UT psychology professor finds ‘value in having the language be incendiary’

Friday, March 13, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 11
By Heidi Hall

While Tennessee women cite many reasons not to like gender-specific terms such as “manterrupting” and “bropropriating,” two men at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville are fans of them – but with some caveats.

The sociology and psychology experts also want better treatment of women in the workplace but note some embedded cultural norms that make those changes difficult.

Victor Ray, an assistant professor in UT’s sociology department, remembers an awakening to the problem when he was an undergraduate. One of his male professors suddenly halted a class discussion and told the men to stop talking. Ray realized his female classmates had been sitting in silence.

As a professor himself, Ray asks that male students take on roles that females that have been socialized to do in group work situations, for instance, taking notes [as group secretary].

“As social scientist, I believe a term like ‘mansplain,’ if it describes an empirical reality, it’s useful,” he says. “From a political standpoint, if it helps women develop practices that further their needs in workplace, it’s useful.

“From the perspective of a man opposed to equality, I can understand how it would be considered not so useful, but it’s important to think about what that means for the man saying that it’s not useful.”

The language seems more useful in social settings or in articles trying to raise consciousness than in the workplace, says Isaac Brandt, a UT psychology doctoral student.

More important than the actual terms is getting men to start talking about the behavior behind the language, he adds.

He encourages men to intervene when they see such behavior practiced.

“I think there is value in having the language be incendiary,” Brandt notes. “The lousy thing about gender dynamics is that getting the change to happen is long and messy. Having language for it – it would be hard to come up with better words.”