Once you're aware of Mansplaining you see it everywhere. In new situations, with new people, on TV, in books, but also in your history: your well-worn relationships, your family. Whomever coined the phrase should be awarded a medal for contribution to society, as naming the phenomenon has brought so many people, myself included, so much clarity and joy. That squeamy feeling of listening to someone explain something to you that you possibly already new without any regard for your education, attention span or facial expression was always something that created discomfort and confusion. I would often walk away feeling like a bad person - why am I having such bad feelings about that person right now? They were just explaining something to me. Why am I so arrogant as not to be able to simply sit and listen? What is wrong with me?
After an acute mansplain one can feel shivery and in need of a warm shower, a hug. The worst kind of mansplains leave one listless, disoriented, wondering what the point of life is.
Mansplaining is not particular to any demographic, though it is prevalent in middle-aged males. Let me point out there is a big difference between a mansplain and a good, long story. Mansplains may only last a minute or go on, seemingly, for hours. Not all long and winding stories by men are mansplains: some stories told by men can last hours and be riveting, engaging and inviting. Take Knaussgard's My Struggle, for example. Which leads me to the central tenet of mansplaining. Inviting. You can put the Knaussgard down, he’s ok with that. But you can't put Uncle Kenny down, he will never, ever give you the opportunity. A mansplain doesn't invite engagement - or anything on your behalf. You may as well not be there. A mansplain ignores your presence, your intelligence or your prior knowledge. You are a vessel, to be filled with splain. The splainer is only concerned with the sound of their own voice, their own piece of wisdom to impart. The splainer is unlikely to notice your eyes glaze over, you shifting from one foot to the other, and in extreme cases, even your wide-mouthed yawn.
Now, mansplaining, though definitely a male phenomenon, is not only practised by males. Females can deliver a good mansplain, particularly if they're politicians. Though one thing I have noticed recently as widely as I've noticed mansplaining, is a tendency in women towards the opposite. That is, an in-built over-awareness of mansplaining so profound, they are constantly checking themselves to make sure they're not doing it. Ie, they are so tired of being mansplained at, for centuries, that they have developed a skill to ensure they never do it to anyone. A woman may catch herself mansplaining and quickly 'wrap it up'. The 'wrap it up', and the 'come on, get to the point' are so present in the female consciousness, women have developed a succinctness and sharpness that makes men on panel shows seem like lumpy dinosaurs. One man the other night on an intellectual panel show was so good at mansplaining he had hoodwinked an entire culture into believing he knew what he was talking about. Surrounded by clever, quick-witted, precise and concise women, he was a dumb lump of dough but still mansplained so long and convincingly that the crowd applauded him. Even the women nodded graciously at his palaver. How did this muppet end up in such a position of authority? He'd mansplained his way to the top.
Women are just too aware of their audience. They are so aware of mansplaining, boring people, wasting their time, that when they have a story they really want to tell, their sentences often hop around and become choppy – you have trouble keeping up. What is she on about? Look at her, apologising before she’s even begun the story, trying to justify the reason she thinks the story is relevant, why she’s taking up your precious time before she starts. Like now.Wrap it up. I am so concerned about mansplaining I'm sometimes mortified about speaking at all. But I want other women to talk more, so why wouldn't I?
This is why, as I sit down today there is a word in thick black texta written on a page above my computer.
Look out. Cover your ears.
This year could be summarised as a battle between masculine and feminine. It began with recovering from an operation in which my right ovary was removed. Feminine. Girl-bunny in my sticky bed brought cups of tea by Mr Rabbit, encouraged by Ris to keep on with the Tramadol, lose myself in those long trips of motionless ecstasy as long as it took. Girl-bunny passing out at the medical centre at having the navel stitches removed- oh, woe! - girly-girl balking at the surgeon's warning a few weeks later -Careful, you can easily get pregnant after an operation like this. Pregnant? - thinks the girl who can't fathom that this body, with its right-side black gap, its claggy nothingness, could even think of housing a human life, especially after that whiff of sex - a thought, a dream - that may or may not have transpired. It must have, and who would have thought you could conceive from a whiff but sure enough, there was the vertigo and there it was: the Bunny nearly fell on the floor in another room of the medical centre when the young female doctor presented the straw.
This wasn't happening. It was the opposite of the Kiki feeling, a darkness in the blinding sun. EBR wanted her balls back - Oh please, can we just have a moment to catch our breath?
I wonder if my whole life in some way I've been fleeing femininity - the responsibility that comes with womanhood, what I saw in mum, all she had to take on, the weight of it all...
A reprieve, the baby didn't grow. The Bunny felt evil for being glad.
She put her nice tidy balls on and went back to Paris. To her spiritual home, her brain-home, her man-cave. She put on neat blacks, straightened her hair and went off to meetings with luxury clients, toting all kinds of smart things through her neat red lips. She moved around the streets with purpose - her old life as present inside her as if she'd never left, never bought a house in an Australian seaside village and baked ANZAC cookies (with aplomb, she must admit, and recently, variety). Here she was, at home in her sharp city world - a planet away from the grass, the tea, the kindergarten, the deck, the beach. She saw the dress in a second-hand shop.
It was Sunday, and she and LL were in the Marais, having breakfasted at Fragments and taught Cyrille what a wedgie was. She'd seen the dress last year, when it was new, in its real shop. She had quickly moved past it then - who would ever wear a dress like that in Paris? The dress was long and beige with deep pink flowers printed on it, interspersed with panels of lace. The dress had tassels. The dress was made for bare feet on long grass, on beaches, not on the Boulevard Beaumarchais and most certainly not at a meeting with Chanel. But it was 20 bucks, so she bought it with a thumbs up from LL, and left it sitting in a bag on the couch in the tiny 1-bedroom Air BnB as she showered off yet another good power day. She was Patrick Bateman, sharp as a pin - she had finally worked her way to a position in Paris where she could afford to eat where she wanted, buy what she wanted, rent a lovely little apartment like this all for herself, with its view over one of her favourite streets, its memories of her student days in the canal bars, Kiki on her trottinette, a thousand ghosts of so many hers. But though she felt empowered - nuts so strong they could split the seam - the loneliness was always there to greet her when she stepped through the door. Oh, woe! For as much as she wanted to ram the city, here she was, a girl alone with a lamp.
The water cascaded down her hair and back (it was one of those weird corner spas with no curtain so it was better to sit to prevent the floor getting flooded). She was drying herself when she saw the tassel hanging out of the bag on the couch. She pulled out the dress. It was a hippie dress, nothing she had ever owned before. It fell down over her naked body, drifting around her ankles, caressing her collarbone. A long, whisp of soft cotton. Absolute Girl. She turned up the heat and made herself some avocado toast. Tonight she didn't straighten her hair, it dried as it did in unruly waves. She downloaded La Grande Bellezza because Ris said so, and fell asleep in front of it, in the dress.
The next morning she straightened the hair, pulled on the black and spent the required half hour doing the natural makeup and power-lips.Chic. She lit a cigarette as she exited the porte cochère (she only smoked in Paris now, it tastes good there). The day was bright and the coffee strong and in the meetings she noticed her disgusting female self starting to leak out a tiny bit. She quickly reined it in. Tightened her jock strap - fast. Don't let them see.A lunch meeting. The female dripped out again, gushing this time, oh the shame. A thai formule, a group of women from a makeup brand she wrote ads for. There were six of them and they were all young and sweet and interested and she really, really liked them. Out it came, the realness - oh man - the embarrassment as they kissed goodbye. She had shared too much - or was it just her - they didn't need to know that she was a mother, and 40 and living by the beach and missing Paris and that she had been writing a novel for 10 goddamned years. She lit two cigarettes as she hustled away down the canal. Her balls had shrunken into two pea-sized labia. She met with LL to drink cocktails and find that perfect blend of feminine/masculine at the bar, the spritzes, smokes, the long in-depth conversations. On the walk back through République people were camping out and playing music, the Nuit Debout movement still going, the striving for change. Emotion/strength. Power/passion. Vulnerability/striving. She wriggled out of the black dress, sat in the shower, got out, the dress came on to her again. She watched the scene in La Grande Bellezza with the woman in the bed again. She does die. The scene evoked a vast discomfort that she took with her into her dreams.
She left Paris a day early. Kiki made a signWELCOME HOME MUMMY. Her arms were soft like dumplings. The Bunny was a mother, and a woman and she didn't have nuts and she returned to her home and was content in her own sheets and forgot her man-self for a bit before returning to her home office to resume it again, à distance, the connection with Paris and her work so strong it made no difference she was in a beach side village a drill-hole all the way through the earth from. She was busy - so busy, she must not let herself or her family down. She worked and worked. Her day began with the emails at 7 as she leapt out of bed to assure Paris she was still there, still their man, and ended with iPhone checks through the night, quick messages to say the edits were being done, the translations were fine, explain the significance of a word and why we just don't say it like that. She was stiff as a board.
The days went by. The dress didn't come out until September, in the first moments of Spring. And with it came the moment, ball-deep in a powerpoint presentation on toothbrushes, that her fingers lifted themselves from the keyboard and placed themselves in her lap. She tried to put them back on but they refused.The fingers said No. Cutting off from Paris, from work, was something she had always terrified of. A relinquishing of control - of the image of who she wanted to be.
It all went black, for a week, as she felt around herself for the walls that had fallen away.
Then a new light started to creep in. Flowing, colourful, floral, interspersed with lace.
Kiki had been alone in the car all the way to French on Tuesdays and I remembered her friend from school also lived in France when she was little so I asked her parents if she'd like to come along. They said yes so today I drove them the 40 minutes there and the 40 minutes back. The friend has a little sister and the noise in the backseat was something I have not yet experienced, as the mother of a single child. Kiki will typically sing along to the French songs, we'll discuss something, or she'll doodle in one of the countless journals littering the back seat. Today it was loud. They were having fun - the whole way there and back. Giggling, pulling, pushing, playing, yelling, teasing:
'Mum! Say 'I eat poopoo'.'
'I eat poopoo.'
'Hahaha!! Say 'I am a poopoo'.'
'I am a poopoo.'
They were really giving me the shits, with their playing and having fun. I realised this must be what it's like to have a family, not just a kid. Separating quarrels, telling them to pipe down, pulling the car over, leaving them in the Rob's Restaurant car park.
I imagined these were both my kids, and this was my life. Then I dropped the girl off. And all was quiet again. Kiki, true to her usual form, brought up exactly what was on my mind.
Let me preface this by the fact that at nearly 6 years old, Kiki has pretty much let me off the hook in the baby brother/sister stakes. If she had started hassling me at age 3 I surely would have been unable to withstand the guilt. But she never did. She seemed born to be an only child; happy in her own world, in her own words 'glad to have all the attention.'
But there it was:
'Mum, why don't I have a baby sister or brother? I want a little baby sister or brother. There's only me. And my toys.'
My heart crumbled and died.
'I don't know honey, I might be a bit old now.'
'Can't you and daddy just have another big kiss and make another one?'
Flashback to Paris. It's two years ago, Kiki is three, we are riding to Fnoo's house with her godfather Lukie. It's a balmy night, she is calm on the back seat, all is well. As we stop at a set of lights on the Avenue Voltaire her little voice pipes up:
'Mum, how did I get in your tummy?'
I took a breath. Did she have to ask that now? Luke was a wordsmith, a poet.
'Umm... well, Daddy and I made you sweetheart.'
'How did you make me?'
Luke didn't look at us but I knew he was listening.
'Well, we had a beautiful big kiss and cuddle. And then, there was this incredible explosion of love. And that created you!'
I was rather proud. I felt I had given it enough abstract power for her to feel she was both magical and real. Luke seemed to nod a silent approval.
That she remembered this description tonight made me dizzy. She listens to me. She hears me. I am a mother.
We pulled up at Springs Beach and I looked around at her.
'I will try, but I don't know if I can make another one my love. But what I can promise you is that even if you don't have a little brother or sister I will fill your life with people, wonderful people, all around you, and give you adventures, and make your life awesome.'
I thought I nailed it. But she just sighed and looked back out the window.