Man, Interrupted

I hate to prattle on and on about gender every week, but here I go again. My own personal gender politics tend to align with what I regard as that of traditional feminists: men and women should be treated exactly equally in all things, but we are not there yet. We have a long way to go, in fact.

I take the basic view that neither men nor women have all the answers and neither offers a one size fits all approach to existing, regardless of how often either objects otherwise. Hardly controversial, but it describes my world view, at a basic level. We’re all great, but we’re each a little bit shit. OK?

This blog isn’t about that; it’s about talking. I hate to spoil the superb dénouement, coming in a few paragraphs, but men and women tend to talk in different ways. We are different people, after all. One of the things which bothers me very deeply (as a man) is the idea of “Speaking While Female” or “Woman in a Meeting” language. Some men seem to object so strongly to a woman expressing a view that they use all kinds of underhand tactics to derail or obfuscate them. That is unacceptable.

The problem is that that puts me in with the “Not All Men” crowd, and that’s not good enough.

More on that later. Mansplaining is dreadful. I’m pretty sure we’ve all been on the receiving end of a lecture or two by a tedious old fart, deaf to the fact that their opinion is neither required, sought, nor valid. Adverse reactions to that kind of patronising behaviour are not restricted to women.

These men seem to think they are being helpful, offering solutions, being leaders, when help and leadership are not required, when solutions are less important than discussion and collaboration. It is a throwback to a patriarchal, post-colonial era none of us inhabit, but some people hanker for.

Then, in walks the Friendly Neighbourhood Meninist. He bravely barges in and shouts ‘Not all men!’ whenever a conversation may turn to misandry. He’s at least partly right; however, I do question his motives. His self-defence belittles the women making points: they know not all men are like that.

Not all men are bastards, but we are all wankers, and that sometimes gets the better of us. We may not actively ignore, side-line or belittle women, but that does not mean that we don’t recognise such behaviour, often to our own shame. Men feel the foolish need to compete for attention. It slows us.

Where am I going with this? What am I setting up? In all things there must be fairness. In the same way that we have all experienced the horrendous phenomenon known as Mansplaining, I’m pretty sure we have all encountered a similar idea, Womenterruption. Let me describe it in broad terms:

Someone has been invited to answer a question, to give an opinion, or to describe aspects of their life. They start to talk. They may receive supplementary questions. They may be told – correctly or otherwise – what they were about to say. They may even be heckled before they’ve had chance to get to the end of their thought. The interrupter may feel that they are being helpful, supportive, that they are collaborating in a conversation which they had instigated; the first feels talked over and patronised. They begin to feel the need to shout in order to be heard; this does not go down well.

It could be anyone who has been asked the question, and so received the interruptions, but I feel it is men who tend to cope least well. This description is not intended as an attack on women, but it does need the following few paragraphs to explain why I have chosen to write it down in this place.

Both Mansplaining and Womenterruption describe precisely the same core issue at work, the same core quantum of conflict: different people hold conversations differently from each other. This idea, as expressed, is one aspect of a series of generalisations; as such it cannot and must not be taken as describing some cardinal truth. We live in the exceptions, after all. However, it is a reasonable fit.

Some people talk slowly, deliberately, progressing. The first thing they say may not be the final idea they are trying to express; it is likely to be laying the groundwork for deeper thought; it is not meant as an insult. In short, they take their time to get to the point: bear with them and they will get there.

Others talk more quickly, and with more collaboration. To them, there needs to be a to and fro, and everyone can and should be able to take part equally, often at the same time. Consensus is key, and everyone is part of the business. These people want the conversation to be a shared experience.

Although labelled in gendered terms, I have experienced men and women in each camp. The term coined is purely a riposte to the hideous concept of “Mansplaining”. Men “Womenterrupt” too.

We should now live in a world where men and women can be socially equal; that brings with it great opportunities for conversations, and great many opportunities for conflict. Progress is never easy.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Just because you perceive something to be intentional does not make it so. You don’t interrupt me in order to belittle me; I don’t defend myself to attack you. Why is that so hard to understand?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There is no such thing as ‘obvious’. I don’t just understand that by talking while I am trying to talk you’re contributing in a more collaborative way; you don’t just understand that I can’t think while you’re talking to me, and that I need space. We both need to try.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I know that men and women are different, but since when did ‘different’ infer ‘better’ or ‘worse’? By taking time to understand and accept how we each naturally express ourselves, we can each have in our hands the cheat sheets to a more productive discourse.

Meninists are just angry little boys, stamping their feet, and screaming at a world which they don’t yet understand to be welcoming them. They need to get a few things off their chests, and they’ll be fine.

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