So a thing just happened that I want to take a moment to explore.
In one of the groups I’m part of on facebook, someone told a funny story about being a teacher’s assistant to 3-year-old children, and one of them “exposing their vagina during class and then sticking a finger inside it”. The group responded by generally laughing about how awkward it was, and praising her on how well she responded (didn’t shame the child).
I did these things too. But I also said:
“Forgive my for my pedantry, but I’m passionate about using correct language when it comes to anatomy.
Just a quick note to say that the vulva refers to the exterior genitalia, and the vagina refers to the internal tract. i.e. She exposed her vulva, and then stuck her finger in her vagina.”
At the time, I did this because I studied sexology in uni, and one of the things the teacher drilled into us in the first lesson was the difference between vulvas and vaginas. I’m a rules laywer by nature (I feel sorry for friends who play boardgames with me), and using language correctly is one of the things I care about a great deal more than I should.
In hindsight, it’s no surprise what happened next. People immediately responded with things like “MANSPLAINING” and “Who asked you btw?” and “That’s a weird flex”.
I felt so attacked, and so ashamed. I’ve worked so hard to avoid mansplaining because respecting women (in particular, but all gender identities) is so important to me. I’ve read a bunch of things about mansplaining, and thought I was really good at seeing it happen and not doing it myself. And yet, I kinda did, I think. I’m not sure.
If I had been using the incorrect word for something, I would want someone to correct me.
But I am not everyone. I think women have probably had quite enough of being “corrected” by people who think they know better, and I don’t blame those commenters for lashing out against me, a man.
At any rate, I thanked everybody for reminding me not to mansplain, and I apologised for contributing to it in a world where it happens too much already. But it makes me extra cautious about correcting people in the future, and my passion for correct terminology hasn’t diminished at all. It’s all bottled up inside me, and I don’t know if I’m going to be attacked again for sharing it in the future.
Worst of all, I don’t know if this post is just serving to soothe my bruised ego.
EDIT: Beth just had a very comforting conversation with me about what I’ve written here. She linked me to the Merriam-Webster definition of mansplaining (and I’ve read a few more since) which states that it’s defining features include the man being condescending, having incomplete knowledge, and assuming he knows more than the person he’s talking to.
By this definition, I’m relieved to think that maybe I wasn’t being condescending. That my offering knowledge (that I was fairly complete in anatomically) was an attempt to spread awareness of good language, and wasn’t meant to put down or demean anyone’s experiences. I assumed most people know the word vulva, but I want to help create a world where it’s used more often instead of the word vagina.
This relief is very soothing, but apart from write about it here, I’m not going to take it any further (other than editing my comment slightly to reflect I didn’t mean to be condescending). Going back into that facebook conversation and proudly stating how I was not, in fact, mansplaining is not going to make matters any better. I recognise and respect the sensitivity those commenters had, and I don’t think we’d be able to see eye-to-eye right now. In the future, I will continue sharing from a place of kindness and care, and if I am attacked for it I’ll take it on the chin, because that’s the world I want to help create.