What Is Mansplaining?
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What is mansplaining: The History and how to stop it

What is mansplaining: The History and how to stop it

By Sarah Ng
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If you’re a woman, there’s a high probability you’ve been on the receiving end of 'mansplaining.'

Rebecca Solnit wrote Men Explain Things To Me: Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way about the very subject, in fact, and is credited with popularizing the term 'mansplaining' despite never formally using it in her writings. In her essay, Solnit recounts speaking to a man about being a writer. When Solnit begins describing her recent book about Eadweard Muybridge, the man immediately cuts her off to ask if she had 'heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out [that] year.' As it turns out, Solnit had heard of it—she had written it, in fact. This experience, she described, was 'something every woman knows.'

What is mansplaining?

Mansplaining derives from the words 'man' and 'explaining,' and means 'to explains something to someone, typically man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.' Some key indicators of mansplaining include a patronizing tone different from one they adopt with male cohorts, frequent interruption, and not listening. A major assumption of the mansplainer is that the person they’re talking to isn’t as or more knowledgeable on the subject as them and, therefore, would benefit from their unsolicited advice.

The history of mansplaining

Even though the concept of mansplaining has always existed, it wasn’t incorporated into people’s vocabularies until 2008 when Solnit published her essays. Solnit didn’t coin the term, but the essays shed enough light on the phenomenon for it to become part of people’s lexicon soon after. By 2010, it had entered the mainstream world when New York Times included it as one of its words of the year. In 2013, Dictionary.com decided to add the word to its dictionary, commending it for its creativity. The word has since been used to describe countless politicians, television hosts, and actors.

Where we are now

Mansplaining is as present as ever. Some could even argue that it has increased due to the controversy surrounding the word. Many men criticize the word for being sexist and dismissive, while some go so far as to call it misandry. One can argue that these are willful misinterpretations of the concept—plenty of parallel terms sprung up soon after, such as womansplaining and whitesplaining, and are all used to highlight similar microaggressions being perpetrated by various groups.

Mansplaining is just another microaggression that needs to be confronted before gender equality is possible. Although we haven’t eradicated it, our society is collectively aware of the phenomenon, which is always the first step in creating positive change.

Key figures

There’s no separating writer Rebecca Solnit from the history of mansplaining—despite her constant attempts to—but there are also many others who have contributed to its publicization.

In 2018, Kim Goodwin went viral on Twitter after sharing a chart she made for her male colleagues. In the chart, Goodwin helps guide her colleagues through their conversations, educating them on what qualifies as mansplaining and what does not.

While Goodwin received countless support from victims of mansplaining and some men even found it helpful, the tweet was not without criticism—many male-appearing users even responded to the post by mansplaining sexism to Goodwin.

Another infamous instance of mansplaining occurred in 2015 when actor Matt Damon was confronted about the lack of diversity in one of his films. The interviewer, a black female producer named Effie Brown, was interrupted by Damon as soon as she brought the point up. Damon proceeded to 'mansplain' diversity to her, which incited anger and frustration among viewers. Not too long after, the hashtag '#damonsplaining' began trending.

Here are some tips to help you stop mansplaining

  1. Ask yourself questions. One of the most important things you can do to curb mansplaining is to stop it before it starts. All you have to do is ask yourself a few questions—am I repeating what the person just said back to them? Am I knowledgeable on the topic? Offering unsolicited advice or explanations on things the speaker is already informed on isn’t just condescending, it’s exhausting.
  2. Keep track of how often you contribute. Not only do mansplainers talk over others, but they also talk much longer than others. If you’re talking to someone, try to keep track of how often you and the other person are contributing. If you find yourself contributing far more than your counterpart, try to keep it even by asking more questions and making fewer statements.
  3. Reflect on how you speak to people. Some signs of mansplaining include phrases like, 'Well, actually…' or 'Let me explain something.' Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to conversations or correct people when they’re wrong—you just need to be sure you’re using it in the appropriate context. People might use corrective language like 'well, actually' even if they’re agreeing with the other person because it serves as an ego boost. Usually, mansplaining includes talking down to people in a condescending tone and interrupting them frequently. An easy rule of thumb is to speak to other people the way you want to be spoken to.

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