When I was around 13, my mother dated a man she met through her best friend for about a year. I tried my best to get along with him but grew to really detest him, as he suffers from severe Smartest Guy In The Room Syndrome, leaving him convinced that no matter what the topic or context, he knows more than anyone else present (he’s definitely a smart guy, but no one is as smart as he thinks he is). He mansplained regularly to both my mother and me (one of his favourite tactics was to put her down by getting *me* to explain things to her, which had the double effect of making her feel stupid and therefore vulnerable while offering the pretence of flattering my intelligence), which I instinctively knew was crappy but obviously didn’t have the language to identify as misogynist and generally mean-spirited and manipulative. Our interactions became increasingly contentious and eventually I avoided him completely. Mercifully, they broke up.
Fast forward around 15 years to a holiday dinner at my mom’s best friend’s house. I’m now a late-stage PhD candidate in literature, the kind of late stage where people who aren’t especially familiar with doctoral programs tend to be unrestrained in asking why you aren’t done yet/when you’ll be done (if there’s ever a time when people are restrained about those questions!). In walks the Mansplaining Ex during the pre-dinner chat. I’d run into him a handful of times at similar occasions, but not for around a decade. Naively assuming that my being an adult will affect the way he interacts with me, I greet him pleasantly and laugh politely at his first reminiscences about my younger self, in spite of his inevitably condescending tone.
He asks me about my dissertation, and when I explain my project comments that it doesn’t sound very literary. My hackles rise a little, but since I tend to be interested in texts as cultural objects, I’ve heard this before, so I try to offer my usual response patiently. He interrupts me partway through with “What you should do is…” and then proceeds to describe a totally different project; basically a memoir that may or not be fictional (I work on memoirs and truth, but I’m not writing a memoir, I’m writing…a dissertation). “Someone’s actually done that already,” I answer, impatient by now. “Her name is Lauren Slater and the book is called Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir — it’s pretty interesting, but that’s not really appropriate for a scholarly thesis.” “All right, here’s what you should do instead,” he says, unfazed. “First, you should write a memoir that reads like a novel. Then, you should write a novel about the same story. Then, you write a questionnaire about the differences between the two and distribute it to your readers and then write a dissertation based on their answers.” Gritting my teeth to hold on to my last shred of patience, I answer, “Yes, with all the spare time I have, I’ll write two books, find publishers for them, get them widely read, develop a set of questions, somehow gain access to a wide cross-section of readers to answer the questions, and write a completely new thesis. I’ll get right on that.” Him: “Well, if you’re taking so long and having such a hard time finishing anyway, that’s what you should do.” [Note: I never said either of those things] Then he asks me what I do “for a job” and dismissively says, “Oh, you’re a teaching assistant,” when I tell him I’ve worked as a TA and also taught independently. Rather than lose it completely, I walk away, seething.
Later on, during dinner, he offered many deep and, incidentally, racist insights on Syria and China, and wound it all up by commenting how much less funny and intelligent I seem now than as a child. Probably because I don’t have to put on a smile and tolerate your bullshit for my mom’s sake, you sanctimonious, self-satisfied ass. Maybe I’ll write a memoir called “The Incredible True Story of the Douchebag Mansplainers I’ve Known” and give him a starring role…once I finish writing those other two books and my new dissertation.