Kit Steinkellner
October 15, 2014 11:07 am

If you were pirouetting around the feminist Internet last week, you may have danced across an article about “The Womansplainer,” a rad new art project cooked up by artist Elizabeth Simins. The Womansplainer is a mock consultancy website that promises to explain feminism to clueless online harassers for a fee.

“Got a question for a feminist?” reads the homepage. “I would be happy to educate you! Below are my rates.” Rates for Simins to engage in feminist discourse with those who don’t have the time to understand the premise of equality on their own start at $20 and go up from there.

I got in touch with Simins and she answered all my burning questions about her site, because she is a scholar and a gentlewoman. Our chat below:

What inspired “The Womansplainer”? Did you have a lightning bolt moment re: the idea, or is it a concept you’ve been tinkering with and mulling over?

It was a very spur-of-the-moment thing. I got into an argument with some dude on Twitter, who wanted me to explain some Feminism 101 to him, and it occurred to me that if I actually answered every question men pose to me on Twitter, every VERY EASILY GOOGLE-ABLE QUESTION, it would be a full-time, unpaid job. Men are asking me to do billable work for them for free. So then I thought: Well I should make a thing making fun of that. A lot of my projects (Gaming’s Feminist Illuminati; Ain’t No Such Thing As Misogyny; etc) come from jokes and back-and-forths on Twitter, and this was no different. There were a couple hours between when I had the idea, and when I launched the project.

How would you define the project? Is it a straightforward business, online performance art, a little bit of column a and column b?

The Womansplainer is definitely part performance art, part (ironic but also not) business opportunity. The performance art aspect is something I didn’t really realize until AFTER I’d decided to do the project (a few minutes after, to be fair, but still). Once I realized it wasn’t just a throwaway joke and had the potential to be seen as public art, I was very careful about how I worded it, and how I built the website—I tried to be as concise as possible, and to keep everything easily digestible. Like, at first I was going to use this weird domain I own (poop.diamonds) to host it, but then I figured it would be worth dropping 10 bucks on thewomansplainer.com, if it was available. And it was! So that was that.

Have you had any takers? What’s your experience been with your customers?

So far, I’ve only had one taker whose intention was just to tip me for coming up with something they were into. But I’ve answered the tippers as well—the way I figure it, they’ve already paid for my time, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to send them a bit of “further reading” on the subject of whatever question they chose. All my experiences with customers so far have been positive, which is a bit of a pleasant surprise. I think that might have to do with setting the minimum at $20—it’s kind of a lot to pay to harass someone.

The services you offer include Googling answers to questions and having a conversation on Twitter? I’m curious about having the conversation online in a public forum (versus, say, e-mail or phone). What does going this route accomplish?

There are two reasons I wanted to make it clear that I would only have a conversation in a public forum: The first is honestly less important, and it’s that I think there’s value in having a conversation about these issues—preferably one that includes more voices than just mine and my customer’s, but if nobody else wants to chime in, I do still think dialogue can be really productive. More importantly, though, in my experience men online (and offline) often use private one-on-one communication as a way to make women feel uncomfortable, and/or to harass them away from the eyes of the public. I wanted to nip that in the bud. I already get enough harassment just for speaking up about feminist issues; I’d rather not provide another avenue for anyone to get to me privately.

What’s a piece of Womansplainer advice that you think everyone could benefit from?

It isn’t a woman’s job to educate you about sexism and misogyny. These aren’t “women’s issues.” If you actually want to learn, instead of asking women questions and then getting angry when they don’t necessarily have the time/patience/energy to answer you, try doing research yourself. And also try listening to women instead of speaking. Just, yeah, in general, definitely do that. You’ll probably learn something.

(Image via)

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