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I know exactly what you mean. And it's not just academics, either. Not long ago, I mentioned to a male friend that I had finished installing insulation under my house. He immediately explained to me how to do it and what safety precautions to take. His "bestowing of the expertise" would have been understandable, or even maybe welcome, if I hadn't JUST TOLD HIM the project was finished!

What do you wanna bet Agnesi's father needed three wives to spawn that many children because the first two died in childbirth or were weakened by having so many children, probably in a short time.

Yes, I've often observed this, and it makes me feel very annoyed for the subject, particularly if the guy in question is an idiot. I can't recall ever doing it, but then I'm not the best representative of the male gender since, as my cousin once so eloquently put it, I'm quite androgynous. Besides that, I don't really ever feel any particular need to give anyone advice, regardless of gender, unless they ask me for help or my opinion.

In response to Miss Cellenia's post, I have a friend who is just like that! In all fairness to him, though, he's like that to everyone, but he did once tell me something along the lines of "Women are helpless and need to be shuffled through life." Kind of ironic, since I've never known a guy who is as dependent on women as he is. I think it has a lot to do with a guy's parents; my mom was a very capable, independent single mom, and my dad, who I visited regularly, has never been the typical tough guy/alpha male. My friend's mom was a terrible single mom, and his deadbeat dad was a womanizing sexist neo-Nazi. An interesting comparison: Two good parents=person who doesn't feel a particular need to be an authority figure to anyone, two bad parents=person who feels obsessive need to be a "parent" to everyone.

I am so with you on this. As a lesbian who had the nerve to invade the men's domain of lesbian porn, then insist that not only do other woman sometimes enjoy it, we actually create it - and frankly we do it better than the men, because, well, *duh,* I've had more than my fair share of men who want to explain how wrong I am. Especially when I have the nerve to insist that crap is crap whether it's popular or not. :-)

I get comments on my blog, emails and even whole threads on popular forums about how wrong (and ugly and old) I am. Clearly some 20-something guy with his wang in his hand is far more of an authority on the genre that I pioneered, regardless of the fact that he knows nothing whatsoever about the early twentieth century Japanese lesbian author who is pretty much directly responsible for most of the tropes of the genre or any of the women who came after her and created much of what we consider "Yuri" today.

Not too long ago I was in discussions with another publisher for a possible joint venture. My company has been in existence for 6 years, his for 3. His is, frankly, facing finacial problems. Mine is not. After an hour on the phone where he not only told me how to run my business and how to deal with the artists I have (Gee, thanks, if only I'd known I could be just like you!) he took offense when I described a book of his in a particularl way. He got all huffy - "Are you calling my book "jargon-word"?" I said, "No - the author does. Haven't you ever read the author's note?" Ultimately, it was this attitude that made me decide to terminate the discussions.

Bitter? No. Amused on good days and exhausted on bad ones. I always said that I'd be no more than a footnote when, ultimately, the big book o'Yuri was written. But some days, it's hard to fight the good fight. Thank the gods I don't care what other people think. :-)



Hungry for Yuri? Have some Okazu!

I've been reading your blog for a while now, and I never caught on that you don't have a PhD in physics. Feynman was great at explaining difficult topics to the general public. I just assumed that you were doing the same thing.

I, too, have had things explained to me by men who know less on the topic in question than I do. And I agree that it is very annoying. It does seem to be a trait most often exhibited by men, but I once had a woman do this to me. Interestingly, she was in her mid-twenties and I was in my forties at the time. I hope this doesn't mean that young women are acquiring this "bad habit."
By the way, I'm happy to see you mention Maria Gaetana Agnesi, a woman few people seem to have heard of. There are two new books out about her that document new research contradicting some of the accepted "facts" about her life. (For example, she never became a nun.) One of the books, written by mathematics professor Antonella Cupillari, points out that in an era when women were expected to either marry or join a convent, Agnesi enjoyed unusual freedom. She was ahead of her time in many ways.

Is it okay that I feel defensive on this topic? You mentioned that you know not all men are like this, but the language, including Slonit's, sounds too inclusive at times. That some men are sexist blowhards is depressingly true, though. I was home visiting my parents a few weeks ago and was on the porch sipping whiskey with a house guest of theirs. This house guest, who's known both of my parents forever, confided in me that my mother was "the smartest woman I've ever known." My gasters were flabbered because I know him, I know her, and I know a lot of people they both know. It's not too unlikely that she's the smartest *person* he knows, but he just had to qualify it.

And then on to my favorite story shattering these gender lines:

My wife has a degree in Materials Science, and while we were dating we went to a car dealer so I could buy a car. She was young, perhaps 20, and she looked even younger. We were clearly buying the car together (we were engaged) but the salesman was explaining things just to me. He got to the part about the car's body construction, which was some kind of polymer, and explained about it having "memory". This sounded like a silly sciency buzzword to me, so I asked Beth if such a thing could exist. She confirmed that there were new-ish polymers that returned to their shape after deformation in a new kind of way and that polymer scientists did indeed refer to that process as "memory". I thanked her for the confirmation, and from that moment on whenever the guy had something to say about the more technical aspects of the car he looked to her for confirmation that his promotional literature wasn't full of crap. So at least some Explaining Men can learn their lesson...

Hi Matt--

Sorry you feel defensive, but I really did try to make a clear distinction between helpful explanation -- the bread and butter of my profession as a science writer, and something I really do welcome -- and the phenomenon of Explaining Men. That phrase refers to a very specific TYPE, and even Solnit wouldn't expand it to encompass all men generally. If you think that, you're misreading. Not all men who proffer explanations are Explaining Men; it's all in the attitude in which it is offered. I really tried to use Explaining Men or Men Who Explain Things -- and not the broader "men" -- throughout the post.

I think you mostly feel defensive because you're a guy, and perhaps you've been known to offer a helpful explanation now and then, so you erroneously assume the post is directed at you. It's not. You're obviously one of the "lovely men" to whom Solnit explicitly refers early on in her article.


I'm too sensitive, your writing was clear.

Blush... when I think back to an earlier topic of yours when I called your postmodern English
prof an innumerate humanist :)

I can't believe you mentioned Maria Agnesi without bringing up the "Witch of Agnesi".

You just set down and I'll 'splain all about it...

Oh hell, just look it up on Wikipedia like I did.

The post was getting too long, so I left out all the stuff about the Witch of Agnesi. I had a cool diagram to illustrate it and everything! But hey, folks can certainly follow the Wikipedia link and find out for themselves... Thanks for posting it.

Well, my explanation is that Solnit simply goes to the wrong sorts of parties...

But then what do I know? I'm just an explaining man.

I've had guys do it. I've had gals do it. You get monomaniacs everywhere, but the women and the men tend to get monomaniacal about different things.

Interesting post, which I read after stumbling here from another site. All I can add (and I hope this is helpful) is that men run into Explaining Men all the time. I also run into Explaining Women (my significant other happens to be of this type, though I still manage to love her very much). As a journalism major who once wrote science stories (only to have my interpretations called into question by "real" scientist-type guys) I can tell you that some people can be just as pompous to 6'3" guys as they can be to women. These people use their personalities the same way sharks use their mouths: to interact with the world around them, regardless of whether they actually intend to hurt anyone.

My question: Is it possible that condescension based on gender, and simple condescension, can exist in the same universe?

Just asking.

p.s. Women rule. Really.



I'm a physics/chemistry teacher, and, outside the relatively small group of PTRAs (top 100 or so physics teachers in the US), have spent much of my career dealing with those arrogant "experts". Often, they have SLIGHT knowledge of the subject (such as Biology majors), but proceed to act as though they are an ace.

The funny thing is, the more the person knows, the more humble they are - I know PhDs in physics who will listen, attentively, to others with far less knowledge, and thank them for their input.

With such a person, I've lately taken the tactic of expressing wide-eyed interest, exclaiming "Wow! You know so much about _______", and excusing myself for a well-deserved drink.

I have known too many supersmart women, and too many not-so-sharp men (and vice versa) who are scientists to conclude that gender is not a fault-line that separates the competent from the incompetent. As a scientist myself (unsure of the silo I belong to), I enjoy the fact that popular science articles are on the rise. I like your writing, although to be honest I haven't read very much.

Having said that, I have observed that a fairly substantial fraction of popular science, is improperly researched. Unlike poetry, where any opinion or interpretation can be "valid", it is quite possible (and easy in some cases, e.g evolution) in science to have a wrong interpretation, or an invalid opinion.

I know this post is ancient in blog years, but I had a classic example just the other day. I mentioned on IRC that I was shopping for a new laptop, then listed what I was considering. Some random 20-something Man Who Explains explaned to me why I should do research (I'd already done,) and make decisions carefully (that I'd already made.) And when I pointed out that I had done the research, made the decisions was, in fact, stating the *end* result of that, but hey, thanks for the unwanted, unneded and unasked for advice, he got all sulky at me and "explained" that he was just trying to help. I replied, "when a woman tells you that she's shopping for a computer, learn to nod."

I doubt he got my point.



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