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Why We Don't Need A Mansplaining Helpline

18/11/2016 17:20
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Along with, "you'll eat what you're given," and, "waste not, want not," my parents' top ten catchphrases included, "don't tell tales." So when I hear the news that Sweden has set up a helpline, for women who've experienced "mansplaining," it doesn't quite sit right.

It's a helpline for grown-ups, who don't like the way another adult has spoken to them - who haven't, apparently, felt able to address this at the time. If the helpline was staffed by assertiveness coaches, then I think they'd be onto a winner. In fact, assertiveness training for women, who've been socialised since childhood to be nice, would actually be really useful. But instead, calls to the helpline, set up by Unionen, Sweden's biggest union, will be answered by a gender expert, alongside feminist politicians, scientists and comedians.

I can't help feeling then, that it's a bit like crying to the dinner lady, instead of sticking up for yourself. It seems like yet another symptom of the current zeitgeist for wallowing in victimhood. Feeling maligned is the new Chihuahua in a Louis Vuitton tote, and would-be victims are ever ready to feel offended out of all proportion. It's "literal violence" if someone mixes up your preferred pronouns that you've clearly stated in your Twitter bio, and it's "triggering" (the buzzword du jour) to experience anything as violent as clapping at a conference.

If supply creates demand, it seems likely that the advent of the Mansplaining Helpline will see a surge in reports of men unnecessarily explaining things to women. It will seem as if we have an epidemic! But is it really that bad and do we really need a helpline?

The Pool's Zoe Beaty argues that yes it is, and yes we do - she suggests we set up our own helpline in the UK. To illustrate why, she offers up an anecdote about a time a man in a pub criticised her choice to work as a journalist. Instead of arguing her point, or talking to someone else, Beaty tells us she chose to "breathe deeply" and listen to him talk about his job as an architect for, "40 minutes while I patiently ask questions."

Beaty is setting herself up as the victim in this scenario, but I find it hard to sympathise with her. She says she considered challenging him, but, "This time, I let it go." I'd say she actively colluded in it, by asking him questions for 40 minutes. The word "patiently" suggests that she was politely humouring him, or in other words, patronising him - the very trait that mansplainers are criticised for. There seems to be no doubt about this when she adds, "I laced my pleasant smile back at him with a subtle facetiousness."

Beaty then seems annoyed when this random man, "A man, in a North London pub," turns back to his mate. She tells us, "He has made his point, the conversation has therefore, unquestionably, ended." This is presented as further evidence that he's guilty of mansplaining, but I'm left struggling to understand why she didn't end the conversation herself - far, far sooner.

Mansplaining can be infuriating - I've worked with a Mansplainer myself. But the answer isn't to collude in it, smiling and asking polite questions, then running off to report the perpetrator to a hotline. What we need to do, is contradict ill-informed men - and end tedious conversations.

It would help if we could change the negative way in which we view confidence and assertiveness in women - traits which are viewed positively in men. We need to break down the gender stereotypes that condition us to expect women to be nice and passive - and we need to change the way we socially condition children, so girls grow up to be confident, assertive women who don't nod along smiling, in an effort to be liked.

The spoof political reporter Jonathan Pie, recently ranted about Trump's win, blaming it on our failure to debate with those with whom we disagree. He wasn't referring to the Mansplaining Hotline, but I feel he sums it up well when he says: "if my mansplaining is triggering you, you can either fuck off to your safe space or you can engage, and debate me and tell me what I'm getting wrong."

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