What’s mansplaining? If you’re a woman, you probably don’t need me to womansplain this to you. But for the sake of being thorough….
Mansplaining is a mashup of “man” and “explain”
Mansplaining (which is even on Merriam-Webster’s radar) occurs when a person explains something in a condescending or patronizing manner. Typically, a man to a woman. And typically, it’s without regard for the fact that it’s something she already knows.
[MALE INTERRUPTION]: “I think you’re mistaken, there’s no such thing as mansplaining. The problem with women is they just don’t understand feminism like I do. I read about feminism once, let me mansplain it to you….”
The gents over at Urban Dictionary define mansplaining as: “Stating verifiable facts that are inconvenient to the feminist worldview.” Trust me, the irony of a man defining “mansplaining” is not lost on me.
Most mansplaining is not as overt as this. It’s typically much more subtle – an interruption here, a co-opt of credit there. But these subtle interactions take place repeatedly and have a real effect on how women show up in the workplace and beyond. Mansplaining leads to disempowerment and silence from women. The more often it happens, the less often women speak up.
What to do when you’re being ‘splained at
- Assume it’s an innocent mistake. As author Rebecca Solnit points out, mansplaining is often the result of “overconfidence and cluelessness.” It’s most likely not intentional or malicious, so don’t go all VH1 on him. Calmly point out that you a) already said that, b) were interrupted, c) are an expert in the field, or d) have your own personal experience. [Note to men: I’ll give some advice on how to best respond below!]
- Empathize with his lack of understanding. Women aren’t the only ones that experience this patronizing phenomenon. All privileged groups are known for speaking condescendingly to underprivileged groups. For example, if you’re white, chances are you’ve been guilty of “whitesplaining” at one point or another. How would you feel if someone called you out on this? I would feel awful, guilty, and embarrassed. Be sensitive to the fact that men may feel awful, guilty, and embarrassed too. Point it out graciously, and move on (assuming it’s an isolated incident).
- Ask an intelligent probing question about the topic. This will demonstrate implicitly that you know your shit. It’s likely that he’ll take note, and that everyone else in the room will too.
- Be an ally to other women. When you witness mansplaining toward another woman, point it out. If he’s interrupting (Imma let you finish but…), ask to go back to her point. If he takes credit, credit the correct person. Everyone in the room will get the hint and likely learn from it.
But ladies, we have more work to do. Yes, countless studies have shown that women are interrupted more than men. But studies also show that women aren’t speaking up as much as men are. In meetings and in class, men are taking up the bulk of the air time. And yes, much of this difference is due to the psychological impacts of mansplaining and other similar phenomena. But in order to make a change, we need to speak up more.
It’s our responsibility to have our voice heard
There are fewer men than women on Twitter, yet men are retweeted more often. Men are also writing the bulk of opinion pieces online. SO… what are you waiting for? Get in there and share your voice! Speak up more in meetings. Write opinion pieces. Tweet and retweet other women.
I also recommend sharing the advice below with your manly bffs….
Mansplaining advice for men
- Know that mansplaining is real. Maybe you’ve heard that “mansplaining is made up by feminists.” Well, if you want a prime example of mansplaining, see the previous sentence. History has shown that when a marginalized group establishes a word to describe their marginalization, the privileged group will stamp that word a “slur.”
- Come from a place of wanting to understand. If someone points out your mansplanation, try not to get defensive. Know that it likely wasn’t easy for the woman to point it out, and she took a great personal risk in doing so. Thank her and say that you want to understand. If it’s in a public setting, ask her questions and let her share her expertise, and talk to her 1:1 afterward.
- Empathize. If you are part of a marginalized group (racial, economic, etc.), you likely can relate to what she experienced. Share that with her.
- Speak up. This is the most important one. Be an ally to women. When you witness mansplaining, point it out. You can be direct about it, but you don’t have to be. Say you want to go back to her point, or name the fact that she already made that point or is an expert on that topic. Everyone else will take note and learn from you.
Ladies, what are examples of times you’ve been mansplained at? How did you react?