Mansplaining: a term that has been coined relatively recently, but the behaviour of which has no doubt been around for centuries. Mansplaining is the explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner that is condescending or patronizing (Merriam-Webster’s, 2018). Typically, mansplaining is done without the woman asking for the explanation, assuming that the woman does not already have a grasp or understanding of the concept at hand. Even though it may be unintentional, mansplainers generally assume a lack of competence or do not trust the intelligence of the woman. For example:
Woman: Hi, can I use your car to jump start mine.
Mansplainer: Yes, so just pop open the hood of your car and attach the cables here and here, and there you go.
Woman: Thanks, but I just asked if I could use your car, I already know how to jumpstart my vehicle. (Roy, n.d.)
Though this example is a simple one, it is a common one of how mansplaining can look in everyday life; indeed, mansplaining can occur in a variety of settings or platforms. In a recent twitter incident that went viral, a man by the name of Paul Bullen tried to argue with Dr. Jennifer Gunter, a gynecologist, on the correct terminology for female reproductive organs (Shvedsky, 2019). His first tweet challenged The Guardian newspaper, which had just released an article called “Me and my vulva: 100 women reveal all”, to which Bullen replied, “The correct word is vagina”. Dr. Jennifer Gunter then replied to Bullen by offering an insightful diagram and explaining the difference between the vagina and vulva, two commonly mistaken terms, in a non-condescending and playful manner. This is where things start to get interesting, as Bullen then replies in a five-part summary, first trying to discredit Dr. Gunter’s expertise and then making an “empirical claim” that, “in addition to the use of the word ‘vagina’ to refer to the part of the body mentioned in the dictionary definition, the word is widely used to mean something broader”. He then goes onto say “experts are helpful … but they must be used with care”. In this prime example of mansplaining, Bullen refuses to accept that he is blatantly wrong and then tries to argue his position in a disorganized, ranting, and quite frankly, embarrassing manner. Not only does Bullen challenge the correct use of terminology with the female gynecologist, he tries to invalidate her expertise by saying that “this question does not require that sort of expertise” and that it could “in fact be part of the problem”.
There are many underlying issues with mansplaining, especially when it comes to the female body and expected beauty ideals. Of course, anyone has the right to discuss and offer their personal opinions on subjects such as sexism, feminism, and human anatomy regardless of their gender. The problem with mansplainers is that they may declare the lived experiences of women as incorrect or invalid, and often forget that women are inherently experts of their own bodies. The issue of the matter isn’t that they are uninformed; knowledge is knowledge and one cannot learn without failure or attempt to understand. However, it becomes an issue when mansplainers still assume they know more about a subject (such as a woman’s body) when talking to a woman, or for example, challenging an expert in a field in which they themselves are substantially less qualified.
The problem of mansplaining doesn’t just occur over social media, it has been further documented in scientific literature. Research has shown that men dominate business meetings and classroom discussions, and women are more frequently interrupted by both women and men as compared to men (Rutherford-Morrison, 2016). In a study conducted at George Washington University, 20 men and 20 women were paired and instructed to have a conversation (Vernasco, 2014). Conversations were recorded and transcribed, and it was found that women interrupted men only once on average over a three-minute conversation but interrupted other women 2.8 times on average (Vernasco, 2014). Men interrupted other men twice on average, but interrupted women 2.6 times (Vernasco, 2014). Another study demonstrated that men took up 75% of the total speech time during business meetings (Rutherford-Morrison, 2016). As you can see, this is not just a social media trend; this is a systematic problem promoted by a culture that has innately valued a man’s opinion over a woman’s throughout history. The issue of mansplaining, thankfully, is becoming increasingly more prevalent in the press and social media (as it should be). Women are calling out the mansplainers in an attempt to balance the conversation.
Although mansplaining is becoming more and more present in the public eye, the implications it has on impressionable young women may be devastating if it’s not addressed. In another example of how mansplaining marginalizes women, British journalist Pier Morgan tried to invalidate Lady Gaga’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis, which she received after having survived a sexual assault in her teens (Solis, 2016). Morgan tried to discredit Gaga’s experiences by claiming that celebrities overuse terms such as PTSD and further stated that this overuse underestimates the experiences of the “real” victims, which he explained to be “solely military veterans” (Solis, 2016). To make matters even worse (if that is possible!), he questioned whether Gaga had even been a victim of sexual assault (Solis, 2016). As you may see, mansplaining results in women having to continually prove and justify themselves. And it seems to be rooted in the fact that a person is unwilling to admit they are wrong. Seriously, what is the big deal with being wrong? It should be NBD.
So, you may ask, what is a woman to do when she encounters a mansplainer? Kristi Hedges offers five simple yet effective ways to shut down mansplaining, the first being called the “hip check” (Hedges, 2018). The hip check is a tactic that she describes as setting “subtle parameters” and “adjusting behavior” (Hedges, 2018). Hip checks can be delivered in a non-aggressive manner without calling someone’s character into question. It can be as simple as saying “Mark, I appreciate your comments, but I’ve got this” (Hedges, 2018). Or something a little more forward such as, “Your comment makes me wonder if it might be helpful to share my background” (Hedges, 2018). The second strategy she promotes is using humor to avoid a confrontational tone and show confidence (Hedges, 2018). Hedges offered this comment in response to a mansplainer: “Now John, you know I’m not going to give up the floor until I’m ready so you might as well wait” (Hedges, 2018). A third tactic Hedges offers is called “the redirect”. As mentioned previously, men take up the majority of the speaking time during professional settings such as business meetings and class discussion (Rutherford-Morrison, 2016). To claim more of the “air time”, Hedges encourages women to help each other out by redirecting the conversation to another woman in the room (Hedges, 2018). Something as simple as saying “Thank you Phil, but before we move on, I’d like to hear what Lucy has to say” (Hedges, 2018). The fourth strategy is “using the outdoor voice”, which is pretty self-explanatory by the title, but can be helpful in a heavily male dominated setting where the culture may be more inclined to speak over one another (Hedges, 2018). And finally, “the call out” is Hedges fifth recommendation in challenging mansplainers: Address it head on. By personally approaching the person and explaining yourself, this behaviour hopefully fosters understanding and reassessment of the other person’s, usually unintentional, habits (Hedges, 2018).
Mansplaining may seem like a rather impossible and unattainable challenge to overcome on one’s own; however, men are starting to step up to the plate and recognize the consequences of their own actions. Justin Baldoni, a well-known actor, director, and feminist addresses toxic masculinity through his social media platform and aims to bring women and men together to redefine this construct. Though Baldoni is very vocal about feminism and women’s rights, he also reveals his own faults. He explains how he has been “unconsciously hurting the women in his life”, in particular, “cutting off his wife mid-sentence and finishing her thoughts for her” (Baldoni, 2018). He admits that although he was completely unaware of what he was doing, he was still silencing the women in his life whom he loves most (Baldoni, 2018). Baldoni had to ask himself: “Am I man enough to just shut the hell up and listen?” (Baldoni, 2018). Furthermore, Baldoni offers several important ideas on redefining masculinity. Most notably, he encourages men to begin looking past their privilege, and understand how their words and actions are impacting the women around them (Baldoni, 2018). Baldoni appears to be a wise man.
Julia Mandeljc, SexLab Research Assistant, Queen’s University, Psychology
Baldoni, J. [TED]. (2018, January 3rd). Why I’m done trying to be “man enough” [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cetg4gu0oQQ
Hedges, K. (2018). 5 ways to shut down mansplaining. Forbes. Retrieved at https://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2018/02/26/5-ways-to-shut-down-mansplaining/#392f0351589e
Merriam-Webster's collegiate dictionary (2018). In Merriam Webster online. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/mansplaining-definition-history
Roy, K. A. (n.d.) A woman’s guide to mansplaining. Scary mommy. Retrieved at https://www.scarymommy.com/a-womans-guide-to-mansplaining/
Rutherford-Morrison, L. (2016). 6 subtle forms of mansplaining that women encounter each day. Bustle. Retrieved at https://www.bustle.com/articles/136319-6-subtle-forms-of-mansplaining-that-women-encounter-each-day
Shvedsky, L. (2019). A confused dude on Twitter tried to explain the female anatomy to a gynecologist. Who is also a woman. Good. Retrieved at https://www.good.is/articles/twitter-vagina-vulva-gynecologist
Solis, M. (2016). Piers Morgan tried to mansplain PTSD to Lady Gaga, who has PTSD. Mic. Retrieved at https://mic.com/articles/162472/piers-morgan-tried-to-mansplain-ptsd-to-lady-gaga-who-has-ptsd#.LPAPvplyh
Vernasco, L. (2014). Seven studies that prove mansplaining exists. Bitch media. Retrieved at https://www.bitchmedia.org/post/seven-studies-proving-mansplaining-exists