I know there have been some popular articles about how the term has been ruined over the years by becoming too broad, and then there are the articles that say it fails because it’s not broad enough. All of that seems a little too academic and nuanced, though. We don’t all have time to sit in a college classroom and debate feminism versus pop culture versus the Internet being the reason we can’t have nice things. While the portmanteau itself might give various people heartburn, the meaning behind the word is still valid—even if the meaning doesn’t have easily defined boundaries.
Quick summary: Mansplaining is a phenomenon that happens when a man (whether on purpose or not) assumes a woman needs something explained to her, when in fact, the woman does not. There is a condescending branch; there is a clueless branch. There is a branch that is blatantly sexist; there is a branch that doesn’t come from willful sexism, but instead from general patriarchy bullshit. All mansplainers aren’t assholes, though some are the very definition. It’s a term that encompasses a lot of things, with an overarching umbrella made of women’s deep sighs.
Recently, I was working an event at a museum (typing spontaneous poems) and a man approached my female colleague, asking for a poem on Richard Nixon. He proceeded to explain, in viscous, time-consuming detail, who Nixon was and for what he was famous.
At another event, a man didn’t want me to write him a Star Wars poem, because apparently my vagina can’t understand sci-fi. These are friendly men, who have NO IDEA they’re being offensive as fuck, but then they get offended when we try to politely point out that lady parts notwithstanding, women do, actually, have a grasp on the world at large.
So here’s a handy guide for the times when you, my lady friends, are confronted by offensive dudes. And for the times dudes try to mansplain mansplaining, by patiently (or not so much) explaining how they are not being patronizing. Not at all.
You ask your friends for suggestions on what book you should read next. A mansplainer gives you the history of books before he gives you a suggestion on what book to read. You call him out.
MANSPLAINER: I wasn’t being condescending, I was just answering your question on what good books to read. You asked, I answered. What’s the big deal?
YOU: “Answering my question would be, ‘Hey, here are some books I read and loved, maybe you’ll like them, too.’ What you said was, ‘Books are an amazing way for people to learn things. Non-fiction is about real-life events. Have you tried non-fiction lately?’ Advising me is not the same as offering a suggestion; it is an implication that I need to be educated.”
You are having a discussion about mansplaining with a friend and a man jumps in.
MAN: [frantically waving his arms] “But! But! Women over-explain things, too! I know how a diaper works. I am afflicted by womansplainers!”
YOU: “No. Womansplaining is not a thing. Yes, anyone can be condescending. Anyone can be an asshole. However, women get spoken to like this all the time. On the daily. There is institutional sexism going on here. There is an unbalanced dynamic of power. Women who over-explain things are not doing so because of the underlying fabric of society. And you can sure as hell believe they will be called out on it immediately and, more often than not, shamefully.”
Man has hurt feelings because you called him a mansplainer. He is offended that you are offended. He means well, damnit.
MAN: “I wasn’t trying to insinuate that you’re less intelligent. I was trying to explain, in a slow, calming voice, how it works when you jumpstart a car. It’s important information. For your safety.”
YOU: “I’m glad you don’t want me to get hurt, but here’s the thing. I didn’t ask how it works. I asked if I could use your car for a jump. Your assumption that I don’t know the mechanics (whether correct or incorrect) is a reinforcement of a system (socio/political/what have you) that believes women inherently know less. The pervasiveness of this feeling—whether intentional or not—has a trickle-down effect of women being valued less. Every time a man explains something to a woman when she didn’t ask for that explanation, there is a quiet reinforcement of why women earn less money and work harder for recognition.”
Man rolls his eyes, has had enough of your feminist over-thinking and vilifying.
MANSPLAINER: “I don’t think mansplaining exists. If you would just calm down and see that we’re trying to be helpful, everyone would get along so much better.”
YOU: [punch him in the face, get arrested, have a body cavity search on the side of the street, get investigated by Child Protective Services for being an unfit parent, receive 17 texts from your spouse about what’s for dinner, find yourself unable to answer the first grade teacher’s email about who is bringing extra water to the field trip thus causing many children to be thirsty, miss music lessons, finally get bailed out of jail, have a newspaper article written about you explaining that HYSTERICAL WOMAN ATTACKS HELPFUL CITIZEN JUMPSTARTING HER CAR, your mug shot goes viral, everyone calls you fat (or way too pretty to have a mug shot)]
And there you have it. Feel free to use this handy guide in as many instances as you see fit. May The Force be with you.