Let me ‘mansplain’

By Bethany Knipp

“Mansplaining.” It’s a form of sexism.

It’s like “explaining” but it’s when a man explains a subject to a woman with the prejudicial assumption that she’s unknowledgeable or incompetent.

Urban Dictionary, known for its snarky definitions of 21st-century slang, captures the context of the word best: “to explain in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening” and “[for a man] to explain something in an unnecessarily long winded way, so as to dominate the conversation and to make statements that are not based on facts, assuming that people will believe and agree with him because he is male.”

Simply put, mansplaining undermines a woman’s intelligence. It happens because of our culture’s misguided assumptions about her gender.

Mansplaining exists because men are valued more highly than women here, and if there’s such a thing as “womansplaining,” I would argue it happens far less frequently.

As a female, I’ve had plenty of encounters with mansplanation, and it’s an infuriating experience.

During these encounters, I’ll be involved in a conversation with a male and he’ll rudely interrupt because, by default, he knows more than I do.

And then it goes like this: He keeps talking and talking and talking. I can’t get a word in. He mistakes my silence for ignorance.

I keep listening because I feel trapped by the one-sided conversation and my tendency to value Midwestern politeness. Worst of all, he keeps talking.

I start nodding my head and resorting to vocal fillers like “yeah” and “uh huh,” which he mistakes for agreeableness.

“This will end soon,” I tell myself.

And it doesn’t.

And suddenly, by some miracle, he decides he’s done talking to me. He thinks he’s achieved a better understanding between two parties.

I think he’s insulted my intelligence and wasted my time.

As much as I dislike a mansplanation because it’s condescending, arrogant and —let’s not forget—sexist, the thing about it is that the mansplainer is most likely unaware he’s doing it.

When I’m irritated after a mansplanation, I often forget that the mansplainer is not necessarily to blame for his lack of awareness. He’s never had to think about what he’s doing because of his social circumstances. I have had to think about it because of mine.

In my case, I am a white, middle-class female. I’m also gay, which makes me marginalized by our predominately heterosexual culture on top of the marginalization I receive as a woman.

The mansplainers I deal with are obviously male, and they are also generally white, heterosexual and middle to upper class, socioeconomically.

It is without question that in this country, white, heterosexual, middle- and upper-class men who are able-bodied have the most perks, or what college gender studies majors call “privilege.”

Unlike a black man, these men don’t see people locking their car doors as they walk by on the street. Unlike women of any ethnicity, they don’t have to think about how they’re going to walk home after dark without getting raped.

In other words, the men at the top of the social hierarchy have it pretty good.

They’re really lucky, but they’re not at fault for the circumstances in which they were born just as I’m not at fault for mine.

It’s important to note that not all of these guys are mansplainers. There are so many men who are socially aware, and their efforts of conscientiousness are greatly appreciated.

Mansplainers are a small portion of the men I’m describing.

For the mansplaining men, it’s in the best interest of everyone for them to think about what they’re doing, so here are some tips:

1) Though it takes some conscientiousness and practice, all mansplainers need to do is quiet themselves and listen to the women to whom they’re giving an unnecessary explanation.

2) If a woman doesn’t know something and needs your guidance, she’ll ask. Assume she’s a competent human being.

3) If a mansplainer becomes aware that he is mansplaining in the middle of a conversation, it would be really big of him to stop talking and say, “Sorry, I bet you knew that.” Explaining the way out of the conversation to save embarrassment only makes a mansplainer look more foolish. The woman will appreciate the humility.

Mansplainers, if you follow these tips I’ll have patience with you for the lack of awareness.

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