• I can explain everything

    (Photo by Dainis Graveris)

    This week, I came across the term ‘mansplaining’ – a great word for that tendency of men to explain things to women, including what women think. 

    An article in Prospect magazine cited Rebecca Solnit as having popularised the term in a 2008 essay about a man she met at a party in Aspen who explained her own book on the Victorian photographer Eadweard Muybridge to her. 

    The notion immediately brought to mind the brilliant ‘Amazing Invisible Woman’ sketch in The Fast Show in which a woman suggests a solution to a practical problem to a group of men (often involving cars or directions). She’s met by silence. Then one of the men repeats her advice word-for-word, and is heard!

    Early years learning

    This tendency isn’t simply the preserve of adult males. We start ‘em young. On repeated viewing of the Netflix series If I were an Animal (a generally brilliant programme, I hasten to add) with my five-year-old son, I began to notice a pattern. 

    The narrators are two children, a slightly older boy and a slightly younger girl, interacting as a brother and sister. They talk about the animals’ lives rather like young David Attenboroughs. But I began to notice that the boy almost always provided the information. 

    The girl would give each animal a name, say ‘awwwh, isn’t she cute?’ a lot, and generally gush and giggle at their antics. She would also ask lots of helpful questions: ‘Why is that snow leopard digging a hole, Tim?’ To which her brother would provide the insightful science. ‘Well, Emma…’

    After reading the Prospect article on Rebecca Solnit, I realised this innocent little dialogue has a name: mansplaining. 

    While we’re talking about little boys, turns out Boys Don’t Like Flowers

  • Being Middle Class Man

    Young man sitting on a bench with a glass of whisky in front of a Union Jack British flag
    Is male and middle class the ultimate turn-off? (Photo by Gregory Hayes)

    I love Grayson Perry. Who doesn’t? All but the most unsalvageably entrenched blokey blokes must love him for everything he has done to open debate about gender – particularly being a man – and identity. 

    But how much of what Grayson has done – has been able to do – is rooted in his working class identity? Yes, he dresses in women’s clothes. Yes, he questions the most basic assumptions about male culture. But he’s still an honest, straight-talking bloke from solid working roots. 

    The legitimacy this identity engenders often seems to hide in plain sight. It reminds me of the way Billy Bragg – another boy from the ‘wrong’ end of London with the accent to back it up – can deliver English folk music with an authority lacking in even the most hallowed middle class revivalists. 

    Of course, there is some slippage. 

    Some no doubt view both Grayson and Billy as class-suspect. In Grayson’s gender-bending analysis and Billy’s love of olde worlde folk, they could both be seen as working class boys now long since consumed by middle class airs and intellectualism. 

    Pity Middle Class Man

    Everyone hates the middle classes, as the joke goes, even the middle classes themselves. Yes, they are a comfortable place to be born and to live, but they are eternally unloved. Which makes Middle Class Man the hardest to crack. 

    Does Grayson’s accessibility as a working class man make his bold forays into questioning social norms more palatable, under the cover of class legitimacy? Could a middle class version of Grayson Perry have broken down as many barriers as the real Grayson Perry? 

    Would we have bought it? By we, of course, I mean the Great British Public (GBP), that toughest of critics. Never mind the male gaze. The GBP gaze can be withering. 

    Spare a thought for Middle Class Man – fighting to remake himself, despite his eternal lack of credibility, even in the eyes of his peers. Lumbered with maleness and middle classness, he needs all the help he can get!