If there’s one thing any reader of this blog can be assured of, it’s that I have more than just a passing interest in ghosts. That’s why I love to discuss ghosts with anyone who will listen; I’m skeptical about the existence of ghosts, have had a fair few odd experiences which help me to remain open-minded about them, and have been investigating active hauntings since the age of 18 (over a decade ago), so… why do people feel the need to let me know ghosts aren’t real?
In the introduction of her fascinating book ‘Parapsychology: A Beginner’s Guide’, Professor Caroline Watt explains that ”throughout this book, I will refer to paranormal phenomena and abilities. For fluency of expression, I will avoid repeatedly using terms such as ‘alleged’, ‘purported’, and ‘claimed’, although this is not meant to imply that I think such phenomena are genuine.’ [Watt, 2016]
For a while, I would be careful to use same qualifiers before speaking about paranormal subjects for fear that my message wouldn’t be heard, but instead that my audience (especially at science and skepticism events) would focus on the fact that I hadn’t used a disclaimer before repeating a paranormal or supernatural claim.
And it does happen. More often than not, if I write something on Social Media about paranormal topics without using ‘alleged’ or similar, I will be informed (most likely by a man) that ghosts don’t exist.
I’ve chosen to call this Ghostsplaining.
I’ll often visit the online profile of the person Ghostsplaining me and they’ll not be involved in paranormal research in any way, shape, or form. And yet, they’ll take the time out of their day to explain the most basic concepts of paranormal research to me – someone who is involved in paranormal research.
I recently tweeted that a local woodland was not haunted despite a mainstream media story which reported that it was. As a local who also happens to be a paranormal researcher, I know that the folklore-derived name of the woods has less to do with a spectre and more to do with the English language.
I know that the woods are a favourite hangout for teenagers with nothing much else to do than drink cheap beer and smoke rolled up cigarettes, that the cave system beneath the woods and the creepy-looking tower make it seem spooky. I also know that a whole bunch of reports of a ghostly hitchhiker get attributed to these woods, but when you look for original eye-witness testimony, you can’t find it.
So, knowing all of this (since the age of, oh, eight) I confidently tweeted that the woods were not haunted. Almost instantly, a man replied that ‘nothing is haunted’.
He didn’t ask me to elaborate on how I knew the woods weren’t haunted, or how I had established this. He just explained to me- someone who had identified that I was a paranormal researcher -that hauntings (and, thus, ghosts) were not real.
I could have pointed out that although ghosts and hauntings as paranormal phenomena might not be real, there’s certainly a social or cultural phenomena that can cause people to think they’re haunted. I could have explained to him that some people don’t think ghosts cause hauntings, that in religious communities many people worry about demonic entities haunting their homes, or curses. That poltergeists are often considered not-ghosts…
Instead of justifying my position, I stood my ground and pointed out that he was explaining to me stuff I already know, to which he told me to ‘not get bent out of shape’ and that he was ‘backing me up’, but the thing is… I don’t need backing up.
Especially by a non-paranormal researcher who is explaining ghosts to me – a paranormal researcher.
In her brilliant essay Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit describes Mansplaining as an ‘archipelago of arrogance’ and ‘the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world.’ [Solnit, 2012]
Obviously, there are things I do not know about when it comes to anomalous research, paranormal research, parapsychology and so on, and I really enjoy learning about new things through the suggestions of others, but Ghostsplaining isn’t that. It isn’t useful. It’s a way in which men (and yes, it is men) try to remind me that I’m not as expert as I think I am, even though I know far more about this subject than they do.
Ghostsplaining is how men try to knock me down a peg or two by scrutinising why I didn’t say “alleged ghost” – am I really a skeptic? Am I sure I don’t believe in ghosts? Ghostsplaining is Mansplaining and it’s a constant reminder that I’m allowed to voice my conclusions and works until a man deems that I’ve said too much.
Men explain ghosts to me, and they’re usually wrong.
Solnit, R. (2012) ‘Men Explain Things To Me’, Geurnica, 20th August 2012 [Blog]. Available at https://www.guernicamag.com/rebecca-solnit-men-explain-things-to-me/ (Accessed 20 October 2017)
Watt, C. (2016) Parapsychology: A Beginners Guide, London, Oneworld Publications