How Laura Dern's Thread In 'Certain Women' Perfectly Captures The Mansplaining Phenomenon
It's probably safe to say that every woman has experienced "mansplaining," even if she isn't familiar with the term. Popularized by writer Rebecca Solnit in her book Men Explain Things to Me, mansplaining is when a man explains something to a woman in a condescending or patronizing way, oftentimes when the woman to whom he's speaking already knows much on the subject. Or, it's when a man appropriates a woman's ideas or words, representing them as his own to better reception from a larger group. Awareness of this phenomenon is everywhere these days, in literature, politics, and more, and now, it's spreading to entertainment. One upcoming film, Certain Women , has a story thread that perfectly captures the mansplaining phenomenon, and it's done in a subtle but incredibly powerful way.
Directed by Kelly Reichardt, Certain Women, which opens Oct. 14, is a lovely, quiet, slice-of-life film that follows the intersecting lives of four women living in the remote northwest. Michelle Williams, a staple in Reichardt films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, plays a woman named Gina on the hunt for some authentic stone with which to build her dream house. Kristen Stewart, meanwhile, plays a young law school graduate who has reluctantly taken a teaching job four hours from where she lives (shining newcomer Lily Gladstone plays a ranch worker who wanders into Stewart's class and develops an infatuation with her character). And then there's Laura Dern, who plays Laura Wells, a lawyer who is caught up in a client's hostage situation. While all three stories are powerful, it's Dern's that might resonate with audiences the most, due to its focus on mansplaining.
Dern's story sees her character saddled with a male client, Fuller (Jared Harris), who just won't listen when she gives him some advice. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Fuller suffered some kind of work-related injury and wants Laura to help him sue the company, but as Laura explains, he's already taken some form of settlement money from them, therefore voiding his right to sue. For months, Laura has been relaying the same message, but Fuller repeatedly ignores her advice, and keeps returning to her office to press the issue. Eventually, Laura sets up a meeting for herself, Fuller, and a male lawyer who might be able to talk some sense into her client. After a short meeting, the male lawyer tells Fuller basically the same thing that Laura has been telling him for over half a year. But what happens? Fuller listens to the guy, accepts his decision, and gives up on the case. Just like that.
"Eight months of telling him that!" Laura says in exasperation on the phone with an unknown caller. "He repeated the same things I said!" Laura's experience unfortunately captures the very essence of why mansplaining often happens: that a woman's version of events or explanation of a matter isn't viewed to be as important or correct as a man's, and so it's a man who must take over and say it instead. It's a sexist and rotten phenomenon, and women have been sadly suffering through it for... well, probably as long as humans have existed.
By pointing it out when it happens, women, like Dern's character in Certain Women, want men to take a step back and take a look at why they felt the need to mansplain in the first place or why they would listen to or believe a man over a woman in a variety of scenarios (don't they trust that what a woman is saying?). To find recent examples, Twitter is fertile ground. There was the woman who tried to lure mansplaining trolls and was mansplained to in the process. Or the tech writer told to re-read an article she wrote herself. Or the female astrophysicist who was told to learn some science.
But women want to be heard, believed, and have their words and expertise taken seriously. As Laura says in Certain Women, "It'd be so lovely to think that if I were a man, people would listen and say OK," she says with a sigh. "Oh, it would be so restful." Indeed it would be, Laura. It's neat that a little indie film like this would so delicately capture such a widespread issue like mansplaining. Women who have experienced it and see the film will definitely get it, making this little message hidden inside Certain Women a poignant one.
Images: IFC Films