Today Thoughts on Liberty writer Lindsey Dodge responded to Thoughts on Liberty editor Gina Luttrell’s Mansplaining series (Part 1, Part 2) with Mansplaining is Alienating Even If You Understand What It Means. I’ll admit a knee-jerk bias against language censorship, even of the noncoercive variety. Fight speech with more speech, baby!
My two main issues with the post are, 1. it contains the common libertarian trap of downplaying the role of culture in individual choices, not because it’s not a real phenomenon, but because we doesn’t like where it leads and 2. it takes issue with the term, as if using less-precise language solves any real related problem.
Gina asserts in her series that mansplaining “is not a conscious decision or thought process, but rather, a reflection of the arrogance generated by a society that defers to men’s opinions over women’s because men have had more power.”
Which Lindsey takes issue with:
As libertarians, it’s imperative that we don’t follow this logic, which actively separates people’s behavior from their agency – that is, their ability to choose between two options. If “society,” which is a fancy word for other people, is to blame for your actions, then you are not.
Projecting agency onto an outside influence damages arguments that individuals have preferences and choices for which they should be responsible.
Well, unfortunately reality isn’t black and white. It’s not that responsibility either rests with you or “them.” Our behavior is influenced by our culture AND we are still ultimately responsible for it. There’s a wealth of scholarly and pop-culture research and data on the effect culture has on individual behavior. By downplaying or denying the role of culture in individual choices because we don’t like where it leads, we sacrifice intellectual honesty to the God of neatness.
Gina has previously masterfully addressed the fact that this is a common problem in libertarianism. And Sandra did a great job of it in Calling Out Sexism Doesn’t Mean I Want Government Interference:
Many people want to dismiss the fact that women and men act differently in the marketplace and want to attribute it merely to choice. Studies show that women are less likely to negotiate for a higher salary and are less aggressive. We can maybe look at the socialization of boys and girls and how that affects their perceived interests in the job market, or how they go about pursuing their careers.
Another example is female sexuality and rape culture. It seems as if some people easily dismiss rape culture and myths about female sexuality because, for some reason, they believe that calling out sexism is a statist view. But there’s nothing wrong with pointing out rape apologists, rape myths, and just overall rape culture. Especially when it can create a dialogue and education to eradicate such culture.
Mansplaining may or may not be a “real phenomenon.” But if we’re being intellectually honest, the places people might go if we admit it’s real doesn’t actually have any bearing on its validity.
The post goes on:
I would posit that the English language is just fine, and that the correct term we’re really searching for is “being an asshole.” Unneeded explanation happens to everyone, not just to women, as any man anywhere could attest.
[It’s] like saying the word “golddigger” is valid, the phenomenon real, even if people misuse it. People are only misusing the word, besides the fact that it is not a kind word. There are male golddiggers aplenty, but it has sincere and undeniable female connotations. By creating a gendered word, we contribute to an unequal and gendered view of people’s actions, and therefore, of people themselves.
Yeah, I’m upset about a lot of the baggage surrounding calling women “golddiggers.” I’m upset that there’s no term for men who value looks, while there is one for women who value assets. But I’m not going to blame the term. I like precise language. Banning the use of the word “golddigger” and enforcing “bitch” or replacing “mansplainer” with “asshole” is imprecise and does nothing to address the real problems, which are that men and women are perceived those ways.
Culture matters. I want libertarians to honestly engage with the questions of culture and the role it plays in individual choices. Until we do, we won’t be, and don’t deserve to be, taken seriously by people who get this. As long as we keep telling each other to stop using “divisive” language instead of taking on the harder challenge of addressing the issues the language arose to describe, maybe even using the language of the people describing it, we’re just going to further alienate ourselves from the people who are interested in having those conversations. And it’s we libertarians who will be the poorer for it.
Photo by Newfrontiers