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“”Men know everything — all of them — all the time — no matter how stupid or inexperienced or arrogant or ignorant they are.
|—Andrea Dworkin, totally keeping it together|
"Mansplaining", a portmanteau of "man" and "explaining," is a snarl word 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.
Science fiction author Karen Healy describes it as a "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."
- 1 History
- 2 How to mansplain
- 3 Examples
- 4 Implications
- 5 Not to be confused with...
- 6 Criticisms of the use of the term
- 7 See also
- 8 External links
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
Lily Rothman, in her "Cultural History of Mansplaining," suggests that while the term itself was not used, the idea of mansplaining might have its roots in Rebeca Solnit's 2008 op-ed piece called "Men Explain Things To Me."
Not to be lulled into an idea that a man speaking "for women" and pressing their own point of view to them is somehow new, Rothman quotes a 1903 article from The Atlantic where one Lyman Abbott explains to us all why women do not really want suffrage: "[he] 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."
How to mansplain
Take any topic, whether or not it is an area of expertise for you. Assume the woman beside you knows nothing about it — especially if it's cars, computers, machines, guns, machine guns, computer-operated machine guns, cars with machine gun attachments, 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.
Congressional Birth Control Panel
For some reason or another, during the 2012 US election season various politicians and political pundits came out of the woodwork to embarrass themselves on their understanding of female biology. They elucidated on how women's bodies "shut down conception" if she is "legitimately" raped; that some women are so horny, they need government to pay for all the sex they are having; that most women are really pro-life, but the pro-choice movement has convinced them they cannot have jobs if they are not pro-choice.
But perhaps the worst moment was when the US Congressional House committee, studying the birth control issue in and around the context of Obamacare, convened a panel of ethics 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.
Though perhaps not truly mansplaining in its most common sense, the basic concepts of intellectual discourse about women's needs shows up often in discussions about abortion. Philosophical discussions regarding abortion often focus on cold, distanced commentary focusing on the fetus — the nature of life, quality of life, when life begins (as if the sperm and egg aren't themselves living tissues), 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 some earmarks of superciliousness, without intentionally dismissing their views.
You just don't understand what sexism is!
Many traditionally male-dominated arenas on the Internet who wish to broaden their influence are now grappling with issues about sexism. These discussions 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 when social commentator Anita Sarkeesian decided to write a series on how women are presented in video games. Before she had written one word, an avalanche of gamers 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. A columnist for Destructoid put together a half-assed response to Sarkeesian's specific criticisms that ended up coming across as a justification for why sexism is actually okay.
American Atheists’ Southeast Regional Atheist Meet
Atheist blogger Sharron Moss at Blaghag said 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... five men and only one woman. The panel was accused of taking questions or hearing comments mostly from men in the audience. When the women actually did speak, introducing issues such as child care and family friendly events, along with "feeling objectified," and "not being listened to," the women were, according to Moss, told that those are just 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"? Facepalms ensued.
Rebecca "Skepchick" Watson was invited to an atheist convention to speak on topics of media and outreach. One question revolved around the scarcity of female atheists in public perception. Watson gave various opinions, but highlighted that in her experience, women often feel objectified at intellectual conferences, and often feel as if simply showing up to a conference makes them a target for advances, rather than equal participants in discussions. In a video about the conference, she related a story of being invited back to a man's apartment "for coffee" in an elevator at four in the morning. She said that 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 of all people decided to jump into the ensuing fray, opining that this was the way of the world, and she should take it as a compliment that she was just so beautiful, and realize that women in the rest of the world had it much worse. And this is from someone who has made a career of stressing that discrimination against atheists in the West should not be ignored just because other countries have laws as restrictive as mandating jail or death for apostasy and blasphemy.
While the term mansplaining really focuses on men telling women how best to understand women's issues, 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. Misplaced scholars telling indigenous people how their culture is supposed to be understood; white people telling black people when to be offended at racial slurs; Capitalists telling Communists what they really think; 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, deaf, poor, or what have you. Lesser-known words derived from "mansplaining", such as "whitesplaining" and "straightsplaining", have been coined to similarly describe these other situations.
Nothing about mansplaining (or its derivatives) 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; 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. There is no single voice for the range of people in feminist, transgender, black, and other, communities. Views are and should be a plurality, but we should be careful not to silence that plurality by imposing a single voice, especially when that "voice" claims to speak for a group they aren't even part of.
Not to be confused with...
Often, when dealing with creationists, conspiracy types, or college freshmen, one often finds oneself having to clarify 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 the Earth is powered by the Sun."[note 1]
It's also not to be confused with being an actual expert on a topic (or simply knowing more than the target audience). 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 an educator. 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, a silencing tactic.
Nor is it to be confused with being a snide little know-it-all who boasts about everything to anyone and everyone who'll listen — male, female, or otherwise. Much.
Criticisms of the use of the term
The use of the word "mansplaining" has attracted some criticisms and it is the subject of controversies. Most of the objections can be summarized as:
- It is a sexist word: During a 2016 debate at the Australian Senate, Senator Mitch Fifield, after being accused of "lovely mansplaining" by Senator Katy Gallagher, replied: "I would suggest senator that if you are putting the word “man” in front of some description of what I am doing, you are [...] making a sexist implication about how I am conducting my role [...] Imagine the reaction, Senator, if I said you were “womansplaining”." In other words, accusing somebody of mansplaining moves the conversation from what he is actually saying to what his sex is, that is, male. Inventing other terms like "womansplaining", "whitesplaining", "blacksplaining", "heterosexualsplaining", "homosexualsplaining", ... just makes things worse since, paraphrasing some Nobel Peace Prize winner, we could say that: "people should be judged on the basis of what they are saying, not the category they belong to."
- It shuts down the conversation: In any debate between people of different opinions, each of the interlocutors thinks that the others have some incorrect belief, that is she/he does not recognize (at least partially) their knowledge of the topic, and therefore try to "teach" them what she/he thinks are the correct information. If by definition a man is mansplaining when he teaches women without recognizing their actual knowledge of the topic, then the only way for a man to not mansplain when he is having a debate with women of different opinions from his own - would be to shut up, making no debate possible at all. This does no good neither to men or women.
- Notch, the creator of Minecraft, says the term "mansplaining" is sexist towards men. We Hunted the Mammoth
- In such cases, the "privileged explaining" may well be happening on the part of the one who is generalizing about the world based on a religious text, a Google search, or an opinion, while being sheltered from lived experience of other less privileged people who are being thoughtlessly encompassed by the generalizations.
- "A woman's born to weep and fret" at Attention Rebellious Jezebels
- A Cultural History of Mansplaining, The Atlantic
- Men who explain things, Los Angeles Times
- Proof that one hasn't seen childbirth.
- Todd Akin On Abortion: 'Legitimate Rape' Victims Have 'Ways To Try To Shut That Whole Thing Down', Huffington Post
- Rush Limbaugh On Sandra Fluke, Obama Call: Having 'So Much Sex'; Parents Should Be 'Embarrassed', Huffington Post
- "Divided by Abortion, United By Feminism!"
- Absence of women at birth-control hearing prompts larger question, Washington Post
- Anita Sarkeesian documents sexism in video games and on Kickstarter, The Daily Dot (Note: Due to the nature of the threats Ms. Sarkeesian experienced, most of the comments, including the simply passive-aggressive comments, were removed from her sites.)
- Prepare for funny (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...)
- "When Gender Goes Pear-Shaped" Blaghag
- ""What's mansplaining?" Senator Mitch Fifield offended by Senator Katy Gallagher's allegation". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOXh5repOWI.
- Martin Luther King Jr.. "Martin Luther King, Jr. on WikiQuote". https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr.. I have a dream this afternoon that my four little children, that my four little children will not come up in the same young days that I came up within, but they will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin.