There's a new Tumblr for women in academia.
Ada Lovelace Day -- the day celebrating women in science and tech -- seems like a good day to talk about mansplaining. And to talk, more specifically, about the new Tumblr devoted to calling out instances of it: the aptly titled "ACADEMIC MEN EXPLAIN THINGS TO ME" (dot-Tumblr-dot-com). The site is crowdsourced; in invites female academics to share instances of men trying "to explain your field or topic to you, on the assumption that he must inevitably know more about it than you do."
As the prefers-to-stay-anonymous author of the Tumblr told Inside Higher Ed, "I got the idea for this site after conversations with female academic friends about the problem that started to be called 'mansplaining'.... The experiences were often subtle, but as a group they were telling: Some men assumed that women, even women with Ph.D.s and published research to their names, needed to be informed by the man in question, who assumed he must know more about whatever the topic was. I wanted both to provide women with a place to share their experiences and to document how depressingly similar these instances tended to be."
Some of the examples she's gathered so far include this:
A fellow male graduate student thought it was important to explain to me after a graduate seminar we shared who was 'brilliant' in our seminar and who was not (you know, because I was likely incapable of making my own judgments about what people were contributing to the discussion). In the same conversation he evidenced the exact same behavior -- rarely speaking in seminar -- to claim that [Female Graduate Student] was probably out of her league and barely spoke because she didn't have much to contribute. On the other hand, [Male Graduate Student] who rarely spoke was pensive -- a clear 'thinker' who had mastered a powerful ability of Hemingwayesque understatement.
A male colleague recently asked me for some suggestions of titles to put on his syllabus for a course that was distantly related to his own work and squarely within my field. I proposed five texts that I thought would be very important and interesting for him to cover. He systematically shot down each suggestion as irrelevant or unnecessary and finally told me I wasn't understanding the subject of his class.... No, apparently not.
I was teaching feminism at the same time as completing a textbook on the subject, under contract with a top press. A male academic at another institution looked at my syllabus and told me that I had chosen the wrong topics to teach, as those weren't the interesting parts of feminism. Thanks for that.
The Tumblr does, in other words, exactly what its author intended: It creates a casual, anonymous space for female academics to come together and share their experiences. And it turns those experiences into something that can be quantified and analyzed and discussed. The point isn't necessarily to shame the mansplainers; there are no names involved here. The point isn't even, necessarily, to poke fun at them. The point, rather, is to highlight a phenomenon and to convert it into a subject of conversation. The Tumblr takes an academic situation and turns it into something else: its own kind of academic topic.