Gender, dominance, and annoying lecture boys

Intellectual space is precious, and it needs to be shared

statue of mansplaining man "Rudeness is eagerly mythologised in men as a precursor to vision and greatness". Image: Twitter

There has been a litany of men throughout my university degree who have felt no economic treatise, technical point of law or group project could not be improved by the gift of their insight. Most called out their rejoinders and unsolicited critiques with the confidence of a master and the insight of someone who had successfully read the current lecture slide.

Had Locke considered whether property ownership could be wasteful? (He had, keep reading).

Had their honours considered how copyright applied to electronic texts? (Shockingly yes, we’re covering it next class).

Should I take the lead on this? (Please don’t, you haven’t been to class in two weeks).

My general observation has been that if my female peers suffer from the same illusion of grandeur, they tend, generally, to keep it to themselves. It is hardly an earth shattering observation that this difference is linked to the way girls are raised. I was in year four when my parents sat me down and told me that if I kept up my tyrannical orders in the playground and incessant talking in my classroom they would still love me, but nobody else would.

In the obsessively methodical manner of two people who met in law school, my parents gave me an action plan. I was to track how many times I had spoken compared to my friends. A 5:1 ratio made my friends the recipients of an unsolicited monologue, a ratio of 1:5 would have killed me. It was decided that 1:2 was just right — chatty, without hitting insufferable.

The general wisdom is that this kind of parenting holds girls back. It tells them their voices are not worthwhile or meaningful and that these rules apply to them but not their brothers. The response to this unfairness is generally,that girls and women should lean into behaviours they had been warned off as children, speak their minds, put their hands up and take a seat at the table.

To some extent this is a wise approach. Young girls should absolutely be made to feel that their ideas and opinions are as valuable as everyone else’s. But more importantly all people, of both genders, should be taught that their ideas and opinions are not more valuable than others’. It is not inherently bad or gendered to be taught to be considerate, or concerned that you are dominating a space or conversation. It becomes unfair when this lesson is only taught to girls to create space for men.

A woman should not feel undeserving of a seat at the table simply because she is a woman. But merely existing does not imbue a man or a woman with an automatic right to that seat either. The lesson must go both ways because (to take this metaphor to breaking point) there are simply not enough seats at the table for everyone. Not everyone can be a leader at everything all at once. You can’t always get your way.

For too long, the scarce resources of time, space and leadership have been divided up along the lines of gender, class and race. As we move towards replacing that old order we must navigate intangible scarcity in a new, fairer way. Just as we teach all children to share their toys, we need to teach boys and girls to share intellectual space — if I speak, you should get a turn next; if I get my way this time, you should get yours next.

It does not help that rudeness is eagerly mythologised in men as a precursor to vision and greatness. After discussing the Steve Jobs biography with a friend, I rapidly realised his takeaway was that Jobs’ success was equal part the result of hallucinogens and being an unyielding dickhead. In the The Social Network Mark Zuckerberg’s success is framed as the fruit of his domineering arrogance, not in spite of it. Meanwhile, the Netflix show #Girlboss was cancelled after it’s first season. When women exhibit the rudeness commonplace amongst men in leadership they are less likeable and less successful.

The lesson I was taught at eight may have been given because I was a girl, but it was justifiable because I was being unbearable. The problem is that we’re less willing to diagnose a man or boy with the same behaviours as being unbearable too. That is not to say that these lessons can never be gendered and counterproductive for women. The words ‘bossy’ and ‘hysterical’ for instance are cruelly and needlessly gendered: it’s just that if applied to both genders the lesson need not be.

After all, given MRAs’ disdain for the ‘special snowflakes’ of the progressive movement, I’m sure they will welcome their fair share of tough love too.