Educating Alan–Mansplaining


My niece, through my sister, let me know that I offended her. It seems incredibly easy to do. My sin, it seems, was trying to tell her how to do something she already knew how to do. I made things worse by offering to help and then only splitting one log. My sin(s) have a name: mansplaining.

If you don’t know, here is an example, “Honey. PMS is just in your head. You could feel better if you chose to.” Think I’m kidding? Say that to a woman at a crucial point in her cycle. If she lets you live you have a shot at straightening up your act.

Oh. Ray(rob(ert))a is a hermaphrodite. Now I find out s/he ovulates. Her cycle is synchronized with her girlfriend’s. There was a lot of moodiness from those two a couple weeks ago. It explains why she didn’t take it well when I tried to show her how to cut potatoes. Good times.

I’m sorry. I’m 56 as I write this. Some of the ways I am ignorantly boorish are hard habits to break. Some of the cultural norms of my niece are things I don’t know about. I’m not saying I won’t change. I am saying that a little mercy, a little forgiveness, can work better to motivate me than getting in my face or holding a grudge.

Here is the thing. I’ve had women carefully tell me that you have to paint a room with hues of the same color that darken as you get higher because that way the room will feel bigger. I’ve also been told that a 1970’s family room had genuine Amish timber-framing decorating the ceiling. Right. The Amish make plywood labeled “Amdry” stained in “Chocolate Nutwood” hand distressed with a 4-axis CNC machine. Oh, and “honey“, the toilet paper roll hangs so it rolls off the bottom. Toilet seats stay down. Everybody knows that. Men aren’t the only ones ‘splaining things. UFO’s are real, btw.

Guys do that. We say stupid shit. Something comes over us and it becomes important to tell her, “Darling, you have to trim out the floggle-gate to get the signal right . . . Then just before obvi-speed always watch the trans-gater. It’s tricky. ATF will get after you if the levels are low or you don’t pre-bloggle it.”

I have a friend who has logged an impressive number of hours in a half-dozen types of aircraft. She is a flight instructor in at least a couple aircraft. She still gets guys who think they need to impress her by explaining the correct procedure for bleeding the coolant tanks on the air-cooled series 90 V-16 engine on a Duckhawk. Suggestion: if you want her to teach you to fly, shut your pie-hole.

I was in high school trying to navigate dating while some women were getting their 15 minutes  burning their brassieres. Everything was fraught with trepidation. I am already awkward enough with women without having to fear punishment because I missed a cue and blindly caused offense because I don’t have a clue. Women’s Liberation was a minefield for me.

I’ve heard these tropes:  Men are phallic, hormonal, unthinking beasts who expect to be doted on, don’t do anything useful, and mostly just get in the way. We are dangerous. We rape, pillage, and murder. We only have sex on our brains. Well, maybe sex and beer. Ok, sex, beer and steak. Right, right, sex, beer, steak and French fries. Ketchup is a vegetable, Ronnie Reagan said so. Everything else we think about relates to obtaining those four things. We are oxen or pigs or dogs. You can’t trust us. A woman is better off if she replaces us with an ox, a goat, a couple pigs, some chickens and a dog. The ox can plow, the goat will eat the overgrown grass and brush as well as provide milk for cheese, the pig recycles wet garbage, is food, the chickens fertilize the land and are tasty, and the dog is multi-pass useful. A man is unnecessary trouble.

I’ve heard all that since I was 17 and trying to sleep with Kim Aamodt. I’ve spent 39 years being the nice guy and told I’m a lying dog unfit for polite company. Last weekend while visiting my Dad my niece rolls out the “mansplaining” accusation. I’ve met her less than a dozen times. We hardly know each other save for what is said about us by family members that know us. I went out to the back yard where my niece was splitting wood because I thought we could work together on something and do a little bonding. Nope. I’m an ass and had no business stealing from her something she enjoys. I’m not Alan. I’m some symbol of Uncle Bruce she imagines I am. Woo.

It isn’t any better if the person talking at us isn’t or is Christian. The habit is still bad. Some of us are so used to projecting our prejudices on the people we encounter that the truth of a person is impossible to glean. Yeah, I am 56. I am a WASP. I do have my own ways in which I am callous. We get nowhere if we just take our shit, harden it into a pile of canon balls, and fire it at each other. We’ll not break this contemptuous mood by making more shit balls to throw. Christian or not, we have to put down the gunpowder and shit balls. Then we have to shut up and listen.

In the first 7 years living in California I spent much of my time living with my Dad’s Mom. She bought a wood stove to replace the in-floor gas heater that was original to the house. Keeping it stoked meant splitting wood. My grandma had an axe and a flat wedge. I found I did best burying the axe in the log and then lifting both to push the axe through the log. Last weekend there was a log on the ground which looked like I could split it this way. I lifted it onto another log then set about splitting it. Bad, bad Alan. I’d insulted my niece in doing this.

I meant no offense in the way I behaved toward my niece. One thing I appreciate about living in the South is that manners still matter. People are polite even when someone like me is ignorantly causing offense. A yungin like my niece is expected to respect me even though I’m being an ass. Boorish behavior isn’t tolerated. It is dealt with. Just not like what my niece did by telling her Mom who told me and left me feeling that there was no room for my experience in those brief minutes failing to split a log.

Ray(rob(ert))a again, this time slurring a hungover few sentences about his first weeks in Central America. His girlfriend likes him in part because he forgot to speak softly while eating dinner with her family. Beer & tequila & her pretty much explains it.

This is what happens in the South when I stupidly step on my own shit ball mansplaining something to a woman. There is a quizzical look on her face and an awkward pause in the conversation as it dawns on me that I am being a dolt. Then after letting the moment ferment a bit she replies with, “Well, bless your heart. That is so interesting.” After you live here a while you understand what she means, “You are being a stupidhead.”

Woo. Ray(rob(ert))a in a flouncy Guatemalan skirt and peasant blouse just threw a small pillow at me. S(he) says it’s my niece’s problem, not mine and I need to shut up. His/her head still hurts from last night. I just heard his F150 start and leave. I guess his girlfriend is off to the state store for a quart of tequila. Hair of the dog. In my house, I keep the toilet seat up and the toilet paper rolls off the top. Oh, man, alien farts are the worst.