What is Mansplaining?
The term Mansplaining was first coined in 2008 by Rebecca Solnit in her essay “Men Explain Things to Me: Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way” and soon enough gained popularity. It has come under quite some criticism online due to several misunderstanding around the word since it is a mixture of the words, “man” and “explaining.”
However contrary to popular belief there is nothing wrong with a man simply explaining things or situations to people. Mansplaining implies that a man either interrupts or talks over a woman on a topic that she may be well versed in or even an expert. It is the act of showing that you know more about a certain topic (and that too in a patronizing or condescending tone) rather than a desire to inform or educate that distinguishes mansplaining from normal conversations.
And if you’re still not entirely convinced that this is a real term;
According to Merriam Webster, “It’s what occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he’s talking to does.”
Critics argue that mansplaining is pretty irrelevant since women or even other men are more than capable of interrupting or cutting off men during conversations. It has even been taken as just another way for women to put down men’s valid opinions under the guise of feminism.
So, why was there a need for this term?
While it is true that women can be as patronizing as men, the idea of mansplaining is gendered in it’s very essence because it comes from opposition to a very patriarchal ideal of men taking up more space than woman in terms of their ideas and voicing them. It has been proved time and time again that women are interrupted more than men during conversations even if they are at the same social or economic standing.
Even within classrooms there seems to be an inherent gender bias where female students are practically discouraged from speaking their mind, especially in co-ed classrooms. Research points to the very obvious atmosphere and culture that silences women and girls and that is why mansplaining can not simply be brushed off as an example of “reverse sexism.”
It isn’t just research that presents proof of this culture that makes it okay for men to assume that a woman is less competent than they are since women who are more outspoken and opinionated, especially online experience harassment and online trolling way more than men.
It is important however to add here that mansplaining is almost always unintentional, however it needs to be addressed as it perpetuates a culture that is fine with women taking on the secondary role within conversations, especially those in the public sphere. A good example of what i’m talking about can be found in a very presumptuous conversation between Solnit and a random man who tried to explain the topic to her, the woman who came up with the word.
Talk about the irony of it.
She says in her essay,
“Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s 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.”
The interesting thing, however, is that mansplaining is not just limited to conversations and debates. It can be something as simple as a random male stranger telling you how to dress in public or a well meaning childhood friend claiming to know more about women’s issue than you, an actual woman. Don’t get me wrong, a man taking interest in women’s struggles and problems is great, but when it comes to letting women voice their opinions, things go wrong.
The most recent example i still haven’t completely gotten over is of that one dude who thought he could mansplain women’s anatomy to them and get away with it! Paul Bullen thought it was okay to tell women that they were misusing the word vulva.
The correct word is vagina.
— Doktor Paul Bullen (@paulbullen) February 10, 2019
Safe to say, he faced quite some backlash for trying to teach a gynecologist her stuff. Here is how she responded;
Mansplaining involves a man correcting a woman when he was not asked or when he is not the expert and knows less. You did the latter to me. I am the expert on vulvas and vaginas – both medically and how the terminology is used by the public. https://t.co/6UfZKoVJWk
— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) February 11, 2019
Unfortunately, this is just one of many instances where men absolutely refused to accept that they had acted in a way that was not only disrespectful to women but also misinformed and just plain wrong.
So, how do men figure out if they are indeed mansplaining?
Well, luckily for us, Author and Researcher, Kim Goodwin made all of Twitter abuzz with her apt guideline for men on how to avoid mansplaining;
I have had more than one male colleague sincerely ask whether a certain behavior is mansplaining. Since apparently this is hard to figure out, I made one of them a chart. pic.twitter.com/7DZ1RTrB3R
— Kim Goodwin (@kimgoodwin) July 19, 2018