Explaining Mansplaining: Why we are using the term incorrectly.

I can remember ten years ago when a male colleague took me into his office to showcase his newly gained knowledge about a piece of equipment. Assuming I knew nothing of it, he beamed with pride at being able to “improve” my skillset about a camera I had in fact been using regularly for over five years. To my shame, I did what is known in gender theory as “performed my gender”, and feigned ignorance, in order not to hurt his feelings.

Today, I think back on this experience as a gender academic and I can see why I remain annoyed about it; there are two types of sexist behavior involved. Firstly, my colleague expressed a clear example of contempt for my abilities in his underestimation of them that he would be highly unlikely to exhibit to a male colleague and secondly, the fact that my anger is focused on my own behavior rather than his, is a sure sign of the internalization of society’s prejudice against women. In short both he and I think I should know better.

We now thankfully have a name for my colleague’s behavior: “mansplaining”, the act of a man explaining something to a woman that he assumes he has a greater grasp on, without due reason. I was at first pleased to hear this term added to our lexicon used to express the everyday micro-aggressions women face but now I see the term has been hijacked to mean something altogether less useful and arguably, damaging to the future of gender equality.

The common usage of the word, “mansplaining” now means the act of a man unreasonably interjecting on a woman’s speech about sexual inequality with a claim for understanding of the male perspective. This is seen as a means for men to reframe the debate in favour of continued privilege over women, to shut the conversation down.

Much as I agree historically women have had to learn their own perspective, feminism, in order to add to the “human” perspective men spoke of, which in reality was a male one, I believe we now need to start seeing gender as a construct that exists between men and women. We should look at how a gendered system encourages both men and women (both cis and trans) to behave in certain ways to both impress and upset those of the opposite sex, as well as those of our own. In order to do this we need to start a conversation between the sexes. Regardless what women are led to think, we can’t actually assume we know how it feels to be a man these days, especially as I have learned, when we are fed a lot of untruths about them; men are not the well known cameras we may assume them to be.

If you think about it, how are we meant to find the answer to something by only looking at half of the available information? Does that approach yield the best answers in other subjects?

When I started my research into men’s experiences of female power in dating relationships in 2010, I did so out of frustration with feminism’s focus on female victimhood. I could not (and still can’t) understand why women would choose to minimize women’s power, especially as experienced by men. Surely having power was the aim of feminism and therefore isn’t it great to hear things are working, albeit not completely?

I, like the female director of the film The Red Pill, then had a change of heart. Not only did I learn that men actually have a really hard time living up to the masculine ideals that both men and women project onto them (and yes as women, we need to admit to our part in that), which increased my empathy but that the more I learned about men, the more confident I became. To learn that many men aren’t the power-hungry, sex-craved and autonomous beings that both popular culture and feminism paints them to be, is to see more similarities with ourselves as women and therefore to see them as less powerful over us.

Much as I would be the first to point out the holes in the logic of a men’s rights activist troll, I would also argue that we desperately need the average man to become involved in debating gender roles. Shouting “Mansplainer!” at them is more than just inappropriate (as we don’t in fact, know their experience); it actually debilitates the development of gender equality.

Our gendered problems as men and women are linked and so therefore are the answers. To give one example, the problem of African wives contracting AIDS from husbands who have slept with sex workers whilst working in far off mining camps cannot, in my opinion be dealt with by looking only at the female perspective. One has to understand how men are socialized to lack empathy and intimacy with each other – especially in macho, all male work environments – to see why they need the momentary release through engaging with sex workers, who are often the only women there. Some empathy with these men will lead us to making out the link back to their wives, to see them both (and the sex workers) as stuck in a gendered system that causes mutual pain.

I think it’s time to opt out of the game of Cowboys and Indians…










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My Book Is Released today!!!

… and here is the official press release:

 Female Porn Director Explains Male Insecurities about Women in New Book

Pasadena, California 1st September 2015

Rethinking Misogyny: Men’s Perceptions of Female Power in Dating Relationships is ground-breaking research from Dr Anna Arrowsmith that explores men’s experiences of dating and relationships, providing new perspectives that challenge our ideas about feminism, sexism and masculine identity.


Award-winning adult film director and gender academic, Dr Anna Arrowsmith interviewed dating men and pick-up artists about their experiences of female beauty, women’s emotions, fertility, female violence and sexual assault. She explores these issues alongside men’s bodily concerns, including penis issues, as well as their relationships with other men, documenting how the power balance between men and women is changing.

Arrowsmith’s work provides an entirely new way to understand the changing power relationships between men and women in contemporary Western society. It comes at a time when Elliot Rodger murdered six people in Isla Vista, California, blaming his actions on women’s rejections; when Amazon have been the centre of a campaign to stop selling men’s rights activist Roosh V’s books; when hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have successfully prevented pick-up artist trainer, Julian Blanc from entering many countries; when campaigns about equality and sexism such as #everydaysexism #notallmen and Emma Watson’s HeForShe are gaining greater momentum; when the term ‘mansplaining’ is being used with greater frequency and opposition to men’s rights activists and pick-up artists have grown significantly in recent months.

Her findings challenge traditional feminist arguments as well as those from men’s rights activists and encourage an entirely new path of enquiry in gender studies which positions men’s words as central to interpreting their behaviour. She argues that whilst many anti-feminist arguments can be hyperbolic this does not deny that a greater understanding of men’s insecurities and psychological experiences is paramount if we are to achieve gender equality.

Some key findings:

  • Around half of the men have experienced female violence and coerced/non-consensual sex.
  • The men did not prefer stereotypically beautiful women; they all had various tastes, which they assumed made them the odd one out in comparison to men generally inc. male friends.
  • The majority thought women were the more intimidating sex and half felt women had most of the power in dating relationships.
  • The men focus on managing situations or blaming women for them, instead of admitting victimhood, understanding this is the key to changing gender relations.
  • Most of the men felt that women gained power when performing sexually in the media and they often saw women or other people as the intended audience, not themselves.

Rethinking Misogyny: Men’s Perceptions of Female Power in Dating Relationships by Dr Anna Arrowsmith is published by Ashgate Publishing on 1st September 2015 and is available in hardback, EBook PDF and Ebook ePUB. ISBN: 9781472463517. The introduction is available free at: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781472463517

And here are the associated images:

RM Front cover for marketing Anna Arrowsmith photo in car

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Comedy Evening Appearance Tonight in LA!

I shall be appearing on stage at The Unsafe Space tonight (at Oh My Ribs at 6468 Santa Monica Blvd) on stage with some comedians, thankfully they didn’t expect me to do some stand up as I had originally feared. We shall be discussing feminism and probably porn too. It sounds like an interesting mash up between comedy and politics, I shall be interested to see how it pans out.

Wish me luck!

More information to be found on their Facebook page here:


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My academic book, Rethinking Misogyny has publication confirmed

RM Front cover for marketing

My book, Rethinking Misogyny: Men’s Perceptions of Female Power in Dating Relationships, which is based on my PhD research, has been confirmed to be published in September 2015 as the first in a new book series by Ashgate called Sexualities in Society. I will post more about it nearer the time but for now, here is the publisher’s blurb:

“In this path-breaking book Anna Arrowsmith analyses gendered dating behaviour and shows how men’s behaviour is both defined and illustrated by societal norms that require a particular masculine performance, including those desired by potential female performers. Using the case-study of pick-up artistry which is compared to interviews with other men who date women, this book analyses how the men deal with conflicting ideas borne out of living in an age when both hegemonic (harder, historic) and inclusive (softer, modern) masculinities co-exist.

It asks whether men acknowledge their own insecurities or whether they focus on perceived external triggers, such as female culpability as a means of ignoring their own concerns, or, whether men respond to insecurities by focusing on an active process of overcoming them.

Through exploring male experiences of female beauty, emotions, fertility, strength, female violence and sexual assault, Arrowsmith’s findings encourage a new path of enquiry in gender studies which explores and includes men’s words as central to interpreting their behaviour and how it is understood. This book has political worth as it differentiates and delineates between emotive and often misogynistic demands for an entire rethink of the gender order by some men’s rights activists and a genuine need to incorporate male insecurities and psychological experiences in how we understand gender to be structured and performed, as a means to increase equality.”

To pre-order a copy please visit the publisher’s website.

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Caitlyn Jenner and the “Woman” Paradox

Like many people, I have been very interested to see the various responses to Bruce Jenner’s transition into Caitlyn, especially the almost blanket support for her. It is rare to see both such an open minded (“open imaginationed”, if there could be such a term) and largely shared, reaction. People all seemed to agree for once, what she was doing was brave, as were others who transition, even the president chipped in with a few nice words of support. Those that opposed her were positioned as old-fashioned, out of touch.

As would appear to be becoming my mantra, we are living in exciting times for gender identity. It is hard to imagine that only a few years ago transgender people were largely considered mere peripheral oddities in society’s self image, people whom no one really thought about, outliers. Of course, as someone who was studying a PhD in the subject I was well aware of the debates going on behind the feminist curtain, a space where one’s minority status does not automatically render you invisible so much, but even there, transgender studies is a relatively understudied area of gender studies (correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t know of anywhere that teaches a whole university course on the subject). That is until very recently when a split between different feminists on the subject has become more apparent.

We now have a name for those feminists who do not support the likes of Jenner’s use of the identity “woman” for herself, the transgender community have named them “Terfs”, or “transgender exclusionary radical feminists”. I think it is fair they get to name those not the same as themselves, like they have also done with non-transgender people whom are referred to as “cissexuals”. In doing this they get to avoid the term “normal” (for cissexual men and women) which implicates them as “abnormal”. Fair enough. Terfs are a valid term to refer to those – usually radical – feminists who refuse their female identity but what about those who have mixed feelings about the transgender woman ‘issue’? It is easy to come out in broad support for those like Jenner who are outcast for their identities but the debate around transgender women within feminism shows that ramifications on others occur when claims for identities are made; ramifications that may not have been intended but are nevertheless a logical result of the new claims by minorities.

Such issues were vocalised this week in a New York Times article by Elinor Burkett a journalist and former professor of women’s studies who took issue with transgender people’s use of the word “woman”, not necessarily for the way they use it themselves – she professes support for those who transition – but for how transgender people are making claims for cissexual women’s use of the term.

In an article that outlines several problematic areas, she notes that abortion providers have been accused of being anti transgender because they advertise their services for women, when in fact some transgender men have wombs still and can need their services.

On this point I would argue we probably do have to rethink the use of the word “woman” in such a context, even though 99% of the service users will be female. I say this because I believe that these little building blocks that shape our realities – words – do need attention and it is through such diligence that we change the way we can think about our world. The physical body is increasingly becoming an unreliable descriptor of gender in many ways other than for the transgendered. Plenty ciswomen are better described as ‘masculine’ than ‘feminine’ because of the unconscious and conscious choices they make in their lives, so we should be revisiting and reconceptualising our vocabularies constantly, seeing them as a transitioning tool themselves.

But Burkett does make some good points about the body, specifically the female body and it’s historical meaning in the world. Brenner as Bruce did experience some male privilege, simply because of his appearance as male, albeit incorrectly, he also did not experience the issues of growing up with a female body. Periods, pregnancy scares, fear of rape, etc. are real things in this world that cisgender women experience that Jenner did not. This should of course be weighed up against her fears and disadvantages felt as a transgender woman which ciswomen do not (transgender people have horrendously high levels of suicide in comparison to their cis counterparts). It should also be weighed up against the experience of transgender men who appear female for much of their lives and therefore experience some of the same bodily truths as ciswomen do. Gender is paradoxical and nothing highlights this more than exploring transgender identities in relation to cisgender ones.

Overall, I understand some of Burkett’s points, there are things about being a woman that cannot be reduced to the performance of femininity, we do have bodies and they cannot be denied. However, I do not think that this is a useful framework to encapsulate the times we are living in where gender is becoming more fluid. I have real issues with the Terf idea that transgender women aren’t ‘real women’. They are, and they will face the same sort of sexism that ciswomen face once transitioned, as Jon Stewart so aptly pointed out. They belong wholeheartedly in the debate on gender equality especially, both because they are consciously gendered, more so than most of “us” but also because they personify the paradox around gender.

This is the rub; this is what Burkett does not like. Transgender people insist that the body does matter whilst simultaneously being the personification of gender as a social construct, in that they knew themselves to be shoehorned into the wrong gender roles, historically. Terfs aren’t just upset about ‘intruders’ into their largely cisgender female terrain of feminism, (a rare, almost exclusively female environment that holds some power) but because they represent the opposite of what feminism argues, that women are a social construct and therefore the body should not stand in a woman’s way. If that were completely the case, then why the need for trans people to swap? This second point is not articulated as frequently as it should be on this Terf debate.

Overall, one has to embrace the fluidity of the times and not cling on to historic terms, either that of “woman/man/female/male’ or indeed, “feminist”. We need to see the transgender area as an important step in the right direction for all of us and not become too attached to ideas of ourselves, which we see as immutable. Trans women like Jenner’s claim for womanhood, does not “undermine almost a century of hard-fought arguments that the very definition of female is a social construct that has subordinated us [cissexual women]” as Burkett argues. Why should their fight for the label ‘woman’ have to make such a huge change for the rest of us? That only makes sense if there can only be one type of woman, but there aren’t there are at least two, “cissexual women” and “transsexual women” (the same is true for men). This definition allows for the differences in either’s history.

There are many battles being fought on the gender front simultaneously by different factions, and both types of women differ and yet are equally valid rendering them equally valuable to the debate. More importantly, both add to the idea that gender, as with sex, is a work in progress, something we are collectively both consciously and unconsciously deciding upon and this should always be the main message. It is our variety that unites us. Like I said, interesting times…

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The End of the Blog Challenge!


Well, I’ve done it, 28 blogs in 28 days each taking 28 minutes to write (well, err… 28mins to write plus 30 mins to edit, to be more honest). I thought I would spend my last blog of the series reflecting on the experience. Although I extended the writing time by adding some time for editing, I have on the whole stuck to the rules and have also written 28 blogs on unique subjects.

My main concerns when I began the challenge was that I would find it hard to source 28 subjects worthy of a blog piece, but this was mainly because previously I waited until something felt really important before I wrote a piece that usually took 2-3 hours. I now realise that isn’t the point of blogging, which I suspect is the point behind the challenge to get academics to write more. They encourage you to be freer with your ideas and to rid yourself of the need for perfection in what you write. I still very much felt the need to proof what I wrote, hence the edit time allowance, but I don’t think that is such a bad thing in a time of indelible posts online.

Did I enjoy it? Yes I very much did. With the exception of one Sunday when I really felt quite blue (the day the blog about Down’s syndrome) and really felt it was a chore to fulfil my obligation to the challenge, I was mostly happy to practice my skills. Having said that, there were certainly days when I felt too busy to do the daily blog justice, but these days didn’t seem to correspond with a lack of interest from the readers, so I guess I kept the quality up to a certain standard.

What have I learned? I learned to think quickly and write concisely, to summarise and not to blab on. I also learned that one has to be quite giving of ones ideas in order to make a blog interesting, yet when the ideas approached the subject matter of my upcoming books I had to balance this with not giving too much away, in case it gets nicked by some stranger in (on?) a mac.

I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to read my posts, so it was really uplifting to receive responses from both my Facebook friends as well as those less known on Twitter and Linked In. Thanks so much for the compliments, it has really bolstered my confidence and I now realise that maybe I do have something to offer as a writer. I was worried that my Facebook friends would tire of my posts especially, because I am already so prolific on there, and it was lovely to get likes and responses from those I’d assumed had back grounded me a long time ago. It turns out you are still out there!!!

The most popular posts were:

Why Russell Brand is Wrong About Pornography from March the 2nd

Busting the Good Woman Pedestal from March the 3rd (probably because I linked back to it to explain the concept of ambivalent and benevolent sexism)
On Men’s Need to Know they are of Normal Penile Size from March 4th
My Thoughts on Being Childless from March 18th
My thoughts on Emigrating to America from March 10th
50 Shades of Grey: A Pornographer’s Review from 21st February

I have gained roughly 30 new followers on Twitter, which is good but not amazing considering the amount of work involved but I have upped my stats on my blog site, so that was good to see.

Mostly I have learned a good habit, one which will help me with my professional career and importantly it has helped me work through some ideas for my book about gender I am currently working on and which had somewhat stalled as I found the angle I needed. The challenge helped me find that angle, not through the actual writing – I haven’t actually written much on the subject of masculinities – but through taking my focus away from the task in hand. Just as the best business ideas come to those taking a bath, I have found allowing my imagination to go all over the place to prove very helpful and I am now ready to start afresh on the book. This is exactly what I hoped would happen so I guess it is the definition of success.

What mostly surprised me though is how easy it is to roll out 1000 words in half an hour on so many different subjects. I worried I wouldn’t find inspiration enough, but sure enough, everyday someone somewhere is doing something objectionable regarding gender and sexuality and I really feel I could now go on for months on end writing everyday. This is helped by my realisation that the slightest thing can be inspiring, like writing about the song Jessie’s Girl, a song I randomly heard the day of the blog on the radio. This is much like I used to approach shooting porn films, taking inspiration form the slightest source and running with it. I once shot a film Pound a Punnet because I saw a woman wearing fingerless gloves whilst selling fruit. If you can base a whole DVD on extrapolation from such a small detail, the world’s your oyster…

Any thoughts and ideas about my blog are most welcome, good or bad, I
I‘d really love to hear your thoughts on them. Did anyone actually read all of them and can they remember them all? I’m not sure I can!

Thanks for your time, Anna

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Some Thoughts on Being Childless


A recent article about famous women’s reactions to childlessness had me thinking about my own situation as a woman with no children, especially how much my feelings on this subject have changed over the years. The full spectrum of feelings we experienced through our journey regarding having kids really is something we wouldn’t be able to guess if we hadn’t experienced it first hand.

As a young woman I never really imagined having children and certainly didn’t yearn for any like other girls did, and yet, contradictorily I always saw myself ending up married with kids, such is the effect of a heteronormative context. In my early teens I can remember making a pact with my friend Christina that we would meet in a certain pub just around the back of the Tate Gallery in Pimlico on January the 1st , 2000 and re-associate ourselves and introduce our respective husbands and family. We were worried we might be too old by that date to have kids afterwards (aged 28!), so we should have them by then, for sure.

This childish dream shows just how unrealistic we were at that age. Not only were we not too old at 28 – heck women have kids in their early 50’s these days – but there was no way on earth either of us was going do trawl our families together on the 1st of January in the millennium with such a inevitable hangover. Of course, the biggest assumption is not only the existence of kids but of a husband at that age, neither of which I had (Christina in fact was married with kids by then I have since heard, maybe she even turned up?!) The assumption of a central role being played by kids – and the absence of a seriously appreciated career, I was just starting up shooting porn with my company Easy on the Eye at that age – went unchecked at that young age.

At age 20 I had an abortion. I knew that it was going to be the only chance I had at having a child, even then because I had a rather rocky road with my cycles from the start so I figured things were never going to be easy. Still the decision was easy, I wanted a youth full of adventure, not of nurturing another child. My female friends at the time noted I wasn’t ‘upset enough’ but deep down I knew that was because of social conditioning, of them, not a failing of mine.

When I met my husband in my mid thirties I was like most women, well aware of my rapidly aging body and the infertility that comes with it. Once married, we discussed whether to try for infertility treatment and we both agreed that we felt ambivalent, we could take kids or leave them, but it made sense to try, just in case the dreaded “what if?” hit us in later life and we hadn’t even tried; such an omen plagues the imaginations of all childless people I’m sure.

We were lucky, I got pregnant immediately and remained so for a good two months until the bleeding came like a sign from nature that I was never meant to have kids, the truth I knew from my teens. No wonder they make warning and stop signs red, it makes complete emotional sense, red is never as red as blood.

The next few times we became completely enwrapped in our striving to have kids; nothing seemed more important. We even gave up drinking alcohol for that 3 ½ year period. I kept losing them or not getting pregnant and each time the doctors said that there was no reason we couldn’t conceive, and so the carrot gets pulled along always just out of reach, bringing you further down as it goes on. Confusion is the main memory I have of that time, such constant conflicting emotions, such a lack of self knowledge looking in the mirror when your very identity relies on entirely on your biology.

Our final attempt at fertility treatment involved a Harley Street clinic that offered a boot camp experience where they took multiple phials of blood out of me daily as they stuffed me full of a drip bean immunosuppressant to stop my body attacking anything. But still the two little hearts stopped beating one day and that was that. It took my catching septicaemia (blood poisoning) which needed intensive hospital care and four pints of blood transfusing, along a scan of my womb that looked like a chalk drawing of various types of odd-ball cartoon characters for us to realise, having a baby is not worth dying for and it was never going to happen for us. That didn’t stop us trying surrogacy with a dear friend with the remainder eggs, which alas didn’t work either. That just felt like spreading our pain onto another innocent person. We were so pleased to hear recently that she is expecting twins of her own, it felt like poetic justice, she definitely deserves it.

So then we were left not so much bereft but confused. The route of least resistance turned out to be full of obstacles. That we once were ambivalent to having kids was a distant memory. And all around us people catching pregnancy like the common cold.

But I have to say that since then both our feelings have changed significantly. My near death experience helped to wipe the slate clean, to take us back to being a couple that focused on each other rather than children. A couple of years ago I heard another woman who is married with no children talk about how good her marriage is compared to her friends that have them. It struck a cord so I told Tim and we both agreed, not only are we blessed with a lack of children in our marriage but that the experience has brought us together, we were definitely stronger for it.

What people with kids perhaps don’t see is how so many of them secretly declare their frustrations with their children, and sometimes their envy of those without them when you mention that you weren’t able to have kids. It happens surprisingly a lot. I now have the view that having kids is very much a mixed experience and there is a lot of sacrifice that goes a long with them. I always knew that, I was never the naïve type that thinks it is all about cuteness, but the relentlessness nature of parenting is something else. It happens every day, without respite. I still look at couples with children and wonder whether on balance its best to have them or not. There are certainly a lot of people who are terrible parents who ostensibly appear to regret having them yet would never voice as much in public. It’s one of those things in life where you can’t sit on the fence, you either have your genes passed on or you don’t, you either like your kids’ personalities, or you don’t.

Anyway, there are plenty of ways to be a parent, to other people’s kids or to animals, for instance, or to leave a cultural legacy. All right, I don’t get to pass on genes, but I did make a shed load of films instead, most of which I like. I rather enjoy having the freedom to parent two whippets and move half way across the world, away from being down the road of the second best school in the country, which would have otherwise chained us down in Kent for many years. Whippets are cheaper too, we get to eat and drink pretty much what we like each month, and you can leave them alone for a few hours from a young age.

So I don’t really see myself as “childless” but as having a different type of life that has other joys in it, joys I probably wouldn’t have with the presence of children. But most of all I’m so pleased Tim and I get the time to say “love you, love our life” everyday. Plus we get the time to scrib the whippets behind the ears as much as we want. That can’t be so bad.

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