“Could everyone please turn on their cameras?”, Brett Paesel said before starting the writing session on how to write personal essays for The New York Times.
There were twelve of us, and I was bubbling with excitement. I had always dreamt of writing for a prestigious publication like The New York Times, and this session felt like the first step toward fulfilling that long-standing dream.
When everyone turned on their cameras, my expression froze within three seconds. Except for me, everyone else was female. We live in a patriarchal world, but where are all the men? This marked yet another occasion where I was either the only male writer or one of the very few in a writing class, session, seminar, or webinar.
I went into a flashback. I began writing when I was just ten years old. Back in 2002, my father frequently explained things to my mother, who would typically nod in agreement. This dynamic of men explaining things to women wasn’t unique to my family; it was everywhere. My world was shaken one day when my father gave a factually incorrect explanation. When I tried to correct him, he shouted, “Shut up and do your own work.” I was summarily dismissed. My father was the family’s designated explainer, elucidating everything from politics to plumbing to my mother. Later, my mother confided that she knew my father was sometimes wrong, but she said, “I can’t correct him.” I wanted to ask her why but I didn’t.
It was a routine. I would see it everywhere. An elder brother mansplaining to his younger sister; sometimes, a younger brother to his elder sister. I really thought the world is a nice place and that’s when my brain grew to full size.
I continued my passion for writing and learning more about it. Back then, it was in the form of personal diary writing, then I started for college newsletters and events. I started reading books and more books and in the library, again, I would see few boys who were considered or labelled “Nerds” or “Gays”. I didn’t mind. I continued. Maybe, the ones who called them nerds are jerks. I never lost my passion for writing or my pursuit of knowledge, irrespective of the gender demographics I encountered
Fast forward. I got a girlfriend, and we’re deeply in love. However, I also recognize the mansplaining tendencies started within myself. Despite my progressive outlook, I caught myself slipping into mansplaining habits, particularly around my girlfriend. Where did it come from? I didn’t know. Was it on purpose? No.
I started my own blog penning down all the philosophy I was taught. Human psychology has always intrigued me and thus, started my writing on the intersection of the two most complicated subjects ‘Philosophy’ and ‘Psychology’. It was a shallow blog because of the limited knowledge I had gathered, but I continued it anyway because I knew I have to learn many things to be a pro.
When I started, I was seen as the odd one out because most of the times the writers that would meet me were women, not that I didn’t see the male writers but they were in very small proportion. And since I had done my graduation in Mechanical Engineering, I had to learn the nitty gritty of writing, the basics, then depth or how to write a blog, personal essay or a novel from scratch.
Every time, I would attend a new class — a new energy would occupy my body.
And now, here I am, back in a writing class. As I scanned the Zoom grid of faces, all female, a flood of thoughts washed over me. It felt like an Inception movie when 3 seconds of all 11 faces of women brought a flash back to me. In a world where mansplaining is so common, it’s in every house, in any form. “Why are men not eager to learn new things, new genres? Do they know it all already? Why are men conspicuously absent from environments that encourage learning and growth, yet overrepresented in settings where they can lecture, often condescendingly, to women?”, I asked my mansplained brain.
Here, I was explained, taught by women. Is it weird? I was confident to be a professional copywriter but I would lose some when I see more women learning to grow more, just like me. I asked myself, “Am I a loser male writer?” The conscience replied, “Are you nuts? What kind of question is that?”. “You write well, you are a natural, come on. You’re a man. What’s wrong?” I consoled myself.
I mustered the courage to ask Brett a question after the class when she opened the floor with, ‘Any questions?’ Although my query wasn’t related to the class material, I asked, ‘Why am I the only male writer in this class?’ Before she could answer, I felt like I already knew what she would say. And she confirmed it: ‘Because men don’t like being mansplained to.’