As a relatively educated Malayali man, like many of my peers who follow western media, I thought I understood and endorsed most of what modern feminism was espousing. However, it’s only recently I realised that I and others like me should start doing something that western feminism considers to be negative male behavior.
We need to mansplain.
Mansplaining is a blend word defined as “to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner.”
The word gained popularity in the past decade, and for the longest time, I thought I agreed with it. For instance, how frustrating it must be for women in the workplace when their male colleagues talk down to them in a condescending manner, as though they don’t know things.
Then I got married. Now I believe mansplaining is a powerful tool that should be wielded by men. Not just any men though. Married men. Married, Malayali men.
In its original context, mansplaining is considered antithetical to feminism, since it’s rooted in the assumption that men know better than women. You’ve perhaps seen jokes in pop culture where the woman in the boardroom objects to an idea based on sound reasoning, which is dismissed by her boss. Only for her male colleague to repeat the same objections minutes later, and be praised for his critical thinking.
But what if instead of a boardroom, it was a living room in Kerala, and instead of objecting to a corporate idea, the woman was protesting about something that affects her in today’s social context? Let’s say…not wanting to wear too much gold when attending a wedding.
Just like the boss in the boardroom, her parents or elder relatives will tend to dismiss her concerns as being “silly”, “unrealistic”, “ultramodern”, and so on. But if her husband then stated why too much gold seemed gaudy, how Malayalis have an unhealthy obsession with the yellow metal that dates back centuries, and that he personally believes less gold on a woman looks “classier”…the result is different.
The chances that the relatives agree with him are higher, especially if they are his in-laws. Now, it could be argued that the reason why the male’s opinions are validated in both scenarios is different. In the western boardroom, it’s due to society’s ingrained bias towards men, while in the living room in Kerala it’s because the relatives put the husband on a pedestal. However, ultimately, that pedestal’s height is cemented through centuries of patriarchal thinking.
It’s understandable how this suggestion may feel infuriating to women. After all, it’s basically advocating that married men like me should speak up in defense of women’s opinions, perhaps by leaning heavily on the male bias that’s inbuilt into their audiences. This goes against one of the central themes of modern feminism: let women speak for themselves.
That idea, however, works best in a western context, where women have greater societal freedoms. Most women are allowed, encouraged, and even expected to live their own lives once they turn 18. If they don’t want to wear gold for their wedding, they just won’t. And since they live independent lives, they’ll damn well uninvite any aunt who threatens to grumble about it.
But in Kerala, the social structure is completely different. We are young men and women whose minds are filled with ideas propagated from the west, but residing in families that are firmly stuck in the east. What works on the comment section of the internet won’t translate to the real world for us.
So instead of expecting married Malayali women to rant to their relatives why their husbands should do the dishes in the house since both are working, I think it’s best if husbands like me take the time to chuckle and charm our way past relatives who pass comments about how wonderful we are that we help our wives in the kitchen. We should mansplain to them about our beliefs regarding gender roles, we should hold court about how our wives’ careers are just as important as ours.
Yes, it might be maddening for our wives when their grandmothers understand our sweet words after ignoring their earnest pleas. But over the course of a few decades, Malayali women will be able to do what they want without being relentlessly criticized. It’ll give them the time and space to teach their children feminist ideals by example.
So that my daughter can one day tell me, “Dad, don’t mansplain.”
I’ll chuckle and reply, “I guess I can stop now!”
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