Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mansplaining: A Proposal to Study the Power, Knowledge, and Miscommunication of Intergender Speech

This semester, I am finishing up an anthropology class in "Language and Gender." The class is focused on a hit parade of scholarly literature, starting with Robin Lakoff's 1975 "Language and Woman's Place" and following the development of the field through to more recent inquiries, like Elise Kramer's 2011 paper on internet rape jokes. As an undergraduate student steeped in the academic Twitterverse and Blogosphere, I feel like I might have a lot of exposure to the criticisms and questions that are raised - as they are raised - about conflicts between the genders.

For example, maybe you noticed a little over a week ago that Kate Clancy, Katie Hinde, Robin Nelson, and Julienne Rutherford made waves capsized the damn boat with their survey, analysis, and subsequent presentation of sexual harassment in environments of anthropological fieldwork. (The study is ongoing, and now includes all manner of scientific fieldwork.)

Perhaps you remember the silly editorial in Nature about "Womanspace" when Ed Rybicki suggested, as one commenter put it, "the uterus is a tracking device."

Or, if anyone is the least bit familiar with the goings-on of the online atheist community (most notably the so-called "Elevatorgate" debacle between Rebecca Watson and Richard Dawkins [and the disgusting amount of abuse she has taken since then]), you have an idea of what I'm talking about.

And then there's mansplaining. Lakoff, Zimmerman, West, Maltz, Borker, O'Barr, Tannen - all of the sociolinguists and linguistic anthropologists that we've studied this semester have come SO CLOSE to describing our current conception of mansplaining, and yet no one hit the mark  - not until Rebecca Solnit's incredibly popular L.A. Times opinion piece, "Men who explain things." Why? I have no idea, and frankly I was kind of shocked. So, I did my final presentation on it, and here it is (after the jump).

(Or check it out here.)

(Edit: Here's something to keep in mind: The questions that I have, that this presentation answers, are essentially, "Why/How has mansplaining never been studied?" and "If I undertook the research, what would I ask?" The idea arose out of a Twitter exchange I had with @WennerGrenOrg and @calicomary, here.)