OK, let's all take a deep breath here. If you have ever been the recipient of the words 'well actually...' followed by a hyper-confident smug smirk as some dudebro goes on to condescendingly tell you everything you already know about a subject, then odds are you have already stumbled across a mansplainer before.
There's a lot to get prickly about when it comes to mansplaining (no one is a fan of condescension) but along with being downright annoying, the mansplaining phenomenon can be way more damaging as it plays into gender stereotypes, silences women's voices, and backs up the idea that men always know best.
Let's take a closer look at what mansplaining is and why it's an ongoing issue when it comes to gender inequality...
What is Mansplaining?
Merriam Webster defines mansplaining as: to explain something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic
While the term may be new to our modern lexicon, mansplaining incidents have been around for centuries and are undoubtedly a bi-product of living in a society built on deeply ingrained gender bias. But it was Rebecca Solnit who called it out on a larger societal scale with her 2008 essay 'Men Explain Things to Me'.
Mansplaining takes its name as its often directed towards women or gender non-conforming people by cis men. It shows up in ways both big and small. From a person telling an expert how to do their job to men chiming in to bulldoze a conversation about things they may not understand or have experience in. Of course, conversation and discourse from different points of view matter, BUT mansplaining is not this.
Mansplaining has a different tone. It's used to talk over, shush, or dismiss women effectively aiming to put them 'back in their place'. It's not merely an annoyance to have someone offer unsolicited advice or an unwanted explanation, it has deeper implications as Solnit sketches out here;
“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. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.”― Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me
Why Mansplaining Sets a Dangerous Precedent
For women who have a long history of not being heard, of being considered intellectual property, deigned hysterical, emotional, and forever made to question our own knowledge, truth, and experience, mansplaining only serves to further shake the ground beneath our feet. It backs up the constant assumption that men know best and if men know best, they have the authority to make decisions and laws over our rights, our bodies, our reproductive health, and how we get to live our lives.
Women have been raised to be a pleasant audience for men. To not interrupt, disagree, counteract, or otherwise present knowledge and explanations that could call into question the hierarchical knowledge of male authority.
Being subconsciously subversive and making space for someone with incomplete knowledge is exhausting.
So often we will just let it pass either because we don't have the energy to sanction mansplaining—because deep down we are wary of invoking potential male anger—or because we are just so used to it.
We all play into the narrative of unconscious bias. Whether it's a white person failing to challenge their own racial stereotypes, a male colleague assuming competence levels, or a mistaken assumption that you can call someone's gender based on appearance, we all have work to do.
How Mansplaining Feeds into Himpathy
Mansplaining comes from entitled behavior and this can lead to dangerous situations when that sense of entitlement is denied or called into question. It may sound like a dramatic arc but it can contribute to a culture of sexual harassment, systemic misogyny and sexist behavior - all of which keep us from moving forward when it comes to gender equality. There's another layer added into this toxic mix too - himpathy.
Himpathy and mansplaining go hand in hand, they make us hesitate before correcting someone or calling them out on their cluelessness because we preemptively feel sorry for their potential shame at being corrected, as though there is nothing worse than a woman explaining something to a man. Again, this is shaky subconscious territory as it elevates the potential tragedy of male shame over female pain.
In Kate Manne's book Down Girl, Manne describes 'himpathy' as 'the inappropriate or outsize sympathy extended to male perpetrators of misogyny and sexual violence over their female victims, who are often erased in the process'.
I have so many feelings about this, but I’m sort of choking on words. When will our culture stop telling women and girls who have been victimized to get over it and feel sorry for the aggressor? I’m so over #himpathy https://t.co/eE0aC6GvbJ— Rosemary (Romi) Hill (@RomiDesigns) July 3, 2019
Mansplaining is a bigger picture topic than just rolling our eyes at a funny tweet (although this can help bring us a collective outlet and illuminate stories and examples). Mansplaining is wrapped up in our political history, feminism, women taking their place in a leadership role, the progression of gender equality, and empowerment for marginalized people to feel safe and valid when using their voice.
It's important for us to recognize mansplaining so we are better equipped to shift the narrative, it's not about our lack of knowledge it's about a society that underestimates and undervalues knowledge outside of the cis male spectrum.
Mansplaining Examples That Almost Broke the Internet (or probably went completely unnoticed by the patriarchy)
Now we have done a deep dive into the word mansplaining and hopefully shed some light on the difference between shared knowledge and completely unwanted and unasked for responses, we take a look at a few examples of mansplaining that may help you to spot mansplainers before that condescending manner gets too close.
1. Someone call the mansplainer hotline and make a report, because how could a mama to be possibly understand this without male help.
— Avonna (@acarolines) May 13, 2021
2. Sigh. Long sigh. Pack it all up in the 'treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen box'
Men: Dude, I'm gonna tell you all about girls, what they want and how to get them. I'm an expert!— Abby Pennanen 🎶 | BLACK LIVES MATTER✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿 (@AbbyJ_Unicorn) May 16, 2021
Women: Actually, that's not quite right. What we actually like is-
Men: LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU#Mansplaining
3. When a guy decides to explain exactly what you have just demonstrated like it's brand new information. He's lucky he didn't get the paddle in the face
Man explaining to me how to turn a kayak, as I landed at the end of a 200-mile paddle.— Eleanor Thomas (@EleanorThomas17) May 18, 2017
4. We can't even....
A male ob/gyn told me that if I focussed harder on my work or picked up an interesting hobby my menstrual cramps wouldn't bother me so much.— Kimberly #BlackLivesMatter 👟 Willardson (@kimberrry) May 18, 2017
5. When some guy decided to correct a woman doing a photo study on vulvas...
The correct word is vagina.— Herr Doktor Professor Paul Bullen, scientist (@paulbullen) February 10, 2019
6...After getting corrected (and called out) he decided to go on a little further...
That’s an incorrect use of the word mansplaining. :-). Not that I want to legitimize the term, but by its own definition it requires more than just having just a man who is explaining something. Even if some in the audience are women.— Herr Doktor Professor Paul Bullen, scientist (@paulbullen) February 10, 2019
7. Wow, surely this is peak 'plaining right here...
How to pronounce my name. :/— Anindita Debnath Nair (@PartTimeCook) May 17, 2017
8. The ultimate cringe, yes please Carl leave another comment loaded with stats and zero acknowledgement of experience.
Yes guy on Facebook, please continue to mansplain unwanted sexual advances & assault to me as if I haven’t had tits since 1997.— cristina palumbo-dellanno🍕🍑 (@cristinapalumbo) October 10, 2018
9. Not all heroes wear capes...
I just had crossing the street mansplained to me?? guy was like “u gotta wait for the light” ahhh cheers babe I was about to just walk into oncoming traffic ur a national hero xoxo— ellie schnitt (@holy_schnitt) June 13, 2019
10. Deep breaths and count to a million. Oh, and put the knife down...
A live-in boyfriend who never cooked trying to tell me I chopped garlic wrong. Bitch, I'm Sicilian. Sit down https://t.co/v97U9X4cLi— Crystal (@CRREdwards) May 17, 2017
Do you have a buddy who mansplains or a male coworker who always has a 'well actually' response? Is your social media feed filled with wannabe experts clogging up your thread or are you always on the lookout for potential mansplainers in your social groups? Share your story with us in the comments.
You might also like: