Sunday, October 28, 2018

The correct way to Woman

The brilliant Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me, called it "mansplaining," but there's more to it than that.

We all know what mansplaining is, and it includes things like asking "Can you tell me how to get some apples?" and having a chorus reply, "Oh, no no no, you're doing it all wrong; what you want for your pie is rhubarb" as if you don't know what you want the apples for and need instruction.

So it's not mansplaining, exactly. More and more these days, on listservs and in smaller emails, we're (or I am) being instructed on the correct way to Woman.

Is it since Trump or since Kavanaugh? Hard to tell. But it goes something like this:

"I, a white male, recognize your oppression and in solidarity, and to show my virtue, you must do X, Y, and Z and feel A, B, and C. You must operate in solidarity with other women, according to the rules I've set, and if you don't, you are complicit in the problem as I have defined it and are too stupid to recognize your own oppression, as I have explained at great length on this listserv. Kthxbai."

I can't imagine how infuriating this must be for men and women of color; it's plenty infuriating for me. I have been Womaning for some time now and think I've got it covered, thanks.

As it happens, I am in solidarity in fighting against problems and I do what I can do. But like most adult human beings, I resist being bossed around--resist it vigorously, in fact.

And men aren't the only ones who want to tell women how to Woman.

 I was thinking about this when looking again at the Salinger biography this morning (because it's not work).

Even without holding any particular brief for Maynard as a writer, you can see that what she's recounting in the early sections is the story of abuse, with herself as the object of it. Predictably, David Shields, Jonathan Yardley, etc., had no use for the story and Maynard's outing of The Great Man.

But neither did Cynthia Ozick, Larissa MacFarquhar, Elizabeth Gleick, Juliet Waters, and, famously, Maureen Dowd, who all had scathing and by-now-all-too-familiar things to say about a woman who speaks out about her abuse: She did it wrong and had no right to tell her story. Only Michiko Kakutani, Liza Schwarzbaum, Joyce Carol Oates, and Katha Pollitt were able to set apart the writing, which they weren't crazy about, from the person, whose experiences they understood as damaging.

Salerno's book came out in 2013, and many of the reviews were from 1998, after Maynard's memoir was published, both of which seem a lifetime ago. The reactions have shifted 180 degrees, so that's progress.

I guess there's no point that ties these two ideas together, except that one (Salinger) sparked me to think of the other one (how to Woman). I think, though, that especially when a majority party and its leader is telling delighted followers what the One Best Way is, we ought to think twice before taking the advice of anyone on the other side who's telling us what their idea of the One Best Way to Woman might be. Your ideology does not oblige me to behave in the ways you dictate to me, even if it's correct and not crazypants. 


Pat Bowne said...

This made me think about the difference between receiving permission and instructions. It does seem that people of all political persuasions, including many of those who support women's rights, like to give women instructions. When we do get permission it isn't long before they decide that some of the things we did with it were problematic and need to be corrected. Whereas people promoting men's rights seem, at least from the outside, to be all about permission.

Part of that is doubtless because men have been in the power seat, and so permission just means they can go on behaving like it, while liberation for women involves acting differently from their traditional socialization. But I think the tendency to do way more picking at women's behaviors is also part of our traditional socialization, and should be interrogated as rigorously as the behaviors we are tempted to pick at.

Undine said...

This is so true, Pat Bowne. We can never do it right, all the way, and there's always some flaw. "Picking at women's behaviors" is exactly the case--and too often, we sit there and take it, no matter how absurd the criticism.