Mansplaining, or learning the art of listening

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Yesterday, I was going through my early-morning ritual of watching some CNN before getting my day started. They turned their attention to a discussion of the Bill O’Reilly ouster from Fox. What did it mean? How did it go down?

There were three women on the panel, and I was fascinated to learn that they had all, at one time, worked at Fox. These are faces that have become like neighborhood acquaintances to me through the long and grueling campaign. They were poised to give me a glimpse into a world I’ll never see.

Alas, the rest of the panel was comprised of men. And as any woman who has memories of trying to get called on during 7th grade Social Studies class can attest to, getting a word in edgewise when Y chromosomes are involved is something of a feat. The women kept getting interrupted.

Much has been said in the last half a decade about the phenomenon of mansplaining, the male art of men explaining things to women. It is so prevalent as to pass as conversation or “meetings” and not seem to many (including some women) like anything wrong. Solid research goes back to the 70s as to how much more often men interrupt women than the other way around. I once had the bizarre experience of working for a company that ostensibly created online community for women, but was led entirely by men. I sat through many an insufferable strategy meeting in which dudes began many sentences with phrases like, “What moms like is…” while cutting off and stepping on the insights of the moms in the room.┬áMen are so entitled by our society that they often can’t understand why it isn’t always their turn to talk.

Still, I’d never seen an example as stark as that CNN segment. Forget about male or female for a moment: these women had BEEN there. They’d worked with O’Reilly and Ailes. They had nuanced, interesting points to make. But they kept getting interrupted so that the men who had no personal experience of the issue could pontificate with their analyses.

My frustration bubbled, but I tried to think kind thoughts. After all, these were men whose faces had also become familiar during the campaign. I’d seen them be sensitive and respectful. These were not bad guys. It was their job to fill dead air, to banter, to contribute. Perhaps they weren’t noticing how tone deaf their interruptions read in a discussion about sexual harassment which included women who had seen and experienced it first-hand.

I sent off one frustrated tweet about the optics of it. It got only one like, by a male CNN producer.

This morning I tuned back in, and my heart warmed. When it came time to cover the O’Reilly issue, they had a four-person panel today. All female. Including the three women who’d been mansplained to yesterday, plus another young, whip-smart conservative commentator who’d also worked at Fox. As expected, their segment was fascinating. They shared personal observations and memories, were subtle in their assessments (many described working for O’Reilly in complicated terms, a mix of feeling like they were on top of the world professionally, but felt under siege about the color and fit of their dresses and the length of their eyelashes). Many talked about how they coped, tried to toughen up and take pride in “giving as good as they got.” They talked with warmth and concern about the friends they still have at Fox. One, the co-host said, ruefully, “I thought the answer was being tough. Turns out the answer was taping them.” They spoke in admiring terms about Gretchen Carlson and the other women who were brave enough to blow the whistle.

In other words, they gave me the discussion I’d been yearning for yesterday.

And maybe this is how it happens. Yes, mansplaining still exists. Yes, women still get interrupted, even in the rarified air of elite, white-collar America. And maybe, for now, the best they can do is course correct when they notice it. We ask them to listen and not just speak. Because we’re all better when more people have a voice.

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