Someone’s got some ‘splaining to do

Anyone who has spent any amount of time around the feminist blogosphere has probably heard the term ‘mansplain’. For the rest of you, it is easily summed up as when a person (usually male) enters a discussion about a feminist issue and describes how the issue at hand ‘isn’t really sexism’. This is currently very common in the discussions around Siri’s issues with certain subjects. I tend to prefer shortening to term to simply ‘splain because while it may have originated in feminist discussions, it is a universal problem common to any social justice movement. The underlying assumption when it shows up is that the people complaining are only looking at the issue through the lens of oppression, and it’s colouring how they see the issue. Thus, we need an outside, objective viewpoint to show us the error in our thinking. Unfortunately, such attemtps at correcting others usually ignores one thing.

We know.

We know how to look at things through the eyes of the dominant group. We know this because it’s now most of the world is presented to us. We learn to identify with the straight, white, male perspective because we don’t have a choice. Take a look at your local movie theater–odds are the majority of the posters you see are for movies about a man, and it’s rare that even one of the rest will be a ‘mainstream’ film–they’re all ‘chick flicks’, or maybe ‘family’ films For some reason, it’s expected that women can identify with men, but not vice versa. You will see other commonalities too–the majority of the protagonists are white, straight, and able-bodied, to name the most obvious.

When women (or people of colour, LGBT people…well, just anybody who isn’t ‘normal’) are complaining about the oppression they face, don’t assume that we don’t understand the world through the eyes of men (Caucasians/straights/etc), because it’s not really possible for us to NOT be able to. The whole world is filtered through that lens.

And many of today’s oppressions aren’t intentional, or even necessarily large. But they are patterns. Women and minorities don’t see ourselves represented in mainstream media. Our needs are considered to be ‘special’ issues. And it’s easy to point to any one instance and ferret out why that one case isn’t a case of oppression. Taken alone, most of them aren’t. But it’s in the aggregate where in problem lies. Is a single story about a straight, white, able-bodied male a problem in and of itself? No. Is the majority of mainstream media being stories of straight, white, able-bodied males a problem? Oh hell yes.

Stop sweeping problems like Siri’s inattention to female-centered issues under the rug with a handwave and a ‘well, they didn’t mean to’. Because intentional or not, they are problems and they need to be fixed.


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