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.
Sometimes, in debates about sexism or other forms of discrimination—particularly online—people will use a tactic called gaslighting. The term comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight, in which an abusive husband repeatedly dims and brightens the gaslights in their home while telling his wife he has no idea what’s happening, causing her to question her sanity. In an argument or debate, a person using gaslighting will try to make his opponent think her perceptions are skewed or wrong. Gaslighting is not always conscious—it can be used unconsciously as a defensive reaction. However, it can also be used consciously, as a manipulative tactic.
Each week, our nation presents us with opportunities to examine the manifestations of sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination around us. Journalists write articles, actors and sports figures give interviews, hashtags trend—we share information and debate issues, sometimes with a feminist lens but often without one. Most of the time, our media examines the issues of patriarchy as if they are isolated, as if they arise only from the particular dysfunction of a specific person or small group of people. Rarely do we make connections between a particular issue and patriarchy, or the societal framework that supports and reinforces male domination and female submission.
In her book about self-esteem, Revolution from Within, Gloria Steinem discusses the ways that internal and external power intersect and interact: “We make progress by spiraling back and forth between the inner world and the outer one, the personal and the political, the self and the circumstance. Nature doesn’t move in a straight line, and as part of nature, neither do we.” This spiraling—based on a Jungian idea of human interaction, in which we follow the spiral to a higher level, only to meet a new challenge—is indeed how we make progress as human beings. And it is complicated by patriarchy.
Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that the divine feminine—naming God as She as well as He—is important to me, personally and politically. When I first entertained the thought that God might be female as well as male, I felt a bit like a heretic—as though I’d had a definitely rebellious thought, and one that just might land me in eternal trouble. Goddess was supposed to be a pagan word, vaguely connected to witches (who were vaguely up to no good, I thought), to serpents and temptation and sin. I am Christian, and I didn’t want to stop being Christian, as Jesus has always been my spiritual guide, my sustenance. Yet I needed a feminine aspect to God—and not just an aspect. I needed God to be a woman, as fully as God is a man. I needed this in my soul, but hadn’t named it a need, as I thought such a need was heresy.