Mansplaining in Austen

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I was interested in this discussion of mansplaining on Exponent II. Of course there was a defender of patriarchy (what would patriarchy do without little ladies to stick up for it?) who said the term "mansplaining" was sexist and offensive. Kmillecam had a pretty great response to that:

I would argue that yes, mansplaining is a phenomenon that MEN do because of their privileged status. If a woman is condescending about an issue she is ignorant of, then it wouldn't be called mansplaining, it would be something else. Mansplaining describes when a privileged man feels entitled to tell women/feminists what to think about a feminist issue.

If it seems sexist and offensive, I would ask for you to get really clear about the definition first. And then explore WHY you find it offensive. Perhaps it is just a new idea that warrants contemplation.

Anyway, I read the discussion, including someone's suggestion that the term be replaced with the gender-neutral "jerksplaining," and then I washed dishes, and then I thought about how Jennifer Ehle, who played Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, and Colin Firth, who played Darcy, and David Bamber, who played Mr. Collins, were all in The King's Speech. And then I thought about how Mr. Collins was a total mansplaining jackass--that's part of why he's so horrible, the fact that he thinks he knows everything and Elizabeth knows nothing--and then I wrote a comment, which I liked well enough that I'm posting it here too, in a somewhat expanded form.


If you want a really clear sense of what mansplaining is and why it's called mansplaining and not jerksplaining, read or watch the scene in Pride and Prejudice where Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth. A man telling a woman she doesn't really know what she's talking about--even when what she's talking about are her own feelings--is mansplaining. And he feels every right to do it because by and large, society supports his position, not hers. Privilege and custom are on his side. Furthermore, by and large society forces her to submit to him, not just intellectually but sexually, if he wants it--regardless of whether she does. Fathers like Mr. Bennet who refused to marry their daughters to creeps with money were all too rare.

Consider also Elizabeth's response to Collins:

`I do assure you, Sir, that I have no pretension whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man. I would rather be paid the compliment of being believed sincere. I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible. My feelings in every respect forbid it. Can I speak plainer? Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart.

That's a good basis for what women typically say to mansplainers: "I would rather be paid the compliment of being believed sincere. Do not consider me now as a [insert unflattering adjective--almost any will do: shrill, angry, bitter, disappointed, stupid, ignorant, lying, etc] female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart."

And Collins' response is standard too: "Just see what the people in charge have to say. They'll make you do as I want."

For that matter, read Darcy's first proposal to Elizabeth. Consider this bit, where he tells her why she rejected him, mansplaining about how it wasn't a bit wrong for him to stress how unworthy she is of him, how appropriate it was that he be revolted to realize he loved her:

"But perhaps,'' added he, stopping in his walk, and turning towards her, ``these offences might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design. These bitter accusations might have been suppressed, had I with greater policy concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the belief of my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination -- by reason, by reflection, by every thing. But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?''

Mansplaining. From start to finish, it's mansplaining.

There you have two more reasons to love Austen: she shows us what mansplainers are, long before anyone came up with the term, and she turns a thorough mansplainer into a man worth loving.

1 Comment

Very cool examples from Austen!

Re: including someone's suggestion that the term be replaced with the gender-neutral "jerksplaining,"

I think that's a common objection that was addressed quite well in this post:

"It's not just people being ignorant and condescending, it's people doing so through the mechanisms of privilege supporting their superiority in a given situation, even though, on the topic at hand, they have an inferior understanding. Using a term that notes the privilege is, I think, essential to calling out the perpetrator not just for bad behaviour, but for behaviour that is sourced in and enforces that privilege."


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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on July 18, 2011 7:44 PM.

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