mansplaining: a definition and how to avoid it

Mansplaining in Four Points

1. Women are often socialized to approach their opinions passively by prefacing them with “I think” or “I feel” to lessen the blow of their words and distance themselves from potential controversy. When a man responds to a woman in the way men are often socialized to do by saying “This is how things are…” many women feel like they’re being bossed around or that the conversation is being hijacked by the man. This is often unintentional, but it’s still worth paying attention to, particularly when the woman is trying to share a personal anecdote rather than have an academic discussion.

2. Mansplaining as a term can only be used to describe a man’s conversational tone and behavior toward a woman or women because it results from the power imbalance between men and women in patriarchal societies.  Women can certainly be demeaning and callous to others, but this behavior does not fall under the category of mansplaining.

A man who mansplains is likely to use a patronizing, instructive tone with women that he doesn’t use with men. Or, as often happens in forums and comments sections of blog posts, he will specifically choose to address the comments made by women and avoid confrontation with any men involved, perhaps because he feels his arguments will hold more weight with women. He will often talk at instead of conversing with and will bring information into the conversation that derails it altogether instead of moving it forward.

(A friend pointed out that some men, rather than engaging with women in a condescending manner, will ignore women’s comments altogether. I’d say this is part of the same problem. In both cases, the woman’s comment is taken less seriously than the man’s.)

3. Mansplaining is a useful term for addressing this problem, but I don’t find it productive to call a man out for mainsplaining when I’m in conversation with him, especially if the incident occurs in a public setting (or on a public post on social media). It’s not helpful (or gracious) to use dismissive language like this because it cuts off the line of communication. It stops the conversation dead in its tracks, which makes it impossible to effectively address the problem. If you know the man involved, it may be best to take it up with him privately and preferably in person. If he is a stranger, just get the heck out of there (and maybe write a blog post about it!).

4. You’re much more likely to get called out for mansplaining if the woman you’re talking to doesn’t know you very well (or if you’re legitimately a jerk). It’s hard to read tone when you can’t envision what it would be like to talk face to face or when the woman has no sense of the assumptions you’re making about her during the conversation. For this reason, it’s important to articulate your point clearly and with kindness, especially if you insist on having the conversation online. Otherwise, try to meet up in person. Treat each other like adults who deserve to live in the world and have opinions and you’ll be okay.

Mansplaining is real, but it doesn’t justify women being jerks. Men and women are both guilty of  interrupting. Sometimes women say dumb things. This isn’t about refusing accountability, it’s about having productive and meaningful conversations that help us understand each other and the world a little bit better. Sometimes – oftentimes – that means checking our privilege. It means hearing each other out, respectfully.

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2 thoughts on “mansplaining: a definition and how to avoid it

  1. An example of this happens to me all the time: I say something that’s ignored by the men in a group, but when another man says the same thing it’s finally acknowledged. It’s really frustrating.

  2. Well, put, Leah. I think it’s also important for women to note that we can mansplain without even being aware of it. A man can come off as patronizing or condescending to the woman and at the same time be completely confused or perplexed when the woman responds to the mansplaining because he never intended to condescend or sound patronizing. It is easy for us from time to time to be oblivious to the effects of our socialization in this culture. I have been guilty of coming off that way without me even knowing it and without me intending any disrespect.

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