Distpatches from Abroad: Mansplaining

“Do you know about mansplaining?” asked the man I was sharing a cab with.

I wondered if the cab was moving too fast to jump out of. But then I’d be stuck in the middle of 6 lanes of Bangkok traffic in 110 degree heat. That was probably worse than a stranger mansplaining mansplaining to me. Probably. “Yes,” I said cautiously.

“I was just about to lecture you on American politics,” (we had been talking politics; he was British, I’m American) “but I thought of the article I just read and I thought I shouldn’t.”

“Um.” It’s a toss up what I hate more: talking about American politics and Trump or the American obsession with guns to non-Americans.

“It would have been so fun. I wish I had never read the article.”

“Is that the attraction of it, do you think?” I asked, somewhat recklessly. Yes, he had resisted mansplaining once and didn’t seem too upset, but I didn’t know him, and who knows what kind of abusive garbage he might spew? But here was a chance to get it from the horse’s mouth, from a man who had brought it up and didn’t seem hostile.

“It’s great to have a captive audience. And women are so polite, they always look interested and it’s a great way to pass the time,” he said cheerfully.

I changed my assessment of his hostility. (My British coworker, when I told her this story, said she thought there might have been a cultural misunderstanding there, that he was probably saying it tongue in cheek. I maintain that even if it was, it was still a hostile thing to say.)

“Hmm.” I sort of desperately tried to make small talk (the code in sharing cabs with strangers seems to be either you talk or you don’t talk. The lapsed conversation feels much more awkward) until I realized was doing the gendered task of keeping the conversation going. I stopped. The conversation lapsed.

I guess he wasn’t very good at conversation now that the crutch of mansplaining had been taken away from him.

 

Terry Gross on the Longest Shortest Time

I thought this interview was kind of boring, in spite of my interest in women’s decisions to not have kids. There were two things that stood out to me, before I shut it off.

Terry Gross says she never felt called to have children. I think that’s a great phrase and I’m going to borrow it because that’s exactly how I feel. Not called. There are things I feel called to do in my life, but have children is not one of them. It’s an interestingly old fashioned way to say something that we think of as very modern.

The other is not so positive. She spoke about being a trailblazer, about being among the first generation of [white] women entering the workforce and having to prove to men that women could hack it. That they could play the man’s game.  I kept thinking about the Audre Lorde quote “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” I can’t help wondering if that’s partly why we’re all still playing the men’s game, men included: expensive child care, very little family leave and what we do have is often unpaid, a lack of flexible work spaces and hours, children still seen as women’s work and not that important work either, etc. etc. The list goes on. That’s just off the top of my head.

I wonder if they [white women] had been a different kind of trailblazers and refused to play the game on men’s terms, where we would be now. If, instead of fitting the mold of the workplace that denies the reality of so many people’s lives outside of it, they had demanded the workplace fit them instead.

Hindsight is always 20/20 of course, but many women of color were advocating for those kind of changes at the time and were ignored by “mainstream” feminism.

It’s possible we’d be worse off. It’s possible we’d be better off. We can never know.

Thoughlet on 20 Seconds of Joy

Watching 20 Seconds of Joy, about BASE jumper Karina Hollekim, I understood more than I thought I would that urge to jump off cliffs, sometimes metaphorical, sometimes not, in an effort to feel or not feel the terror of living.

I wrote that and I thought, Did I mean the terror of dying? But no, I mean the terror of living. I mean those last two lines of the Mary Oliver poem that I love, The Summer Day, which I am going to totally spoil for you if you haven’t read it yet (go read it—the last lines were like that first plunge of a roller coaster for me: equal parts instinctual terror and excitement. My chest still clenches like I’m having an asthma attack when I read it, but not as scary because I can still breathe.):

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

The terror of living is that it will end in dying and I won’t have done anything worthwhile with my one wild and precious life. That so much of life passes in a boring haze of work, or worse, being wished away, faster to 5 pm, faster to the weekend. That I haven’t been kind enough to my mother, haven’t had enough sex with my husband, haven’t finished writing this book yet…

From the archives of LYJ: I’m Not Like You

I’m reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by  Susan Cain.  I have mixed feelings about it; as an introvert I do identify with many of her points. OTH I have questions about the biases–sexism, racism and eurocentrism–that seem to be embedded in the studies she cites, and therefore the science behind her claims. (Citation is pretty minimal, so there’s no way to tell for sure without hunting down the studies she mentions. But a study that only looks in-depth at boys and introversion? And another that claims introversion is linked to blue eyes? What about the rest of the world? I can’t find good data but people with blue eyes must be a very small percentage of the world population.) So I’m reading it with all my critical antennae raised.

But it did make me think of a post I did in 2009 about networking and being an introvert and shy for Love Your Job, a blog I cofounded. It’s four years later, but what I wrote then is still true, although it’s more true for some situations than others. I still have to convince myself to go to events with strangers, and sometimes conversation can seem like a massive effort (especially with another introvert–lots of pauses while we think of what to say!), but I’m also something of the class clown at work, a more extroverted introvert than many of my coworkers. Here it is:

I’m Not Like You

When I first started working for myself, networking was my stumbling block. I hated meeting and talking to strangers. By nature and nurture, I was a self-declared introvert. (I tend to take after my dad, who famously declared on a hiking trip in Denali National Park, “There are too many people here,” and stomped away. His bewildered friends concluded he meant them, because they hadn’t seen any one else ALL DAY.) But I knew networking was essential to building my business so I’d force my self to attend an event, hope someone would talk to me, maybe scratch up enough courage to talk about the weather for five minutes and when that topic was exhausted flee in defeat, my mind a complete blank on how to continue the conversation.

It was agony.

And I knew I couldn’t go on like that and be the successful business person I knew I could be. So I did what any twenty-something brought up in the northeast would do: I read self help books. Along with articles about working as a freelance translator, handling my finances and starting a business, I picked up books about networking, attended events about networking and practiced, practiced, practiced.

  • I said ‘hi’ with a smile to start conversations
  • I prepared lists before leaving home: What are my goals for this event? What do I want to learn? What do I want to leave with? What do I have to offer other people? What kind of questions can I ask to keep a conversation going?
  • I practiced asking for what I want
  • I volunteered to help with events on the theory that it’s easier to talk to strangers ”on behalf of someone else” than on my own behalf
  • And my personal favorite: I created an extroverted alter ego based in part on my mom. My mom can talk to anyone anywhere, so when I attended a networking event, I’d ask myself, “What would my mom do?” And then I’d do it.

Gradually, I moved onto bigger challenges. From professional association meetings to open networking events to all-day seminars. My first one was a nightmare. It was high school all over again and no one wanted to be my friend. But at each event I did a little better, spoke to more people and perfected my elevator pitch. Eventually I took the plunge and registered for a two-day conference, not too far from home. It wasn’t so bad. I even went out to dinner with a bunch of people I met and had fun. Imagine that, fun with strangers.

Since then, I’ve gotten better and better at this networking thing and I pretty much enjoy it these days, although I admit that at the big events I still give myself a job to do or volunteer: handing out flyers, greeting people at the door, introducing new acquaintances to each other. Some days it’s still a chore to force myself out the door and get started, but once I’m there, I know what to do.

And finally, at a recent symposium where I knew no one, I received the highest accolade a self-defined introvert-networking-phobe can receive: to be perceived as an extrovert. I struck up a conversation with a career-changing lawyer and urged her to approach one of the speakers.

“Oh, I can’t talk to her. I’m not like you. You already know everyone here.”

“I don’t,” I choked. “I’m not like that either. It’s just pretend.”

She really didn’t believe me.

But then, I wouldn’t have believed me either eight years ago.
The point is not that I’m now a wonderful networker. The point is that networking is a skill like any other that can be learned through trial and effort, by making mistakes, by moving way out of your comfort zone. But it’s worth it. It helps you expand your business or land the perfect job. I’ve learned so much I wouldn’t have learned if I had given up, I’ve done so many new things, gone new places, and made new business and personal relationships. I’ve grown in so many ways, all of them positive.

Just start with ‘hi.’ Anyone can do that, right?

I Was Not Told About This, Revisted

A probable ancestor of all today's pedigree Bl...

A probable ancestor of all today’s pedigree Bloodhounds, 1902 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few months ago Jenny at Jenny’s Books posted “I was not told about this“:

And then one day, years later, something reminds you of this lesson you learned from a book, and you think, Well wait. Upon reflection that is probably not a real thing, but it’s much too late for this sort of critical thinking, because whatever it is has put down deep roots in your consciousness.

She asked for people to add the things they learned from books that aren’t true in the comments. I really really wanted to add something because I’m sure I have lots of these rattling around in my head (like toes up while riding a horse as one commenter noted). But my brain fails me at times like this, reliably, predictably fails me. It just doesn’t work like that.

But today, I was reading Winterling by Sarah Prineas (read it! it’s good!) and I thought, By Jove, I think I’ve got it! Rook, one of the main characters, runs up a stream to throw the wolves chasing him off his scent (hey, Jenny’s post starts out with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Do two wolves make a thing?) and I remembered the Mythbusters‘ “Dog Myths” episode 74 (synopsis) and Foil the Bloodhound.

They tried this. It didn’t work. Characters do this all the time in books and movies. So if you’re ever being tracked by bloodhounds, running through water will only get your feet wet. Your best bet? Run all over a crowded city, get on the subway, go where there are lots of people.

Terrifying Things I’ve Done (and been glad I did)

As opposed to terrifying things that have happened to me, which is an entirely different list and thankfully much shorter.

  1. The IMPACT self-defense class. You know, the one where the guy dresses up in full body padding and pretends to attack you, choke you and does sit on you, holding you down? That one. It’s at the top of the list because I think it is THE most terrifying thing I have ever done–show up day after day to willingly put myself in a vulnerable situation to learn what to do in a real-life attack.
  2. Shown my writing to other people. Every time terrifies me.
  3. Go to a trapeze class. Everything about it: climbing the shaky ladder, jumping off the platform, hurtling through the air, LETTING GO of the bar and falling.
  4. Tell someone something they didn’t want to hear and I didn’t want to say.
  5. Tell my secrets.
  6. Get married.
  7. Study abroad for a year in college.
  8. Travel alone through Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru and India.
  9. Quit my job to become a freelancer.
  10. 10 years later quit freelancing for a job.
  11. Go to couples counseling and really working on my relationship.
  12. Public speaking–teaching a class, leading a workshop, giving speeches, heck, even asking a question in a crowded auditorium.

So what have you done that terrified you?