Monday, February 14, 2022

Today I mansplain the unheralded virtues of mansplaining


(718 words)

Note: The story you are about to read is mostly true. The names have been changed to protect my sorry ass.

It was about ten years ago. I was driving our lily white daughters and some of their little friends to Pittsburgh for a day at the museums.

One of their friends was what my father called “an ethnic.” I incarcerate the term in quotes because I’m fairly certain calling anyone “an ethnic” in this polyethnic nation is now somehow offensive. 

I’m reluctant to identify her ethnicity because I’m no longer sure which is the polite name and which is the racist one. Anymore, it’s all about semantics, not to be confused with Semitics which is — oy, vey! — a whole other kettle of Gefelte fish.

I will share this: Her name was Ling Chiang.

You guessed it.

She’s Canadian. 

She and her family had just moved here from far, far away, which, as I understood things, meant it was up to me to represent my country and extend her a warm welcome.

“I think you’re going to really like it here,” I said. I went on to say — and I’m summarizing here — that America is The Land of Opportunity, our history is crowded with a noble benchmarks, and here is where stirring vistas beckon from sea to shining sea.

I asked if she had any questions. She did.

“Are you always this sarcastic?”

Hers was a typical reaction from strangers who are unaccustomed to my unabashed authenticity.

I was trying to be nice, compatible — to put an unfamiliar at ease.

Back then it was considered condescending. Today, they call it mansplaining. 

Well, excuse me if I come across as condescending but let me lay a little mansplainin’ on you.

We’re at risk of confusing being kind with being patronizing.

This occurred to me the other night when our daughter — call her Ivanka — was involved in a minor traffic accident.

How minor? 

It happened in the drive-thru lane at Wendy’s. I don’t know what the speed limit is there, but I’ve never seen any one go faster than 2.

County fair pony rides offer more opportunities for wanton recklessness.

Apparently, the guy behind her — name was Burt Reynolds — got the heel of his cowboy boot momentarily stuck between the floor mat and the accelerator. And BOOM!

I mean, and boom!

Remember: It was the Wendy’s drive-thru.

After impact, the drivers got out to assess the consequences (if I’m third in that line and hankering for a Frostee, this is when I  start laying on the horn).

My daughter said, right away, the guy starts with the mansplaining.

“He said, ‘Well you know, bumpers are made for bumping,’ and on and on like that,” she said.

Now, here’s where I put myself in her shoes — they’d fit, too. I have the dainty tootsies of a magical pixie. First of all, I’m overjoyed that after he runs into me — clearly his fault — he doesn’t come up blazing. 

I’m always relieved when any accidental interaction between me and my fellow man doesn’t end with them shooting at me. 

One day in the near-future, I’m fairly certain my response to  the standard “And how was your day?” question will be, “Well, I didn’t have to duck any bullets, so it was pretty good.”

My next reaction is one of immense gratitude that the driver is not high or in some other altered state. Drunks and drug addicts can add elements of scary unpredictability to already stressful situations.

Someone on meth may get out of the car and start petting the hood and feeding it french fries as if the car were a horse.

But, no, he’s just a guy who finds himself in an unwelcome situation who did nothing to escalate the tension but, instead, resorted to some beleaguered mansplaining to get through the awkwardness.

He was condescending — and I applaud him for it.

See, to be condescending used to be a virtue. Its original meaning was “to make gracious allowance for human frailty.”

It wasn’t about talking down. It was about lifting up. 

Either way, I think we shouldn’t react with hostility when any man in these fraught times responds to a difficult situation, not with bluster or threats, but with civility and moderation.

We should encourage it.

Because I don’t think it’s mansplaining. I don’t think it’s condescending.

I think it’s progress.

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