rebecca_solnitThe term ‘mansplaining’ was inspired, though not directly used, by Rebecca Solnit in her marvellous 2008 essay ‘Men Explain Things To Me’.

The word succinctly encapsulates men’s uncanny ability to display what Solnit calls “the confidence of the totally ignorant”.

With barbed wit, she notes how “explaining men still assume I am, in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge”.

As she knows to her cost, these kinds of power games are nothing new and represent a pattern of patronizing behavior that, at least until recently, women have learned to put up with.

The #TimesUp and #MeToo initiatives stemming from the outing of Harvey Weinstein’s serial abuses represent a potential sea change in gender attitudes. Now, not a day goes by without fresh accusations and the squalid details of the Larry Nassar case is a further illustration of the can of worms that has been opened.

Rebecca Solnit has also written eloquently about how demeaning words and attitudes often lead to violence against women. In an afterword to her essay she says “I think we would understand misogyny and violence against women even better if we looked at the abuse of power as a whole rather than treating domestic violence separately from rape and murder and harassment and intimidation, online and at home and in the workplace and in the streets; seen together, the pattern is clear”.

The dust has not yet settled on the Weinstein saga and its aftermath. How this plays out in terms of long-term changes remains to be seen. Social attitudes are so imbedded that they are notoriously difficult to shift and one of the life skills many men learn early on is how to pay lip service to feminist causes.

But the sight of Seth Meyers gingerly walking on eggshells in the opening monologue to this year’s Golden Globe Awards suggests that real change might be happening at last.

His fake spontaneous interaction with actress,voice artist,comedian,director, producer and writer Amy Poehler was particularly revealing in that it served to demonstrate that the term ‘mansplaining’ has now well and truly entered the mainstream.

Poehler was the last in the line of celebrity guests who were asked to provide the punchline to a ‘risqué’ joke Meyers had introduced. Here is how the exchange played out:

Amy Poehler: Yeah, I’ll do one but I don’t need your help.
Meyers: No, I do the setup and then you do the punchline.
Poehler: Is that how it works? You’re explaining something I already know. Is this the mansplaining part of the evening?
Meyers: No, no, no, I just don’t think it will work without a setup to your punchline.
Poehler: Oh, I’m glad to know what you think. First of all, thank you for telling me what you think. And secondly, I’m a woman in Hollywood, Seth. We’ve all been through a lot. I don’t need a setup to make a punchline work, OK? You’re sadly mistaken.
Meyers: OK, I apologize.
Poehler: Another apology how wonderful. All right, let me just get started. I’m reclaiming my wine.
Meyers: So you’re just going to do a punchline, no setup?
Poehler: Everybody gets it. You already explained it. Stop explaining it! Oh my God. OK, punchline, no setup, here we go: Said the peach in Call Me by Your Name, “This scene is the pits!”

The joke isn’t very funny or particularly controversial. The point of the stilted, and obviously scripted, dialogue was to satirize and undermine the presumed authority of the male host. The skit was a perfect set up for Oprah Winfrey’s impassioned speech which hammered home the ‘your time’s up’ message to abusive men.

The signs are positive but only after the glitz of these media events has faded will we truly know what has changed.

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