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Jun 25 2013

Let me explain “mansplaining” to you

As a professional blogger, college professor, and world-renowned expert in patronizing condescension, I will take a moment of my valuable time to explain this important concept to you. As you can see, it has the word “man” in it, which means I’m even more qualified to pontificate, and…

What’s that? Did you just kick me in the shins? You don’t have to yell!

Oh.

OK, Alice Rose Bell explains it pretty well. I guess.

46 comments

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  1. 1
    John Morales

    Lampshaded in Get Smart with this recurring quip:

    “If you don’t mind, 99, I’d like to figure this out myself.”

    ~Maxwell Smart, after getting a suggestion from 99 on what to do next, which is followed by him repeating 99′s suggestion.

  2. 2
    AussieMike

    Pfft! Please PZ, there is sooo much more to mansplaining than you will ever know.

  3. 3
    machintelligence

    Although men may do it more frequently, it isn’t really gender specific. My daughter complains about excessive explanation from her mother and I get the same feeling sometimes about my sisters.*
    Perhaps we need to preface our remarks with the standard joke introduction: “Stop me if you have heard this one.”
    *Those of us who really know it all find those who only think they do to be a pain in the ass. [/snark]

  4. 4
    atheist

    I do find myself “mansplaining” sometimes, especially on the internet where I can’t see the other party nodding or looking slightly annoyed, which would stop me in a face-to-face conversation. And then, sometimes my humor detector is a bit faulty too. Internet conversations are strange.

  5. 5
    Don F

    I remember helping set up an outdoor lampworking area with a group that my wife does glass bead making with. I noticed there were some lighting problems, so, knowing something about lighting, it seemed natural for me to fix the problems. After we got done with all the setups (oxygen, Mapp gas, shelters, fire extinguishers, music, etc, etc, etc) the woman in charge of the operation came up to me and said, “Thanks for what you did, and for what you didn’t do.” “Huh?” I said. “You took over with the lighting, because you obviously knew what you were doing, and it needed to be done. You DIDN’T try to take over with anything else . . . and that’s rare with most men I know.” It was a proud moment for me . . . .

  6. 6
    Prof. Bleen

    In the shins? She was aiming about a foot and a half too low.

  7. 7
    Gregory in Seattle

    If you are able to recognize it as mansplaining, you are doing it wrong.

  8. 8
    carlie

    What’s that? Did you just kick me in the shins? You don’t have to yell!

    First, I kicked him in the shins, thusly.

  9. 9
    carlie

    Although men may do it more frequently, it isn’t really gender specific.

    It is power differential specific, and most often occurs in the man-woman direction, so it kind of is.

  10. 10
    changerofbits

    But, but, but, the great penis in the sky knows all and we can’t help it if our penises are constantly picking up knowledge waves.

  11. 11
    mythbri

    It is power differential specific

    Absolutely, which is why I like that the term has evolved in to several terms, each attempting to convey a behavior most often performed by the privileged to those without that privilege:

    Whitesplaining

    Straightsplaining

    Cissplaining

    etc.

  12. 12
    mythbri

    What would be the term for when religious people condescendingly explain to atheists that they have a god-shaped hole in their hearts?

    Godsplaining?

    Religisplaining?

  13. 13
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Eh, I think her original explanation of it is fairly good, but it totally loses the point.

    Domestic violence was coined to capture something essential in a relationship beyond just the fact that one person hit another. Blows are struck by people of nearly every gender and blows are received by people of nearly every gender. That doesn’t make them domestic violence.

    Explaining something to someone in a condescending fashion happens all the time, committed by people of nearly every gender and targeting people of nearly every gender. That doesn’t make it mansplaining.

    The later bending over backwards by Alice Rose Bell to strip it of its specific critique of a specific power dynamic so as to make it less threatening, makes it less accurate.

    Then along comes machintelligence talking about mother/daughter & sister interactions and I wonder if ARB’s original definition that is later undercut is really effectively communicated at all.

    This “everybody does it thing” is ridiculous. Everyone with the ability to hit others has hit others: we’ve all been 3 years old. That doesn’t mean that “everybody does” domestic violence or that “battered women’s syndrome” is either wrongly named or indicative of an innate deficit in women.

    Mansplaining is a thing. It does not indicate an innate deficit in men or we wouldn’t bother talking about it. If you want to talk about something else, go ahead and talk about something else, but don’t pretend it’s mansplaining to make your, “Oh, but see everyone does it so I’m not sure how much gender has to do with it,” point.

  14. 14
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    None of you people know what you’re talking about.

    here let me expl

  15. 15
    rejiquar works

    Don F @ 8:21: Hey, moar glass beadmakers associated with pharyngula!

    Pretty sweet.

    But, yes, it’s pretty frustrating to have the studio assistant at the metals class you’re taking to announce to you that no, he doesn’t care you’ve been working with oxy-fuel torches on a daily basis for over a decade, he’s gonna call his friend in another country to ask whether about fuel to oxygen ratios, cuz he’s pretty sure it’s supposed to be 2:1 gas to oxy…

    Sheesh.

    Or the guy at the welding store telling you that no, quick disconnects can’t possibly work that way, even though it’s the industry standard for the lampworking community.

    I suppose it’s not entirely surprising that beadmakers tend to have spouses with plenty of DIY expertise in other areas, and who’ve generously helped us out with it—but we appreciate it all the same.

    So, thanks from another glass beadmaker.

  16. 16
    carlie

    This “everybody does it thing” is ridiculous. Everyone with the ability to hit others has hit others: we’ve all been 3 years old. That doesn’t mean that “everybody does” domestic violence or that “battered women’s syndrome” is either wrongly named or indicative of an innate deficit in women.

    Yes, exactly. Then the problem isn’t just that the term becomes meaningless, it’s that we end up glossing over the actual data and lose the ability to figure out its causes. It’s like those “I don’t see color/I don’t care if you’re purple” people. If you gloss over the actual data in favor of some feel-good “well, everybody does it” generalization, you’re missing the point.

  17. 17
    otrame

    I think we need a word that means “assuming a mantle of expertise not in evidence” that is gender-neutral (because women are quite capable of doing that) and keep mansplaining for the specific case when a man explains things to women, under the assumption that OF COURSE he knows more about it than she does…because he’s a man and she’s only a woman*. My favorite is the one mentioned in the article cited in the OP, where a man explained the argument in a book to a woman who wrote the book, even after she told him she wrote the book.

    *very much more common than the reverse, but the reverse does exist–oh, yes.

  18. 18
    mythbri

    Well, “condesplaining” might be a good catch-all. But the privilege-specific terms are still very useful.

  19. 19
    carlie

    I think we need a word that means “assuming a mantle of expertise not in evidence” that is gender-neutral (because women are quite capable of doing that)

    We already have that: blowhard, pompous, arrogant, braggart, blusterer, swindler, example of Dunning-Kruger. Mansplaining was designed for a particular sociological condition.

  20. 20
    lostintime

    So mansplaining is when a man condescendingly explains what it’s like to be disenfranchised in relation to gender, just like whitesplaining or straightsplaining. Got it. I can imagine this phrase becoming very irritating though if it’s not used in the right context.

  21. 21
    moarscienceplz

    What would be the term for when religious people condescendingly explain to atheists that they have a god-shaped hole in their hearts?

    It seems to me the symptom they are describing is actually located about twelve inches higher.

  22. 22
    roro80

    @ Crip Dyke

    The later bending over backwards by Alice Rose Bell to strip it of its specific critique of a specific power dynamic so as to make it less threatening, makes it less accurate.

    Yes, I would agree entirely!

    Yes, we all know women we think of as know-it-alls too, but the social phenomenon that is mansplaining occurs in part because men are consistently backed up and women are consistently disappeared by any observing group (classrooms from elementary to grad school, work situations, community orgs, political groups), reinforcing to men that they are experts, and reinforcing to women that they are not. Women experts are told over and over and over again that we are overstepping, we are know-it-alls, that we are hogging power, that we talk too much, that we are nerds, that we are attention-seeking, that we are snobs. And that’s when we’re not ignored entirely in favor of men’s voices, which is the most common. This is the real phenomonon, in my opinion — it creates the power differential, reinforces the behavior, and self-perpetuates. The negative reinforcement for women — that we should be demure and quiet and defer to men — is so well ingrained, and starts from such an early age, that there is real discouragement from women becoming experts in the first place.

  23. 23
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Women experts are told over and over and over again that we are overstepping, we are know-it-alls, that we are hogging power, that we talk too much, that we are nerds, that we are attention-seeking, that we are snobs. And that’s when we’re not ignored entirely in favor of men’s voices, which is the most common.

    I was once told not to do math in public* b/c it was intimidating my co-workers.

    This women can’t be experts thing? And the if we are we shouldn’t be proud of it thing?

    This.

    *in my head or just generally on my own brainpower & not using a calculator/computer

  24. 24
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Crip Dyke:

    This “everybody does it thing” is ridiculous.

    THANK YOU!

    I didn’t even finish the article because wow, I don’t really want to read several thousand words destroying a really useful concept.

  25. 25
    Moggie

    Crip Dyke:

    I was once told not to do math in public* b/c it was intimidating my co-workers.

    Well, everyone knows girls suck at math.

    otrame:

    My favorite is the one mentioned in the article cited in the OP, where a man explained the argument in a book to a woman who wrote the book, even after she told him she wrote the book.

    While that example does make me cringe, it’s good to imagine the epic pwnage which hopefully ensued. Better than a “Marshall McLuhan moment”!

  26. 26
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    I didn’t finish the article either, because frankly, meh. We have an abundance of words to describe people assuming they know more about a subject than their conversation “partner” (let’s be real, it’s gonna be more of a lecture than a conversation) that don’t involve a power differential at hand. We needed words for the situations where a power differential is happening, and especially when the condescension is on a subject pertaining to that power differential.

    Like, it’s one thing to have someone similar to you bloviate at you about something relatively neutral, but it’s kind of another to have, say, a dude refuse to believe that period cramps are real, and explain to you while you’re doubled over that it can’t be that bad. (Yes, I did kick him.) Or to have a male doctor see that you’re a rape survivor on your chart and decide that all your chronic pain is because of that, refusing to believe you when you say that the pain began five years before the rapes. Or cis people condesplaining how non-binary gender doesn’t make sense because they can’t imagine it, but as normal people, they are therefore experts.

    ‘Splaining is a fucking useful term. And I don’t even care a little bit that it makes the usual groups of ‘splainers all itchy. A word was needed to describe the microaggression, and now we have one.

  27. 27
    roro80

    I was once told not to do math in public* b/c it was intimidating my co-workers.

    Yes, much more comfortable for our co-workers to continue to think that we must be stupid because we’re girls. Masculinity is the most delicate little flower. Meanwhile, let’s all ooh and ahh over the man PhD and how he’s really gonna help take this company to the next level.

  28. 28
    ChasCPeterson

    It’s a real thing, no doubt, and it certainly happens a lot–I’ve been guilty too–and I suppose that fact alone makes it a ‘sociological condition’ and I guess that means it needs a term.
    But wow. It had to be that one?

    Whitesplaining, Straightsplaining, Cissplaining

    Gah. Gah. Gah.
    My opinion (floosh me baby): All of these are horrible ugly barbarisms that each carry a ton of baggage in the form of various connotations and intrinsic polarization. Their use suggests a disregard for language and a simplified worldview that makes me judge the user. I have a hard time seeing past them.
    ka-floosh

    nearly every gender

    You keep using this phrase. You’re so careful to carve out exceptions in each case that it makes me curious. How many genders are there? Which ones are never hit and which ones never explain conescendingly?

    “condesplaining”
    GAH

    [Desi Arnaz, I blame you. And Rebecca Watson.]

  29. 29
    Jacob Schmidt

    So mansplaining is when a man condescendingly explains what it’s like to be disenfranchised in relation to gender, just like whitesplaining or straightsplaining.

    I guess? I always saw it as patronizing condescension based on gender, like the story over at “Acedemic men explain things to me” where a man decides to explain dilution to a woman grad level chemistry major.

    It often goes hand in hand with Dunning Kreuger, where the man feels knowledgeable enough to lecture the woman on a subjects he’s merely googled.

    Yes, much more comfortable for our co-workers to continue to think that we must be stupid because we’re girls. Masculinity is the most delicate little flower.

    I have hope for this little stereotype. My advanced math class in highschool was mostly female. I didn’t even here about that stereotype until that one simpsons episode. Maybe I’m just oblivious.

  30. 30
    ChasCPeterson

    ‘Splaining is a fucking useful term.

    Use it in good health.
    (As an old straight white cis American man, far be it from me to try to tell anybody else what to do.)

  31. 31
    roro80

    @Chas

    I guess that means it needs a term. But wow. It had to be that one?

    I’m a little confused. Is there something particularly pernicious about a portmanteau between “man” and “explain”? I know lots of men don’t like the term because they happen to be men and aren’t used to being uncomfortable with their privilege, but I can think of almost nothing less inherently offensive, and have no trouble thinking of more offensive ways in which we might refer to the same thing.

    How many genders are there?

    Clearly the construction “nearly every gender” indicates any number more than 2, although more than 3 would be a better guess; I don’t think this is something you couldn’t have figured out…?

  32. 32
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    @Chas

    nearly every gender

    You keep using this phrase. You’re so careful to carve out exceptions in each case that it makes me curious. How many genders are there? Which ones are never hit and which ones never explain conescendingly?

    How many are there? Depends on how you define gender. Some people believe that there exist personal genders. I don’t really think it works like that, because part of gender is the mores and punishments that go with a gender, and those are not unique to an individual no matter how idiosyncratic is a person’s relationship to masculinity & femininity.

    But knowing that people might be reading me with a definition of gender that permits individuals to have unique genders, I’m not willing to imply that every single individual everywhere hits and every single individual everywhere explains condescendingly.

    I have no personal evidence of a person who has never hit, beyond those poor kids who don’t live long enough to do so. But I’m leaving room for the exceptional – in a world of 7 billion, I just think it’s wise.

  33. 33
    Don F

    It’s always amusing going into a welding shop with my wife when she’s looking for supplies and the guy — or gal — at the store comes up to me and asks me what I’m looking for. One time, as my wife was describing what she wanted, I started to wander off to the other side of the store and the guy followed ME . . . so I told him he just lost a customer, and we left.

  34. 34
    vole

    I’ve had a similar experience in a haberdasher’s, where they couldn’t believe a man might want to buy anything.

  35. 35
    mythbri

    All of these are horrible ugly barbarisms that each carry a ton of baggage in the form of various connotations and intrinsic polarization. Their use suggests a disregard for language and a simplified worldview that makes me judge the user. I have a hard time seeing past them.

    Well, then, clearly you’re entitled to not use them, or listen to/read anyone else who does. I would suggest that once one of these terms has been employed, which describe a specific set of behaviors, some amount of polarization has already occurred. Coming to an understanding of both words and behavior seems like a good start to de-polarization.

    Or you can continue to judge me and use that as an excuse to not pay attention to anything I say. Your call.

  36. 36
    Jadehawk

    my mom keeps on running into ‘splainers all the time, because she’s an 1)immigrant 2)woman 3)over 50 and she works in IT in Germany. She used to get really pissed off at herself for letting the ‘splainers shake her confidence only to later check and realize she was right about whatever it was she disagreed with the ‘splainer about.

  37. 37
    serena

    OMFG Thank you, dear commenters, for giving me a word for this – Momsplaining. Mom always knows everything about everyone else and can tell you alllll about it…

    All of these seem to be types of superiority complexes.

  38. 38
    ChasCPeterson

    Your call.

    yep, and there are more than the two options you mention.

  39. 39
    What a Maroon, el papa ateo

    What would be the term for when religious people condescendingly explain to atheists that they have a god-shaped hole in their hearts?

    Lying.

  40. 40
    Ingdigo Jump

    Chas remains his usual paragon of sensitivity

  41. 41
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)
    Although men may do it more frequently, it isn’t really gender specific.

    It is power differential specific, and most often occurs in the man-woman direction, so it kind of is.

    I’ve argued that the general term is “condesplaining,” with “mansplaining” as a subcase where the speaker condescendingly presumes authority on the basis of being male (explicitly or implicitly), speaking on a “masculine” subject, or presenting what is believe to be a “male” perspective even if not male-identified themself. With whitesplaining, straightsplaining, and others for similar behavior across other privilege divides.

    Otherwise you can, at least, wind up accusing a woman of “mansplaining” and arguably misgendering her to dismiss her argument. Which I’ve more or less seen happen a few times (commenters on Zuska’s blog in the SB days, among others), and is kind of not good.

  42. 42
    Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD

    I think we need a word that means “assuming a mantle of expertise not in evidence” that is gender-neutral (because women are quite capable of doing that) and keep mansplaining for the specific case when a man explains things to women, under the assumption that OF COURSE he knows more about it than she does…because he’s a man and she’s only a woman*.

    Ultracrepidarianism. I think it is a word that deserves more usage. For there are many, many ultracrepidarians.

  43. 43
    jamescarlton

    I think it’s kinda funny and I couldn’t care less if men get offended by it but I don’t think it’s a great term if you’re actually trying to persuade anyone of anything. Too much of a free gift to your opponent. All they have to do is take feigned offence, reply with the usual drivel about man-hating feminists or sexism being a two-way street and now you have an uphill battle to explain why that is complete bullshit.

    A simple, emotional appeal to the moral high ground beats a complicated history lesson on why they’ve got no right to pull that shit every time.

    Having said that, none of the alternatives roll off the tongue nearly as well.

  44. 44
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @machineintelligence #3

    Although men may do it more frequently, it isn’t really gender specific. My daughter complains about excessive explanation from her mother and I get the same feeling sometimes about my sisters.*
    Perhaps we need to preface our remarks with the standard joke introduction: “Stop me if you have heard this one.”

    As I understand it, mansplaining isn’t simply excessive explaining, it’s when a woman says something and a man misunderstands because of his male privilege, but assumes the woman has misunderstood, because of his male privilege, and goes on to explain at length why he’s right.

    Take Lynn what-his-face over on the thread about Ms. Black’s recounting of her experiences at male-dominated conferences. He completely disregarded the lived experience of women, allowed himself to be blinded by his male privilege, and went on to explain at length why Ms. black was wrong and what she experienced wasn’t sexism. Assuming I’ve understood the concept correctly, I’d say that was the very definition of mansplaining.

    As I said, that’s assuming I’ve understood the concept correctly. Any clarification would be great.

  45. 45
    roro80

    Thumper, the best recent anecdote I can tell that I think really captures the essence of the term happened about a month ago at a bar. My friend, a woman motorcycle mechanic of 10 years, and myself, a woman mechanical engineer whose grad work was in combustion engines, were talking about engines while having a beer. As we do. Both knowing a great deal about the subject, we were discussing things in depth, thinking of new or silly ways to bring back the steam engine, blah blah blah, not bothering anyone or paying attention to anyone else. A man maybe 15 years older must have overheard us, because next thing you know he’s loudly and intently explaining the basic concepts of combustion engines to us both. When we can get a word in edgewise (after learning about such magical manly things as “compression ratio” and “cyclindrical chamber”), we explain that yes, we got it, thanks, we both have some experience in the field so we’re all good. He then goes on to re-explain in detail essentially what he had already previously said, the exact thing we already assured him that we understood quite well. It just didn’t occur to him — even after we told him — that two young-ish women would be able to talk about engines without his “help”.

  46. 46
    Funny Diva

    Ariaflame @42

    This sesquipedalian says a heartfelt “THANK YOU!” for ultracrepidarianism (from which I also occasionally suffer). I am adding it to my mental lexicon and shall be on the lookout for opportunities to use it in my vocabulary!

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