Saturday 22 October 2016

Clinton gives us a master class on how to neutralise the 'mansplainers'

Lorraine Courtney

Published 29/09/2016 | 02:30

Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles during the first presidential debate with Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S., September 26, 2016 Picture: Reuters
Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles during the first presidential debate with Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S., September 26, 2016 Picture: Reuters

On Monday night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump met on stage at Hofstra University to debate the important issues of the US election: Clinton's deleted emails and whether it's ever okay to call a woman a "fat pig." Into that heady mix we got a crash course in 'mansplaining' too.

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Every woman who has ever been mansplained to or patronised at work by a bigger, blustery man watched the first presidential debate through their fingers. You see, no matter how much a woman accomplishes, we must still put up with being talked over and patronised.

Now, the debate stage, despite all the pleas from moderators, is never a nice place. Lester Holt gave his instructions to Clinton and Trump not to talk over each other and to respect the two-minute time limit they were allotted to answer each question. That didn't happen, with Trump interrupting Clinton a whopping 51 times. He just couldn't stop talking, while she only spoke over him 17 times.

Trump even thought that he needed to mansplain US foreign policy to the former Secretary of State. There's a good reason for that. Since seminal research on the topic emerged in 1975, the sociological phenomenon of men interrupting women has been backed up by loads of other studies.

So what is mansplaining? Put simply, it's the notion that men can interrupt, and then tell you why, exactly, they know more about a topic than you do. Mansplaining is about a very specific instance of privilege and ignorance when a guy tells you, a woman, how to do something you already know how to do or incorrect 'facts' about something you know a lot more about than he does.

The 1975 study by the University of California concluded that "men deny equal status to women as conversational partners" after studying a range of conversations. The researchers found that in mixed-sex exchanges, men were responsible for 98pc of interruptions they overheard. A 2012 study found that men dominate almost 75pc of conversation space in workplace meetings.

In her years of serving in public office, Clinton has undoubtedly been mansplained to more times than most of us have had mugs of tea. Whatever you might think of Clinton as a feminist role model, she's no rookie and hasn't lived through decades of sexism to shrivel at the hands of a male bully. She retaliated with her own master class on how to counter the arrogant male know-it-all. She bombarded him with facts. She never lost her cool and stayed classy.

Clinton touted her experience as a former Secretary of State and US Senator while responding to her Republican rival's dig at her physical endurance. "As soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a ceasefire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina," Clinton said, prompting loud cheers.

We all know now that Trump likes women's rights as much as he likes paying too much tax, but it'd also be wrong to think that he's just one bad apple. If we're going to use any sort of apple metaphor to describe this scenario, it's that there are barrels of these apples out there.

Every woman knows what I'm talking about. Mansplaining is demeaning and damaging. It's the thing that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare to and it's the thing that silences women by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world.

This is all having a devastating impact on female careers. A survey earlier this year by LinkedIn found that the majority of Irish women lacked confidence in the workplace. Only 19pc of Irish women said that they were proud of their work achievements and only 46pc women were confident they could effectively describe their work achievements if they "stumbled across their dream employer". The survey found that almost 23pc of women said they would "panic" if they were asked on the spot to describe their achievements.

The presence of more women politicians and panellists on our tellies means casual sexism and condescension have moved from the board rooms, where women used to be a token presence, and into our sitting rooms. You'd think a presidential candidate would try his best not to remind female voters of every patronising boss and ex-boyfriend she's ever had but #everydaysexism surpassed common sense on Monday.

The battle with Men Who Explain Things has trampled down far too many women who weren't allowed into the boardroom, the lab or even the conversation. Things are getting better but we still need to fight on for all those younger women who have something to say, so that they will get to say it.

Irish Independent

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