Thursday, June 27, 2013

Mansplaining to a Sub

The tendency of some men to mistakenly believe that they automatically know more about any given topic than does a woman and who, consequently, proceed to explain to her- correctly or not- things that she already knows.

Woman A: When he started mansplaining to me what it really meant to be a woman in the 21st century, I got up and left.

In a recent discussion on Facebook, there were a lot of comments about mansplaining - where men would explain something technical to a woman who was an expert in the area, even in spite of knowing that she was an expert.  I mentioned that this seems to me to be a more specific example of what I might call "downsplaining" - explaining to someone who may or may not be an expert in the area something that the explainer feels he or she should also be an expert in, just to demonstrate his or her expertise.  This post is a musing on that idea and is still a "thought in progress". 

Some examples:  when I am subbing, I often get called for jobs for either a half day or for days where the teacher is in the building, but is working on something else, usually joint planning with other staff members.  In this case, the teacher is often there to go over the day with me and to make sure I understand the plans.  In these cases, I am often subjected to "downsplaining", explaining in great detail even minor points about the lesson plans.  One time, a teacher took 5 minutes to tell me how to give a spelling test.  Another time, a teacher took 10 minutes to tell me how to teach an Everyday Math lesson.  I told her that I had been trained specifically in Everyday Math, but she continued to explain the entire lesson anyway.

The fact is, this happens over and over again and it puzzled me why they should feel the need to do this.  I am older, I am a certified teacher (as are all subs in this district), and I feel as though I do not present myself as lacking confidence or needing assurance.  So I looked for other explanations and it seems that mansplaining, if generalized, fills the bill.

Many teachers feel, rightly, that their classrooms are their area of expertise.  When a sub comes in to take over, there are several things that they are thinking of.  One of them is whether the sub can handle the class.  When the teacher thinks of handling the class, though, they are thinking of things that cause them the biggest challenges.  Sometimes these things are new curricula, sometimes planning lessons for areas that are not their strengths, sometimes they are dealing with challenging kids.  They feel that they need to explain over and over again the things that are their own challenges with the class(es).  Even when I assure them that I have a good background in science, they feel the need to explain the science lesson (that is mostly just reading), because THEY are a bit unsure about science. 

But dealing with lesson plans is seldom the biggest worry for me as a sub.  I have subbed and taught for many years.  Giving a spelling test, trust me, is not a difficult proposition, even if the teacher happens to use a different format than standard. 

Oftentimes they are correct about dealing with challenging kids, and I appreciate the hints they give me there.  But, interestingly the things they emphasize are often the things I least need help on.  What I would like to know is who can I call if I need help.  How do I get that person to come to the classroom if I need him/her? 

And, since the teacher him/herself does not worry about special classes (the kids just go when they are supposed to), s/he doesn't list all of the special classes, their times and their durations, and the students who go to them.  If "Joey" just walks out of the room at 10:25, it is no big deal to her, but it is a worry for the sub.

So, I think, actually, mansplaining is a subset of downsplaining, where the person doing the 'splaining assumes that he or she knows more about the subject at hand and needs to explain it in excruciating detail, both to show that he or she is an expert, but also to assert dominance.  The interesting thing to me is that they things they choose to 'splain are often precisely the things that they are a bit shaky on.  Things about which they are confident frequently don't get explained.

And, as an aside, I tried to start a discussion about this topic on the Substitute Teacher Network on LinkedIn, but the owner of the group said that it was "too political" and refused to post it.  I feel censored and may have to quit the group.  He has censored a post of mine before and I agreed to withdraw that one, but now I am feeling that maybe that group isn't right for me.  Too bad, it was giving me some good information. 

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