Mansplaining — if you haven't experienced mansplaining yourself, you've probably heard the word before.
The word Mansplaining was arguably coined after Rebecca Solnit's 2008 essay "Men Explain Things to Me," now also the title of her 2014 collection of essays in which she shares personal stories all too familiar for females everywhere.
If you're not already familiar, let's unpack what mansplaining is — and for those of you who have experienced it (and for those of you who have yet to experience it but likely will), here's also how to deal with a mansplainer.
What does it mean to mansplain?
Mansplaining is, in short, what happens when a man explains something with a certain kind of unwarranted and unfounded arrogance.
"Mansplaining is, at its core, a very specific thing — 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," according to the Merriam Webster dictionary.
It's very important to note that mansplaining is not simply when a man explains something. Rather, mansplaining is when a man explains something in a condescending manner.
Mansplaining happens in the workplace, during meetings between male and female colleagues of the same level with the same experience. It happens in the home, within toxic relationships. It happens on social media, on platforms like Twitter, where mansplainers are rife. It happens in the media, when white male journalists, especially, are blind to or choose to ignore their privileges, subjecting readers to their patronization. Mansplaining happens everywhere — in the subway car on the way to the grocery store, at the mall in line at checkout, at the bar over a beer.
Sometimes it's intentional, used as a way to exert power for one reason or another (usually insecurities tied to toxic macho masculinity). Other times it's done subconsciously — a product of how society teaches men to be men.
Whatever the case, mansplaining is so far from okay. In fact, it's incredibly harmful.
Why mansplaining is harmful?
Mansplaining is harmful for a gamut of reasons. Here are some of the major ways in which mansplaining can be detrimental to women, however:
- When a man mansplains to a woman, he assumes that a woman is incompetent, thus perpetuating unfair and untrue gender stereotypes that keep women one step behind at all times.
- When a man mansplains to a woman, he is condescending her, which reveals a lack of respect for her. And, of course, a lack of respect for women means that women don't actually have equal access to the same opportunities or be taken seriously when they do.
- When a man mansplains to a woman, he is negating her own experiences that have lead her to understand whatever it is that he is mansplaining. This strips her of her voice and neglects the fact that she may have knowledge on that subject herself, thus rendering her own intelligence on the matter useless.
What are some common forms of mansplaining?
Mansplaining happens in different ways. Here are four examples of common circumstances.
1. A man mansplains something about a woman's own life, decisions, thoughts, opinions, experiences or body that are all unique to her.
Sometimes, a man will mansplain a woman's own life to her. He'll tell her about her own decisions, thoughts, opinions, experiences or even her own body.
What men can do to stop this form of mansplaining: A mansplainer can, frankly, keep his unsolicited advice and opinions about a woman's inimitable life to himself. He can ask to offer feedback and, if it's welcomed, share. But it's important that he don't offer up his advice or opinion as fact ever.
2. A man mansplains something about a woman's own career, in which he is not an expert.
Sometimes, a man will mansplain a woman's own career to her, even though she has far more education and experience in that field than he does. In fact, he may not have any experience in that field at all, which makes it all the more condescending.
What men can do to stop this form of mansplaining: A mansplainer can, quite simply, not impart his own opinions and thoughts (or share them as fact), when the only fact is that they don't know for sure what they're talking about. This is especially true when the mansplainer doesn't have nearly the experience in or education on a matter as the woman to whom they're mansplaining.
3. A man mansplains something that a woman has just said, in his own repeated words.
Sometimes, a man will mansplain something that a woman has just explained. In other words, he'll ignore her and repeat his own explanation, that essentially just steals from her words. In doing this, he will likely interrupt her, as well — two phenomenons that have become knowing as "he-peating" and "man-terrupting."
What men can do to stop this form of mansplaining: Instead of repeating a woman's words, a mansplainer can stop to practice active listening. They can then validate that woman's words if they feel it necessary to repeat them, giving credit to the woman for her original explanation.
4. A man mansplains something that a woman didn't understand, but shouldn't have been condescended in trying to learn about it.
Maybe a woman really doesn't understand a concept and she asks to learn more about it. A mansplainer will explain the subject to her in a condescending or belittling way. In the same vein, when a woman does not understand a concept and doesn't ask for an explanation, a mansplainer will offer his unsolicited and unwarranted explanation. That, in and of itself, can be condescending.
What men can do to stop this form of mansplaining: Mansplainers can, first and foremost, ask before sharing their unsolicited advice, opinions and explanations. And when they're given consent to share, they can do so in a way that doesn't suggest that the woman is incompetent or ignorant for not knowing without their help.
Responding to a mansplainer isn't necessarily easy. It can be uncomfortable and awkward, and even intimidating if the mansplainer speaks with conviction and/or is of authority. That said, there are a few ways to respond to a mansplainer:
- Let the mansplainer know that you did not ask for his unsolicited opinion or baseless explanation.
- Assert your expertise over the mansplainer by sharing why you actually have more knowledge on the subject matter.
- If the mansplainer tries to re-explain what you've already said, take clear credit for your words.
- Talk it out with the mansplainer.
Mansplaining isn't a term that everyone can get behind, but the action itself is one that most of us can agree is a negative one. Some argue that dubbing someone a mansplainer ends the discussion, instead of allowing people to do #4, which is talk out their issue.
"I hate the term mansplaining; it adds absolutely nothing to discussions and inevitably leads to women being viewed as fragile," argues Stephanie Smith, Medium contributor. "Mansplaining is not a term created to provoke discussion. It is proudly designed to silence men. I say proudly because making men shut up is often seen as a good thing. Yet, perceiving the whole of mankind as a nebulous obnoxious force for evil helps no one. People who use the term ought to think about the individual they are dealing with and whether they personally deserve to be silenced. At the end of the day, talking about problems is the best way to work out a solution. If you end the discussion you are not contributing to an end of ‘mansplaining’ you are merely prolonging it."
Likewise, Smith argues that the term itself is inaccurate, as she says the phenomenon is not exclusive to men.
"It is purely based on conversational confidence between people," she says, adding that, "since the term mansplaining is used in a derogatory and gendered way it isolates men from the issue. In reality, we all have two ears for listening but only one mout for speaking. We can all benefit from listening more, but this term and the isolation of men only serves to make them defensive. Not just that, but the vast amount of innocent men being accused of manspreading makes it seem like legitimate cases do not exist."
Mansplaining has its own word because it happens all the time, whether you like the word or not and whether or not the phenomenon is always gendered (of course, there are times when women condescend others, too!). Mansplaining is arguably a pandemic issue plaguing our society, from the workplace to everyday conversations we have in passing. Despite how common it really is, however, it's unacceptable, and neither you nor anyone else should stand for it. Now you know how to identify it and how to respond to it — and while it shouldn't be women's burden to put mansplaining to an end — you have the tools necessary to stand up for yourself.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.