op ed: please stop mansplaining to me

The term to mansplain is described as a verb “(of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.” Merriam-Webster has mansplain listed as one of the words they’re “watching”, indicating its current use is changing. Ultimately, the action behind it has been part of our landscape for years and continues to be something we encounter with enough regularity to justify creating a verb. Sad, but true.

I have been mansplained to more times than I can count. In my mid-to-late twenties I worked in automotive repair. For clarity, my job required technicians explain to me what was wrong with a car so I could estimate the repair and translate it to the customer: I literally had men explaining things to me daily, some with respect for my existing knowledge and others not so much. Customers mansplained their own car repair to me, others were angry I knew more about their car than they might. Some women found it difficult to understand I had knowledge of cars because they didn’t. It was a mixed bag of sexism, ageism, and education.

For the past ten years I’ve worked as a copywriter for businesses in wine and written tourism / lifestyle articles about wine, with a focus on British Columbia. I continue to have a lot to learn about the subject. My experience includes copywriting (bottle labels, websites, newsletters, technical sheets), winery business operations (tasting room, office administration & finance), production (harvest and cellar work), and consumer/tourism article writing for print and online. I have a broad understanding of new world wine businesses, specifically in this province. I know enough to ask informed questions and make fair observations based on my current knowledge.

Yesterday a peer mansplained something to me on a social media platform and in doing so appears to have missed the point of my message.

At first I asked myself if I saw this as mansplaining because of a project I’m working on, and perhaps my lens was a little more focused in that direction. I looked at the exchange of comments, their nature and flavour, and tried to get a read on who was engaging and how. Nope: this was mansplaining.

I commented that an international brand demonstrated a better understanding of my need to engage with them than some local businesses, and over a period of time. The larger message was about how an industry communicates and perhaps our local BC wine community had some growing to do.

Did I know, as a professional writer, that the company I queried is larger than many locally? Yes. Was I aware that the company likely has a larger team to respond more quickly and professionally, better than some locally? Of course. Am I comparing the experience directly? No.

I posted my comment to illustrate a point: the growing BC wine industry which I support wholeheartedly and often without financial compensation can do itself a disservice by not engaging with those who advocate for it. Yet somehow despite my years of working in and for this industry, a fellow had to mansplain about it to me.

To use a colloquialism: I just can’t even.

I know there are women in my network who have experienced and continue to experience mansplaining, sidelining, and other actions (or inactions). I’m here to support you. I have your back. We need to be there for each other. If you need to, please connect with me or someone else in your circle who will remind you of your value contribution.

For the record: I know Bollinger is a large organization and probably has “way more people doing admin so they can respond and tackle these types of things” than many of the BC wineries I query regularly. I stand behind my statement that “I’m still waiting to be added to some BC winery email lists despite making several requests, some for years”. At least four of these are BC wineries with larger operations. Some make 60,000 cases of wine per year and others produce hundreds of thousands.

BC wineries: please add me to your media email list, because I’m tired of asking and one day I might stop.

 

 

op-ed: getting (politely) off the fence

As much as I appreciate a neutral review of an item/experience/etc, there’s something to be said for having an opinion and clearly stating it. It might be our Canadian politeness, or that the landscape of freelance writing (particularly in wine/food/travel) is so quickly changing, or a combination of both with a dash of something else. Whatever it is, we don’t say what we really mean.

Let’s look at that last sentence. Years ago I would have written “I don’t think we’re saying what we really mean.” As I’m the only contributor on my blog, the “I think” has less to do with ensuring you know it’s what I think and more to do with my hesitation as a writer. This qualifier isn’t what I’m referring to, as there’s an opinion stated regarding “saying what we really mean.”

There’s a lack of definitive opinion statements in experience writing – the wine/food/travel writing. We (the reader) generally expect to hear a personal opinion. It’s why I read such writing: I want to know what you think. Lately, I’m often disappointed.

The term op-ed comes from early newspaper days. Oxford Dictionaries defines op-ed as “a newspaper page opposite the editorial page, devoted to personal comment, feature articles, etc.”.  Wikipedia takes it further to explain that it “expresses the opinions of a named writer who is usually unaffiliated with the newspaper’s editorial board.” The part here that resonates with me is the personal comment / opinions bit. Increasingly, we’re missing that.

Freelance writers walk a tightrope of delivering compelling content and (hopefully) maintaining good relationships with their subjects. Vitriol-filled prose and mean-spirited writing aside, writers like to play nice. I do. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I don’t play the mean game. My mom taught me that, and she’d be very upset if I behaved in any other fashion. (love you, mom)

There’s a difference between providing an opinion and being a jerk-ass. If you read an opinion piece and get an icky feeling about it, there’s a good chance the writer is being the latter. Does that discount the negative experience? It does plant a few questions – particularly about the writer’s relationship with the subject. No one wants to get in the middle of a pissing contest – in the end, everyone smells bad.

I don’t review wine/food/travel locales, but I do write about my experiences. When I sit down to task, I ask myself one question: Why should anyone give a damn about what I’m writing? Yes, I want to encourage folks to ask questions rather than blindly consume or experience something. Really, though, writers want to persuade you to agree with our opinions. Or we should.

In a world of wishy-washy neutral prose and fear of pissing people off, I gravitate toward authors who push my buttons and get me thinking. I like to disagree with them as much as I like to shout “YES!” when alone in the yard, magazine on my lap. When it comes to wine, I’ll tell you what I like and what isn’t suited to my taste. Will I risk offending the producer? Maybe. However, the chances are good we’ve already had that conversation in person.

Meanwhile, I have a request for my fellow writers: please get off the fence and tell us what you really think. It’s why I’m reading.

~ Jeannette

(PS: feel free to tell me what you really think, too)

Winemaker Bradley Cooper sips my and my fella’s Bordeaux-style blend at Township7. We didn’t get the “dumb nose” feedback (see? clear opinion) others received, but neither did we win best blend.