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Have you noticed the word “mansplaining” appearing a lot lately online? Are you not sure what it means, or why people seem to be upset about it?

Mansplaining is a controversial term, socially and politically charged, and has been subject to very different definitions and opinions. If you’ve ever wondered what it means, where it came from, and how it got to be so charged, you’re in the right place.

If you’re wondering what’s the deal with the statue, we’ll come back to it in a bit.  

What is Mansplaining?

Mansplaining is a portmanteau of the words “man” and “explaining”, and refers to situations where a person (typically a man) explains something to someone else (typically a woman), often in a condescending way, without consideration for or regard to the explainee being more experienced with the subject in the first place.

mansplaining-meme

Examples

A man who explains to a mother what childbirth is like would be mansplaining. (Note that I specified that the woman is a mother, because, women do not have an innate and/or magical knowledge of childbirth). If that all seems simple enough, it’s about to get way more complicated.

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mansplaining-childbirth-meme

Spin-offs of Mansplaining

You could use mansplaining to refer to non-gendered situations.

For example, it could be used in scenarios where, hypothetically, a white person (either male or female) “mansplains” to a black person who works in social justice that there are more black people than white people in jail in the United States because the black people were brought up badly (obviously failing to take into account systemic racial injustices such as racial profiling, and more importantly, ignoring the wealth of experience the black social justice worker has). Mansplaining would cover the sentiment, but the situation may be a little clearer for your listeners if you use the term “whitesplaining”.

mansplaining-culture-meme

It gets even more dicey here on whether someone would understand you, but you could even use mansplaining to refer to when a woman explains something to a man without regard to him knowing more about it than her. For example, a woman who explains to a man about keeping a bathroom clean, even though the man is a professional custodian, could be considered a “mansplainer” as well.

The point is that the speaker is assuming to know better, without considering the life experience and qualifications of the person they’re talking to. It’s extremely frustrating for the listener, who usually can’t get a word in edge wise.

Some History

Mansplaining is a relatively new word. According to KnowYourMeme (an encyclopedia of Internet memes KnowYourMeme: An Encyclopedia Of Funny Internet Memes KnowYourMeme: An Encyclopedia Of Funny Internet Memes Read More ), mansplaining was coined in 2008 in the comments section of a LiveJournal community shortly after an essay entitled “Men Explain Things To Me” by Rebecca Solnit appeared in the Los Angeles Times. 

The word started to spread as a term people actively searched for in 2011. You can see for yourself thanks to Google Trends Google Trends : Buzz-Meter for Topics on the Web Google Trends : Buzz-Meter for Topics on the Web Read More ‘ search report on the term:

mansplaining-google-search

The idea behind mansplaining is not a new one, though. As Lily Rothman explains in an article for The Atlantic, people have been mansplaining long before there was a word for it.

Lyman Abbott once wrote (in the same magazine, in 1903!), “Why Women Do Not Wish the Suffrage“. It’s a perfect example of a mansplainer: a person who thinks and writes like he knows what women want better than women do themselves.

As the term started to popularize, it became a point of online contention between feminists and people who oppose feminism. Just take a look at this top Urban Dictionary definition for mansplain (awkward grammar aside):

mansplain-urbandictionary

Compare it to another top Urban Dictionary (a site for crowdsourced slang definitions UrbanDictionary : Define Your World UrbanDictionary : Define Your World Read More definition for mansplaining:

mansplaining-urbandictionary

The Problem

Part of the problem with the term “mansplain” is that it makes the practice of “‘splaining” (to remove the gendering from the term), or speaking in a way that dismisses someone else’s experience, a gendered one – but for many people, that’s the point. It’s a gendered term because men seem to “‘splain” more than women.

Though anyone can speak condescendingly to other people, women, along with minority groups, have a long history of being silenced, or otherwise punished for speaking up Tweeting While Female: Harassment, and How Twitter Can Fix It Tweeting While Female: Harassment, and How Twitter Can Fix It Twitter's abuse problem is real. Here are some examples, along with expert opinion on how Twitter can solve this. Read More . The term has value for people who advocate for minority voices to be heard. However, as Benjamin Hart explains (mansplains?), lately the term has been misused completely, referring to times when men say things to or about women. It’s unfair to bar half the population from a form of communication, or treat it as though explaining is bad. Using the term “mansplaining” excessively can also take the focus away from the content of the explanation itself, which may be misguided or wrong (like when US Senator Todd Akin claimed that women’s bodies can shut down pregnancies that result from ‘legitimate rape’) and not merely an example of men dominating a conversation.

As RationalWiki put it:

“Nothing about mansplaining 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.”

What’s The Deal With The Statue?

But let’s get back to the statue from earlier. That “Mansplaining” statue was photographed by Ash Hernandez, and captioned in a tweet by Cathy de la Cruz. After going viral and being retweeted hundreds of times, the Huffington Post picked up the story and called it, “One Statue Perfectly Captures Mansplaining“. For some, it depicts a man asserting himself and his ideas, literally towering over a woman as she listens politely: mansplaining caught in action, immortalized on a Texas university campus.

For others, including the creator, the statue merely depicts friendship and camaraderie. The man is posing with his knee on the bench simply to create a more dynamic scene.

Personally I don’t have much of an opinion on the statue one way or the other, but calling that statue Mansplaining did not endear my fellow feminists out there to everyone.

On Not Mansplaining

People often get upset at the thought that they can’t or shouldn’t explain something to someone else just because they might be men trying to explain things to women. And hey, I’m sympathetic to people who are eager to teach me something I don’t know. I try to be forgiving to people who may have explained something to me in my field, if they don’t know the field that I’m in.

But I draw the line at people (who know that I work in media and communications, who happen to be men) who mansplain to me the format of a press release, simply because they don’t agree with the subjective feedback I provide upon request. That happens. 

So, how can we all avoid mansplaining (or as Maggie Tokuda-Hall of Ravishly calls it to avoid gendering, powersplaining)?

Simple: consider your audience. Ask yourself: what are their fields of expertise? What might they have lived experiences in? Listen carefully, and be humble. And finally, resist the urge to mansplain mansplaining – but if you must, at least don’t call it that. We don’t need more thinkpieces on it.

mansplaining-mansplaining

Image Credits: she is boring via Shutterstock, Mansplaining The Statue by Ash Hernandez via Twitter, Has PhD in the Subject You’re Too Busy Mansplaining to Notice via QuickMeme, Mansplaining Childbirth via Privilege Denying Doula, I’m the Outside Voice Your Culture Has Been Waiting For via Roboseyo

  1. Christina S. Lewis
    September 17, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Great article. Thanks for writing it!

    Now bring on the tone arguments, strawman arguments and manhater accusations. One more and I've got bingo! :)

  2. Michael Scoates
    June 24, 2015 at 7:49 am

    Thanks for a good article on the matter, I feel a little more educated for reading it. I'm left wondering what term was used before the term mansplaining came into existence as it seems to be an historical mannerism. My guess is 'condescending'? On a side note my 20 year old daughter would probably accuse me of Dadsplaining a lot.

  3. the_caveman
    June 24, 2015 at 2:11 am

    Anyone who truly values better behavior should be put off by these terms. Mansplaining, whitesplaining. The only reason these were created and the only way they are actually used is a tool to produce shame. The only reason anyone shames anyone else is to attempt to control that person. While the author says these can be used in gender or neutral ways, in actual practice they never are. Furthermore, they were never intended to be used in gender or neutral contexts. They were created specifically to diminish someones opinion by implying that their motivations are sexist or racist. To say otherwise is simply ludicrous on its face. The reason that someone is being a jackass should always be secondary to the fact that they are being a jackass. Lastly, I can't see how this will even remotely get anyone to evaluate their behavior and be motivated to change. If I'm not mistaken, that is ostensibly the goal of the social justice warriors who created and support the use of this nonsense.

    PS. Am I the only one who fails to see how this relates to web culture? I guess the logic would be that since it's used or discussed on the "web", that it is instantly part of its culture. I suppose that makes any topic that's ever been discussed on the web part of "web culture".

    • David Tiroletto
      June 24, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      Right, the target here is clearly not the behavior but rather the gender of the person exhibiting this behavior. Yes, the article does make an allowance for the reversal, but this is silly in that "man" is a part of the word, thus clearly targeting men. This is the crux of the issue; rather than popularize not being condescending to people we're charging condescension with gender politics. Anyone and everyone is capable of being a pompous know-it-all and we've probably all committed it to varying degrees in our lifetimes. One may even accuse this post of "mansplaining" because I dare offer an explanation and one reading it may believe they know more or better than I do.

      This gets us no where in a social dialog of gender norms. This is specifically and purposefully designed to be derogatory and provocative rather than a healthy discussion between the sexes. I can't help but feel that people using this term are simply trying to pick fights. You simply alienate the audience you're trying to reach when you insult them with terms like these. Further the misuse and overuse of these sorts of terms then breed apathy in the people you want to actively change the way they behave.

    • fcd76218
      June 25, 2015 at 12:00 am

      Back in the insensitive days before the Web, we would call an individual like that a "know-it-all", a "snob" or a plain "a**hole". But since we are all Politically Correct now, we use terms like "mansplaining" or "whitespalining" and other terms derogatory to specific ethnic, gender, religious or age groups. How ironic!

    • Riley J. Dennis
      June 25, 2015 at 6:24 am

      re: web culture, it's addressed in the first line of the article. it's for people who see the term appearing online and don't understand the phenomenon.

      about the rest of it: calling someone out for being sexist or racist isn't an attempt to shame or control anyone. it's an attempt to call them out for being sexist or racist. it's obviously meant to diminish a sexist or racist opinion, because assuming that someone is worse at something because of their gender or race is an opinion that should be diminished. and it obviously won't change the minds of those too sexist or racist to care, but it might change the minds of those who weren't aware of what they were doing and are willing to change once it's brought to their attention.

      • the_caveman
        June 25, 2015 at 12:40 pm

        You know, by creating a term that specifically targets men for being sexist and whites for being racist, while also specifically NOT creating a term that targets women for being sexist and NON-whites for being racist strongly implies that only men can be sexist and whites can be racist. That implication is at the core of the issue. Some in our society have decided that only men can be sexist or whites racist and these terms were invented and are deployed to reinforce that idea. That taints the whole restorative process of bringing everyone together whereby we ALL begin to discount race or gender when we consider a person's abilities or aptitude. There's nothing fair or equal-minded about using these terms because truly their use is not about correcting someones attitude or action. These are punitive, shameful terms meant strictly to be used in a punitive and shameful fashion. Let me also add that sexism and racism are motivations. Truly sexist and racist actions begin with a desire to be sexist and racist. You can't accidentally be racist or sexist. You may inadvertently act in a way that's commonly perceived as being racist or sexist in which case being corrected in such a snarky fashion is probably going to make you feel pretty bad and embarrassed. I submit that there are better and more productive ways to do it if you truly want to HELP someone learn the error of their ways.

  4. Ryan McCallum
    June 23, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    Great article!

  5. fcd76218
    June 23, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    The article is an example of misandry.

    Is it the author's contention that women never feel the need to boorishly "correct" what a man said, even on topics the woman didn't know anything about? Or is it her contention that women are never boorish?

    • Riley J. Dennis
      June 24, 2015 at 1:26 am

      did you read the article? she literally wrote:

      "It gets even more dicey here on whether someone would understand you, but you could even use mansplaining to refer to when a woman explains something to a man without regard to him knowing more about it than her. For example, a woman who explains to a man about keeping a bathroom clean, even though the man is a professional custodian, could be considered a “mansplainer” as well."

      so, yeah, not misandric at all.

      • fcd76218
        June 24, 2015 at 11:51 pm

        One paragraph does not change the tenor of the article.

        • Riley J. Dennis
          June 25, 2015 at 6:29 am

          i mean she literally directly addressed your one problem with the article, so, that does seem to change the tenor of the article. you can't say "my problem with this article is that it doesn't have X" and then be shown that it does include X and then change your complaint to "well it doesn't have enough X."

          besides, when explaining a term that was specifically invented to call men out for their misogyny, it wouldn't make any sense to write an article about it and completely avoid saying that it is how and why it was invented. explaining the invention of a word is not misandric -- it's helpful to those who've never heard of it before.

        • hggfftr75
          June 25, 2015 at 12:42 pm

          The term "Mansplaining" carries a negative connotation and is gender specific. Trying to lump women who are guility of similar behaviour under the same label is nothing more than a ruse. It is an attempt to legitimise the term under the guise of equal treatment.

          However, the politically correct thing would be to call the actions of female perpetrators "Womansplaining"...not so? One could be forgiven for thinking that.

          Just imagine if such a negatively-"tinged" gender specific term were used to call out females on behaviours to which they are primarily guilty. Let's take nagging as an example. We can all agree that women nag more than men. But "Nag", "Nagger" and "Nagging" are all non-gender specfic so it can refer to the actions of either sex.

          But lets say we didn't have a term for that and one had to be coined. Let's call that term: "Womanswhining" because they seem to "whine" more than men. Let's also say that the term could also refer to those minority of men who exhibit similar behaviour. Would that make the term more acceptable in society's eyes?

          I can hear the feminists now.

          By the way, the above is rhectorical. The double standard is clear.

        • fcd76218
          June 26, 2015 at 6:53 pm

          "the politically correct thing would be to call the actions of female perpetrators “Womansplaining”…not so?"
          Harking back to the height of the feminist movement, the politically correct term should be "Personsplaining". :-) But using that term would defeat the entire purpose of this article.

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