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Calling Out Mansplainers Isn't the Same as 'Silencing' Men

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Dear Tom McLaughlin And Joshua Sealy-Harrington,

We need to talk about your recent article in the Globe and Mail.

Specifically, we need to talk about the fact that you have cast yourselves as allies and yet are doing far more to hurt the causes that you claim to believe in than you are doing to help them.

First of all, let's get a few things straight here:

1 You are not being silenced -- and the fact that you try to claim that in a column published in a nationally syndicated newspaper is sort of sublimely ridiculous

2. Not everyone's perspective can "positively contribute" -- for instance, I do not think that the KKK's perspective can "positively contribute" to discussions on race, nor do I think that the Westboro Baptist Church's perspective can "positively contribute" to discussions on sexuality

3. You are being bad allies

That being said, I want to ask who, exactly, you imagine to be the target reader for your piece. Is it your hope that anti-oppression activists, specifically those who are marginalized, will read what you've written and realize how wrong their approach has been? Because if that's the case, then unfortunately you've missed the mark by quite a bit.

On the other hand, if the group you are writing for is one made up of privileged people who feel distressed by what they perceive to be deliberate silencing and disenfranchisement, then congratulations, you've succeeded! If your goal was to confirm what privileged people everywhere have long suspected -- namely, that "equality" means that their voices should always be heard on par with everyone else's, even though their voices have long dominated nearly all forms of discourse -- then you've done a great job. If what you were trying to do was make sure that the oppressive status quo -- you know, the one that so many of us are trying to tear down -- is maintained, well, mission accomplished. You only need to read the comments on your article to know that you've done exactly that.

I also want to ask you how, exactly, you consider yourselves to be allies to any kind of social justice cause when your main message is that oppressed groups need to make room for the voices of traditionally oppressive groups. You write about this dynamic as if the opinions of the privileged aren't already culturally dominant, and as if privileged groups don't already have an excess of places to spout off about their beliefs. I mean, look at the platform you've been given -- an enormously popular newspaper with a huge reach. And yet you have the gall to worry that your voices aren't being heard? Because I promise you that your voices are being heard.

And yes, sometimes your opinions will be discounted because of your identity -- because you know what? In the context of social justice, lived experience trumps everything else every time. When you are speaking, you are not speaking from a place of knowing or understanding, and that means that your arguments, no matter how well-crafted, do not count for as much as the arguments of someone who has experienced oppression and marginalization firsthand.

Oh, and by the way, comparing an oncologist who has never had cancer to a male doctor treating a female patient is probably one of the worst pieces of rhetoric I've ever read. Cancer is a disease; being a woman is not. An oncologist may someday develop cancer; chances are good that a doctor who lives as a man will not experience life as a woman. People who have cancer are not marginalized by a pervasive oppressive force that systematically silences and discredits them; people who identify as women have lived with that force their entire lives.

You say:

The use of terms such as "mansplaining" (and its racial counterpart, "whitesplaining") can cause disengagement. These labels are sometimes used to dismiss arguments when men and white people simply disagree. But if a man or white person makes a poor argument, why not just refute it? 

And somehow you don't seem to understand that marginalized people spend so much time coming up with intelligent responses to poor arguments. In fact, sometimes it feels like that's all we do. If I were to reply to every bad piece of logic that came my way with a lengthy and intelligent response, that is literally the only thing I would be doing, all day every day. And you know what? If I were to do that, the vast, vast majority of what I had to say would fall on deaf ears. It is both impossible and just plain not worth it to engage every person who says something problematic and thoughtfully explain to them why they are wrong.

It's not worth it, and it's also just plain not my job.

If you really want to be good allies, then you need to understand that your job as allies is to amplify the voices of marginalized people. Your work here isn't to tell traditionally oppressed groups that they need to be more open to the opinions of privileged folks like yourselves -- and by the way, this isn't exactly a new or radical message, though I get the feeling that you think it is.

As an ally,  your work is in educating yourself and maintain your engagement. Your work is to help educate other privileged folk. Your work is to get to the back of the room and sit down and let someone else take the stage for a hot second. That is what an ally is supposed to do. That is what you should have used your platform to do. Instead, you used it to castigate already oppressed groups for not participating in activism in the way you think they should

And for the record, being sweet and nice and engaging has never done much for social justice activists. Making room for the thoughts and opinions of oppressive groups has never gained us anything. Women weren't granted the vote because they smiled and nodded and valued the opinion of the men who didn't think they had the mental capacity to participate in democracy -- they won the right to vote by fighting, being imprisoned and sometimes even dying for it. Their refusal to engage misogynists did not stifle progress -- in fact, it hastened it.

The sad truth is that it's only when privileged groups realize that their voices can no longer fully dominate the discourse that we begin to see real change. Otherwise, if marginalized people continue to "make room" for the privileged, if they continue to stroke their egos and promise them that their thoughts are valued -- in part because too much time is spent licking the master's boots to actually get anything done, and also because if privileged voices are given free reign in a discussion about marginalizing forces, then they will almost always take over. Because that's how privilege works.

Look, I get it. You're both young guys, and maybe this is your first taste of not having your opinion automatically valued simply because of who you are. And I'm sure that the backlash to your article has not been a nice experience -- no one, especially not someone who believes that they are an ally -- wants to believe that they are hurting or oppressing other people. But you are being hurtful and oppressive, and until you sit back and listen to what we're trying to tell you, you will continue to be so.

Also I truly believe that someday you will be deeply embarrassed by this tweet:

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