Your Cow Pats Are On Fire

Ever heard of mansplaining? The most outstanding example I’ve personally experienced in recent years was when I called up our local volunteer fire chief because we had a peat fire, and requested the fire truck to put it out. We both volunteer at the bushfire brigade, but the chief has to sign off on equipment use. What happened is in the aftermath of burning off our valley floor, which we did with various crews in attendance because it had gone too long unburnt and was too big to manage with traditional methods, one crew had back-burnt through a bit of peatland, and then not extinguished the peat fire that resulted (which is underground, a couple of inches below the sand – it’s a typical valley floor soil type here).

And because I’m female, he was very sceptical. Can I talk to your husband? No, he’s not here (and why the heck do you think he’d know more about it than me?). Umm. Aaah. I’ll pop over later to have a look myself, before I authorise the truck.

Aargh. So he turns up, I show him the peat fire, and he says to me, “Sue, that’s just a couple of cow pats on fire. This happens.”

He’s one of those people who think men automatically know more than women about anything technical, just by virtue of being men. So I’ve got a fire chief in the paddock with me over a peat fire, and he’s telling me it’s just cow pats on fire. You couldn’t make this up.

So I tried to explain to him what a peat fire is. When he still looked at me like I was some kind of lunatic, I mentioned that I had done an extensive soil survey in the catchment just north of us back in the 1990s, professionally employed and paid to do so, and had described and mapped the soil types, and published the findings, and that this was a really common valley floor soil which consisted of a layer of acid sand (pH about 4-4.5) over peat, and peat is flammable and burns underground for months unless put out (like it is in Siberia since global warming), that made no impression on him at all. It’s just cow pats on fire, Sue.

So I sighed, picked up the mobile phone, called Noel our neighbour who understands our soil types and is in the brigade too, and said, “Noel, we have a peat fire, the fire chief is standing here telling me I have cow pats on fire, he won’t believe me, we need a fire truck, would you mind coming over and talking to him?”

Noel turned up, and said, “Sue’s right, this is peat soil, we have it at our place, it can burn for months, we need to put it out.” And the fire chief says, “Well, I’ve never heard of that before!” but then he got the fire truck, and we put out the fire.

My current guest thinks we need to educate males about mansplaining because it’s so culturally ingrained. As is whitesplaining. And yes, all sorts of people say all sorts of stupid things, but some types are so statistically frequent that they now have terms attached to them.

While I don’t mind comment here on people’s personal experiences with such stuff, I’m not interested in having an argument about the existence or otherwise of mansplaining and whitesplaining. Brett and I both see this going on all the time – if anyone has an ideological objection to those ideas, then your own journals/blogs are the space to express them, not mine.

Thankfully I am married to an egalitarian who identifies himself as a feminist, and I do not have this trouble with him. We have an egalitarian relationship where we each learn from the other. He wouldn’t presume to mansplain science to me, or anything else I’m super qualified in (or to mansplain to anyone, full stop), which doesn’t mean he can’t query a point or offer critiques of certain things that are a bit fuzzy, but then my husband himself is incredibly well versed and continuously self-educating in science, philosophy and literature and far more qualified than the average citizen to offer such critiques. The thing about him is that he understands his own limitations very well – he does a lot of metacognition, and considering different perspectives – and also he understands (actually understands from knowing me) which areas I understand better than he does (and vice versa), and because of that he often comes to me with, “I’ve got a science question for you!” – and my answer to him will also extend into epistemology and etymology, and with something complex, where the fuzzy bits still are and why, and various alternative hypotheses around that.

And of course, equally I’ll go to him with, “I’ve got an IT question for you / a graphic design question for you / a question about film and media / about this particular Shakespeare play you’ve read / etc etc etc.” And he’ll also ask me about geography, literature, philosophy, mathematics, farm and animal management, etc. Basically we know where we can augment each other and what areas the other has a lot of depth in that we can dive into with them. And we love the interactions, and grow from them as people.

That’s a level of discussion I can only get into with colleagues who are still open learners and don’t think they have “arrived”, or people like my husband with a lot of background understanding and a very broad and deep self-education, or with really bright and open students I had at university and later at high school. It is not something that can generally be found in internet discussions. It’s also not something you can ever find with people who subscribe to inherited and often medieval world views, religious fundamentalists who think ultimate truth about the physical world is found in “holy books”, or people whose cognitive biases blinker them because they don’t seriously engage in metacognition. And obviously there’s Dunning-Kruger Effect. So on the internet, there’s a lot of hot air which the people engaging in seem to think is somehow rarefied and intelligent and profound, and it’s just hot air.

A bit more about mansplaining, since it’s topical. Definitions:

…”to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner”. Author Rebecca Solnit ascribed the phenomenon to a combination of “overconfidence and cluelessness” (from the Wikipedia entry)

…”Mansplaining is, at its core, a very specific thing. It’s what occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he’s talking to does.” (from the Merriam-Webster entry)

Mansplaining happens a ton to highly qualified women, and the men doing it often either get even more mansplainy after it’s pointed out to them, or they think there’s something wrong with the woman (because it’s not them, is it) like they’re “too sensitive” or “taking this the wrong way” or “my intentions were noble” or “I’ve got freedom of speech” or “You can’t handle it when I disagree” etc etc etc. Only rarely do mansplainers think about what they’re doing, realise it’s their bad, and genuinely try to change their habits – although sometimes it can happen, and then that’s great. I guess giving up mansplaining is a bit like giving up smoking – a hard habit to kick.

But do you reckon that our fire chief went away from the experience I related in above, thinking, “Oh, I learnt something today, I shouldn’t have said that, and I need to do some serious thinking about how I interact with people?” I don’t think so. For one thing he did not apologise to me or even acknowledge remotely he’d been idiotic and condescending and wasted my time and my neighbour’s, and for another, he’s still a condescending posterior orifice every time we run into him, which is as little as possible if we can help it. And just for supplementary information, although this has never come up in conversation between him and us, he belongs to a fundamentalist religious group known as the “Free Reformed” who are “flat-earthers” scientifically and theologically (Biblical literalism, “young earth”, superstitions about evil spirits, ban Harry Potter because it’s occult etc, male entitlement as doctrine, trying to prescribe their ultra-conservative and socially unjust Sharia Law-equivalent on everyone else in society who does not belong to their group or share their views, if they could see their way to do it, etc). Here’s some information about religious narcissism, which has interesting reader comments as well – because it is so interesting how many core mansplaining / whitesplaining offenders are also religious fundamentalists.

More information here:

Mansplaining, Explained In One Simple Chart

6 Subtle Forms Of Mansplaining That Women Encounter Each Day

The Nib Explains Mansplaining

A few fun examples:

“I’m an attorney, and I practised family law for a while. I had a male client who not only mansplained his cheating on his wife, he also wanted to explain to me how family law (particularly, child support and spousal support, of course) work in my state. And he was dead wrong. And I told him so and showed him the relevant statutes. And he got pissy and asked for his retainer back because clearly I didn’t know what I was doing.

So I showed him in our contract where he signed acknowledging his understanding that the retainer was non-refundable. He then wanted to explain to me why that wasn’t legal. So I told him to get out of my office and find another attorney to sue me for the retainer if he wanted it back. Never heard from that guy again. His ex-wife’s attorney totally took him to the cleaner’s, and I loled.”

“I have a degree in Biochemistry and I invented and published a new method for measuring lifespan in these cells I work with. While setting up to run a tutorial session on how to do it, one of the male students started to ‘Correct me’ and explain how to use the method.

Which I invented.

And was literally there to teach him.”

from 25 Exasperating Examples of Mansplaining

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