‘Dadbod,’ ‘Mansplaining,’ and Other Stereotypes We’re Totally OK With
The Internet is a funny place. Funny “ha, ha” and funny weird. One of the things it does really well is spreading neologisms — new, made up words — so quickly that they seem to enter the lexicon overnight.
The neologisms that seem to go viral most often lately are funny hybrids that fuse two words together and, in doing so, get at some phenomenon we’ve all observed, but haven’t known quite how to express. Tina Fey’s “hangry,” for example, — an elision of “hungry” and “angry.” We get it. Instantly. We know what “hangry” feels like.
Humor is a funny thing. Funny “ha, ha” and funny weird. It’s a shapeshifter, able to assume many guises and functions. Sometimes it’s a plaything. Sometimes, a weapon.
Over the past week or so, about 100 articles on “Dadbod” have been flowing through my Twitter feed. I have no idea, but I bet Amy Schumer (who is hilarious) made it up. It’s funny. We get it, instantly. Most dads don’t look like Justin Bieber in their underwear.
“Mansplaining” and “Manspreading“, too, are thriving on the chatterweb. Like “Dadbod,” they satirize a world of ridiculous men who have no idea what’s going on.
Full disclosure: I’m a man. And a dad. In classical debate, the “ad hominem” attack — that is, dismissing an argument on the basis of who the speaker is as a person — was considered off limits. In the chattersphere, no such rules apply. And I’m at another disadvantage here: Social psychology has taught us that men, like white people, are a privileged group. And the web — at least the smart, wisecracking, urban corner of it I tend to tune into — has no love for the critical observations of privileged people about things that make fun of them.
All that said, and at the risk of getting my ass handed to me as yet another cranky mansplainer whining about his privileged status being threatened in any way, “dadbod,” “mansplaining,” and “manspreading” kind of bug me. I’m totally open to the possibility that there’s some unconscious bias operating here, but they bug me in the same way the fat, hairy, abrasive grandmas in Tyler Perry movies do, or the way the universally clueless, harmful adults in Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network shows do. They’re ugly, easy stereotypes, something we’re really not OK with in any other context anymore.
And they can mess with your head. For example: I try very hard not to “manspread” on the subway. I am conscious of the importance of not taking up the whole bench. But anatomically, like all adult males, I am at a slight disadvantage when it comes to keeping my knees primly pressed together while seated. I admit it: I am a moderate manspreader.
Mansplaining: I am an extroverted, chattery guy who started life as a nebbishy, anxious wallflower. In being able to express my thoughts at, say, a company meeting, I’ve come a long way, baby. But, wait — am I “mansplaining”? Popular psychology and neuropsyche have made it plain that we men don’t listen all that well and that in group settings we steamroll aggressively over women who are better collaborators and listeners than we are. I hear the cautionary tales. I try very hard to be a good listener. But what if I’m super-excited about some new idea and want to share it? Should I just clam up or risk being a mansplainer?
Look. The world will not end because of a few snarky neologisms. And like all stereotypes, they usefully indicate something worth noticing. I guess what bugs me is that they and the commentary that often accompanies them feels less 30 Rock lighthearted and more mean-spirited, in precisely the same way that racist and traditionally sexist stereotypes do. With intent not so much to excise a cancer as to bludgeon the sex as a whole.
OK. I’m done mansplaining. My dadbod needs to get its sorry, flat ass to work now.