While the first part of this article dealt with an imaginary line men made up to serve their own purposes, I would like to acknowledge that there are lines of behaviour towards women of which men need to be aware. For example, I think just about everyone has heard of “mansplaining” – the common occurrence of men condescendingly elucidating ideas and/or situations to women of which they are already fully aware. I think most “woke” men know that this is a line they should not cross.
I feel it is the obligation of all feminists to bring other lines to men’s attention as well, and therefore would like to put forward a new portmanteau – “manterjecting”. This is when men blithely put in their two-cents in situations where they are clearly talking out of their asses. It would be like me speaking with any authority at all were I privy to men discussing their memories of horribly embarrassing situations which arose (excuse the pun) from spontaneous adolescent erections. Anything I had to say on the subject would not only be unwanted, but also completely unfounded.
I was in a situation where a friend “manterjected” just a few weeks ago. It was at a gathering wherein the women outnumbered the men by about four to one. At one point I was standing in a circle with several other women and one man. One of the women had just returned to work from a maternity leave and so the conversation naturally swerved onto every mom’s favourite subject – labour and delivery. We were swapping stories when someone mentioned using pain killers. The man in the circle lit up when the discussion moved in this direction, and with a dismissive roll of his eyes and wave of his hand scornfully said,
Sensing that he was being disdainful in a completely inappropriate way, I looked at him and said,
“You shouldn’t need an epidural. My wife had two kids and she didn’t need one!”
So gentlemen, here is a line being crossed. That this man would feel he belonged in this conversation as anything other than an observer, let alone that he should pass judgement on what was being said therein, is the epitome of thoughtless male arrogance and privilege. Maybe you can do that with other guys – speak on subjects you clearly know nothing about for the sake of not being outdone – but doing so with women on exclusively female experiences is just insulting.
Also anyone who has been in on a birth knows that the whole thing is bloody incredible. First the woman puts in hours of hard physical and emotional work (hence the term “labour”), all the while enduring pain so extreme it’s miraculous she doesn’t pass out. Then after all that, she pushes an entire human being out of her body – a process which I can attest made me feel like I was going to split clean in half and then die. So, to quibble over something as insignificant as whether a woman chose to use pain killers in the process is absolutely ridiculous and completely beside the point.
An ancillary problem with what this man said (of which I’m sure he is not the least bit aware), is the unspoken yet palpable pressure on women by other women to give birth without drugs (i.e. “naturally”) – a tacit understanding which is up there along with the idea that breastfeeding is best. Sure everyone says you should do you, and that every birth plan is valid as long as it leads to a good outcome, but anyone who has been through a delivery can attest that many women who have “natural” childbirth subtly and eternally look down on those who do not. By deriding the idea of needing an epidural, this man unwittingly piled on to the pre-existing shame of any woman in that group who had one.
I wrote all of these points down in a letter and sent it to this young man because, as I said, it really is the responsibility of women to let men know, especially well-meaning and receptive men as this one is, when they act or speak in ways that women find offensive. I asked this young man to please read over what I said with his wife in the hopes that she would back up my words and clarify my intentions. It is not my desire, nor I hope that of any woman who brings such things out in the open, to shame or belittle men for displaying hardwired sexist attitudes. What I am hoping to accomplish is to make them aware of why these words and/or behaviours are unacceptable to women, which hopefully will motivate them to change accordingly.
I applaud the sentiment of the “Time’s Up” movement, but time will only truly be up when a preponderance of men agree that it is. Women need to bring men to this way of thinking, and that can only happen when we speak clearly to them about the subconscious sexism buried deep within them by the patriarchy – so deep that they do not even recognize it when it rears its ugly head.