You’ve Got Some Mansplainin’ To Do
We had a little interchange here at Exponent this week. It’s a fairly common one for us and a lot of female-run blogs. Commenters of the male persuasion will swoop in and inform us of our general ignorance/misunderstanding of the gospel or secular issues and then attempt to explain to us “how things really are.” In the feminist blogosphere, this phenomenon is called “mansplaining”. Here’s a definition:
Mansplaining isn’t just the act of explaining while male, of course; many men manage to explain things every day without in the least insulting their listeners.
Mansplaining is when a dude tells you, a woman, how to do something you already know how to do, or how you are wrong about something you are actually right about, or miscellaneous and inaccurate “facts” about something you know a hell of a lot more about than he does.
Bonus points if he is explaining how you are wrong about something being sexist!
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?
That dude is a mansplainer.
Of course, this phenomenon is not only present on blogs, women deal with mansplaining every day. For example, I specialize in issues related to domestic violence. I have worked as an advocate against domestic violence for my entire career, I have lobbied legislatures for better DV policies, given lectures on domestic violence to professionals, students and community members, testified in domestic violence trials and am currently getting a Master’s Degree with a concentration in domestic violence policy. I know my stuff. Do you want to guess how many times men, upon hearing what I do, have tried to explain domestic violence to me? (As a humorous and overwhelmingly frustrating aside, usually that explanation boils down to the fact that it’s the victim’s fault for being in a bad relationship. And, no joke, she is in the relationship because she has not had a strong, male influence in her life!)
I generally don’t like to use the term mansplaining, not because I think it doesn’t happen–it does–but because it’s just not very productive. It immediately puts men on the defensive and you will never convince a mansplainer that he is mansplaining. Also, I love men. I have a husband, father and sons that I adore and they deserve so much better than this label.
But mansplaining is a problem. Rebecca Solnit put it best when she wrote:
Men explain things to me, and to other women, whether or not they know what they’re 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.
Mansplaining isn’t a conversation enhancer, it is a conversation destroyer. It seeks to halt a discussion on the authority of a man’s pronouncement. And this is an authority granted only for being a man in a patriarchal society. I should note that I believe that most mansplaining is done with the best of intentions but that doesn’t change the fact that it is an exercise of privilege. When men explain things to women in a manner that ignores the humanity or intelligence of women, it reinforces male authority and dominance.
There is a cure for mansplaining, one that requires nothing more than the willingness to listen. Women, like men, are wise and have vast experiences and knowledge to share. Nothing could make this world better than if women’s voices and experiences were given just as much credit and authority as men’s. And if this were to happen, mansplaining would be among the smallest of social problems solved.