When knowing is not enough

A recent article articulates the experience of being the recipient of masculine condescension to explain that which one already knows.  Although two weeks old, its link is still flying around cyberspace, and I have certainly contributed to the collective gasps of recognition.  It’s a familiar variety of painful to discover how many women of authoritative knowledge still find ourselves reluctant to correct or contradict “Men Who Explain Things.”  Like the article’s author, I feel obligated to observe, at this juncture, that women can be condescending, that genders condescend to their own members, etc.  However, the minicareer of, as one lovely coworker put it, “a lifetime of getting patted on the head by men who assume I know nothing,” certainly seems widely shared.  Why is knowledge not enough? What further informs our failures to assert that which we know we know?  Granted that my explaining-condescender is an ass, why on earth am I struck with self-doubt in the face of confident assery?


Note that early in the article, a friend speaks up on behalf of the all-too-polite author. This experience, I also share, and the fact that we often more easily assert our confidence in other women makes it all the odder that we so often fail ourselves. An excellent method of pursuing epistemic justice is to use what privilege and power we have to call attention to less privileged women with firsthand knowledge, but at some point, we must also improve our skills of self-defense!  Further proof, if I needed it, that one can have duties to oneself – – a position which I’ve held for decades, but doubted when a talented man challenged it at a recent conference. (Sheesh!)


Thanks to Angela Johnson for the link!