Mansplaining and Golda Meir

Savannah Morning News

Feb. 7, 2018

How about this flu? Is it over yet? It’s kind of freaking me out. All those viruses; I’m starting to think the Russians are behind it. Do we need a committee to investigate this?

How about that Roger Federer at the Australian Open? Thirty-six years old and still standing, still winning, still weeping after he’s done winning. And no whining when he’s not winning. Tennis continues to be the closest thing we have to a gladiator sport, two armed (with rackets) combatants in the ring. Mano a mano, hand to hand. Since none of my cable channels run the big tournaments I have to go up to the tennis courts at Forsyth Park to get my fix. Ringside seats, free admittance. There’s some lean and mean and young players there. And no commercials.

How about these women? I did not make it to this year’s march (it was a perfect day to plant sugar snaps, one of those must-get-my-hands-in-the-dirt days) but who could miss the post-march signs, the art, the fervor, the energy? One million people marched. “Resistance is not futile,” one sign read and, “A woman’s place is in your face.” I like that one. Something is going on here. It’s not the first time we’ve heard from women but in this latest version I’d say the movement has legs. If we don’t have a female president we do have lots of women running for office, speaking their minds, being heard. If we don’t have a truth and reconciliation commission, as they have in South Africa, we are starting to have our own form of truth and reconciliation.

It’s about time. Did I think twice in the mid-60’s when my high school principal told me not to wear pants when I showed up for my first job as a high school English teacher? No. I did what I was told (for a year).

Did we think it odd that women were kept from broadcasting positions because their voices were thin or their intellect lacked gravitas? No. Most of the time these broadcasters – men, women alike – are just reading the news anyway. Trust me, it was a big deal back then when women sat behind the reporting desk, when women did the reporting.

Would I refuse a man’s offer to change my tire? Heck no. But I do know how to use jumper cables to start my car. Red is positive, black is negative. And I do have a good mechanic.

And we do have a great, new word at our disposal: mansplaining.

Would that we had this word, this awareness years ago to deal with all the one-sided “conversations” we’ve had with men, waiting for them to get to the point.  But no. We just stood there mute or hushed or talked over while they offered those loud and long explanations guised in that “I know best” attitude. We just stood there and endured the hectoring, the swagger, the bluster, the interruptions, all the while thinking, “Boring! When can I get out of here?”

The other night at a concert a man behind us was speaking LOUDLY and OFTEN with no awareness of how his voice was carrying. “Mansplaining,” I whispered to a friend next to me. Would that I could have told him.

The good news is women seem to be waking up from a long, long slumber. So far, 325 non-incumbent women are running for the United States House compared to 167 two years ago with 38 running for positions in the Senate compared to 16 in 2016. This is just the beginning.

There’s plenty of room for women to rise in the ranks of leadership. But it’s good to remember none of it is new. Women have been making their voices heard for a long time.

Witness Golda Meir, Israel’s first female prime minister, who had to endure plenty of mansplaining, I’m sure. She was born in Ukraine and, an early immigrant, grew up in Milwaukee. As a Jew, as a lifelong battler for the state of Israel, she liked to call herself an atheist who identified culturally with Judaism. There’s a bold description.

The other day I came across the following passage in a biography I’m reading about her (“Lioness,” by Francine Klagsbrun).

When asked how she rose so far in the ranks of leadership she answered, “I don’t know anything about leadership. I can only tell you that I was going to the theater one evening and I got on the elevator. Nobody in the elevator bothered to move. So, I pressed the button. That’s all I can say about leadership.”

The last I checked there are still plenty of buttons that need pressing.