorialists and thought-leaders, as Daszak reminds us, will only lead to more myopic, short-sighted, isolated and tragically counter-intuitive attitudes, decisions, policies and the reinforcement of a set of cultural norms that can be defined as “self-sabotaging.”
Having carved this circle with our shared “uroborus snake” mind and body, we are in danger of simply repeating this circle and digging it deeper making it even more difficult to move out of the comfortable and familiar path.
With trump, the whole political class was convinced that first he would not win, and then would not be the disaster he is, and now merely that he is a “character” as the American electorate slept through their own demise-threatening election of 2016. In a similar manner, the whole world risks falling into a similar, if not identical trap, of our own collective mind’s making.
John Milton in Paradise Lost, wrote these words in reference to the fall of Arch-Angel into the netherworld: (Book 1)
Farewell happy Fields
Where Joy forever dwells: Hail horrours hail,
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new possessor: one who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heaven of Hell a Hell of Heaven
Are we in danger of risking the bounty, and the beauty of this globe through our perverted sense of importance, our fixation on our own immediate ‘time-frame’ and our narcissistic addiction to the pursuit of “filthy lucre” as the defining motive of our time?
For those thinking that by ascribing most responsibility for re-thinking our approach to mining roads, and our relationship to wild life, to men, I am mistakenly doing precisely what I complained about in the Daily Kos article, that is rendering public issues to another chapter of the gender war, I respectfully submit that, the Ginsburg quote was legitimate as a point of a legal argument, and reported as a put-down of Gorsuch, effectively an ad hominum attack. Ginsburg, I am confident, was not using an ad hominum attack. Secondly, the issue of resource development etc. is a broad social issue, undertaken primarily by men, in pursuit of profit. And it is this exclusive profit motive that I am urging to be moderated by those men in the forefront of the initiative.