Scene: Three people are sitting outside the movies, waiting to see a film about an Italian man that will turn out to be boring. Four people, including me. They don’t know yet how much this movie sucks, how impossible it is to invest in anything that happens. Is the main character depressed, or do his weird sort of flat affect and black clothes hint at something more interesting, like maybe he is a murderer? How come at the end he lowers himself into a cement pit? Is it sad? Is it in Italy? Good luck getting answers to those questions, pal, and then further good luck with trying to tell them to me. I will never listen.
It is a nice evening. The three people are in high spirits. They are one woman and two men. The woman has nice hair and a joke on her t-shirt. The t-shirt is a bad colour. The joke is only funny if you care about who Gertrude Stein is. The first man is wearing what you can see is his Smart Shirt, which is maroon and with little stripes. The fourth person is sitting quite far away and so cannot confirm this without going up to him and seizing his wrist, but he seems to have a Bart Simpson watch on. He smiles with a lot of gum, and has a tic where when he laughs he immediately looks down afterwards at his watch, into the face of Bart Simpson. Into the face of almost certainly Bart Simpson. The second man is wearing a little straw fedora, sitting right back on his head. He has come here straight from Sport, and so is wearing flash tracksuit pants that cost like two million rand. There is a book sticking out of his gym bag. Again, the fourth person is sitting too far away to stake her life on this, but she knows that cover pretty well. The book is Fight Club. The fourth person doesn’t know anything about watches, actually, or indeed why she is focusing so much on them here, but she will stand by her assertion that the one on the second man’s arm is a cool, rich-person watch. She bets he has referred to it more than once as a “time-piece.”
The three people are talking about Alfred Hitchcock. The fourth person is drinking her wine and listening intently, trying not to crackle her packet of Fritos too much. She tries not to get distracted by how much she loves Fritos, and stops herself from taking out her phone and writing a text message to her friend Ben: “Imagine you could get sponsored by Fritos”. She listens.
Woman: (inaudible) really loved The Birds
Man: Mmm. Mmm. Have you seen Rear Window.
Man: Mmm. Have you seen Vertigo.
Man: Have you seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Woman: I don’t think that’s him.
Man. Mmm. Have you seen Psycho.
Woman: Yes. My (inaudible) gave me a box-set of all the Alfred Hitchcock’s, so I’ve watched most of them I reckon.
Man: Have you seen Rebecca.
Woman: (gamely) I…yes.
And so on.
Man: Have you seen the movie about Alfred Hitchcock?
Man: No, the other one.
This went on for ages, and probably is going on right now. The fourth person cannot confirm this, however, because she died of being bored in the movie. Now, an experiment: Reading the dialogue above, which man would you guess it is? Would you say that the man speaking is Bart Simpson, or would you say it is The Timepiece? There are a lot of people, probably, who wouldn’t feel confident in making a guess straight away. Not enough information, they would say. Where are you going with this etc. There is another whole lot of people who would say Jesus Christ I don’t care. However, I will lay my head on a block that a significant percentage of people would immediately say that it was The Timepiece. Yes? All the hallmarks, right? Being too confident and show-offy and pleased is the natural state of a man who is wearing bajillionaire sport pants and waving Fight Club in everyone’s face. People who guessed The Timepiece would take the above conversation to be a textbook case of mansplaining, which is when a man tells a woman about a thing she already knows. They would say that a little straw fedora is the natural headgear of the mansplainer. Yes?
No. It was Bart Simpson, of course. Obviously.
The point of this experiment, which is interesting only to me, is to work through the possibility that in the fever around the discovery of mansplaining as a concept, we have pushed aside certain important facts. Facts such as the existence of nerds. Facts such as there is such a thing as a know-it-all. There are plenty of male know-it-alls out there, of course, but the quality does not exhibit itself only in males. Lots of little kids can’t wait to tell you for a million years about a submarine or whatever. There are some weapons-grade lady know-it-alls out there as well. The worst offender I have ever known is a woman. I once watched her tell a surgeon how to do an operation. What kind of knife you use and that.
The point of this experiment is to explore the idea that sometimes a person is just a loser who gets too excited and wants to tell you too much stuff. This is, I think, a completely distinct category from a man in flash trousers who is committed to telling a woman what is what.
Sometimes what is going on in a situation like the one above is called mansplaining, and sometimes it is just a guy with a Bart Simpson watch and low self-esteem getting as jazzed as the devil. I don’t think it makes me a tool of the patriarchy to point out that there is such a thing as a nerd. Does it?