Mansplaining

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Think about the men you know. Do any of them display that delightful mixture of privilege and ignorance that leads to condescending, inaccurate explanations, delivered with the rock-solid conviction of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation?
—Blogger, Karen Healey[1]

Mansplaining is a term used largely by feminists to describe the act of men "teaching women", often about things directly related to women's experience (like sexism, or abortion) without any recognition of (or interest in) the woman's actual knowledge of the topic.

Contents

[edit] History

Lily Rothman, in her witty Cultural History of Mansplaining[2] suggests that while the term itself was not used, the idea of mansplaining might have its roots in Rebeca Solnit's op-ed piece called "Men Explain Things To Me". In it, she describes a feeling familiar in the world of academics, where men take great delight in explaining to women, the finer points of... well, everything! In her case, the mansplainer in question, upon hearing her mention the topic of her recently published book, start explaining to her the very topic in question. And he did so by using her own book as the highlight of his explanations. "So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingenue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I'd somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book -- with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority."[3] This is not to suggest that said academic would not have acted this way toward a young male academic, especially one new to the field - except that Solnit is not young, nor new to the field she had written about. Solnit remarks that, upon being told the she was the very author of the "Very Important Book", "Mr. Important...[was] so confused [about] the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless."

Not to be lulled into an idea that speaking "for women" and explaining their own point of view to them is somehow new, Rothman quotes a 1903 article from The Atlantic where Lyman Abbott explains to us all why women do not really want suffrage. "Lyman Abbott totally knows what they want better than they do. Any woman in favor of suffrage just doesn't get the true female experience as well as he does."[4]

[edit] How to mansplain

Take any topic, whether or not it is an area of expertise for you. Assume the women beside you knows nothing about it — especially if it's cars, computers, machines, guns, machine guns, or other manly things — or that your opinions on the subject are more important than hers. Explain it to her in a smug, patronising way. Dismiss any objections, clarifications, or comments she might offer, as well as claims that she already knows the topic.

Advanced course: Instead of just any topic, pick one that really interests women, like women's rights, feminism, birth control, or how 9 months is just no big deal and of course how easy it is to lose weight, if only women would follow your plan. Then patiently explain to them what they are missing about your point of view. If they try to interject, simply talk louder.

Super advanced course: Talk about the same topics, but don't even bother inviting the silly women to the discussion.

[edit] Examples

[edit] American Atheists’ Southeast Regional Atheist Meet

February 7, 2011 - Atheist and blogger Sharron Moss at Blaghag explains that she attended an atheist conference with the specific agenda of discussing women's experiences at atheist conventions and figuring out how to attract more women to said conventions. The panel consisted of 5 men and only one woman. The panel was accused of taking questions or hearing comments mostly from men in the audience. When women actually did speak, introducing issues such as child care and family friendly events, along with "feeling objectified", and "not being listened to", they were, according to Moss, told that that those are trivial issues, and didn't really affect atheist women's attendance. Then, at the conference and in blogs and vlogs after the conference, the panel once again asked "what *is* the problem with women's attendance, and why will no one open up and discuss it"?[5]

[edit] Elevatorgate

Rebecca Watson, aka "Skepchick" was invited to an atheist convention to speak on topics of media and outreach. One question revolved around the lack of women atheists in the public. Watson gave several various opinions, but highlighted that in her experience, women often feel objectified at intellectual conferences (she included academic conferences at large), and often feel as if simply showing up to a conference makes them a target for men's advances, rather than equal participants in the intellectual discussions. In a video about the conference, she related a story of feeling rather "meat marketed" saying she was on an elevator and was sexually proposed to. She explains she wasn't offended, or threatened, but that such behavior was the kind of thing "not to do" if you really want to attract women.

Richard Dawkins decided to jump into the ensuing fray, and "explained" to her that this was the way of the world, and she should take it as a compliment that she was beautiful, and realize that women in the rest of the world had it much worse. Dawkins, strangely, continues discussing discrimination against atheists in the west, despite some other countries having laws mandating jail or death for apostasy.

[edit] Congressional Birth Control Panel

In 2012, US politicians and political pundits came out of the woodwork, mansplaining the very biology of women's bodies to women. They explained how women's bodies "shut down conception" if she is raped[6]; that some women are so horny, they need government to pay for all the sex they are having[7]; that most women are really pro-life, but the pro-choice feminist movement has convinced them they cannot have jobs if they are not pro-choice[8].

But perhaps the worst moment of true mansplaining was when the US Congressional House committee, studying the birth control issue in and around the context of Obamacare, convened a panel of experts to discuss birth control and how important it is (or isn't) for women. The entire panel was men - religious leaders from their various churches and temples. Not one voice from a women, religious leader or not, was there to explain such things as "birth control helps make my period shorter and lighter", "regulating my monthly hormones has reduced my period-related headaches", and "I just feel better knowing what day to expect my period so I don't have to guess". Items which have nothing to do with the "medically necessary exemption" that Congress outlined as acceptable, but which are an every day medical reason women choose to take the pill. No one said to these bloviating men "when you've had to deal with a period for at least one month, then you can speak on the so-called "unimportant" "off label" reasons for using birth control."

[edit] "You just don't understand what sexism is...

Many of the more intellectual sites that focus on atheism and skepticism, as well as traditionally male-dominated arenas like gaming or philosophy are grappling with issues about sexism. Those blog sites often lead to women saying "This is why I feel the site / topic is sexist", or "I feel unwelcome here, because of..." Mansplainers come out of the woodwork to explain to women that the women don't really "understand what sexism is", or "are taking it wrong and shouldn't be feeling that way" or simply "those things don't really matter to our issue at large, and distract us from our group's goals".

One such example came to a head in May of 2012 when blogger and social commentator Anita Sarkeesian decided to write a series on how women are presented in video games. Before she had written one word, mansplainers came out to tell her she was wrong, there was no sexism in video games, women are more strongly portrayed than ever before, and oh by the way, why does she care, women don't play video games.[9] A columnist for video game journalism site Destructoid put together a "response" to Sarkeesian's specific criticisms of sexism in video games, drawing soundbites from various interviews, presenting what the author considered a reasonable criticism of Sarkeesian's claims, but in the end the whole thing ended up coming across as a mansplainin' justification for why sexism is actually okay.[10]

[edit] Abortion

Though perhaps not truly mansplaining in its most common sense, the basic concepts of intellectual discourse about women, their experience, their bodies, their needs, wants and desires shows up often in discussions about abortion. Academic, philosophical discussions regarding abortion often focus on cold, distanced, intentionally unemotional[11] commentary focusing on the fetus - the nature of life, quality of life, when life beings, and a fetus's potential rights in relation *to all other living beings* (far less, discussions of its relationship to the very real, named, faced woman that said fetus resides in). Since women in general, and the actual pregnant woman are often missing in these discussions about the fetus, those conversations have many earmarks of "mansplaining", without intentionally dismissing women's views.

[edit] Whitesplaining, straightsplaining, etc.

While the term mansplaining really focuses on men telling women how best to understand women's things, the concept is hardly limited to how men treat women. It is routinely found in any conversation where someone in a socially dominant position "explains" life to someone in an inferior (often oppressed) position. Scholars telling indigenous people how their religion is supposed to be understood; white people telling black people when to be offended at racial slurs; gay people being told by straights why they don't really want marriage, cause marriage isn't that great anyhow; and everyone having a token "best friend" of some minority class, giving the 'splainer' some magical insight into what it really means to be Mexican, transgender, or deaf, or whathaveyou.

[edit] Not to be confused with...

Often, when dealing with Creationists, conspiracy types, or college freshmen, one often finds oneself having to clarify, or even explain to one's opponent the very core of his own argument. "No, that's not how thermodynamics works, and even if it was, it doesn't change your premise that life requires energy input - since there is a sun, just 93 million miles away".

It's also not to be confused with being an actual expert on a topic (or simply knowing more than the target audience) and explaining aspects about the topic. When you respect the audience, and your goal is to add to their knowledge base, rather than just tell them what's what, you are simply being a teacher. Along these lines, it should not be confused with somebody with simple disagreement. Somebody in a marginalized class who disagrees with a man who is participating under otherwise equitable terms of conversation and/or debate cannot claim "mansplaining" simply because they don't like being disagreed with. The term then becomes, in effect, an oppressive and silencing tactic.

Nor is it to be confused with being a snide little know-it-all who explains everything to anyone and everyone who'll listen -- male, female, or otherwise. Much.

[edit] Larger issues

Nothing in this article should suggest that someone who isn't part of a subclass/minority class should not have an opinion about a topic specific to that group, but it's to say that one should consider where his or her authority stems from, and when actual real voices from that class are speaking, you should stop and listen.

And there is no single voice for feminists, transgender persons, black people, or any other group. Views are and should be a plurality, but we should be so careful not to silence that plurality by imposing a single voice, especially what that "voice" claims to speak for a group he or she isn't even part of.

[edit] Footnotes

  1. http://karenhealey.livejournal.com/781085.html
  2. http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2012/11/a-cultural-history-of-mansplaining/264380/
  3. http://articles.latimes.com/2008/apr/13/opinion/op-solnit13
  4. http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2012/11/a-cultural-history-of-mansplaining/264380/
  5. http://www.blaghag.com/2011/02/when-gender-goes-pear-shaped.html
  6. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/19/todd-akin-abortion-legitimate-rape_n_1807381.html
  7. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/02/rush-limbaugh-sandra-fluke-sex-slut_n_1316625.html
  8. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/opinion/sunday/douthat-divided-by-abortion-united-by-feminism.html?_r=0
  9. Daily dot. Note: due to the nature of the misogynist threats Ms. Sarkeesian experienced, most of the comments, including the simply mansplaining comments, were removed from her sites.
  10. Article here. At one point, the author claims that her criticism of sexualized school-girl-costumes for female game characters is illegitimate because the character in question "enjoys donning a school-costume ... If she really enjoys dressing up ... who are we to deny her that right?" Because, of course, the character wasn't created that way by anyone...
  11. Women are often reminded in such discussions that emotion and bringing in the emotional side of the issue are merely distractions and not proper etiquette for discussing abortion
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