UNBEKNOWN to her, ABC writer and broadcaster Annabel Crabb has sparked a momentous epiphany for me.
The trigger was a word in a splendid article, ‘A crying shame’, which spawned justification for the rage I’ve (barely) contained in my hot little head as jets of steam have cascaded from the cavity between my ears.
And the word? Mansplaining.
When a man explains to a woman something she already knows while the woman works out how best to respond.
So I am enlightened. There is a word for it!
Yes, there is a label for the ubiquitous behaviour I first encountered at university and which followed me into the workplace. But it didn’t end there. It’s stalked me into other aspects of my life. It became an everyday ritual, most notably in Papua New Guinea.
In the office, my responses to mansplaining were an awkward silence and a clenched jaw closely followed by a 180 degree turn on heels and half sprint back to my workstation. Thence my government-issued keyboard would receive the pounding of its life.
There is a long history of PNG women being ‘talked down’ to by men; whether fossils, progressives or churlish schoolboy types. These moments deserve to be recorded, gazetted and archived in the annals of PNG literature.
In shining the spotlight on this gender-definitive behaviour, I’m feeling quite the patriot.
Not because I am daring to crucify my male colleagues (well, not this time anyway) but because I include my PNG brothers in the same position as women: people subjected to the insufferable attitudes of temporary visitors to our shores.
Not all of them. Just a good handful. Expatriates. Men and women.
Expatriates: champions of stirring a constant feeling within me of being trapped somewhere between mansplaining and neo-colonialism.
It is enraging, this aura of condescension that precedes expatriates as they come within eyesight of us Papua New Guineans.
The irritating arrogance wafting from ego bubbles that take on sickening intent as banal proclamations are thrown at us.
There is a gall flavoured with master-servant dynamics. A glistening snail trail winding from yesteryear’s condescension into the present day.
But equally infuriating is how easily Papua New Guineans slide under this blanket of delusional superiority. Accommodation preferred to confrontation.
We’ve all experienced it. Expatriates displaying an onset of stupidity that not even unfamiliarity with and discomfort in the tropics excuses.
It’s the patronising tone assumed by the manager called front of house. Shoppers are subjected to a spectacle of bosman superiority and vocal pyrotechnics at the cashier’s assertion that dealing with customer dissatisfaction is not in her job description.
It’s the bewilderment at seeing photographs in our dailies and on social media of fresh-off-the-tarmac, lei-adorned, paper-pushing advisers cutting ribbons at development program launches. Meanwhile, the fieldwork-hardened, issue-savvy, post-graduate nationals remain a speck in the background.
Or the housewife who barks child-control directives to her mini-army of haus meris during the grocery shop run. These women who, at the end of each day, return home to manage, cook and clean a house full of biological, adopted and random street kids.
Then there’s the old-timer expatriate who strides hurriedly into a restaurant expertly jumping the queue of young PNG women without a whisper of apology or thanks while unashamedly seeking non-verbal cues of forgiveness and tolerance.
Somebody stop me. Better yet, somebody make them stop.
Recently, a clever and wise friend and I talked on the phone critiquing the relevance of paid membership -clubs in a developing nation like PNG: the yacht clubs, golf clubs, country clubs etcetera. Suffice to say, irrelevant was the operative word.
I say to those individuals labouring in their efforts to perfect segregation, feel free to ship yourself off to some land mass far, far away. There your wardrobe matching, superficial conversation and overpriced lifestyle can be undertaken in absolute exclusivity.
But the practice of modern day apartheid in my homeland is unwelcome.
Expatriate behaviour that patronises or demeans nationals has no place in post-independence Papua New Guinea.
But is this consciously exercised? Or is it unintentional? Is its unwelcome intrusion exacerbated by the self-deprecating nature of Papua New Guineans; who so often observe without challenge?
Either way, every day is a good day to nip it in the bud (for new arrivals) or call for a reality-check (veterans).
I won’t hold my breath. But, while we wait, lets remind ourselves PNG is a country in dire of need practical action to produce narrow inequality amongst all its peoples – citizens and expatriates alike.