War is one of the biggest costs of patriarchy. It encourages a version of masculinity that relies on dominance and violence and justifies patriarchal systems of power on a global scale. Indeed, war is one of the lynchpins of patriarchy—and as such, it is sold to boys and men as their ideal, just as beauty is sold to girls and women. Although we have many stories that reflect on the glory men earn in war—the hero come home, the grand sacrifice made meaningful in the light of patriotism—only a few count the costs of war outside this narrative. And rarest of all are those war stories that, rather than reinforcing our ideas of masculinity proven via military service and sacrifice, ask us to question all of it: war itself, a masculinity based on violence, and a society that encourages both. Michael Lund’s Eating with Veterans is such a collection of stories.
The term mansplaining, unlike gaslighting, has entered mainstream conversation: according to Lily Rothman at The Atlantic, it first appeared online shortly after Rebecca Solnit’s piece in the LA Times, “Men Explain Things to Me.” Ms. Solnit didn’t use the term in her article, but she described a prime example of mansplaining, in which a man described her own book to her without acknowledging that she’d written it. The term is used so widely that it is misused: sometimes it’s used so broadly that it could apply to any situation in which one person is condescending to another, and sometimes it is completely misdefined, as it is in many of the definitions in the urban dictionary, one of which asserts that man-hating women use the term to spread their man-hating. Despite these misunderstandings, mansplaining is easy to spot, as any woman who has experienced it can tell you.
Today’s post is brought to you by my husband, Dr. David Magill, who teaches literature and gender studies at Longwood University:
A week ago, I delivered an address on Longwood’s campus at the request of the Inter-Fraternity Council and a group of their men who were promoting the “It’s On Us” campaign at Longwood. However, turnout was lower than anticipated by the organizers, and many of my friends wrote me to say that had not heard about the event in time to attend. So I wanted to post the comments here. I have edited my remarks to better fit this space, removing particular phrases that sound better when speaking than writing. But the substance is the same, and I hope sharing it here can help get these ideas to a wider audience.
In the three years since The Representation Project has taken on sexism in Superbowl ads, we’ve seen quite a bit of improvement. As Caroline Knorr points out over at Common Sense Media, most families don’t want sex—much less sexism—in the ads that they see with their kids during the big game, and advertisers are responding. They’re also responding to the tweets The Representation Project sends out every year via the #NotBuyingIt and #MediaWeLike campaigns: each year, we see a round of ads and a round of responses. This year, the discussion started early, as some ads were released pre-game. Among them was a very important public service announcement: NoMore.org’s reminder about the realities of intimate partner violence (IPV). So—what does all this say about our culture? Are we making headway against sexism as the foundation for our entertainment and economy? Yes—and no.
In 1985, lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel offered a tongue-in-cheek proposal for judging female representation in films. Her cartoon “Dykes to Watch Out for” presented this vision: